WEEKLY FRENCH INFORMATION MONITORING: Week 54: 27.12.2021 – 02.01.2022

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Week 54: 27.12.2021 – 02.01.2022

30 YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF THE USSR, PLURALISM IN POST-SOVIET TERRITORIES – Pharos Observatory Special Report, December 2021. The Pharos Observatory is an independent and pluralist French association for the contextualization of cultural and religious realities. https://www.observatoirepharos.com/

This report is comprised of six articles: “Post-Soviet Russia’s Search for identity and power”, “Reconstruction of identities Central Asia after 1991”, “From a post-independence religious spree to a form of loyalist neo monarchic secularization: what future for Islamic pluralism in Azerbaijan?”, “Armenian apostolic Church: a pillar of ‘Armenianess’ in question”, “A brief history of interfaith and inter-ritual relations in Ukraine” and “Georgia face to face with the post-soviet rebirth of Islam”.

In thirty years, transformations appear quite clearly, although they are not completed. There are three common elements, which are:

                – An intense work of identity reconstruction in each newly independent state, supervised by public authorities but with the strong contribution of very various groups. This will inevitably carry on with the new generation but henceforth without the memory of the soviet era;

                – The fast adjustments and re-writing of identity narratives almost always entailed violent episodes sometimes sporadic sometimes enduring; the will to survive acted as breaks, but the exacerbation of rivalry between neighbors and the competition between powers nurtures various conflicts;

                – Regarding the religious situation in these countries, a more or less structured model appeared which establishes three categories: the dominant religion which developed a privileged relationship with public authorities and a strong hold over society; ‘traditional’ religious minorities, usually in an uncomfortable situation but able to save their role in public life; non-officially recognized minority groups, sometimes tolerated and thus able to exhibit their marginal activities, sometimes repressed and forced to become clandestine.


AS THE TURKISH PEOPLE IS GETTING POORER, ERDOĞAN TRUSTS TEACHINGS OF THE KORAN – Marie Jégo, Institut Français de Géopolitique (IFG), Observatoire de la Turquie Contemporaine, Le Monde, December 27th, 2021, https://www.observatoireturquie.fr/marie-jego-les-turcs-sappauvrissent-erdogan-sen-remet-au-coran-le-monde/

The Turkish lira is volatile, food prices are skyrocketing and many Turks have to wait to buy subsidized bread in most of the country’s large cities. Their purchasing power is eroding a little more every day as a result of President Erdoğan’s extravagant monetary policy. Convinced that lower interest rates is the best way to fight inflation, he bets on a cheap currency to boost growth and exportations. […] As a result, the Turkish lira lost 45% of its value against the dollar this year which in turn increased the cost of imported products (energy, raw materials, fertilizers, chemical products, drugs, electronic parts) indispensable to Turkish companies, farmers and households. Contradictory to business owner which export volumes reached new heights in November 2021 -an increase of 33.4 % compared to November 2020- the Turkish people are not so lucky. Modest households which until now were the base of the Islamic-conservative electorate struggle to make ends meet. Commercialized since the end of the 1970’s, the ‘bread of the people’ never faced such high demand. This became the last resort of disadvantaged housewives, pensioners, students and unemployed.

Hardly anyone agrees to give their name, aware that the slightest criticisms can lead to a trial. Three owners of youtube channels, Arif Kocabıyık, Hasan Köksoy and Turan Kural were arrested on the 12th of December for broadcasting interviews of dissatisfied passers-by and placed in house-arrest with interdiction to leave the country until their judgment. The 50% rise of the minimum salary was immediately criticized by former Minister of Economy (2009-2014) and leader of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) saying that because of the inflation ‘workers won’t have time to spend it’.

To silence criticisms, including from the Turkish Industry and business Association (Tüsiad) which urges the government to abide by fundamental economic rules, the President set the record straight. His monetary policy will be determined by principles of the Koran, which forbids usury practices. On the 20th of December, Mr. Erdoğan promised to compensate bank accounts in Turkish lira in case it depreciates again. Following this declaration, the lira gained substantial value as banks converted up to $1.5 billion dollars in lira. It is not certain this will be enough to re-establish trust in the Turkish currency in a country where more than half of savers’ bank deposits are in foreign currencies, especially in dollars.


TURKEY FACES THE DAMAGE OF ERDOĞANISM – Ahmet İnsel, Institut Français de Géopolitique (IFG), Observatoire de la Turquie Contemporaine, December 27th, 2021, https://www.observatoireturquie.fr/turkey-faces-the-damage-of-erdoganism-ahmet-insel/

“Since the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in June 2018 as President of the Republic, thanks to the support of his ally from the nationalist far right, Turkish society has been living under a presidential regime: a strong autocracy in which the separation of powers has become obsolete even though it continues to appear in the constitution. […] The European Court of Human Rights no longer hesitates to condemn Turkey for the direct interference of political power in the judiciary and recent reports by the European Parliament denounce the disappearance of the rule of law.

[…] The stranglehold of Erdoğan, his party members controlling every branch of public administration as well as a large part of the media complete this picture. The long reign of the AKP which has been in power without interruption since late 2002 with Erdoğan at its head, had created the necessary conditions to transform the state into a party-state. […]The malfeasance and corruption unveiled in late 2013 were silenced by repressive means and Erdoğan was elected in the summer of 2014 as president of the Republic by universal suffrage, a first in Turkey.

[…] Ultimately, the quickly suppressed coup attempt in the summer of 2016 allowed Turkey’s strongman to officially suspend the rule of law. […] It allowed him to complete, on the one hand, the fusion of party and state and, on the other hand, the consolidation and generalization of a criminal justice system practicing the doctrine of « criminal law of the enemy ». The unique type of presidential regime symbolized by the pharaonic presidential palace can be called Erdoğanism. It is the perpetuation of the authoritarian drift of the AKP’s power and also builds on the systemic authoritarianism present in the foundations of the Republic of Turkey. Erdoganism is a regime of arbitrariness and, above all, unpredictability in both the political and economic spheres.

[…] The accompanying legal repression is also marked by arbitrariness. Repression is not implemented with the systematic rigor of a totalitarian dictatorship. It rather leaves random spaces of freedom without any guarantee of their permanence. […] Building on Turkey’s historical social divides in ethnic (Turks-Kurds), confessional (Sunni-Alevi), and cultural (Islamist/conservative-secular/modernist) topics, Erdogan has sought to position himself as the natural leader of Turkey’s conservative Sunni « sociological majority ».

[…] The criminalization of the parliamentary opposition is the centerpiece of this strategy. The main target is the pro-Kurdish, left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). […] The vicious circle of the depreciation of the Turkish lira, inflation, stagnation, and unemployment is speeding up the downfall of the AKP and its ally in the polls.

[…] Erdoğan’s main political strength has always resided in his electoral success. That is why elections have now become his Achilles heel. […] Today, surveys show that a large majority in Turkey wants to return to the parliamentary system, expresses an unfavorable opinion of the head of state and a more substantial majority does not want religious themes to be used in election campaigns. […] The electoral support for HDP, despite its daily criminalization by the government, is not eroding and the support for centrist parties is constantly rising. The elected mayors of Istanbul and Ankara are emerging as strong anti-Erdoğan candidates in opinion polls.

[…]There is also the big question of the probable chaos that the defeat of Erdoğanism will bring. Indeed, the social and economic damage of Erdoğanism, […] will be very difficult to repair in the medium term if it ever agrees to peacefully cede power. […]As a result, the future remains rather bleak in any case and, despite a reasonable expectation of the overthrow of the Islamo-nationalist authoritarian power in the next elections young graduates are continuously fleeing the country. The great challenge of the post-Erdoğan era, if the democratic forces succeed in defeating the autocrat at the ballot box, would be to make sure that there can be a better future for the society where people are calm, ready for the peace, and liberated from their socio-historical agonies which have permanently nurtured authoritarianism in Turkey.”


RUSSIA: AFTER MEMORIAL, HOPE OF A NEW SPRING – Jean-Dominique Merchet, l’Opinion, December 29th, 2021, https://www.lopinion.fr/international/russie-apres-memorial-lespoir-dun-nouveau-printemps

[…] Since 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev proceeded to the liberalization of his country, then, in 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall showed that the oppression could end. Were we naïve of blinded by our hopes? Almost exactly 30 years after the fall of the USSR, a freezing wind blows again in Russia. Under a ridiculous pretense, authorities recently closed down the NGO Memorial which focused on human rights and the truth about Stalinist repression, it was one of the last legacies of democratic Russia.

Does this mean that the current government finally won? For the moment, yes. But experienced showed us that authoritarian regimes are not eternal. Russia entered a ‘stagnation’ era, like it did with Leonid Brejnev, authoritarian tensioning domestically, adventurism internationally (Ukraine), wear of an aging political power, insufficient economic growth to buy social peace, distrust of society. Although the former is not tipping towards the political opposition, without either agreeing with the regime’s propaganda, nor deem that us, Westerners, will provide the Russian society with an attracting model. Aware of our helplessness, what is left to do is wait for a new spring.


IRAN LAUNCHES RESEARCH SATELLITE – French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs – December 31st, 2021, https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/dossiers-pays/iran/evenements/article/iran-q-r-extrait-du-point-de-presse-31-12-2021

Q: What is your reaction regarding Iran effecting a spatial launch yesterday?

A: France condemns Iran’s spatial launch on the 30th of December 2021, which does not comply with the resolution 2231 of the Security Council of the UN. This resolution calls for Iran not to proceed with activities linked to ballistic missiles able to carry nuclear weapons, including launches. Because of the close proximity between space launches and ballistic missiles, this highlights Iran’s progress in that area. The role of the Ministry of Defense during this launch points to the narrow link between these two programs.

This launch follows the firing of ballistic missiles on the 24th of December, 2021, which also contravened with the resolution 2231 of the UNSC. These developments are especially regrettable because they happen at a time when progress are made in the Vienna nuclear negotiations.

Iran’s ballistic program is a source of concern for its neighbors and for France. We enjoin Iran to respect its obligations regarding relevant UNSC resolutions, including those related to the transfer of weapons and sensitive technologies.”


FRANCE TAKES CHARGE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION FOR SIX MONTHS – Le Monde, AFP, January 1st, 2022, https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2022/01/01/la-france-prend-les-renes-de-l-union-europeenne-pour-six-mois_6107846_3210.html

Since Saturday, France is presiding (after Slovenia since July 1st, 2021 and before the Czech Republic in the second half of 2022) the Council of the EU, which represents the interests of the 27 member states to the EU Commission and the EU Parliament. The six months presidency convene ministerial reunions, sets the agenda and lead negotiations.

For this period, France will enjoy an important power of influence on some topics. On December 9th, 2021, talking about the French presidency of the Council of the EU, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “2022 must be the year of a European milestone. Europe [should] be powerful in the world, entirely sovereign, free to make its choices and in charge of its destiny.” This stance is not widely appreciated, especially in Eastern Europe. To face Europe’s current challenges (security, migration, the Covid-19 pandemic) Macron can count on the support of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz which previously pleaded in favor of ‘a more sovereign and stronger Europe’. The leader of the German diplomacy, Annalena Baerbock, declared to Agence France Presse: ‘Our French friends can count on our support’ and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen twitted: ‘Together we will work for a more numeric, ecological and social Europe which voice is listened to worldwide.’

France set three main objective for its presidency: the implementation of minimum salaries within the whole of Europe, the regulation of international digital companies and the creation of a carbon tax for merchandise imported in Europe depending on their environmental impact. Macron also argues for a reform of the Schengen area to strengthen European borders against migration crises, a topic that will be at the center of his presidential campaign. He also wishes to discuss an amendment of budgetary rules –the Maastricht standards- to boost investments and push for a Europe of defense, despite the reluctance of some partners, which are most of all concerned about the protection of NATO. It is a tight agenda for France which last presided the Council of EU in 2008: the presidential elections in April and the legislative ones in June, as well as the omicron variant will considerably impact France’s time and room for maneuvering.


THE EUROPE INDIA BALANCE SHEET: TRADE, LIKE-MINDEDNESS AND STRATEGIC INTEREST. WHAT AMBITIONS VIS-À-VIS CHINA? – Christophe Jaffrelot, Jasmine Zérinini, Institut Montaigne, December 2021, https://www.institutmontaigne.org/publications/europe-inde-quelles-ambitions-face-la-chine

The growing European interest towards India is motivated by a common strategic necessity: to tackle China.

– An unaccomplished economic potential. These last years, the EU became the first or second trading partner of India, whereas, India represented less than 2.5% of EU’s trade, far behind China (16.1%), the US (15.2%) and the UK (12.2%). EU FDI in India are also much below those made in China.

In May 2021, EU and India leaders restarted negotiations for a trading agreement which were suspended for 8 years because of disagreements. India withdrew from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and is conducting separate trade negotiations with the UK.

EU companies are skeptical about the attractiveness of the Indian market for several reasons: restricted access due to protectionist measures, bureaucracy, corruption, lack of infrastructures and low consumption.

                – Insufficient convergence on values. There are significant differences regarding human rights between the EU and India. European diplomats said that this question could be ignored any longer if the situation deteriorates. In April 2021, representatives of the EU parliament adopted a resolution voicing their concern over the situation of religious minorities, immigrants from Kashmir, NGOs, freedom of speech and Muslim refugees in the country.

The convergence of values is positively found on the question of fight against climate change. Indeed, in 2015 India played an important role before the Paris Climate Conference, committing itself to reduce its carbon dioxide intensity by 33-35% from 2005 levels until 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2070 during the Glasgow Climate Conference. However, India is still largely dependent on coal and is reluctant to decarbonize its economy as it would impede its growth.

                – Geopolitics of security: a new locomotive of Europe-India relations. Although Germany is at the forefront of EU-India economic relations, it is France that leads the dossier on security and geo-strategy. For 40 years, the French-Indian partnership relies on two pillars: the military and nuclear power. In 2018, France (which is present in the Indian Ocean) and India signed a declaration giving mutual rights of access to military facilities and in 2021 the French aircraft carrier participated to the Varuna military exercises in the region. Not all EU members see India as a potential strategic partner to counter China’s influence.

Germany, however sees India primarily as an economic diversity opportunity to China, its cooperation directives with India are comprehensive except for security issues and identify the ASEAN as the principal regional partner. This approach transpires in the 2021 strategy of the EU for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

                – Six recommendations to strengthen Europe-India relations.

1. The EU should facilitate visa applications to attract qualified individuals. India should reassure European anxieties by amending tax laws on some essential products.

2. If India adopts a law the protection of personal data online similar to that of the EU, both parties could rise to the status of key player on the international numeric arena.

3. Cooperation between active civil society members and students exchange should be promoted to reduce the gap regarding political and social values. This could be done through NGOs present in Europe and India such as Amnesty International, in order to promote dialogue between various representatives of civil society.

4. Efforts made towards climate change mitigation should not be limited to financial support or technology transfer: environmental experts of the EU and India could alert citizens of environmental challenges and raise awareness regarding potential solutions.

5. The EU and India must search for different forms of partnership to exploit their complementarity. Beyond the issue of China, India could help Europe diversify its supply sources, especially in the pharmaceutical industry.

6. If the EU is the most adequate interlocutor for talks about supply chains, regarding trade negotiations and vaccine diplomacy, EU members states have room for maneuver to develop geometrically variable relations. In particular, they can get closer to countries in the Indo-Pacific which have good relations with India, other members of the Quad and the UK. A “Quad+” platform where the EU would be represented could send a message of convergence to some of India’s key partners.

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