< SWITCH ME >

8163718353 f058e357f1 z
Photo: Ian Brown (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0

We never thought we would reach this point: running out of excitement. And we don’t know whether to be thrilled or bored. Europe seems to be settling into more of the same these days: neo-liberals in, nazis out, yay!l (the reverse being equally mundane). Now that election season is almost over (save for the upcoming German vote, which even Foreign Affairs qualified as “boring”), E&M would like to play a good ole game of “Normal / Not normal”, assessing the potential of current developments on continent numero uno to stir genuine melodrama. We are thus hoping to attract your attention to a discussion of Europe’s zeitgeist that might be of mild interest to you or the guy with pale face sitting at the side of your bed while you are sleeping. 

 

14826817660 c092f1c718 z

Photo: the lost gallery (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0

Suleyman the Magnificent, conquerer and role model 

March of protestors from Ankara to Istanbul

If you were unaware, the land stretch between Ankara and Istanbul is about 430 km (according to Google, which is a corporation, hence it is lying, and, also, Earth is flat). Hell of a distance to cover on foot. Yet, that tender land has been brutally trampled in the last two weeks by a flock of protesters that knew no better to do on their holiday than to expose themselves to extreme temperatures just to reach the former capital of Turkey. What the deuce? Don’t they have Twitter? Who does that? Well, apparently a bunch of moderates less thrilled with the way the local dictator sorta swindled the result of a referendum that unhinged his powers to oppress (boy, isn’t he a pro in that). Or the way he kinda put in jail key opposition leaders. Or how he relieved the country’s remaining media of the burden to hire journalists with opinion. The dictator respectively was reported to have moved his buldgeness from his left to his right trouser leg, sending orders to his minions to zap the seculars amidst an Ottoman wet dream (Episode 2 of the saga forthcoming).

Diagnosis: Normal. 0 points for excitement. We have seen such consternation by more oppressed people and covering larger landmass (although admittedly in much gentler climate): the Baltic Way in 1989, when more than 2 million people held hands to cover close to 700 km. Also, the oppression itself is a rather unremarkable textbook dictatorship having no outstanding features whatsoever: so many autocrats have done it and do it (wink, wink, Vladimir) that it is frankly a bit dull. For a change better watch the series Magnificent Century to catch a glimpse of the life of another, more unique despot, aptly fictionalized to introduce a sense of nostalgia towards the Ottoman days even among those that never had it. 1 point to Germany for telling the guy to shut the fuck up and not show his face anywhere near. - 1 point to the European Union for believing the prospect of European integration still has leverage.

 

Second-rate chocolate - enemy No 1 of Eastern Europe 

6914886094 2e68517923 m
Photo: Stephane Jaspert (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0

Nevermind corruption, murky politics, anti-liberal propaganda and mafia - the biggest enemy of Eastern European countries has been revealed: it is the chocolate, fool! Food safety authorities across Central and Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Mordavia have established with great certainty that evil Western corporations are dumping subpar products on the local markets. The fake products were reported to be distributed through the even more treacherous Western supermarket chains, ensuring the dominance of which, let’s face it, was the only reason the European Union accepted CEE states in the first place. Sell and rule. The reports revealed shocking facts - the contents of some of the products were so modified that they actually morphed into other products. Thus, a consumer buying a chocolate bar might end up eating a soap bar (during communism those two items had identical tastes, so kudos to Easterners for growing up to tell the difference).

Diagnosis. Normal. 0 points for excitement. Once upon a time in an idyllic Soviet satellite a communist slogan read “Raegan - enemy No 1 of the Tutrakan village system”. To the blissfully unaware, Tutrakan is a small town on the Danubian bank of Bulgaria, famous for its peculiar name and its ruined boat-making industry. Locating that town on the map will be a struggle for most inhabitants of the country. Back in the day, however, the place was targeted by none other than the US president Ronald Reagan, who spared no resources to infiltrate the local village system and bring it down. Since then the hatched plan to colonize the East has crystallized into a full-blown invasion - of double standards, law-quality products and poisoned crops, the scale of which has even attracted the attention of the Economist. A curious relation has, nevertheless, been identified by various studies: the more corrupt the country the more Western spies are conspiring to peddle fake chocolate on the street to ruin local communities. 1 point for the PM of Slovakia, Mr. Robert Fico, for bringing up this pressing matter at a European Union summit in March 2017. 1 point for labels, such as “food apartheid” (courtesy of Bulgaria’s PM) and “food racism” (courtesy of the respected Polish media Gazeta Prawna).

 

15270552774 0ef901f409 z
Photo: GUE/NGL (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

EU members becoming tax hells

It has been officially endorsed: major progress has been made towards making some of Europe’s worst corporate tax heavens into tax hells, including tripling the current tax rates, revealing beneficial owners and ensuring maximum transparency of the closed deals. Just kidding, relax. Corporate tax is still near zero, information is still not disclosed and tax dodging runs silky smooth in some of EU’s founding members. And there is not a shortage of companies willing to sign sweetheart contracts in places like Luxembourg, which continued to produce those en-masse after a major leak in 2014 revealed that it “rubber-stamped tax avoidance on an industrial scale”. Do not tarry, however. The EU recently pledged to put such tax havens on a blacklist, although it has not revealed which tax havens exactly - this part of the communique must have gotten lost in a back office somewhere in Brussels. In any case, your investment is well protected in Europe, everything is taken care of, just sign here please, Mr. Putin.

Diagnosis. Not normal. 1 point for excitement. How cool is that. Europe does not kill, does not suppress freedoms, protects personal data and generally has the ambition to be a trailblazer in some areas of human right. Even Italy introduced anti-torture legislation this week, making it a criminal offence some 20 years after the country joined the 1984 UN convention. Yet, at the same time all three Benelux countries, which have had a considerable stake in shaping the European Union, provide an opportunity to big corporations to avoid paying taxes in the countries where the profits were made. We have heard that this might lead to major financial disbalances, particularly in small-scale economies where multinationals benefit from cheap labour and utilities. The losers: individual taxpayers, who take the burden of budget cutbacks. - 1 point to Luxembourg for sentencing the LuxLeaks whistleblowers. - 1 point to Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commision, for denying any influence on tax policies in his home country during the time he acted as PM, when he was revealed to actually have been involved. - 1 point to this being an EU, rather than just Luxembourg’s issue. Even the current EU Presidency is currently held by a tax haven. In Junker’s words: “You should rather say EUleaks rather than Luxleaks – this is not only a phenomena that only happens in Luxembourg.”

 

Teaser photo: Ars Electronica (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

NEXT ISSUE
IN 8 DAYS