French President Macron’s hard line diplomacy on Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at Versailles on May 29, 2017 (image courtesy of wbur.org)

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

Three hundred years after Peter the Great’s visit to Versailles, Russian President Vladimir Putin was hosted in one of France’s most emblematic monument yesterday by French President Emmanuel Macron. While this venue seemed less official than the Elysée for a presidential meeting, the grandioseness of the golden palace set out that President Macron did not underestimate the importance of the international affairs to discuss, which included Ukraine, Syria, and human rights.

Over the past few years, the Franco-Russian relationship has plummeted to an unprecedented level as Russia tightened its grip on the Crimean region and destabilized eastern Ukraine, in disregard for the European Union’s sovereignty. In October 2016, former President François Hollande made it clear that President Putin’s visit to the opening of an Orthodox cultural center in Paris would have been inappropriate owing to Russia’s multiple vetoes on Syria at the United Nations Security Council. President Putin’s last unilateral visit goes back to 2012.

Wishing to advance the Ukrainian dilemma, President Macron explained during the conference that a “Normandy-like” meeting, gathering the Russian and Ukrainian presidents under the “chaperonage” of Berlin and Paris, would be needed to work on the Minsk agreement of February 2015. This meeting would be an ultimatum to Russia for possibly waiving its sanctions.

Regarding the Syrian conflict, President Macron called for an “inclusive” political solution in the long term to generate discussion “amongst all the parties, including Assad.” The talks would aim at limiting “the disintegration of Syria and fragilization of the region” while still fighting to eradicate the Islamic State and terrorism.

The news conference with the two leaders also presented an unexpected Russian news media backlashing from the French president.

President Macron had set a firm tone a few days earlier in an interview with the French weekly newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” by saying that before interlocutors such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Donald Trump, one has “not to miss any chance to gain respect in such power struggle.” 
In this optic, President Macron was intolerant in his critic of Russia’s controversial handling of human rights, such as the repression of the homosexual community and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). President Macron also shed light on Russia news media outlets such as the Kremlin-funded Russia Today and Sputnik, accusing them of having spread “fake news” to undermine his campaign.

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NATO, Trump, Macron, and Counterterrorism

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New NATO headquarters (Image courtesy of interbuild.be)

-Article by Alice Ferré

In their first official meeting at the United States Embassy in Brussels, President Donald J. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron mostly tackled the terrorism and climate change issues, two of the many transatlantic major concerns. The 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, this week will allow European leaders and President Trump, along with Canada and Japan, to further discuss these topics.

Mr. Macron and Trump’s handshake caught everyone’s attention: in a “white-knuckled handshake,” the two leaders confirmed their collaboration and marked their territories, with Mr.Trump’s aggressive grip and Mr. Macron’s withholding Trump’s palm longer than expected.

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US President Donald J. Trump and France’s President Emmanuel Macron in the United States Embassy in Brussels. (image courtesy of LeFigaro.fr)

Although Mr. Macron wishes that Mr. Trump “does not make any precipitated decision” regarding the Paris agreement, he said the talk was “frank” and “pragmatic” and demonstrated a “will to reinforce our partnership and cooperation regarding our fight against terrorism.” Mr. Macron had previously sent signals of hope to Mr. Trump on the U.S. role; while visiting the soldiers of the “Barkhane” operation in Mali, Mr. Macron claimed that Mr. Trump’s allegations against Islamic terrorism did not make him doubt that he will maintain this kind of cooperation.

In this optic, President Trump convinced the European leaders to join him in an international coalition against the Islamic State, after a year of reluctance. European leaders, although already fighting terrorism nationally and internationally and engaging in this Washington-led coalition, feared that the formalization of this union under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization banner would trigger hostile comments from recent allies in the Middle East. “We will win this battle,” concluded President Trump referring to the Manchester bombing, an event that influenced the European leaders in their decision.

Jens Stoltenberg, the 13th Secretary General of NATO, said this union would “send a strong political message of unity in fighting terrorism. However, this will not mean that NATO will engage in fighting abroad.” 
One fear remaining is that Mr. Trump did not explicitly endorse the article 5 of the Washington Treaty, NATO’s mutual defense pledge assuring that the WWII allies must bring assistance to one of them if they are attacked; such omission might frighten the Baltic states that wish to escape Russia’s exponential hegemony in the region.

One condition for President Trump to abide NATO (the President previously declared the organization was “obsolete”) is that European nations spend more on national defense and the military, which echoes Trump’s claim in Saudi Arabia that the fight against terrorism is a “shared burden.” So far, the decision taken in 2014 that each country should spend 2% of their GDP on defense seems to be slowly but surely achieved; according to NATO, the nations’ cumulated budgets raised by 3,8% in 2016 (or 10 billion dollars). Europeans have until 2024 to achieve their goal. Mr. Trump, however, complained about “chronic underpayments” to the military alliance during his speech yesterday. “If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today.” Mr. Trump later said that the assembling of the 2% was a failure, “with 23 of the 28 member nations still not paying what they should be paying.”

Regarding other defense resources, France, for instance, will not invest in NATO-stamped missions, such as the failed “Unified Protector” operation launched in Libya in 2011 to oust dictator Muhammad Qaddafi.

Mr. Trump was received in the new NATO headquarters, which will officially open this December. The new building, representing eight fighters crisscrossing each other, will have at its entrance a vestige from the Twin Towers, a symbol of the counterterrorism fight.

Netflix’s newest series “13 Reasons Why” helps taboo dialogue of suicide in Brazil

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Image courtesy of “familyzone.com”

 

-Article by Rebecca Giovannetti

Launched last March, the Netflix original series phenomenon 13 Reasons Why opened a worldwide debate about suicide. Based on the 2007 Jay Asher’s novel, the 13-episode series revolves around a teenager, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after experiencing successive tragic and traumatizing events, such as bullying, cyberbullying, and rape.

The series starts with a sequence that shows one of Hannah’s classmates, receiving 13 tapes recorded by her. In each of these, Hannah explains to each person that failed her the wrong they did and the part they played in her suicide.

In Brazil, the effects of this series amongst young people are palpable. In April, one month after the series premiere, there was a 445 percent increase in help calls and emails to the Brazilian center for suicide prevention, the Centro de Valorização da Vida, attributed to this extraordinary increase to the themes the Netflix series portrays.

According to a Latin American University of Social Sciences study, the suicide rate in Brazil had a 62.5 percent increase from 1980 to 2012, making suicide the third cause of death behind homicide and car crashes. However, this topic is still not easily discussed among families and news outlets.

While it is very hard to pinpoint exactly what makes young people want to end their lives, the common factor for more than 50 percent of suicide amongst teenagers is a major and continuous depression, according to a study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses in Brazil, with 80 to 90 percent diagnosed responding well to treatment and gaining relief from the symptoms.

However, understanding that depressed young people can also take their own lives is hard, even in modern days.

Psychiatrist Neury José Botega says that shedding light on the subject and opening the conversation in Brazilian family circles can help prevent such tragedies. “Since suicide is still a taboo subject, we can have the wrong impression that the problem doesn’t exist on a big scale. But this is not true,” he said in an interview for a Brazilian magazine.

 13 Reasons Why sparked many conversations and critiques as suicide is the final and absolute narrative of Hannah. Yet, the way factors that led to her death are shown to viewers opened up discussions on how most people consider adolescents’ emotions.

Experiences during teenage years, formatting the transition to adulthood, mean the most to the psychological and emotional growth of the teenager. However, not many Brazilian families talk about suicide and the reasons behind it, dismissing these factors as teenage drama.

The fact that 13 Reasons Why caused an astronomical 445 percent increase in calls for help in Brazil should not be ignored. It displays an intrinsic and desperate need for this topic to gain importance in the Brazilian community, a need many psychologists already agree should not be brushed aside.

The Netflix original series opens up the suicide topic in many other countries that still consider suicide as taboo, the United States included, where suicide is also the third leading cause of death among American young people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Right now, it is too soon to tell how much more the topic of suicide will expand in the Brazilian familial dialogue, but it is clear that 13 Reasons Why stirred the need for Brazilians to address these issues. New generations won’t be easily shut down by tradition and taboo anymore.

 

Recap: François Fillon’s corruption cases: a legal, ethical, private, and public affair

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Image courtesy of JAMnews

-Article by Alice Ferré

The French presidential election’s first round will be held on April 22nd; here is a recap of the corruption scandals that surrounded the candidate François Fillon over the past weeks.

So far, the right party has been in hot water. Although its candidate had always claimed their honesty and high morals, recent events proved the contrary.

François Fillon from the right party Les Républicains (LR) has been involved in more corruption scandals over the past few months than he has been during his entire political career as revelations poured:

On January 24, the French newspaper “Le Canard Enchaîné” revealed that the right party candidate’s wife, Pénélope Fillon, was paid for fictional work as a parliament assistant for 15 years, earning a total of 680.000 euros. Her severance pay amounted to 45.000 euros. Later on, during an interview on French channel TF1, Mr. Fillon declared that, while he was Senator, he employed his children as parliamentary attachés, which violated the Senate’s legislation. They earned 84 000 euros.

Mr. Fillon is also charged with influence peddling, as Penelope Fillon was employed by « La Revue des Deux Mondes, » from 2012 to 2013, and paid 5000 euros per month, regardless of having written only two notes for it. The publication’s owner, Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, is close to the Fillons and received the Legion of Honor in 2011.

Finally, Les Républicains are accused of misappropriation of funds earned by the parliamentary aides from 2005 to 2007. Mr. Fillon received 21.000 euros.

Following these revelations, Mr. Fillon’s investigation procedure started on March, 15. He, nonetheless, chose to remain in the presidential race. The investigation procedure allowed Mr. Fillon to access the accusation files and build a defense against all the charges. The investigation is however disturbed by the electoral calendar: if Mr. Fillon is elected, he cannot be prosecuted.

The seventh article of the French Constitution allows postponing the election if a candidate withdraws themselves from the race, or is impeached, and if they are not replaceable by another candidate from the party’s primary election. The Constitutional Council decides whether the election should be postponed.

However, such scenario seems unlikely, as Mr. Fillon declared he will remain in the race. The UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents), which had previously abandoned their support for Mr. Fillon early March, changed their minds and agreed to endorse him again – for the sake of the party. Thierry Solère, Mr. Fillon’s campaign spokesman who also resigned early March, stayed in his position.

Parisian suburb Bobigny on fire during protests over alleged rape of Theo

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Bobigny protesters – AP for “The Sun

-Article by Alice Ferré

Outrage spread all over France last week, after 22-year-old youth worker Theo was allegedly beaten and raped by police officers. On Saturday, more than 2,000 people gathered outside Bobigny’s courthouse in a call for Justice, after a national police report cited by AFP news agency claimed on Friday that “there are insufficient elements to show that this was rape.”

On February 20, the Bobigny court will decide whether police officers will face trial.

The protest, originally peaceful, burst into a fight with the police as the protesters cast projectiles and set cars and bins on fire. As police officers answered with tear gas, the protesters’ anger and frustration skyrocketed; according to a police report: “Several vehicles, including a media truck, were set on fire and police officers had to intervene to rescue a young child trapped in a burning vehicle.”

The released CCTV recordings of Theo’s arrest had been circulating on the Internet for a few weeks, showing Theo on the ground being beaten up by four men. The victim’s family claims Theo requires anal surgery after he was assaulted with a truncheon and suffers a severe head trauma.

Riots against police violence are not singular in France; in 2005, Theo’s suburb of Aulnay-Sous-Bois was under the spotlight for violence between the police and the youth after two teenagers got electrocuted to death during an arrest.
That incident started three weeks of rioting and escalating violence in which 10,000 cars and 300 buildings were set on fire in Parisian suburbs and led Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister, to declare a state of emergency.

Trump’s war on the media

 

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Image courtesy of “Talking Points Memo”

 

The First Amendment has been endangered within the first week of President Trump’s inauguration. The press is the only institution protected by the First Amendment, for there can be no laws made “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The press inherited the role of the fourth branch of government, with the intention of keeping government officials honest by reporting on what they do.

People have misused the First Amendment by publishing what is known as “fake news.” Fake news has become a prevailing enigma in modern society, for the internet provides more channels for citizen journalists to publish news stories, regardless if they are supported by facts. The popularity of fake news can also be attributed to confirmation bias, which refers to people’s propensity to accept or reject information based on their inherent biases. Nevertheless, fake news can be spread more efficiently with the increased interconnectedness of the internet.

President Donald J. Trump has taken advantage of this enigma by rejecting journalists’ reports in favor for his own interpretation of the facts. According to the New York Times, Trump declared, “I have a running war with the media. They are the most dishonest human beings on earth” during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency on January 21st.

This comment was in response to a viral picture comparing Trump’s 2017 inauguration to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The picture shows that Obama’s inauguration drew a significantly larger crowd than Trump’s did. Trump spent his first day of office disputing his inauguration crowd size.

At the CIA Headquarters, he spoke about his own interpretation of the facts: “I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I say, wait a minute, I made a speech. I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people”.

Later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that these photos “were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall”, according to the Washington Post.

The next day, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway had an interview with Chuck Todd about Trump’s and Spicer’s rejection of the photos. When asked why Trump told Spicer to “utter a falsehood” his first time on the podium as press secretary, Conway replied, “What–You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that”.

At a Texas rally on Friday, Trump vowed to “open up libel laws, so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money” according to a video posted by Politico. “We can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they are protected”, he continued. “You see, with me they’re not protected.”

According to the New York Times, the First Amendment has weakened its protection of the press. The press relies on “the institutional media’s relative financial strength; the good will of the public; a mutually dependent relationship with government officials; the support of sympathetic judges; and political norms and traditions.” What used to bolster the press in its mission to inform the public has faltered: news organizations have been running out of money, the public has lost trust in the media, the Supreme Court has declined major press cases, and Trump’s new administration has broken the relationship between government and journalists.

 

Sources to fact-check news articles:

http://www.factcheck.org/

http://www.snopes.com/

http://www.politifact.com/

 

Article by Katerina Muraviyova, COM’19

‘Children of La Creuse’

 

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Former Prefect of la Réunion Michel Debré (left), “Children of la Creuse” (right) – Le journal de la Réunion

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

From 1963 to 1981, 2150 children ages four to six, were dragged out from the French island of La Réunion and shifted to the mainland in order to repopulate the Central and South West rural regions. This month, the victims of forced deportation, now in their thirties and forties, will be heard by a special commission created for this case in 2014.

The processing was implemented by Michel Debré, Prefect of La Réunion at the time. Erased from French national memory until 2002, the case unveiled a carefully planned transfer of children to a foster care in the city of Guéret in la Creuse, where they waited for their new family to adopt them. However, not all of them had this opportunity; many ended up as illegal workers in farms or servants, alike to modern slavery.

Victims now seek reparation for their stolen life. Anne David, 48, was adopted by a family from Finistère when she was two. Interviewed by French newspaper Le Point, she discussed her discoveries: she comes from a family with seven children in La Réunion and seeks to learn more about her estranged family. She called for the special commission to deliver all details of the case in complete transparency, with available access to state files for the victims. Valérie Andanson, Head of the Department of Deported Children from Overseas and abducted from her family at three years old, demands reparation with state-financed traveling and housing in La Réunion. Like David, she learned later on, at the age of 16, that she has five siblings – all deported to separated families.

But the victims do not only fight for themselves; they extend their help to other lost children, those unaware that they too may face a similar situation and bring global awareness to these crimes against children.

In February 2014, the French National Assembly alleged moral responsibility of the state in the case. The resolution lays out three major points: the extensive and comprehensive diffusion of facts, the acknowledgment that the state failed to care for those children, and the obligation for the state to financially help victims to reconnect with their heritage.