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Papua New Guinea’s new media rules could undermine the work of journalists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 1:40pm in

Local and foreign reporters told not to directly contact the Prime Minister

Originally published on Global Voices

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape addresses the general debate of the 76th Session of the General Assembly of the UN (New York, 21-27 September 2021). Screenshot from UN website.

The office of the prime minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has enforced new media rules which could affect not just the work of journalists but also undermine press freedom.

On August 31, the office of Prime Minister James Marape published a full-page public notice in two newspapers, National and Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, informing journalists that they can no longer directly contact the leader, and instead they should direct their questions to appropriate government ministries.

Here’s an excerpt of the ad:

This circular is to advise all members of the media fraternity, both national and international, that the Prime Minister Hon. James Marape MP will no longer accept direct press enquiries from the date of this correspondence onwards.

The prime minister has been accommodating and has responded openly to our media ever since he took office in 2019. We would like to continue this partnership by streamlining your queries to our relevant ministries.

The text of the ad was also sent to a WhatsApp group of journalists in Papua New Guinea by Marape’s media team accompanied by an appeal to “work for the good of our country” and “support the PM.” The government officer who sent the message added:

We are all in this game. It's our country and we need you. Media, you make or break leaders and paint either a good or bad image of your and our children's nation. We all work for the good of our country. Let's not get that wrong … support the PM. Take back PNG for us all.

A few weeks later, the Prime Minister's Department and the National Executive Council reiterated the requirements that foreign journalists need to submit before they are allowed entry into the country. This involves seeking permit from several offices such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, PNG Immigration & Citizenship Authority, PNG National Filming Institute and the Prime Minister's Department.

Post-Courier published an editorial criticizing the requirements:

…the requirements appear to be ludicrous and an affront to media freedom in PNG.

We ask the simple question, what have we got to hide from public scrutiny?

Our foreign friends should not be turned away on some ridiculous belief that they may stumble on some hidden secret that will unplug the government.

It also suggested that the new media rules could be linked to the government’s refusal to address sensitive topics like corruption.

If the government is serious, it should allow its ministers to be interviewed regularly by foreign and PNG media on a weekly basis on issues of interest to the nation including why corruption remains the biggest stumbling block to development in PNG.

We cannot be seen as a nation that is suddenly turning against the most powerful source of information in the world – journalism!

But Department of Prime Minister and National Executive Council Secretary Ivan Pomaleu clarified that the republication of the rules was only meant to facilitate the visa processing of foreign journalists.

It is in no way, in its message disseminated yesterday to the mainstream media, implying a recent intention to restrict foreign media from traveling to PNG.

A long-time blogger in PNG has a reminder for authorities who want to restrict the work of foreign journalists:

The International Federation of Journalists took notice of the new media rules and urged the government to work closely with the press and promote the public’s right to information:

As press freedom continues to decline across the Pacific, any restriction on journalists is a concerning development. The IFJ urges Prime Minister Marape and Papua New Guinea’s government to maintain press freedom and due consultation with the media, and allow journalists full and unfettered access to government proceedings.

Policing the pandemic: Australia’s technology response to COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/09/2022 - 4:40pm in

This piece examines four technology-based government responses to COVID-19

Originally published on Global Voices

Image courtesy EngageMedia.

This article by Samantha Floreani is part of Pandemic of Control, a series that aims to further public discourse on the rise of digital authoritarianism in the Asia-Pacific amid COVID-19. The Pandemic of Control is an initiative by EngageMedia, in partnership with CommonEdge. This edited version of the article is republished in Global Voices under a content partnership agreement.

In early 2020, COVID-19 took hold in Australia. The government policy evolved to become “zero COVID,” enforced through the donning of masks, social distancing, and oftentimes, lockdowns. Suddenly, almost every aspect of our lives moved online.

In times of crisis, governments often rush through additional powers, many of which put human rights at risk, and are rarely wound back once we return to relative calm. The ubiquitous technologies of the digital age, combined with a pandemic requiring us to isolate ourselves from each other, tilled the soil for a future where digital surveillance and control could bloom. In anticipation of this, human rights advocates urged governments to uphold human rights in any technological response to COVID-19. As lawyer and digital rights activist Lizzie O’Shea puts it:

What will get us through this virus is not coercion and fear, but advocating for and carrying out the politics of care and solidarity.

Digital technologies can play an important role in supporting a robust public health response. The question is not if we should use technology, but how. The technological choices made by Australia’s state and federal governments during this time speak volumes about their priorities and ideologies. The past two years reflect a trend: rather than employing technologies to enhance care and support of the population they were responsible for, governments in Australia prioritised politically buzzworthy projects based on an ideology of surveillance and control.

This piece examines four technology-based government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. These, coupled with avoiding transparency and a reluctance to engage with technical experts and civil society, ultimately resulted in technological “solutions” that ranged from outright ineffective to actively punitive.

Police drones and mobile surveillance

In late 2020, Australian media outlets reported that Victoria and New South Wales Police were using drones to monitor and enforce COVID-19 rules in public spaces. This created significant unease among the public about surveillance capacities, at which Victoria Police attempted to publicly reassure people. Alongside this, mobile camera surveillance units were deployed throughout parks and other public spaces, and CCTV was repurposed to police COVID-19 restrictions, to the public’s dismay and anger. Many criticised the government’s aggressive and punitive approach to monitoring and fining individuals breaking lockdown rules, and expressed concern that governments were overstepping their authority without adequate safeguards, transparency, or accountability requirements.

Contact tracing and the COVIDSafe app

In April 2020, the federal government released the COVIDSafe contact tracing app. It was accompanied by a swathe of political rhetoric to convince people to download it. We heard moralising wartime metaphors, claims that the app would offer protection from infection “like sunscreen,” and patriotic calls to join “Team Australia.” The Australian public was told that 40 percent uptake was needed — a number which, it would later be revealed, was based on nothing. Over 7 million people downloaded the app, but distrust of the government’s technical ability, mishandling of privacy and security concerns, and technical flaws in the app’s design all contributed to downloads never reaching the made-up target.

The app was designed to use Bluetooth to detect and record unique identifiers of nearby phones, provided they were also using the app. If a person tested COVID-19 positive, the list of all those they came into contact with was sent to the government, which then notified those who may be at risk. Crucially, it was found that the app did not work unless it remained open. This was a fundamental flaw, as it was impractical to have it open at all times.

Another key concern was the app’s centralised model, which required the government to act as the middleman and to handle all collected personal information. Recognising the potential for mass surveillance or other misuses of data, privacy and security advocates strongly recommended the government take a decentralised approach. This was ignored.

In spite of this, digital rights advocates were successful in pushing the government to incorporate privacy protections into legislation governing the app, including limitations preventing the use of the data for purposes other than public health.

Almost two years after the launch, a report evaluating the app’s effectiveness showed that it did not add much value to the conventional contact tracing system, and in some instances actually increased the workload of contact tracers. The app cost AUD 7.7 million (USD 5.17 million) to develop, and an additional AUD 60,000 to 75,000 (USD 40,000 to 50,000) per month to maintain. As of December 2021, the Australian government refuses to release data on how many people continue to use the app.

QR code check-in system

In November 2020, a new process to “check-in” to shops and venues using smartphones and QR codes arose. However, the rollout of this system was chaotic. Each state established its own requirements, which varied drastically. In Victoria, for instance, the government initially made it compulsory for businesses to collect their customers’ personal details, but this was not accompanied with guidance or support on how to do so safely. This resulted in many small businesses with little to no technical experience in security rushing to outsource their check-in requirements to third-party registration platforms. The personal information of millions of Australians was put at risk of being collected, used, and sold for purposes completely separate to public health, by a range of third party registration platforms — many of which are owned by companies whose primary business is dealing in data.

Eventually, state governments rolled out their own mechanisms for businesses to register for an official QR code to function with a government-run smartphone application. While this improved the initial problem, it did nothing to resolve the innumerable amount of people who had their details shared in the interim, and now receive spam text messages.

It also does not eliminate concerns regarding government bodies capturing and using data collected by way of the check-in system. On at least six occasions, police have used check-in data for the purpose of law enforcement, a move condemned by the Australian Privacy Commissioner.

Home quarantine apps

In October 2021, the state of South Australia announced a trial of a home quarantine smartphone app. The app was designed to enforce compliance with home quarantine rules through geolocation and facial recognition software. Following the trial, other states around Australia also announced they would be trialling the app.

Technology experts, human rights lawyers, and civil society expressed concern regarding the use of such invasive technologies without strong privacy protections. Digital Rights Watch and Human Rights Law Centre wrote a joint letter to Australian health ministers, urging them to extend the same standard of legislative protections that were put in place for the COVIDSafe App to any other technological response to COVID-19.


Despite calls for assistance from affected communities for increased support, governments prioritised responses that emphasised a punitive, surveillance-based approach. In doing so, Australian governments mistreated the social licence — the informal authority granted to the government by the people based on trust and confidence to see us through a major health crisis — for their own political agenda.

Looking back after two years, it is not clear whether these approaches nor the concessions given on civil liberties were worth it or even effective. Nonetheless, it is clear that Australian governments approached the use of digital technologies from an ideological perspective, heavily leaning on control and surveillance and sidelining a politics of care and support.

It is important that we learn from this experience so that we can use digital technology to respond in a more effective and rights-respecting way in the future. Just as advocates warned at the beginning of 2020, embedding human rights into any technological response to a crisis is essential not only to its success, but also to ensure that we have a society we are glad to be part of once we return to times of relative calm. Australia would do well to heed this lesson.

*Samantha Floreani works at the intersection of human rights, technology, and feminism. She is currently the Program Lead at Digital Rights Watch where she advocates for human rights in the digital age. She was previously a Privacy and Technology Specialist with Salinger Privacy, a Board Member of the Australian Privacy Foundation, and Program Director for Code Like a Girl.

Why energy markets should be dismantled, especially during and after the war in Ukraine – On Democracy Now!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/09/2022 - 7:03pm in


English, Interviews, TV

We look at how the Ukraine war is contributing to an energy crisis across Europe with Greek politician and economist Yanis Varoufakis. Last week Russia announced it would not resume sending natural gas to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, blaming Western sanctions for supposed maintenance delays keeping the gas shut off. Prior to the war, Russia supplied Europe with 40% of its natural gas, but now European nations must find ways to cope with fuel shortages and soaring energy prices as winter approaches. Varoufakis says a history of market liberalization and reliance on cheap Russian gas has left the continent scrambling, in turn pushing up energy costs in the Global South as richer European countries buy up other sources of energy. “Yet again, Europe is exporting misery to the rest of the world,” says Varoufakis, a member of the Greek Parliament and former finance minister. His latest piece for Project Syndicate is “Time to Blow Up Electricity Markets.”


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As Ukraine continues to seize more Russian-occupied land in its largest counteroffensive to date, we turn now to look at how the war in Ukraine is leading to an energy war in Europe. Last week Russia announced it would not resume sending natural gas to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline until the West lifts sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Prior to the war, Russia supplied Europe with 40% of its natural gas. Now European nations are scrambling to find ways to cope with gas shortages, as well as soaring energy prices. There are growing fears the energy crisis could lead to rolling blackouts and the shuttering of some industries during the winter.

We go now to Athens, Greece, to Yanis Varoufakis, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece. His latest piece for Project Syndicate is headlined “Time to Blow Up Electricity Markets.”

Yanis, welcome back to Democracy Now! What do you mean?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: We shouldn’t have electricity markets. It’s an abomination. Think about it, Amy. There can’t be an electricity market, to the extent that in your apartment, in your studio, there is one single wire coming out of the wall carrying electricity. There can’t be a market. It’s an actual monopoly. The only way we could have had a market would be if we had 50 different wires, each belonging to a different company, and we could choose which one we connect our appliances to. But, of course, that would be completely crazy, because we would have 50 grids running through every suburb, through every city, through the land. That would be so inefficient, it would be ridiculous.

So, what we have is not really markets. We have the state that steps in and pretends that it is a market, simulates a market, creating a kind of semblance of competition between producers of electricity and a semblance of competition between, supposedly, retailers of electricity, people who — companies that buy electricity wholesale and then sell it to you individually. But all that is a state creation. It’s, you know, a libertarian’s, right-winger’s nightmare, if you want. It’s a market — it’s a fake market created by the state.

And the impact of this being a fake market emerges during periods of stress, like in the 1970s, when we had the oil crisis, and then, of course, that translated into electricity price crisis, and now with what is happening with supply chain interruptions and the war in Ukraine. The thing to remember is that electricity prices, the prices that people in New York, in Los Angeles, here in Athens, everywhere, the prices we pay have risen by a much greater factor than the cost of producing electricity. So, you’ve got the oligarchs that are dominating this state market, that pseudo-market, that fake market, benefiting tremendously out of this crisis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Yanis, I wanted to ask you about this. Europe made a decision, clearly, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that it would integrate its economy, especially when it came to energy, with Russia, now, of course, being forced rapidly to move for other sources of gas and oil. Could you talk about this decision, the original decision and now the change, and what the impact of Europe’s strategic decisions are having on the rest of the world?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Actually, if you look at it historically, the decision goes back to the early ’70s. It was back in the early ’70s that West Germany and the Soviet Union started this arrangement of providing cheap gas to the German industrial machine in exchange for détente, in exchange for cash that the Soviet Union was collecting.

The tragedy is that since the Lehman Brothers collapse and the Wall Street implosion in 2008, which very quickly brought down the whole of the banking sector in Europe and precipitated a major economic and social crisis in Europe, with Greece being, of course, the worst-hit place, but Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Portugal — we all suffered as a result — during that period, we didn’t invest in energy, in renewables. We had zero investment, almost zero investment in the renewables, that we needed in order to save the planet, on the one hand, and to decouple from the Putin regime in Russia. And it is only now, years and years later, that the chickens are coming home to roost across Europe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the impact on the Global South of Europe buying up gas and oil wherever it can find it?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, it’s awful, isn’t it? We are exporting poverty. In 2008, 2009, 2010, with the crisis of the German and the French banks initially, and then the public debt crisis, Europe exported deflation to the rest of the world. We exported unemployment to the rest of the world. Now we are exporting poverty, energy poverty, which translates then into food poverty, because, as we speak, there is a scramble, by Germany, by France, by Italy, even by little Greece, to buy all the gas that we can, you know, in liquefied form from Norway, from Qatar, from Algeria, from wherever they are selling it. And, of course, rich Europe, rich European countries, relatively rich, they can outbid the whole of the African continent and most of Asia, Latin America in those markets. So they’re pushing prices up for those countries, the developing world, while at the same time food shortages are hitting those countries. So, you know, yet again, Europe is exporting misery to the rest of the world. We’ve doing this for a thousand years; it’s not new, right? Colonialism began from these shores.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanis, if you could talk about your call for an end to Russian sanctions and your response to the latest kind of Ukrainian blitz taking back city after town, Russia, though, saying they would not negotiate at this point?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, it’s a tragedy that people are not negotiating when there’s a war, wherever that war happens. But I have say that, Amy, whenever an invaded country manages to repel the invader, I rejoice. I rejoice now that the Russian troops have been pushed back. I would rejoice if Palestinians managed to claim back their stolen land. I would rejoice everywhere and anywhere invaded peoples claim back their homes, their cities, their villages, their fields, their olive trees, whatever.

Having said that, we have a complete tragedy here in Europe with Ukraine, because I cannot see this war ending. There can be no final victory either for Putin or for Ukraine. There is very little doubt that Putin, as we speak, is planning another murderous escapade in different parts of Ukraine. We are in for a very long war, the victims of which are going to multiply and, you know, which will spread far and wide, as we said. There will be people dying of hunger in Africa, in Latin America. We are going to have an inflammation of the new Cold War between the United States and Europe, on the one hand, and China and Russia, on the other hand, with African nations, Asian nations pulling their hair out, because they — clearly, they don’t like Putin. They don’t like what Putin is doing. But at the same time, they refuse to accept that the United States of America, the government of the United States of America, or the Europeans can impose sanctions on anyone they don’t like, because they know that these sanctions have never been either efficient or in the interests of the majority of people in a majority of countries.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Yanis, I’m wondering — the big story in the corporate and commercial media the past few days, obviously, has been the death of Queen Elizabeth. Your perspective from — as a leftist political leader from Greece about all the fixation in much of the Western world over monarchs and, obviously, the royal family of Britain?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: I try to be very careful, whenever somebody dies, independently of my opinion of the deceased, to respect the people who are in grief. And therefore, I will be very restrained in my response. Let me, however, give you a response.

My grief is for civil liberties, for freedom of expression. An acquaintance of mine the other day had a very interesting experience outside the House of Commons, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, in London, you know, next to Big Ben, or under the Big Ben. There was an arrest recently of a demonstrator who had the audacity to hold a placard up — not actually. It wasn’t even a placard. It was a piece of paper in which he had scribbled “not my king” as Charles was passing by. This person was arrested. My acquaintance, a couple of days later, went to the same spot and had a blank piece of paper and a pen. Blank piece of paper and a pen. And the police came along, and they were about to jump on him. And he said to them, “So, if I write here on this piece of paper, ‘not my king,’ will you arrest me?” And they said, “Yes.” So they were waiting. Now, that, to me, is the death of democracy. And since your wonderful channel is called Democracy Now!, I think, it is something that we should all be very, very aware of.

AMY GOODMAN: Yanis Varoufakis, we want to thank you so much for being with us, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece. We’ll link to your latest piece in Project Syndicate, “Time to Blow Up Electricity Markets.”

The post Why energy markets should be dismantled, especially during and after the war in Ukraine – On Democracy Now! appeared first on Yanis Varoufakis.

Are we Greeks insufferable nationalists? UNHERD

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/09/2022 - 6:53pm in


English, Op-ed

We Greeks have a reputation for being insufferable nationalists, most of whom genuinely believe that Greek culture is superior to that of other nations and peoples. We were even anointed the most culturally chauvinistic Europeans in a recent Pew survey. At the risk of confirming that stereotype, I shall blame it on… foreigners, with their immoderate praise of Greek culture and their superficial reading of their own silly surveys.

On 28 May, 1979, the occasion of Greece’s accession to the European Economic Community, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then president of France delivered a speech in Athens and declared: “Europe without Greece would not be Europe… We are all, in our language and thought processes, children of Greek civilisation…” Today, he concluded, “Europe is rediscovering Europe.”

A century or so earlier, the Cambridge mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote that “the safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”. Not to be outdone in philhellenism, commenting in 1941 on the Greek resistance to the Italian and German invaders, Winston Churchill famously added: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”

Surely any people showered with such lavish praise by influential foreigners would be forgiven for taking a certain pride in their culture. For Greeks used to hearing folks like Giscard d’Estaing insist that. Greece  Europe, and vice versa, telling a pollster that they do not believe their culture to be superior would be tantamount to questioning the superiority of European civilisation. In fact, from a Greek’s perspective, it is the equivalent of asking the French, German, Spanish or Dutch to respond, with a yes or no answer, to the silly question: “Is European civilisation better or worse than other civilisations?” In this sense, modern Greeks are neither more nor less culturally chauvinist than Europeans who celebrate European civilisation as if the horrors of European colonialism had never happened.

But ask us Greeks about modern Greek culture and you will get a very different response. Sure enough, we have our fair share of looney ultra-nationalists, some of whom believe that Darwinism applies to every human except the Greeks, who stem from some divine extra-terrestrial gene. Yet the vast majority of my countrymen and women think very little of our contemporary culture, ways and behaviours. The past decade, especially since our wholesale bankruptcy, has left us reeling, insecure and verging on self-loathing.

Yes, we still appreciate the glowing successes of Greeks who left Greece in search of a better life elsewhere. Yes, we celebrate the odd athletic victory and we appreciate the beauty of Greece’s land, sea and environment. Yes, we maintain some pride in uniquely Greek concepts like philotimia — a penchant for acting in a dignified way simply for the hell of it. But at the same time, we fear that these qualities, natural and spiritual, have been diluted terribly in recent decades; partly because we neglected and cannibalised them (our monstrous investment in tourism, for example), and partly because of a European Union that helped us lose our way.

When Giscard d’Estaing made his 1979 speech, a year before northern Europe formally admitted us to the EU, most Greeks rejoiced. Alas, we soon realised that a general loss of dignity was the hefty price we would end up paying for the privilege. I am often asked why Europe first let us Greeks into the Common Market and later into the euro. The correct answer sounds improbable today: because, back in 1979 when Giscard was waxing lyrical about Greek civilisation, the Greek state had one of the lowest levels of public debt in Europe and its citizens had next to none. Yes, we were a poor people but we managed within our modest means, living and breathing paradigms of parsimony. That’s what we brought into the EU: low debt and high levels of home ownership — a combination that was the Western banker’s wet dream.

Even in 1999, just before we were admitted to the euro, barely any Greeks had a mortgage, let alone a credit card. However, to enter Europe we had to lower our trade barriers and, later, to dismantle all capital controls. Immediately, a tsunami of imports, money and loans left northern Europe for Greece. Not that we resisted it, hungry as we were for the material trappings of modernity. Before we knew it, our factories were shut (and converted into warehouses for the imported washing machines and fridges that were once manufactured here); our bank accounts went from thin black to deep red; our dignity and philotimia were torn asunder.

It was only a matter of time before the global debt and banking bubble burst, before the same Europeans and Americans who once praised us as the pillars of Western civilisation turned on us. Conveniently ignoring that they had insisted we borrow mountains of their money — so we could buy their cars, washing machines and haute couture — they did not hesitate to call us all sorts of names unfit to print here.

Worse still, under our breath, we call ourselves similar names. When talking to each other, we have no qualms of being highly self-critical, often bordering on self-hatred. No Greek I know would, for instance, disagree with David Holden, the Times journalist who in 1972 depicted Greece as “rich in talent and poor in resources, developed in its tastes and underdeveloped in its capacities”. And so partly out of a false dedication to not disappointing those who talk up Greek civilisation, and partly due to our anger with ourselves and with a Europe that led us astray before treating us like cattle that lost their market price, we respond to idiotic survey questions with fake pride. Of course, we know it is fake — but, then again, fake pride is the last resort for those who have forfeited the real thing.

For the Unherd webpage click here

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Time to Blow Up the Electricity Markets – Project Syndicate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/09/2022 - 6:47pm in


English, Op-ed

The European Union’s power sector is a good example of what market fundamentalism has done to electricity networks the world over. With the end of cheap natural gas, retail consumers and businesses are paying the price for their governments’ embrace of a shoddy theory.

ATHENS – The blades of the wind turbines on the mountain range opposite my window are turning especially energetically today. Last night’s storm has abated but high winds continue, contributing extra kilowatts to the electricity grid at precisely zero additional cost (or marginal cost, in the language of the economists). But the people struggling to make ends meet during a dreadful cost-of-living crisis must pay for these kilowatts as if they were produced by the most expensive liquefied natural gas transported to Greece’s shores from Texas. This absurdity, which prevails well beyond Greece and Europe, must end.

The absurdity stems from the delusion that states can simulate a competitive, and thus efficient, electricity market. Because only one electricity cable enters our homes or businesses, leaving matters to the market would lead to a perfect monopoly – an outcome that nobody wants. But governments decided that they could simulate a competitive market to replace the public utilities that used to generate and distribute power. They can’t.1

The European Union’s power sector is a good example of what market fundamentalism has done to electricity networks the world over. The EU obliged its member states to split the electricity grid from the power-generating stations and privatize the power stations to create new firms, which would compete with one another to provide electricity to a new company owning the grid. This company, in turn, would lease its cables to another host of companies that would buy the electricity wholesale and compete among themselves for the retail business of homes and firms. Competition among producers would minimize the wholesale price, while competition among retailers would ensure that final consumers benefit from low prices and high-quality service.

Alas, none of this could be made to work in theory, let alone in practice.

The simulated market faced contradictory imperatives: to ensure a minimum amount of electricity within the grid at every point in time, and to channel investment into green energy. The solution proposed by market fundamentalists was twofold: create another market for permissions to emit greenhouse gases, and introduce marginal-cost pricing, which meant that the wholesale price of every kilowatt should equal that of the costliest kilowatt.

The emission-permit market was meant to motivate electricity producers to shift to less polluting fuels. Unlike a fixed tax, the cost of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide would be determined by the market. In theory, the more industry relied on terrible fuels like lignite, the larger the demand for the EU-issued emission permits. This would drive up their price, strengthening the incentive to switch to natural gas and, ultimately, to renewables.

Marginal-cost pricing was intended to ensure the minimum level of electricity supply, by preventing low-cost producers from undercutting higher-cost power companies. The prices would give low-cost producers enough profits and reasons to invest in cheaper, less polluting energy sources.

To see what the regulators had in mind, consider a hydroelectric power station and a lignite-fired one. The fixed cost of building the hydroelectric station is large but the marginal cost is zero: once water turns its turbine, the next kilowatt the station produces costs nothing. In contrast, the lignite-fired power station is much cheaper to build, but the marginal cost is positive, reflecting the fixed amount of costly lignite per kilowatt produced.

By fixing the price of every kilowatt produced hydroelectrically to be no less than the marginal cost of producing a kilowatt using lignite, the EU wanted to reward the hydroelectric company with a fat profit, which, regulators hoped, would be invested in additional renewable-energy capacity. Meanwhile, the lignite-fueled power station would have next to no profits (as the price would just about cover its marginal costs) and a growing bill for the permits it needed to buy in order to pollute.

But reality was less forgiving than the theory. As the pandemic wreaked havoc on global supply chains, the price of natural gas rose, before trebling after Russia invaded Ukraine. Suddenly, the most polluting fuel (lignite) was not the most expensive, motivating more long-term investment in fossil fuels and infrastructure for LNG. Marginal-cost pricing helped power companies extract huge rents from outraged retail consumers, who realized they were paying much more than the average cost of electricity. Not surprisingly, publics, seeing no benefits – to them or to the environment – from the blades rotating above their heads and spoiling their scenery, turned against wind turbines.

The rise in natural gas prices has exposed the endemic failures that occur when a simulated market is grafted onto a natural monopoly. We have seen it all: How easily producers could collude in fixing the wholesale price. How their obscene profits, especially from renewables, turned citizens against the green transition. How the simulated market regime impeded common procurement that would have alleviated poorer countries’ energy costs. How the retail electricity market became a casino with companies speculating on future electricity prices, profiting during the good times, and demanding state bailouts when their bets turn bad.

It’s time to wind down simulated electricity markets. What we need, instead, are public energy networks in which electricity prices represent average costs plus a small mark-up. We need a carbon tax, whose proceeds must compensate poorer citizens. We need a large-scale Manhattan Project-like investment in the green technologies of the future (such as green hydrogen and large-scale offshore floating windfarms). And, lastly, we need municipally-owned local networks of existing renewables (solar, wind, and batteries) that turn communities into owners, managers, and beneficiaries of the power they need.

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Greeks and

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/09/2022 - 6:41pm in



Greeks and other southern Europeans could now be feeling schadenfreude as Germany faces the collapse of its economic model in the face of the Ukraine war and the new cold war with China. But with a democratic Europe in the balance, this is no time to gloat.

ATHENS – It is never easy to wake up to the news that your country’s business model is busted. It is difficult to acknowledge the obvious: that your political leaders had either been deluded or lying to you when they assured you for decades that your hard-earned living standards were safe. That your immediate future now relies on the kindness of foreigners determined to crush you. That the European Union, in which you had placed your trust, had been engaging in a permanent concealment exercise. That your EU partners, to whom you are now appealing for help, look at you as a villain whose comeuppance is long overdue. That economic elites in your country and beyond are seeking novel ways to ensure that your country remains stuck. That you must endure massive, painful changes to ensure that nothing changes.

Greeks know this feeling. We experienced it in our bones in early 2010. Today, it is the Germans who are facing a wall of condescension, antipathy, and even mockery. Ironic as it may seem, no Europeans are better placed than the Greeks to understand that the Germans deserve better; that their current predicament is the result of our collective, European failure; and that no one – least of all the long-suffering Greeks, southern Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese (the PIGS as we were once called) – benefits from schadenfreude.

The tables have been turned on Germany because its economic model relied on repressed wagescheap Russian gas, and excellence in mid-tech mechanical engineering – particularly manufacturing cars with internal combustion engines. This resulted in massive trade surpluses during four distinct post-World War II phases: under the US-led Bretton Woods system, which provided fixed exchange rates and market access to Europe, Asia, and the Americas; then, after the collapse of Bretton Woods, when the single European market proved highly lucrative for German exports; again following the introduction of the euro, when vendor financing opened the floodgates for both goods and capital flowing from Germany to Europe’s periphery; and, finally, when China’s hunger for intermediate and final manufacturing products took up the slack after the euro crisis dampened demand for German goods in southern Europe.

Germans are now slowly coming to terms with the demise of their economic model and are beginning to see through the multifaceted Big Lie their elites were repeating for three decades: Fiscal surpluses were not prudence in action, but rather a monumental failure, during the long years of ultra-low interest rates, to invest in clean energy, critical infrastructure, and the two crucial technologies of the future: batteries and artificial intelligence. Germany’s dependence on Russian gas and Chinese demand was never sustainable in the long term; and they are not mere bugs that can be ironed out.

The claim that the German model was compatible with Europe’s monetary union is also being exposed as false. Lacking a fiscal and a political union, the EU was always going to saddle Club Med governments, banks, and corporations with unpayable debts, which eventually would force the European Central Bank to choose between letting the euro die and embarking upon a permanent bankruptcy-concealment project.

Germans are realizing this today as they observe a hamstrung ECB which is damned if it raises interest rates substantially (causing Italy and others to implode) and damned if it doesn’t (allowing runaway inflation). While it never should have been the ECB’s job to save the euro from its flawed foundations, Germans can see that their politicians lied to them that their economic model could survive the 2008 crisis as long as other eurozone countries practiced enough austerity. They are also coming to understand that their leaders’ stimulus-phobia led to permanent socialism for the southern European oligarchs, the Franco-German bankers, and various zombified corporations.

Once upon a time, those of us who criticized the notion that every eurozone country should become like Germany objected that the German model worked only because no one else had adopted it. Today, with the end of cheap gas and America’s new cold war with China, the German model is kaput even for Germany. Yes, German exports will rebound, aided by the low value of the euro. Volkswagen will sell a lot more electric cars once supply chains are restored. BASF will bounce back, once energy supplies are secured. What will not return is the German model: A large chunk of Volkswagen’s revenues will go to China, whence the battery technologies come, and mountains of value will shift from the chemical industry to AI-related sectors.

Some German friends are pinning their hopes on the falling euro to restore the German model to health. It won’t. Low-savings countries with a structural trade deficit, like Greece or Ghana, do benefit from devaluation. High-savings countries with a structural trade surplus, do not – all that happens is that poorer domestic consumers subsidize richer exporters, which is precisely the opposite of what the German social economy needs.

My message to German friends is simple: Quit mourning. Cut through the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, and start designing a new economic model. Unlike Greeks, you still have enough sovereignty to do so without the permission of creditors.

But first, you must resolve a critical political dilemma: Do you want Germany to retain political and fiscal sovereignty? If so, your new model will never work within this eurozone of ours. If you do not want to go back to the Deutsche Mark, you need a model embedded within a full-fledged, democratic European federation. Anything else will continue the Big Lie with which you are now painfully coming to terms.

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Inflation, socialism’ for corporations & austerity for workers: FORTUNE comments on Yanis Varoufakis’ take

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/09/2022 - 6:35pm in



Known for sporting a leather jacket in meetings with foreign dignitaries during his brief stint as Greece’s finance minister in 2015, Yanis Varoufakis has become a bit of a rebel in economic circles. A member of Greece’s Hellenic Parliament and founder of the left-wing European Realistic Disobedience Front, or MeRA25 party, Varoufakis hasn’t historically pulled any punches when it comes to his scathing criticism of fellow economists and politicians, and his most recent article is no exception.

The author of Adults in the Room: My Battle With the European and American Deep Establishment and currently an economics professor at the University of Athens, Varoufakis continued his long-running critique of austerity in a Project Syndicate op-ed published over the weekend, and added a new argument about the inflation that has shocked the world in 2022.

Central banks have given corporations a type of “lavish socialism” since the 2008 financial crisis, Varoufakis wrote, while workers have been stuck with “harsh austerity,” and the highest inflation in 40 years is just the latest twist.

A half-century–long power play

The economist’s argument is based on the idea that corporations have led a “half-century–long power play” to boost their stock prices, creating unsustainable business models and fragile global supply chains along the way. But it’s all gone wrong in recent years, and workers have been left to clean up the mess.

Before the great crisis of 2008, he said, U.S. corporations used “pyramids of private money” from cheap and plentiful imports and consistent foreign investment to create a “labyrinth” of global just-in-time supply chains instead of focusing on increasing productivity.

Then, when the 2008 financial crisis hit, the pyramid collapsed and central banks were forced to step in and save the day. Interest rates were slashed to near-zero and many central banks began a somewhat controversial policy known as quantitative easing—which involves central banks buying government bonds and mortgage-backed securities in hopes of increasing the money supply and spurring lending and investment.

But while corporations were being saved by central bank policies and federal government bailouts, workers were left to fend for themselves.

“Governments were cutting public expenditure, jobs, and services. It was nothing short of lavish socialism for capital and harsh austerity for labor,” Varoufakis says. “Wages shrunk, and prices and profits were stagnant, but the price of assets purchased by the rich (and thus their wealth) skyrocketed. Thus…capitalists became both richer and more reliant on central-bank money than ever.”

Wealth “triumphed” in real estate and equity markets in this era of government and central bank support, but Varoufakis says asset prices quickly became divorced from the real economy. Then the pandemic hit, and the flows of cash that had allowed corporations to flourish over the past decade were suddenly redirected to consumers.

“Western governments were forced to channel some of the new rivers of central-bank money to the locked-down masses within economies that, over the decades, had depleted their capacity to produce stuff and were now facing busted supply chains to boot,” he said.

When consumers spent some of the money they were given by the federal government via stimulus checks, suppliers couldn’t keep pace with the new demand, leading inflation to rise—and corporations, the war in Ukraine, and COVID-19 lockdowns only added to the problem.

“Corporations with great paper wealth responded by exploiting their immense market power (yielded by their shrunken productive capacity) to push prices through the roof,” he said.

Still, Varoufakis argued that we aren’t seeing a wage-price spiral in the U.S., where workers asking for pay increases to preserve their income amid inflation end up increasing costs for companies, which in turn increase their prices to compensate. The lack of a wage-price spiral means central banks shouldn’t be asking workers to “take one for the team” and go without wage increases.

“Today, demanding that workers forgo wage gains is absurd. All the evidence suggests that, unlike in the 1970s, wages are rising much more slowly than prices, and yet the increase in prices is not just continuing but accelerating,” Varoufakis said.

Still, the inflation problem means Western governments and central banks are faced with a tough decision, Varoufakis argues: “Push conglomerates and even states into cascading bankruptcies, or allow inflation to go unchecked.”

The economist didn’t describe what he believes central bank officials will choose, but he argued the end results are unlikely to be appealing to the masses.

“So, what happens now? Probably nothing good,” he said. “To stabilize the economy, the authorities first need to end the exorbitant power bestowed upon the very few by a political process of paper wealth and cheap debt creation. But the few will not surrender power without a struggle, even if it means going down in flames with society in tow.”

For the FORTUNE original webpage click here

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Solomon Islands threatens to block ‘disrespectful’ foreign journalists from entering the country

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/09/2022 - 12:33pm in

The Prime Minister said ABC's report smacks of racism

Originally published on Global Voices

Pacific Games stadium

The Pacific games stadium one of the projects China is helping to build in the Solomon Islands. Screenshot from video of Four Corners, ABC

The government of the Solomon Islands has warned that journalists who are “disrespectful” will not be allowed entry into the country.

On August 24, the Office of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare criticized the Four Corners program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for its video episode titled “Pacific Capture: How Chinese money is buying the Solomons,” which tackles the rising influence of the Beijing government in the Solomon Islands.

…title suggests to the unsuspecting mind that Solomon Islands is for sale. ABC with its vast viewership in the region had chosen to parade its anti-China attitude using Solomon Islands as its springboard to cause geopolitical fear and uncertainty in the region.

The Sogavare government has developed closer ties with China after ceasing its diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 2019. It welcomed and promoted the expansion of Chinese aid and investments over the last three years. In March, a leaked security pact between the two countries sparked regional controversy and elicited strong reactions from other Pacific powers such as Australia and the United States. Sogavare has consistently denied that a Chinese military facility will be established in the Solomon Islands.

The prime minister’s statement accused ABC of spreading misinformation:

We will not allow bad press to grow seeds of disharmony in a country that is going through its nation building process.

Media freedom must not be used to undermine a state’s stability based on misinformation and biased reporting.

It added that the ABC reporting smacks of racism. These accusations may be used as a basis to block ABC reporters and other foreign journalists who are behaving the same way from entering the country.

ABC is trying to tell the Solomon Islands people that because the Government of Solomon Islands is opening up to partners who are not, in the opinion of ABC, white and does not operate a democratic system it is wrong, unfit and corrupt. This is racial profiling and at best promotes racism and racial stereotyping.

When you chose to come to our Pacific Islands, be respectful, be courteous and accord the appropriate protocols.

Such organizations or journalist who possess such qualities will not be allowed to enter Solomon Islands and other Pacific Islands nations.

The ABC stands by the “accuracy and integrity” of its program. It also reminded the Solomon Islands government that local experts were interviewed in the video.

…we were determined to tell the story from the perspective of Solomon Islanders and the program reflected their concerns. Its main interviews were with two eminent Solomon Islanders, rather than relying on “foreign experts” as is often the case.

An ABC journalist also clarified that they reached out to the prime minister’s office several times.

Another ABC journalist posted a question about how the prime minister’s statement could affect the work of foreign correspondents.

Solomon islands “summoned” Australia’s High Commissioner about the ABC program, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that it was a mere “neighborly discussion” about the issues raised in the report.

Opposition leader Matthew Wale described Sogavare as “a person with extreme paranoia” and added that the prime minister should blame himself for refusing to face the media.

It is totally pointless to summon people when international media have travelled to your doorstep and requested interviews with you, but you declined. The best you could have done is face the media and tell your side of the story and not to cry over spilt milk. Why is the Prime Minister afraid to face the media?

The International Federation of Journalists has expressed concern about Sogavare’s statement and its negative impact on upholding press freedom. This is not the first time this year that proposed restrictions on news coverage were highlighted by the media. Last month, the government directed the public broadcaster to stop promoting “disunity.” Local journalists also boycotted a press forum in May during the visit of China’s foreign minister after they were barred from raising questions during the event.

Part 2: Australian nurse discusses her humanitarian mission to Ukraine's frontlines

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 3:49pm in

Helen Zahos reflects on her visit to Ukraine and Moldova

Originally published on Global Voices

Helen Zahos with a tank and her guide in Ukraine

Helen with a tank and her guide in Ukraine – Photo courtesy Helen Zahos

Australian emergency nurse, Helen Zahos, has just returned home after working as a humanitarian volunteer near the frontlines in Ukraine.

She kindly agreed to our request to share her latest undertaking. This is the second in a two-part interview. The first is here.

Kevin Rennie: You are experienced in emergency situations. What coping strategies do you have, and how were they challenged in Ukraine?

Helen Zahos: Great question. I had finished a paper on coping mechanisms and psychosocial needs for disaster medical assistance teams before, during, and after deployment. I headed to Ukraine with several strategies in place. I found very quickly being in a heightened situation, where I had planned to listen to some meditation or relaxation music, meant that I didn’t want to put anything in my ears. I was too busy listening out for the fighting, for sirens, for the alarm on my phone that told us to take shelter. There was a couple of nights that I felt really overtired and a bit overwhelmed but resolved with a good night’s sleep. Definitely no drinking alcohol because you needed to remain alert. I didn’t stick to most of my strategies, but one thing I swore I had to keep on top of and that was my vitamins and adrenal support medications and to eat fresh produce as much as I could. I also had a couple of good friends that I would reach out to and talk about my daily experiences.

KR: Were the people welcoming of volunteers being there? Was there any hostility towards you with some people being pro-Russian in the country?

HZ: In Moldova, the divide was much more obvious with protests while I was there and a caution to not discuss openly with people why we were there, or to at least be aware of the political tensions. In Ukraine because I was so close to the frontline, maybe because I was a woman, but I often got a double take or people who knew I was there volunteering were curious and the most common question was ‘Aren’t you scared to be here in Ukraine so close to the war?’

I found that local Ukrainian organisations were keen to provide assistance or information, they were grateful for us to be there. There was a real sense of comradery amongst people even on the road. It was like the whole country had banded together. Those that were pro-Russia had left or moved or would definitely not announce this out aloud in the area that I was in. The frequent checkpoints with the army and police meant that as foreigners we were scrutinised much more to make sure we were not spies, but we had no real issues as we were there with government officials but the waiting time for passport checks was often time consuming.

KR: You don't speak the Ukrainian language. Was this an obstacle?

HZ: It was actually draining, some days I found it frustrating I just wanted to be able to say something simple and it felt like it took forever. When I was tired, this seemed worse. One day I was getting money out of an ATM the driver was in the car, as the money was dispensed two soldiers started running past me and they were yelling out to someone, I instantly thought something was happening, the driver had stood out of the car and was walking towards me and I thought he was coming to tell me to run or get to the car. I grabbed the money and moved so fast I forgot my key card in the machine. I found out later that it was nothing. They were yelling out to a friend and running to catch up with him but when you don’t know the language and it’s a war zone you are hypervigilant and people start running and yelling you instantly think something bad is about to happen. So I would say that not speaking the language was an obstacle, but I found (having a) Greek heritage meant that culturally I found it similar whereas the coordinator from Switzerland had problems at times with the cultural differences.

Helen Zahos chats with Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița

A chance meeting with Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița. Photo courtesy of Helen Zahos.

KR: You have said that there is so much need both in Ukraine and Moldova. What are some of the humanitarian priorities? Any suggestions for how people from other countries can help?

HZ: In Ukraine, there was a need for infrastructure, consumables and equipment. The army is crying out for weapons and ammunition, but the hospitals are crying out for consumables. There is a need for clean drinking water, there is an outbreak of hepatitis and cholera, so medications and immunisations for those conditions. Equipment to stock up hospitals and shelters, generators, things you would need for winter, heating, blankets, general pharmaceuticals to stock in shelters, baby nappies and powdered milk, women’s sanitary pads. Many people have left but many women have stayed behind to volunteer, and cook meals for the men, or take their sewing machines down to the warehouses and sew bulletproof vests or camouflage material to cover vehicles and soldiers.

Logistically, it is difficult to get equipment in that is donated, taxes are charged to the organisation receiving them. Sending money to a trusted organisation is best. They can buy what is needed directly.

KR: You were involved in the 2015 refugee crisis; how did this compare with seeing refugees fleeing Ukraine and arriving in Moldova?

HZ: To be fair I didn’t witness the arrivals from Ukraine in Moldova at the beginning of the invasion but the Mayor and Deputy Mayor explained the difficulties they faced. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, so receiving refugees from Ukraine was difficult when their own people needed assistance. The influx was dispersed over many borders including Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Belarus, and Moldova. In 2015, Greece became the bottle neck of the flow and for many months up to 5,000 people arrived a day. Greece struggled with the arrivals, a country that had been hit with a financial crisis the year before, tensions arose when local people felt they were suffering and refugees and people seeking asylum were receiving benefits. To avoid the same situation in Moldova, the mobile medical services run by Adventist Help in Cahul ensured that all people could be seen and treated, both local Moldovans and Ukrainian refugees. As the frontline of the war in Ukraine moves and the fighting intensifies, the Moldovans are prepared for the day that more refugees cross into their country.

Ukrainian refugees were welcomed into Europe with open arms, the refugees that arrived into Greece and Europe in 2015 from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq struggled much more and were often left out on the streets in the cold and in the rain whereas people opened up their houses for the Ukrainian refugees. The focus and support on Ukraine has left other countries suffering from wars feeling forgotten. I can’t stress how lucky we are in Australia to not have to have these worries.

KR: What work will you be doing when you get back to Australia?

HZ: I have just returned and have hit the ground running. Two days after arriving I presented in Brisbane to 200 people. There are other presentations and workshops coming up in Melbourne and Sydney. I have been asked as the expert consultant for the Dart centre Asia Pacific in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to sit on a panel for the ICRC International Media Summit on war reporting. I will then help facilitate the workshop in Melbourne and then Sydney on Trauma Imagery and Humanitarian storytelling.

Once I return home, and the dust has settled, I will probably pick up some agency shifts as an emergency nurse on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Nursing is such an incredible career, it is only as restrictive as you chose to make it. The world is out there, your skills are needed, chances are it is you that is stopping yourself.

Helen Zahos at ICRC workshop

Helen Zahos at International Committee of the Red Cross workshop 3 Aug 2022 – Author's photo

KR: Finally, do you think that you succeeded in your overall mission?

HZ: Yes of course we succeeded. It is not uncommon for plans to change so this was not unexpected and the purpose of doing an assessment and planning. Did I want to stay on and do more, of course I did. I am still immersing myself back into normal life but still keeping in touch and in the not quite ready to let go phase. By next week, things will be back to normal for me here in Australia, but in the back of my mind now I have new found friends that I will care and worry about back in Ukraine. I will not forget them, or the people and hospitality of both Ukraine and Moldova. I would go back in a heartbeat.

While she was near the frontlines, Helen couldn't resist joking about her security arrangements compared with the Australian Prime Minister during his visit:

Solomon Islands officials order national broadcaster to stop promoting ‘disunity’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 08/08/2022 - 1:04pm in

The government denies that it is seeking to censor content

Originally published on Global Voices

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation or (SIBC)

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation or (SIBC)

The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a publicly funded media network, was ordered by the prime minister’s office to enforce new guidelines that will require news and paid programs to undergo a vetting process as the government reins in on “disunity.”

SIBC chief executive Johnson Honimae told the Associated Press that the prime minister’s office has raised the issue of “disunity” in several telephone calls. “They believe we've been running too many stories from the opposition side, causing too much disunity,” Honimae said.

The Prime Minister's Office reminded SIBC about its duty “to practice, fair, responsible and ethical journalism.”

We have seen that recently SIBC has been broadcasting news that is inciting alarm and anxiety in our public, mostly based on misinformation and lies. The Government has not been even given the opportunity to respond to this misinformation and lies.

This was echoed by the prime minister during a session in Parliament.

Opposition leader Matthew Wale described the order of the prime minister as a gag on the press:

Allowing the Prime Minister to control SIBC activities is not only contrary to law but can also have far-reaching consequences. It may well be draconian leaving no room for corruption by ministers and government officials to be brought to public attention.

Melanesian News Network editor Dorothy Wickham told ABC in an interview about the potential negative impact of the order on press freedom:

If the opposition gets on SIBC and starts criticising government policies, which every opposition does … would the government disallow SIBC to air that story or that interview? That is the question that we're asking.

She added that it is not the duty of the media to promote unity.

University of South Pacific journalism professor Shailendra Singh wrote about the decline of freedom of expression in the country.

The government has clarified that its order is not censorship since it only seeks to protect “our people from lies and misinformation, especially when these very lies and misinformation is propagated by the national broadcaster.”

The precarious state of media freedom in the Solomon Islands was also highlighted during the visit of the Chinese foreign minister in May, when local reporters were barred from raising questions at the press forum.