Acknowledging the Armenian Genocide: the Potential Impact of Brexit and Anglo-Turkish relations.  

Only 33 countries worldwide (and the European Parliament) have formally acknowledged the Armenian Genocide despite the consensus among historians and other academics outside Turkey being that the actions of the Ottoman Empire (now the Republic of Turkey) were genocidal. The UN defined genocide in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Article II also includes a list of actions committed against a group that would be considered genocidal: “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately infliction on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Based on this, there should be no doubt that the massacres should be considered a genocide as approximately 1.5 Armenians were killed by the Ottomans between 1915 and 1917, many of them killed on the death marches or as a result of deportation. It has been over a century since the Armenian Genocide, so why is the UK government still so hesitant to acknowledge it as such?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Credit: Reuters)

The Republic of Turkey acknowledge that a significant number of Armenians were massacred, but they do not accept that a genocide occurred and have adopted a policy of genocide denial, with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish president, claiming that there is no ‘stain or a shadow like genocide’ in Turkey’s past. In April this year Joe Biden became the first US president to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide even though there had been warnings from the Turkish foreign minister that this would further damage the relationship between the two countries. The relationship between Turkey and the US is very different to the relationship between Turkey and the UK, and this may explain why one leader has been able to recognise the genocide for what it is while one of them has not yet acknowledged it. Turkey and the UK generally have a good trading relationship, with 6% of exports from Turkey going to the UK. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK’s direct investment in Turkey in 2011 reached $917 million (c. £679 million) and there are 2,362 companies with UK capital operating in Turkey. This means that potentially ruining the relationship between the UK and Turkey could have a significant economic impact on the UK.

In the context of a post-Brexit United Kingdom where Turkey is a potentially very important ally economically, this gives Turkey significant power over the UK in terms of dictating whether the Armenian Genocide can be officially recognised. The UK government has struggled somewhat when it comes to trade agreements post-Brexit with most of the current agreements just rolled over agreements with countries that had trade agreements with the EU that now apply to the UK individually as well. However, Turkey is one of the few countries that has negotiated a trade deal with the UK that does not just have the same terms as their agreement with the EU. It is evident that the current UK government has placed a great deal of value on this deal, not least because Boris Johnson, who previously championed the Turkish attempts to join the EU, now believes that it would be best for Turkey to remain outside of the EU. Given that the EU negotiates trade deals for all member states, if Turkey were to join the EU it would render the new trade deal with the UK void and the UK would lose an important trading partner that, based on the actions of the government, it cannot afford to lose.

Earlier this year the Armenian Genocide (Recognition) Bill was introduced to parliament and, if successful, would require that the UK government formally acknowledge the massacres of Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917 as a genocide. However, this is not the first time that a Bill like this has been introduced to parliament, there have been 17 previous attempts since 1995 to force the UK government to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, none of which were successful. If the UK government was not confident enough that they could acknowledge the massacres as a genocide without there being significant economic consequences while a part of the largest trading bloc in the world at the time, it is not likely that the new Bill will be successful now that the UK has left the security of that trading bloc.

Lauren Gannon

Could the North of England Become an Independent Country?

Much attention surrounding devolution and independence within the United Kingdom is focused on Scotland – the 2014 referendum combined with the growing support for the Scottish National Party in the country has established a resentment towards England due to its disregard for other countries within the Union. Northern Ireland and Wales have growing independence movements, with Cornwall adding to this, and surprisingly for some– the north of England.

For many, the physical divide between north and south is hard to discern. Some say it is just above Watford, others exclude counties such as Lancashire and Lincolnshire in favour of Tyne and Wear and Yorkshire, whilst others believe the Midlands are in the region. 

The recently formed Northern Independence Party defines the north as the ancient region of Northumbria. A leading voice for northern independence, this seems to be the clear definition of the ‘north’; they gained 50,000 members in less than a year and even ran for office in the Hartlepool by-election. But, what is it that unites these counties under this umbrella term?

Historians argue that two key periods have helped shape the northern identity: the Industrial Revolution and the economic struggle of the 1980s, creating an identity remarkably separate from the rest of England. 

The north of England has been historically oppressed since 1069 under William the Conqueror, with the ‘harrying of the north’ in which he brutally suppressed northern rebellions against his rule, and systematically destroyed northern towns. The region experienced famine with much of the areas deserted. 

More rebellions followed throughout the next 1000 years, and to this day socio-economic disparities are still evident. Mortality rates are higher in the north than in the south– 15% higher. Education and transport standards are majorly different to the south.

The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the many pressures adding to the calls for independence. Manchester seemed to be the centre of this, with Andy Burnham’s anger towards the government for their lack of funding given to the city. This lack of COVID-19 relief– in comparison to southern cities– added to the growing concerns over the survival of the northern industries, after it was placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions against the advice of scientific advisors.

Gordon Brown, Former Prime Minister, remarked that in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the psychological glue holding the country together has come unstuck. ‘Not only do you have the Scottish minister but you’ve got regional ministers saying they are not consulted or listened to… you’ve got no mechanism or forum for co-ordinating the regions and nations’. Not only is the Scottish-English divide strong, but the north-south divide is growing stronger– and it’s not just due to decades of Tory rule but perhaps, the political system. Could independence or devolution be the answer?

Under Tony Blair, arguments and motions for devolution were brought forward. Devolved assemblies were created in Scotland and Wales. However, the 2004 referendum on northern devolution failed– with 78% voting against it. 

To gain power in the north, Northumberland-born Alex Niven, author of ‘New Model Island: How to Build a Radical Culture Beyond the Idea of England’ argues that it will take a radical left-wing government to bring about devolution for the north. But rather than a completely autonomous and independent north, Niven argues for constitutional changes to challenge the ‘imperialistic’ Britain. Devolution is the answer, not total independence. A centralised approach to policy and politics in Westminster only ruins the local communities and creates a greater distrust in the government.

However, the Northern Independence Party’s manifesto states that it is London that ‘gobbles up’ the industry. They declare that London-based journalists ‘pick out the worst of us’ by perpetuating stereotypes of the north that adds to its general oppression. With independence, they claim they will join with an independent Scotland in alliances. 

It poses many questions. Is Derby included? What will be the capital? The historic capital of England was York and, as Yorkshire is the biggest county in Northumbria, could it be York– or will the economic powerhouses of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool become the capital due to their resources? If so, will a feeling of resentment grow in certain regions, with perhaps a divide in opinion much like the north-south divide already prevalent? Also, structural inequality– if the capital does become one of these powerhouses, will employment be focused here rather than across the region?

Big questions include economic stability and the presence of an army. Decades of structural inequalities have led to the wish for an independent north due to the neglect of Westminster. But, this structural inequality creates a complex issue: with no real employment available already, how will jobs be created in a new country? 

I believe that for now, devolution is the answer to the crises in the north. Whilst the 2004 referendum did not show much support for this, in recent years and especially with the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of the northern independence party– the time is ripe. Could independence happen? Possibly, with the aid of Scotland. But for a truly Free North to fruition, for now, devolution will aid the cause to true independence. It’s been a long time coming and whilst under Tory, Westminster rule, the north will continue to perish.

Aoifke Madeleine, History in Politics Summer Writer

The Dangers of Marriage for a Queen Regnant in the Sixteenth Century

Marriage among the monarchies of sixteenth-century Europe was usually a means to produce a male heir who would accede to the throne and make alliances between countries, usually with the daughter of a king being offered as a potential wife to the young male heir of another country. For kings, a successful marriage was essential in order to ensure the continuation of their dynasty. When it came to a Queen Regnant, a woman who was able to rule in her own right, a marriage could be potentially disastrous and result in the Queen having her power undermined because, once married, a woman became the property of her husband because of a lack of legal protection for women. There were concerns that, if a Queen were to marry a foreign prince, it would mean foreign interference in a way that could not happen if a king had married a foreign princess or noblewoman. These concerns could not be circumvented by marrying a noble, either, because that could be seen among the nobility as ‘favouring’ one family over the other, and as the monarchy still relied on the noble classes to provide an army in times of war it was in their best interest to keep as much of them on side as possible.

Image Credit: Maia C via Flickr

Female heirs to the throne were aware of the potential danger of losing agency and authority, and this is likely why both Mary I and Elizabeth I were hesitant to marry. In a letter written by Charles V’s ambassador, Simon Renard, he says that Mary told him that she had not intended on marrying once she became Queen as she wanted to ‘end her days in chastity’, but she understood it was her duty to do so and to try to produce a Catholic heir to continue her counter-reformation work. However, Mary did ensure that she protected her rights in the marriage agreement, and Philip II had no actual power in England, Mary was an independent leader despite her status as a wife. The fact that this protection was necessary demonstrates how threatening marriage could be for a Queen’s authority if the correct precautions were not taken. Elizabeth chose never to marry, and Susan Brigden, who specialises in the English Reformation, attributes this to there being no real advantage to marrying any of the available suitors. This is because marrying an Englishman would only create issues within the nobility and Brigden suggests that Elizabeth preferred to pretend to entertain marriage proposals from foreign princes in order to gain support from them without any real commitment that could have limited her ability to make alliances with other European powers. For female monarchs, getting married almost required a cost-benefit analysis wherein the Queen would have to consider whether the risks involved in getting married were worth it. In the case of Mary, it was beneficial to her at the time she married because she needed the support of another Catholic monarch and to produce a Catholic heir, whereas Elizabeth’s prospects were not as powerful as an alliance with Spain and offered little extra security in comparison to Mary’s marriage to Philip II.

Female monarchs had unique problems in relation to producing an heir, which was a vital part of a successful marriage in early modern England, because death in childbirth was common, and in the case of Mary and Elizabeth, this would have led to a minor inheriting the throne again, which would have caused the political turmoil that was seen during Edward VI’s short reign. Alternatively, there may have been a situation where both the mother and baby died, leaving no heir to the throne, which could have caused issues for the stability of the government. However, producing a child who could succeed the throne was one of the key aspects of being a monarch as they needed to secure the dynasty. Mary and Elizabeth had differing approaches to this problem. Mary had a husband and she wanted to have a child with him so that her child could inherit the throne, but she was unable to have a child. It was reported that Mary even experienced phantom pregnancies because there was so much pressure for her to have a child who would grow up to be the next Catholic monarch of England. On the other hand, Elizabeth never tried to have a child, instead choosing to name an heir from the existing line of succession, although she constantly delayed naming an heir. This may have been a way of protecting herself, though, as she had seen that in Scotland Mary Queen of Scots had been deposed within a year of her having a son, and Elizabeth did not want that to happen to her. As women, both Mary and Elizabeth were constantly at risk of losing their throne to male claimants, even if it was their own hypothetical child.

Lauren Gannon

The Forgotten Medici

The Medici were one of the most infamous families in Italian and Renaissance history, a family of bankers who rose to rule Florence. They became patrons of the arts, backing the likes of Da Vinci and Galileo and produced four popes and two queens of France.

However, there is one member of the family who has been erased from history and has only recently been more widely spoken about in historical and media circles.

Alessandro de’ Medici was the only recognised illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de’ Medici. It is believed that his mother was a servant in the Medici household. Her name was Simonetta da Collevecchio, who was believed to be of African descent by multiple historians such as Christopher Hibbert and John Brackett.

For the most part, he was disliked less for his skin colour than his mother’s status as a freed slave. He was seen as ‘false royalty’ throughout his life due his mother’s low birth.

He was given the nickname Il Moro, ‘The Moor’ by others, due to his dark skin and curly hair.

His half-sister, Catherine, Lorenzo’s only legitimate child would go on to be Queen consort to Henry II of France after their father’s death in 1519.

They were both raised under the guidance of the Medici pope Leo X (until his death in 1512) and cardinal Giuliano de’ Medici (later made Pope Clement VII). In 1522, he was given the title Duke of Penne from his uncle. Clement apparently favoured Alessandro, often taking his side in disputes he had with his cousin, Ippolito. This favour also fuelled rumours over who Alessandro’s father was or if Giuliano may have been his father.

According to one historian, Alessandro was morose, passionate and could be cruel. His manners were marked by ‘vulgarity and abruptness,’ something that was unexpected of a man of his class and upbringing. This attitude translated into his political life, making him many enemies.

Political Life

After the siege of Florence ended in 1530, he was made Duke of Florence, after an agreement between the Pope and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor in 1531. He was also later made Hereditary Duke in 1532, ending the Florentine republic, and making him the first Medici to rule Florence, starting a monarchy that would last just over 200 years.

Alessandro was married to Charles V’s illegitimate daughter, Margherita. His noble birth, being a direct descendent of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ‘Magnificent’, was an attractive feature and helped establish him as a genuine noble.

Descriptions of his rule vary. Positively, he was seen as a champion of the poor and helpless. He was also, like many in his family before him, a patron of the arts, commissioning pieces from notable artists at the time such as Ponto Moro. Duke Alessandro acted with the advice of elected councils and took their advice whilst ruling.

Florence’s vocal exile community judged his rule as harsh, depraved, and incompetent. In 1535, the exiles asked his cousin Ippolito to meet with Charles V to denounce Alessandro’s rule. They described him as a tyrant and accused him of every crime imaginable, but Charles ignored these, particularly after hearing from one of Alessandro’s advisors, who told a more favourable story of his rule.

Ippolito then died in questionable circumstances, which some believe Alessandro arranged. This helped prove to some of his contemporaries that he was a tyrant.

Alessandro was assassinated in 1537 by his distant cousin Lorenzino de’ Medici. This was an attempt to bring back the Florentine Republic. Power was passed on to Cosimo I de’ Medici from the junior line of the Medici family, marking the end of the senior family’s line and their rule in Florence.

Opacity via Flickr

Afterlife

Images of Alessandro vary amongst his contemporaries and historians.

No one was more determined to establish the worthiness of Alessandro as a good leader than his successor Cosimo I, who went on to be successful in his rule of Florence. Cosimo assumed responsibility for raising Alessandro’s two illegitimate children and avenged his death by assassinating Lorenzino.

For his contemporaries, as previously mentioned, his blackness was not why they hated him. To them, he was an arrogant tyrant, murderer and above all, a Medici. His race was perhaps the last objection they would have had about him.

His image as a tyrant however did prevail over time presenting him as the prince who started Florence’s ruin.

Historians, trying to take a more impartial view have argued back and forth as to what sort of man he really was with some concluding that he was a much better ruler than his detractors have claimed, pointing to his kindness to the poor and helpless.

Until recently, he has mostly been ignored within historian circles and mainstream representations of the Medici family or representations of Renaissance Italy. This is odd, considering his short and extraordinary life seems the kind of story one should tell in a period drama: from his womanising to his rule as the first Prince of Florence and the last of the original Medici line.

The story of Alessandro de’ Medici is part of a wider conversation around the erasure of Afro-Europeans from history books and the role they played in shaping Europe’s political history.

It is important for historical integrity and diversity to tell such stories and recognise the impact men and women like Alessandro had.

Michaela Makusha, History in Politics Writer

How the UK Shaped Hong Kong’s Unique Democratic Sensitivity

Many look at Hong Kong’s politics now and wonder how Hong Kong got into such a mess. As some may know, in addition to it being a shopping and cuisine paradise, Hong Kong is a has a special political and legal status . Alongside Macau, Hong Kong is run under the principles of ‘one country, two systems’. In other words, though Hong Kong is a part of socialist China, it operates under a capitalist system. This is a compromise agreed between the British Colonial Government and China in 1997 when the British control of Hong Kong ended. Whether the Chinese government is maintaining the principle well is not the question to be discussed here). Instead, this article will  explore the British Colonial government’s impact on shaping Hong Kong people’s unique democratic sensitivity, which has certainly contributed to the recent clash between the Hong Kong government and its people. 

The impact of shaping Hong Kong people’s democratic sensitivity can first be explored by the British Colonial government’s localisation policies. In 1967, there was a very serious riot throughout Hong Kong. This was a wake-up call to the British Colonial government that they had to change their way of administration by catering to the local people’s needs better. The British Colonial government thus started to implement a series of socio-economic policies, such as providing affordable housing and free and compulsory education. With a better living environment, Hong Kong people were able to spend more on learning instead of merely focusing on escaping poverty. Generations of improvement in education led to a Hong Kong population with a very high level of education. As a result, more locals were capable and eligible to work in the government. There was rapid localisation of governmental personnel including an increase of over 50% of Hong Kong civil servants from 1980 to 1990. There was an increased number of Hong Kong Administrative Officers. Similarly, more Hong Kong people were promoted to senior and even top governmental positions. For example, Anson Chan Fang On Sang became the first Chinese Chief Secretary and Donald Tsang Yam Kuen became the first Chinese Financial Secretary in the 1980s and 90s. Over the years towards the transfer of Hong Kong, more Chinese ‘secretaries’ emerged. More Hong Kong people learned the British democratic way of governance and were trained in this way. 

The Pro-Beijing government forces facing protestors, 1967. (Credit: Hong Kong Free Press)

As the transfer approached , the British Colonial government implemented an even more significant attempt at ‘localisation’: increasing  Hong Kong people’s democratic sensitivity. Towards the second half of the twentieth century, China had emerged as a stronger nation running under a socialist system. The British Colonial government feared that Hong Kong would become a socialist city under the CCP. As a result, in the 1990s, it greatly localised the government by promoting more locals into the administration. The British colonial government hoped that by doing so, these Hong Kong people would already be trained to manage their government in a democratic way when the transfer happens. Also, the fact that these capable Hong Kong people are already occupying government positions means that there would not be many vacancies when the British Colonial government was ‘out’ in 1997. The Chinese government would not, the thought went, send their own personnel (who are trained and worked under a socialist system) to manage the government. 

The impacts of the localisation measures had been effective in realising the British Colonial government’s democratic intentions. For example, in the early years of the twenty-first century, many Hong Kong people trained under the British democratic system still occupied most government positions. They pushed for further democratic reform after the transfer to ensure  democratic education to the new generations. The creation of the secondary school subject ‘Liberal Studies’, which educated youngsters on the ‘one country, two systems’ and one’s political rights, is a clear illustration of these efforts. These in turn trained a new generation of millennials who had lived and known democracy their whole life. These generations of youngsters clearly know what their political rights are and are willing to participate in defending their rights or pushing for democratic reforms. Under the education of liberal ideas, they are also capable of critically challenging government actions. Thus, it is not hard to understand why these democratically sensitive generations of youngsters felt threatened and protested when more pro-China politicians are taking up government positions and more pro-China policies are implemented in recent years. 

Hong Kong people’s unique democratic sensitivity can also be explored by another policy of the British Colonial government: the creation of representative governance. The China government’s autocratic rule during the Cultural Revolution really ‘freaked out’ the British Colonial government. It was determined to build Hong Kong a steadfast democratic foundation through increasing the electoral elements in Hong Kong’s political structure. In the Legislative Council, the first indirect election in 1985 marked the start of a gradual change, and was soon followed by the first direct election for 18 seats by the method of ‘one person, one vote’ in 1991 and the abolition of all official seats in 1995 by Governor Chris Patten. At last, the president of the Legislative council was no longer the Governor but elected among the Legislative council’s elected counsellors. In the District Council, the first direct election was held in 1982 and all official seats were abolished in 1985. All appointed seats were abolished in 1994 and the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years old. More people were eligible to participate in voicing their opinions by being able to vote for politicians that represent their views. In the Urban and Regional Councils, there were gradual elections and the abolishment of appointed seats. More people could vote and more were eligible to stand in elections. 

As Hong Kong moved into the twenty-first century, these elections were already present. The current  generations are used to having their say and participating in politics by voting and choosing their representatives. On the other side, more young people choose to participate in community affairs by standing in District Councilors’ elections, which are open to voting to everyone aged above 18. Some other young people choose to become a Legislative Councilor to have their opinions regarding the future development of Hong Kong valued. Thus, it is not hard to understand why youngsters are willing to protest, even resolve to radical actions, in face of the narrowing of electoral choices and rights in recent years. 

Chan Stephanie Sheena

Home Ownership: is it the key in Britain’s inequality crisis?

Housing reform is necessary. That, as a statement, is perhaps one of the few things undisputed between the major parties in Westminster. Not enough affordable homes are accessible, leaving many within a rent trap, never quite managing to make it onto the housing ladder. Yet under the surface issue of getting the next generation onto the housing ladder lies an issue of greater concern. If left unchecked, the imbalance within the housing market, coupled with long-time economic woe for lenders, could be Britain’s next ticking time bomb and have disastrous socio-political consequences.

The catalyst of this socio-political crisis that is beginning to brew is economic. Following the 2008 Financial Crash, economic growth in the UK has struggled to get back onto its feet. Productivity remains stagnant and lags behind other G7 nations. Attempting to stimulate economic growth, the central bank has, throughout the decade, maintained low interest rates to persuade people to spend rather than save. The rationale is straightforward enough. More gets produced if money is being spent, and not sitting in current accounts accruing interest. Yet, so far, such a strategy is yet to bear fruit.

A house left derelict in Brixton, London. Mercury Press & Media (Credit: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/crumbling-home-abandoned-30-years-22352062)

There is, however, a further, longer-term issue with the central bank’s policy on interest rates which is of greater concern. Ever since the UK government brought in inflation targeting in 1992, an economic policy where the central bank targets a certain inflation rate, interest rates have trended consistently downwards. Whilst great for home-owners with mortgages, for young people looking to save it is increasingly difficult to build up the finances required for the deposit to a house.

What does this have to do with an impending socio-political catastrophe? Simply put, right now there is no way for young people to reach the housing ladder, being perpetually stuck within the renting market. This, by itself, is not damaging to the socio-political situation within the UK. Other developed European countries across the continent have renting cultures and, if anything, dismantling the constructed expectation to house-own would likely be an improvement to British culture.

However, it is not certain that the impending economic change will achieve such a culture shift, and the consequences of retaining a house owning culture within a renting society are worrying.

Even ignoring, momentarily, the short-term recorrection of the market that would occur when demand for houses is outstripped by supply as a largely property-owning baby boomer generation passes away, unattainably expensive houses for the generations following will still remain. Instead, the most worrying concern is the impact it could have on an already expanding inequality within the UK.

This is because the gap between those who have and those who have not will become unbridgeable. With an inability to save for that deposit, those with parents who already own houses may find that inheritance is the only way onto the property ladder. Owning a house will become a sign of significant family wealth and concentrate privilege to an ever-decreasing minority, whilst those stuck with the financial pressures of paying rent will fall further and further behind.

And, as history points out repeatedly, such unsustainable inequality leads to increased political extremism and conflict. It would be naïve of us to assume that we would not be subjected to the same increase in political extremism that defined the French Revolution, the formation of the Soviet Union, and 1930s Germany. Indeed, in the 19th century there was a fear that Britain would follow a similar path to the examples listed above, as events such as the Peterloo Massacre and the Hyde Park Riots threatened to be the UK’s own Storming of the Bastille, as protestors demonstrated against the inequality within Victorian Britain.

Disraeli and Gladstone can be largely applauded for quelling such extremist politics with their reformative platforms. So what ,then, do we do about our modern conundrum? Well, were we to copy from the economist’s textbook, there would be one of two options: change the government’s fiscal policy or change its monetary policy. Either the government could go down a monetary route, scrapping inflation targeting and artificially raising interest rates. Or it could go down the fiscal route of greater spending, through the building of more affordable homes.

Yet, whilst the causes of this crisis may be down to our economic history, we must take a more socio-political approach in attempting to prevent such a crisis.

In contrast to the Victorian reformists Disraeli and Gladstone, who both passed Reform Acts focused on expanding suffrage within the UK, political reform should be prioritised in an act of preparation for, rather than reaction to, this crisis. Focus should, instead, be placed in two directions. Firstly, upon making central government contracts more transparent and meritocratic, the result of this being greater political pressure for a larger percentage of housing developments to be affordable. Secondly, the remit of local governments should be altered, increasing control over the rewarding of contracts, whilst simultaneously completing the shift towards housing associations owning social housing. Such a move would give councils and metropolitan areas greater control of how much housing is built, whilst protecting them from the unaffordable and uneconomical costs which come from development.

The housing crisis, although economically caused, must rely on contemporary political solutions to prevent socio-political catastrophe. We cannot be lulled into either thinking the UK is immune from the multiple historical examples of political extremism that accompany greater inequality, or that implementing the same economic policies repeatedly will provide a different result. Without expansive political reforms to housing, transferring power towards local governments, and increasing transparency in government, the UK will only step closer towards socio-political disaster.

Matthew Lambert, Summer Writer

Temporal over Spiritual Power in the Medieval Church? Part III: Dissent and the Call for Reform

The Great Papal Schism ultimately had devastating ramifications for both the papacy and the Catholic Church as a whole. Dissent was on the rise, as discontent with the actions and behaviour of the papacy, and the harm that it had inflicted upon the institution of the Church, began to cause wider problems. As the conflict within the papacy raged, theologians who opposed this state of affairs made themselves known, putting forward their own interpretations of the scripture, many of which laid the foundations for what would later be termed Protestantism. Men such as John Wycliffe and Jan Hus argued against the extravagancies of the Church, whereas wider movements such as conciliarism sought to challenge the supremacy of the papacy over all other ecclesiastical bodies, and bring about a more democratic era for the Church. Despite its internal strife, the Church was determined to brook no challenge to the authority of the Pope, and sought to quash all hints of dissent, though its efficacy in this gave the lie to its apparent strength.

Painting of Jan Hus in the Council of Constance by Václav Brožík (1851-1901) © Wikipedia Commons https://museeprotestant.org/en/notice/jan-hus-1369-1415-and-the-hussite-wars-1419-1436/

Initially gaining traction during the fourteenth century with the discontent arising from the Avignon Papacy, and later the papal schism, the movement known as conciliarism opposed the supremacy of the papacy, arguing that as the pope was not infallible, and that as the pope was chosen by a council, this council should hold power over him and be able to act if the pope was unfit for office. This stood in stark contrast to the policy of papal supremacy, which argued that as the inheritor of the mantle of the Bishop of Rome, as handed down by Saint Peter, the Pope’s decree was sacrosanct and could not be overruled by others. It cited many of the Church’s most important decisions having been made in council, such as the defining council at Nicaea in 325, and thus, there was precedent and logic behind such a move. Rising high in the early fifteenth century, conciliarism was buoyed by its success at the Council of Constance, which ended the papal schism, as this proved to them that the council of cardinals was capable of effecting change in the stead of the pope. However, the subsequent lack of reform from the papal curia convinced many of them that this that their efforts were not working, with the Council of Basel seeing a radicalisation within the movement that, although initially popular, swiftly caused it to fall from favour, and by the beginning of the sixteenth century, it was a dying movement, with its condemnation at the Fifth Lateran Council of 1512-1517 serving as its final death knell. Although the doctrine of papal infallibility would only be formally codified centuries later in 1870 at the First Vatican Council, this was merely the continuation and culmination of the centuries-long belief in papal supremacy that was already very much in effect even in this early period. Therefore, this demonstrates how this concern over the temporal power of the pope continued to occupy a place of concern in the Church’s mind long after this period.

One of the earlier figures in the wider movement for reform within the Catholic Church was Jan Hus, a Czech whose opposition to the Church in Bohemia led him to preach a creed that stood against many of the excesses of the priesthood, such as indulgences and simony. These ideas incorporated many of the criticisms previously propagated by Wycliffe in England.  Although Hus was burned at the stake for heresy in 1415, this only served to martyr him in the eyes of his followers, who continued to propagate his beliefs rapidly through the Czech population of Bohemia, despite attempts at suppression by Wenceslaus IV, the King of Bohemia at the time. Following the death of Wenceslaus in 1419, tensions escalated between the Hussites and the wider Catholic population as Wenceslaus’ brother and successor Sigismund decided to take decisive action. The Hussite Wars, as the conflict became known, raged for fifteen years from 1419 to 1434, and were not only a civil conflict, but also incorporated a series of five papal crusades that lasted from 1420-1431, each ending in defeat for the papal forces. Despite some setbacks for the Hussite forces, they consistently managed to retake lost ground, taking advantage of the disunity of the papal forces. However, in the end, the wars only reached a conclusion following a schism within the Hussites themselves that saw the radical Taborites purged by the moderate Ultraquists, who were then able to reach an accommodation with the Catholic Church. The fact that the papacy was forced to agree to terms with the moderate Hussites and permit them to practice their own rites in return for their submission, rather than continuing efforts to hunt them to extinction as had previously been done to heretical groups, emphasises the truth by this point that the Catholic Church had been weakened, and was no longer able to exert the same level of temporal power that it had previously been able to.

Dissent against the Catholic Church in the late medieval period largely revolved around the words of learned theologians, many of whom believed that the extravagant trappings that the priesthood had surrounded themselves with rendered them unfit to tend to the faithful, focussing on their own temporal power over spiritual concerns. Alongside this came the doubt cast on the pope’s capability as the leader of the Church after the actions of the cardinals in the Schism. The Church’s response to this, while heavy-handed in places, was more moderate than it would have been in preceding centuries – showing that its temporal power had been severely weakened by both internal and external conflicts. These concerns left an indelible mark on the Church that would eventually pave the way towards the Reformation, which challenged both the temporal and spiritual authority of the Church and led to a schism within Christianity itself on a scale that had not been seen since the split of Catholicism and Orthodoxy centuries prior. This shows that although the Church may have prized the temporal power that its spiritual authority afforded it, it was ironically this misguided priority and the neglect of its spiritual power that ultimately led to the diminishment of its temporal power.

Henry Miller, Summer Writer

Belarus: A Conflict of Histories

The summer of 2020 marked the beginning of the largest anti-government protests in Belarusian history. Fuelled by the clear rigging of the 2020 presidential election, these protests have rocked Alexander Lukashenko’s regime and terrified him with the possibility of his overthrow . And so, the President has cracked down heavily on these protestors, leading to numerous arrests, violence, extraditions and deaths. At the same time, Russian influence within the country has been ramped up, as reports of Russian government personnel clashing with protestors have emerged, and recently, Russia and Belarus have participated in continuous, joint military exercises that have effectively established a permanent Russian military presence in the country.

This increased Russian presence could be said to have been somewhat of an inevitability. The 1999 Union State Treaty was signed between Russia and Belarus with the final aim of integrating both countries into a political union. Or, more realistically, to integrate Belarus into Russia. Alexander Lukashenko, one of the original signatories, has remained in power ever since then. Lukashenko and Russia have sought to achieve this union in the past two decades through creeping economic integration. Russian businesses operate extensively within Belarus, Russia is the biggest buyer of Belarusian goods and Belarus can purchase essentials, such as Russian oil, at a lower price than the rest of the world. Such privileges are threatened to be revoked by the Kremlin should Belarus ever dare to step out of line. 

An interesting aspect of Russian integration efforts however, is the cultural part Russia aims not only to integrate Belarus economically and politically, but also culturally. Russian propaganda outlets espouse a narrative of Belarusian history which suggests that integration is natural. According to this narrative, Belarusians are simply Russians who have been artificially separated from the motherland. Any differences in culture and language are simply aberrations brought about by the subjugation of the Belarusians by foreign powers while  the Belarusian state itself is seen as an artificial creation from the Soviet era. However, messages to promote integration are mingled with Soviet nostalgia; they tap into some of the older generations’ desire to once again be part of a superpower and their general longing for things to be as they were before. 

Lukashenko has naturally been complicit in promoting this narrative. During his presidency, he has suppressed the Belarusian language to the extent that reportedly only 4% of Belarusians use Belarusian in everyday speech. He has also reinstated the old Byelorussian SSR’s flag and anthem. The whole tone of Lukashenko’s administration has been one of Soviet nostalgia and close ties to Russia. In erasing distinctive Belarusian identity, Lukashenko and Russia are slowly eroding  any arguments against integration.

Nonetheless, only 7.7% of Belarusians support a full union with Russia, and 77% have a positive or neutral image of the European Union. It is clear that the propaganda campaign of Lukashenko and Russia has failed to have a significant effect on the Belarusian people. In fact, a contrary narrative of Belarusian history has emerged among the opponents of Lukashenko and the younger generation as a whole.

This narrative sees the formative years of the Belarusian nation when it was part of the medieval Duchy of Polotsk and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Polotsk was a Rus (not to be confused with Russian) realm that was somewhat distinct from Kievan Rus (the medieval Rus confederation centred in Ukraine from which Eastern Slavic groups claim cultural descent). Polotsk later became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, under which Belarusian language, culture, and literature developed and flourished. This continued under the relatively tolerant Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. At the same time, Muscovy, which would become the Russian heartland, fell under the control of the Mongols. And so, the Rus of Belarus and Muscovy further diverged culturally and politically.

The ongoing Belarusian national revival began in the nineteenth century while Belarus was ruled by the Russian Empire. Nationalists harnessed the heritage of medieval and early modern Belarusians and the distinctiveness their culture had from Russian culture. This growing nationalism influenced the short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR) in 1918, which many opposition members view as an inspiration for an alternate Belarusian state.

Historical view of Karl Marx street in Belarus’ capital, Minsk. (Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

The opponents to Lukashenko’s regime harness this narrative of Belarusian history to create an attractive ideology behind their movement and a counter-narrative to resist integration and reject Russian and state propaganda. Symbols of Belarusian history are ubiquitous among the protestors. The emblem of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Vytis or the Pahonia) is regularly flown along with the red-striped flag of the BPR. Patriotic songs written in the 1910, such as Pahonia and the BPR national anthem Vajacki marš are sung at demonstrations, the former of which to the tune of revolutionary anthem La Marseillaise. The protestors feel pride at their nation’s distinctiveness from Russia, and see their time under Lithuanian and Polish rule as a time for the emergence of a distinct and unique culture, rather than a tragic separation from a ‘greater Slavic people’.

Regimes are often upheld by the confidence of their people. The government is therefore required to maintain a popular and believable ideology to justify their rule and prevent their overthrow. The ideological basis for Lukashenko’s government and Russian integration, espoused by propaganda networks, is not in tune with  most Belarusians, and which contrasts starkly with the dynamic and distinct national identity many derive from their history and which the opposition promotes. 

As in Russia itself, the old Soviet tropes of longing for empire, and a fear of the West, have little effect on younger generations who have never experienced life under the USSR. While brutal crackdowns and Russian intervention may stymie the demise of Europe’s last dictator, popular support for it has crumbled, and thus the only way it can be maintained is through fear.

Jonas Balkus, Summer Writer

Is Russia’s Foreign Agent Law Destroying Russian Journalism?

Life as a journalist or within the media in Russia has historically been far from easy. With Putin’s highly centralised authoritarian regime, any formation of media outlets are strictly limited. Over 20 journalists are estimated to have been murdered since 2000 for reporting on events or topics that in any way cross the blurred line of what Putin’s government sees fit to be circulated. Within the past month, however, the government has chosen to elevate this media crackdown further. Some of Russia’s pre-eminent media outlets have now either been banned outright or have been pinned as ‘foreign agents’, detaching them from the country and coining them to the likes of being the ‘enemy’.

Restrictions and hostility towards journalists and the media can be traced back across the last ten years and beyond. The Russian government has been after the independent media for a while, with many independent journalists critical of the regime being eradicated by state owners. Journalists such as these had no choice but to find new jobs and try to continue their careers under ever tightening policing.

Vladimir Putin. (Credit: theglobalpanorama via Creative Commons.)

Recent hostility towards the media, however, has only continued from this, with a recent crackdown across the past year making lives for journalists even more of a struggle. Particularly significant is Russia’s law on foreign agents, of which was adopted in 2012 and has been frequently modified since , repeatedly broadening the scope of who should be defined as a foreign agent. It has been looming as an indefinite threat over Russian journalists since. When it was initially introduced in 2012, it was targeted at suppressing human rights work, or those involved in sharing details of civic information. However, this changed in 2017 when the legislation was amended to include the phrase ‘foreign agent media’, alongside creating a blacklist of foreign agents. It requires non-profit organisations that partake in ‘political activity’ to both register and declare themselves as foreign agents. Essentially, the Ministry of Justice assumes journalists are engaged with some form of political activity within their journalism, be it foreign intelligence or other. This means that every small action and move made under this law is closely monitored, even including spending. Roman Anin, a veteran investigative journalist and founder of a Russian media outlet expressed how “this is a law that basically bans the profession. It’s not a law about foreign agents, it’s a ban on independent journalism”.

The consequences of this law become most evident, however, when considered alongside its penalties of non-compliance, and these are what have amplified alongside changes made to the law this year. As of March 2021, journalists who fail to submit their reports to the Ministry of Justice can look to face five years imprisonment.

However, Russia’s authoritarian regime has not prevented media outlets from using their platforms to protest against these restrictions, and the recent crackdowns in particular. Over twelve independent media platforms have recently signed an open letter, demanding a demise to the designating of journalists and outlets as ‘foreign agents’. The letter read that the outlets are collectively “convinced that these events are part of a coordinated campaign to destroy independent Russian media”. Equally, Radio Liberty, one of the media outlets which has been faced with 520 violations and over $2 million in fines, has also argued against the crackdowns. The company appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in April this year, arguing that Russia’s actions violate freedom of speech highlighted in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Nothing, however, has come from this protest in terms of the law changing in any way.

Subsequently, it can be questioned what the future holds for Russia’s independent media. Despite urges fired at Putin to stop these crackdowns, the nature and reputation of his government does not make the ceasing of these measures likely. Only time will tell if freedom of press and speech will ever truly be allowed for journalists in Russia.

Miriam Shelley, Summer Writer

When Bad History Leads to Bad Politics: ‘The Graveyard of Empires’

When a major political event happens, politicians and scholars usually cram desperately to fit the event into a simple framework: ideological, historical, or another type. Sometimes this is done to explain the events in a general pattern. Alternatively, it is done to fit the event into a set worldview (something often done by politicians). ‘The Graveyard of Empires’ is one such example of a thesis used to explain political events. This theory has been an essential part of the Western understanding of Afghanistan since its conception in 2001 by Milton Bearden. Bearden, reflecting mainly on the experiences of the British and Soviet Empires, asserted that the unruly geography and peoples of the country made any imperial project in Afghanistan doomed to fail. Contextually, he wrote this thesis around the start of the US invasion as a warning for the dangers of US intervention in the country, a warning that has formed a crucial part of the Western understanding of Afghanistan. President Biden, for instance, directly used the thesis to explain why his withdrawal of US troops was necessary. In his speech recently he echoed Bearden and attributed the clear failure of US statecraft in Afghanistan to the ungovernable nature of the land itself.

There are multiple issues here, all stemming from one major problem that is often overlooked: the thesis is not true. Afghanistan, over its history, has not been a ‘Graveyard of Empires’, indeed it has been far from it. Professor Alexander Hainy-Khaleeli has shown how the country was the heartland of many great empires across history, including even empires often used as supporting evidence for proponents of Bearden’s thesis. Alexander the Great’s empire, used by Bearden as an example in favour of his argument, successfully ruled Afghanistan for over one hundred years, and the often-cited British experience ignores the broad success of British policy after the Third Afghan War. When imperial missions did fail, it was not due to the overriding lawlessness of the Afghan terrain or peoples but instead a variety of case-specific factors.

Thus, Bearden’s thesis is a case of bad history, with Afghanistan’s past stuffed into an overly simplistic historical framework. Its usage by politicians is therefore problematic, as it means public policy and discourse is based on incorrect perceptions and knowledge. For example, by describing Afghanistan as ‘the Graveyard of Empires’, Biden oversimplifies the complex failure of the American project in Afghanistan. It assumes that the failure of American statecraft is not a failure of Washington but a result of Afghanistan’s unique nature. By imposing Bearden’s framework, it assumes no imperial policy in Afghanistan could ever be successful regardless of what the imperial power does. Biden’s speech was overwhelmingly centred around this idea – an inevitability of failure that no policy of his could ever rectify. 

US and UK troops leaving Afghanistan. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defence)

This has three significant implications, demonstrating the danger of basing politics on flawed historical theory. Firstly, it stifles the development of effective policy. When addressing an issue that you deem impossible to benefit from, policy becomes solely about mitigation. Biden’s long-held belief that the US was doomed to fail in Afghanistan in line with Bearden’s thesis means that he has approached Afghanistan from a position that the US needed to leave the ‘graveyard’ irrespective of the consequences, explaining, for instance, the unnecessary withdrawal of American contractors that led to the complete collapse of the Afghan army. It also explains the frantic nature of the evacuation effort because the clear urge to withdraw as soon as possible meant that there was little planning for, say, the evacuation of the Afghans who had helped US personnel. 

Further, through basing politics on a largely flawed historical framework, there is a real possibility that we will not learn the correct lessons from the Afghan war. By attributing blame for the operation’s failures on the nature of Afghanistan and not bad policy, the US risks failing to understand the reasons for the failures in the country over the last twenty years, and thus fail to make the necessary changes. In an era where the American Empire is under threat from another would-be hegemony China, failing to learn the correct lessons could be costly. As such, it is more important than ever that the US takes a nuanced look at its role and activity in the global system, which will be significantly hindered by viewing its largest single project over the last two decades through an overly simplified and ignorant framework.

Finally, the oversimplification of Afghanistan and the blaming of it for the West’s failures is deeply immoral. The graveyard thesis crams Afghan history into how it relates to predominantly European Empires, denying it credit outside the framework of imperial history. In reality, Afghanistan has had a fascinating and proud history outside of its relations with the European powers, and thus the promulgation of this thesis risks making discourse around Afghanistan incredibly demeaning. Moreover, calling it the ‘Graveyard of Empires’ suggests that the primary victims of imperial projects in the country are the Empires – British, Soviet, and now American – and not the people of Afghanistan. The country’s people have faced endless war and persecution due to Imperial ends and are the actual victims of the country’s recent past. By framing Afghan history as a one of imperial failure, political discourse is prejudiced in favour of the West at the expense of the true victims of imperial policy. 

These are, unfortunately, inevitable consequences of applying a single and incorrect historical framework to contemporary politics: it can be profoundly immoral but also practically ruinous. Further, it can cloud the judgement of policy makers looking to draw lessons from past failures. As such, while there are good reasons to base politics on history, when that history is incorrect, the results can be ruinous.

Julius Balchin, Summer Writer