Folksy definitions describe democracy as “rule of the people“. “Free” and “fair” elections, in fact, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for its preservation. More robust definitions, therefore, demand also the existence of liberal institutions: state power is split between multiple bodies which can challenge one another (checks and balances) and civil service is independent, everyone is accountable to impartially applied laws (rule of law), individual rights like freedom of speech and the press are guaranteed. Preservation of norms that ensure the state and the ruling party do not coalesce in one is an expression of a simple quid pro quo pursued by the players competing for political power: each agrees to protect the others’ rights in exchange for the recognition of entitlement to govern if they win an election.
This emphasis on liberal institutions reflects the contemporary dominant trend which is the hybridization of regimes. Between 1989 and 2019, electoral autocracy has been by far the fastest-growing regime type, now characterizing 67 countries according to V-Dem, the most rigorous project tracking the quality of democracy globally. The EU, too, now has its first non-democratic member, Hungary. At the same time, many self-serving rascals experience sizeable pushbacks: in 2019, citizens staged mass protests in 34 autocracies.
The boundary between news and views has blurred after the late 1990s. Opinion journalism became prominent. So did clickbait, bringing challenges to public life additional to plain lies and disinformation. In Central Europe, the retreat of quality journalism was aided by transfers of ownership from Western publishing houses to local business tycoons with primary interests in industries other than media after the 2008 financial crisis.
In contrast to the US, however, European media usually remain less polarized and enjoy broadly similar trust as 20 years ago. One exception is the news in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, trusted only by 33% of citizens according to the 2019 Reuters DNR. Trust is even lower in Hungary, where the government consolidated much of the private media market into a “coordinated propaganda machine” by late 2016. To achieve such control, ruling parties often use state advertising as a bargaining chip. In Poland, propaganda is limited to the state television, which summarily fired 220 journalists in early 2016.
Suppression of the free press is much less concealed in Russia where 58 journalists had been killed between 1992 and 2019. Labelling journalists as “traitors”, which can embolden assassins, has been adopted even by some politicians in the EU. Daphne Galicia and Ján Kuciak were murdered in 2017 and 2018, respectively. An increase in international cooperation on investigative projects like OCCRP, however, makes the investigative community more resilient against attacks on individuals. And the readers are widely becoming willing to pay for quality content.
Eking out earlier hoaxes and self-serving conspiracy theories, the European advent of disinformation-spreading websites started in 2013. Only until 2019, dissemination of misleading pro-Kremlin information spread wilfully to achieve political aims affected 16 elections in the EU according to Jakub Kalenský‘s testimony to the US congress. In 2018, the US special counsel Robert Mueller indicted multiple Russian actors, including the infamous “troll farm” in St. Peterburg, for interfering in the US elections.
Rather than coordinated strictly in line with a “doctrine”, the machinery is fragmented. According to a big data analysis by Semantic Visions, 60% of Czech online content aimed against the country’s membership in the EU or NATO is created by 22 websites under Russian influence. Contemporary leitmotifs in the domain of deceptive information include “Western decay”, “poisonous” minority protection and “devastation of Europe” by migrants. Instead of naming concrete sources, disinformants often refer to “many experts” or say “it is widely known”. Disinformation is often spread unknowingly by influential opinion-makers. By its nature, it cannot serve to provide an “alternative viewpoint”, neither it is a Soviet-style “propaganda” celebrating the Russian government. Instead, a bulk of disinformation creates an impression that to know what is true, is impossible.
Although many EU states have been slow to expose those behind disinformation to criminal liability, much has been done. Awareness about disinformation is being increased worldwide by the Atlantic Council’s Disinfoportal. In Europe, disinformation is being tracked by EU’s Stratcom. Czech students are being educated by ZvolsiInfo. The reputation of local companies who may inadvertently be co-funding disinformants through advertisement is looked after by Konspirátori.sk.
Populism is primarily a style of communication. From the mainstream politicians, populists differ by their claim that only they represent the general will of (the real) people. They do not strive to build consensus. They do not distinguish between opponents and enemies. They speak the language of the people. They use but also manufacture crises to justify the call for revolt against the establishment. Although some of them pursue nativist agendas, many populists differ from nativists.
Once in power, populists often blame the opposition, foreign powers and minorities for various ills. They tend to clash with courts, media and other institutions the role of which is to preserve a political regime in which no man or party has a licence to be left unchallenged. Often but not always, the populist engagement ends up in bitter irony: they commit the same political sins of which they accuse elites which they have themselves become – they do not count with the citizens who do not vote for them and capture the state.
The share of populist parties in parliaments started to increase in the 1980s, when the side effects of technological changes and globalization started to deepen domestic inequality. The backlash against changes in social values may have contributed. The demand for populism tends to be pushed by demographic factors like unemployment, lower education, residence in the countryside, older age and – very often – voter‘s manual work. Populists get more votes also in regions affected by industrial decline. This applies to the Czech regions of Silesia and Ústecko, bested also by a high number of distraints. Elsewhere, factors unique to a given country can contribute significantly. In the UK before Brexit, for instance, this was high immigration in a short period.
Over half the world’s refugees have been in exile for at least five years. Many of them live in refugee camps where they do not have right to work or move freely. Standard policies are based just on the vulnerabilities of refugees rather than their capacities. This way, they leave the forcibly displaced people in limbo. But studies show that initiatives that enhance freedom of movement and empower refugees economically, like the Ugandan Self-reliance Strategy, lead to better outcomes for refugees and host communities alike.
Every refugee wave in history has been met with suspicion. Jewish refugees, for instance, have been regarded in many countries as common migrants long into the 1940s. Neither the scale nor cultural difference alone is unprecedented. The Indochinese boat people, two million of whom have been resettled around the world since the 1970s, came from no less different cultural spheres than today’s refugees. In 1999, some 850,000 Kosovan refugees fled into neighbouring countries in a span of a few weeks. Back then, European countries opted for a common solution.
The existing Common European Asylum System was not designed for a situation of a mass influx of refugees from outside Europe. Member countries respond to this challenge their way. In the last years, acceptance rates on asylum applications in the EU have ranged between around 70% (Sweden, Switzerland, or Denmark) and 10% (Hungary). This discrepancy arises from both the differing composition of asylum applicants coming to the respective countries and different standards of assessment.
Portraying migrants as parasites exploiting the generosity of the German welfare system is baseless and misleading. Economic studies show that in the long term, the economy benefits – or, at least, tends not to lose from the presence of migrants. There is no research whatsoever that would prove it should be any different if the migrants come from “distant cultural spheres“. In the short term, however, migrants may represent a small burden for the public budget. Also, if retraining opportunities are poor, unlimited migration can put low-skilled domestic workers at risk of short-term unemployment or at least a minor reduction in wages.
Concern that tens of millions of migrants could come to Europe within a few years is unrealistic. Europe has been for a long time regarded as a region of stability and justice. But not everyone wants and can come here: data from 196 countries show that from 1990 to 2010, the largest movements occurred between South and West Asia, from Latin to North America and within Africa. In 2016, 80% of the world’s 65 million forcibly displaced persons was hosted by developing countries.
Since 2015, many of the most widely shared news about refugees and migrants have been completely made up or distorted. Many of them originated on Russian government-controlled or obscure websites affiliated to the disinformation campaign. In some cases, such misinformations have been cited by Czech politicians and republished in the Czech media. In September 2015, the management of TV Prima, the third most watched TV in the Czech Republic, acted against professional standards by instructing its reporters to portray refugees as a danger in the news.
Some of the most prominent biases that may affect our judgement about refugees and migrants are negativity bias and selective perception. The first one describes a finding that negative (threatening) stimuli often impress people more strongly than positive or neutral ones. Selective perception represents a tendency to give more weight to expected over surprising information. To fact-checkers, it is important to know that a confrontation with a correction may easily strengthen people’s previously held beliefs. Therefore, fact-checkers must use strategies that alleviate this backfire effect.
Of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the majority lives in Africa and Asia (India, Pakistan and Indonesia top the ranks). The Arab world is home to about one-fifth of the world’s Muslim population. Many live in Western cities like London, Paris, Berlin, or New York. What is common to them is a belief in God and Prophet Muhammad and religious practices such as fasting during the month of Ramadan. Other than that, they are a diverse bunch: whether Sunni or Shia, they can be observant or non-observant, conservative, liberal, fundamentalist, reformist, secular, mainstream, or extremist.
Women played a major role in the development of Islam and Islam is credited with having improved women‘s status at the time of its origin. In some Muslim countries, however, a strongly patriarchal culture contributes to a wide gender gap to this day. Often, such countries host notable feminist movements. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive cars, and sexual segregation permeates the public life. In most other societies, they drive cars, ride motorcycles and even fly planes. Some are required by law to fully cover themselves in public (in Saudi Arabia and Iran), while others are prohibited from displaying the Muslim headscarf (in French schools).
Islamism, or, political Islam, is a political ideology. Its adherents believe that the Islamic law and values should play a central role in the public life. Notable examples of Islamists include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Iran. They often clash with the idea that no religion should have a privileged position in a political argument. The vast majority of Islamists are, however, not violent: they are willing to work in existing structures, even secular ones. In order not to fuel terrorist‘s narratives, politicians must explicitly distinguish between Islamists and terrorists.
The risk of death by terrorism in Europe today is significantly lower than it was in the 1970s when Europe was experiencing attacks by ETA, IRA, Red Brigades and Red Army Faction. An average European is more likely to be killed by lightning than by a terrorist. The danger exists nevertheless. Analysis of volumes of extremist literature and interviews with thousands of former and current terrorists show that devout Muslims tend not to become terrorists. Terrorists usually find faith only after joining jihadist networks. This should inform the debate about the prevention of radicalisation and counterterrorist measures.
In most Muslim-majority countries, sharia, or, Islamic law, is employed only in civil law. In the English-speaking world, sharia-based outfits are accepted alongside other religion-based arbitration services such as longstanding rabbinical tribunals (Beth Din) or Christian mediation services. Genuine dilemmas for secular countries with big Muslim minorities is not in the realm of criminal law but in sharia’s application to family matters such as divorce, inheritance and custody.
The Quran is written in idioms and is riddled with assumptions of ancient societies. Like the Bible. In the battle of the holy books, the Quran has one disadvantage: Only about 20% of Muslims speak Arabic as their first language. Yet since Muslims usually consider the Quran to be a literal message from God to Muhammad, Muslim scholars are reluctant to translate it. The worldwide distribution of the Quran today is led by Saudi benefactors. This invites controversy since the influential translations may be biased toward Wahabbism, a rather less tolerant brand of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia. Christian interpreters, on the other side, have a history of mistranslating Islam with the express purpose of discrediting it. Ultimately then, the key question may not be what is written in a particular translation of the Quran but what do Muslims say the Quran says.
Some of the prominent pitfalls of judgement likely to affect the debates about Islam include so-called attribution bias and naive realism. The first trap describes a tendency to attribute an outcome to choices of involved actors even though evidence suggests an influence of external triggers and constraints. Such bias thus may for instance contribute to the notion that the lower standard of civil liberties in the Arab part of the Muslim world is the result of the free choice of Arab Muslims. Naive realism then stands for a general disposition of debaters to assume that those who disagree with us must be uninformed, stupid or biased.
Studies suggest that almost all children, including the Roma or the children with moderate disabilities, can benefit both socially and academically from inclusive schools. Much of the public thinks otherwise. Largely, it is because most parents are misinformed, and most teachers have been left to cope with new challenges on their own. In some regions, Czech Roma students often continue to be sent to primary schools for intellectually disabled. Their placement in less demanding schools may well be the biggest factor behind their comparably higher unemployment. Meanwhile, salaries of Czech teachers remain the worst among all OECD countries. Without a credible commitment to a continuous salary increase, pedagogical faculties will remain to be the first choice only for less talented applicants. Meanwhile, a model from IDEA CERGE-EI has shown that an education reform could increase the gross natinal product by 150 billion Kč (€ 5.5 billion) annualy.
No other level of government is better positioned to impact the wellbeing of everybody in a neighbourhood than the local government Since the causes of a Roma‘s deprivation, and quarrels between them and the majority population are often caused by a set of factors, local governments must address these constraints comprehensively. Pro-integration programs must combine the support of desegregated housing with the support of education, employment and social work. This way, the IRIS program in Madrid, for instance, achieved a decrease in dependence on social benefits, improvement of school results and employment of the participating Roma. Many local governments opt for exclusively repressive policies that often lead to inefficient use of public money.
Many local governments in Central Europe pursued policies of isolating the unwanted inhabitants in dedicated estates since the early 1990s. In the Czech Republic, this led to the emergence of some 600 so-called Socially excluded areas. They house about 100,000 Czechs, 80% of whom are the Roma – a third of the total Czech Roma population. At its extreme, these policies gave rise to the infamous housing blocks like Chánov in the north Bohemian town of Most or Luník IX in the east Slovakian town of Košice. The inhabitants of marginalised areas grow up in an environment with high unemployment, low life aspirations, drug abuse and usury. Their neighbours, observing the eventual accompanying hullabaloo, often vote for populistic politicians who have typically helped to create the inhospitable neighbourhood in the first place.
Gypsies/Roma have a history of persecution going back to 15th century. For their belonging to an ethnic group, they faced sanctions ranging from eviction to whipping to death sentence. Between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma were killed during the Holocaust. Czech officers run two Roma concentration camps. Under communism, many were forcefully resettled into regions heavy in manual labour that faded in the 1990s. Today, the Roma have elites. But many others remain poor, badly educated and unemployed. All continue to be shunned: in an experiment by CERGE-EI, candidates with Roma-sounding names were twice as unlikely to be invited for a job interview by employers or invited for an apartment viewing by landlords.
Fifteen years of research of Roma portrayal in the Czech and Slovak mass media recurrently shows one thing: articles about the Roma bluntly describe events – they do not allow readers to understand the grievance of those who criticize the Roma, nor the misery of those Roma who live on the fringes of society. Mainstream media, moreover, have a tendency for sensationalism about the Roma. Major media have repeatedly accused a Roma of violence only to realise later their story was entirely fictitious (in 2012, it was ominous). In the aftermath of such incidents, the responsible journalists have usually denied any breaches of professional standards.
People sincerely antipathetic towards the Roma often say they rely on unfavourable experiences with a life along their side.” But the antipathies do not result only from experience and often unverified gossip. If Non-Roma want to see a Roma justly, they must actively resist mechanisms of prejudices such as the out-group homogeneity bias. This bias represents a double standard because of which people differentiate well in the behaviour of members of the group in which they feel at home (in-group) but tend to see the acts of members of a foreign group (out-group) as common to them all. Another important condition of a productive debate about topics related to the Roma is to differentiate between the disagreements about realities and the disagreements about causes: for instance, claims about the level of un/employment of the Roma and the factors that affect the un/employment of some of them.
Ve většině států s muslimskou většinou je šaría, nebo islámské právo, uplatňováno jen v občanských zákonících. V anglosaském světě jsou šariátské organizace přijímané vedle dalších náboženských služeb smírčího řízení jako dlouholetých rabínských tribunálů (Bejt din) nebo křesťanských mediačních služeb. Skutečná dilemata pro sekulární země s velkými muslimskými menšinami neleží v oblasti trestního práva, ale v aplikace šaríi na rodinné záležitosti jako je rozvod, dědictví a opatrovnictví.
slow journalism has one flaw.
it is slow.
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