The coming to power of Syriza in the recent elections in Greece marks what is potentially a watershed in the politics of the European Union and a direct challenge to the policy of austerity that has been so dominant and so damaging during the years of recession. As the new Greek government attempts to renegotiate the terms of its debt repayment, there has been a surge of support in Spain for Podemos, the anti-austerity party. Vassilis Fouskas is the Director of the Centre for the Study of States, Markets and People at the School of Business and Law, University of East London. He is also the founding editor of the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies and is the co-author of ‘Greece, Financialization and the EU’ (Palgrave, 2013). He will look at the situation in Greece in the light of the Syriza election victory and the impact of the election result on the growth of anti-austerity movements in Europe, arguing that scaremongering campaigns on the part of German and European officials make no sense, as Syriza is not a threat to Europe but a breakthrough.
The Ebola epidemic has gripped the attention of the international community for months now, raising an inordinate amount of fear in the West and prompting new offerings of aid and support to the three stricken countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. In the United States, billions of dollars have been spent on security and surveillance systems in order to protect the American population, while pharmaceutical giants are enjoying the benefits of new research funding to produce treatments and vaccines against the disease. But with minimal medical facilities and staff, little access to sanitation or clean water, and poor education, the current Ebola epidemic was a tragedy waiting to happen in three countries where health indicators have always been appalling. The region’s history of conflict and war; and the ravaging and degradation of the environment are critical factors in the causal pathway of these epidemics which have received little or zero attention. Dr David McCoy is the Director of MEDACT and a senior academic at the Centre for Primary Care and Public Health at Queen Mary University, London. He spent ten years in South Africa as a clinician and in the field of public health and health systems development, and speaks and publishes widely on issues of global health. He will argue that the international health community’s response to Ebola remains short-sighted and will ultimately fail unless we get to grips with the social, political and economic pathologies that plague the African continent.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have a profound impact on the global economy, affecting millions of lives world-wide. The WB purports to ‘end extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity’, and the IMF declares that its ‘fundamental mission is to help ensure stability in the international system’. Despite presenting themselves as anti-poverty and even anti-inequality champions, the operations of these deeply undemocratic organisations continue to be based on neo-liberal assumptions that frequently lead to economic disaster, environmental degradation, and social hardship, particularly in the poorer countries of the world. A new institution launched by the BRICS developing economies, the New Development Bank, is supposedly set to challenge the IFIs’ historic role supporting US economic hegemony, while in Europe their demands for austerity measures are generating strong opposition from the left. Sargon Nissan will discuss this evolving situation with us. He has a background in Finance and Development and manages the IMF and Finance Programme at theBretton Woods Project, a watchdog providing critical commentary on the functioning of the IFIs.
The new government in Iran, the war in Syria and the impact of Isis in both Syria and Iraq have dramatically changed the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and it is now clear that the west can no longer ignore the importance of Iran in the region. At the same time a further round of negotiation about Iran’s nuclear programme is still In progress with no certainty as to its outcome.
Abbas Edalat is a Professor at Imperial College and the founder of The Campaign against Sanctions and Military intervention in Iran. He will explore the ideological roots of the Sunni extreme fundamentalism and the Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict in the Muslim world which has erupted to an unprecedented level following the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He will also look at how the fast changing political situation has had an impact on Iran’s relationship with the West and whether a new understanding is now possible or likely
Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy in which Sunni Islam is the state religion. It is an autocratic state with an appalling human rights record, and its Shia minority of between 10% -15% has suffered from discrimination. The country also contains approximately a fifth of the world’s oil reserves, is a close ally and trading partner of the US and of the UK, where it has huge investment, and last year was Britain’s largest arms market. It is now part of the US led anti-ISIS coalition, and in October this year the US announced a new contract for the sale of missiles worth $1.75bn. Toby Matthiesen is a Research Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge and has written and broadcast widely on the subject of Saudi Arabia. His book Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t was published by Stanford University Press in 2013 and in Arabic by the Arab Network for Research and Publishing, and his forthcoming work The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.
Online social networking and mobile computing are now central to politics, and to calls for the reform of existing social structures. As we have recently seen in the so-called Arab Spring revolutions and the uprising in Ukraine, they also play a critical part in movements of political protest, rebellion and regime change. However, much controversy surrounds the question of whether or not this computer mediated communication (CMC) is successful in increasing the capacity of activists to hold state and corporate power to account, and construct less oppressive systems. Dr Joss Hands will discuss these questions with us. He is the Director of the Research Centre in Media and Culture at Anglia Ruskin University, and has written widely on the effects of CMC. His book,@ is for Activism: Dissent, Resistance and Rebellion in a Digital Culture, was published by Pluto Press in 2011.
At a time of increasing tension with the west over Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Middle East, Russia is often portrayed as an aggressive and expansionist power and the Russian government as an oppressive, authoritarian kleptocracy.
Pete Duncan is a senior lecturer at The School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) which is part of UCL. He has observed and written about the politics of Russia and the former Soviet Union over many years. He will look at the nature of the Putin regime, the geopolitical issues facing Russia today and whether such a negative view of the situation in Russia is justified.
Nitasha Kaul is a London-based Kashmiri novelist, academic, economist, and artist. Her first book was ‘Imagining Economics Otherwise’ (Routledge, 2007) and her novel ‘Residue’ was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2009. She has held university positions in economics, politics, and creative writing in the UK and in Bhutan. Aside from publishing fiction and poetry she has also authored numerous articles on several themes including identity, economy, social theory and democracy. Currently, she is a Visiting Fellow in Politics and International Relations at Westminster, London.
Dr Kaul helps us to examine the protracted disputes of recognition and redistribution that lie at the heart of democratic functioning in India. She will refer to the conflicts in Kashmir, ‘North East’ India and Naxal regions in her discussion of the internal contradictions of democracy in India, making special reference to the political and economic relationships.