Will the Biden Administration Clash With the Construction of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline?

Construction of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline began with high expectations: 50+ years of gas delivery to European consumers, energy supplied to over 25 million households, and contribution to European energy security. This 1200 km extension of the existing Nord Stream Pipeline is projected to double the amount of natural gas transported from Russia directly to Germany and other European countries. However, these expectations have been met with opposition from the EU, US, and several other European countries, stemming from concerns of an increase in Russia’s political and economic leverage, among other issues. Even today, with the project being 90% completed (1040 km), the pipeline faces continued backlash. One of the loudest voices comes from the United States, which has continued to express concern surrounding the anti-democratic threat posed by countries like Russia and China. As apprehension surrounding the project continues to grow within the Biden Administration and the country itself, the new president will be forced to make critical choices regarding the pipeline’s potential threats, and to address the issues that it presents.

The Nord Stream 2 Pipeline faced its share of US resistance even before the inauguration of president Joe Biden, with opposition visible in US policy since the Obama administration, and former president Donald Trump placing sanctions on the project back in 2019. Since these sanctions were imposed, the project had essentially been halted, leaving it up to the current president to decide how or if construction will proceed. However, reports suggest that companies have recently resumed construction of the pipeline, violating the sanctions and forcing Biden to take action. Voices from both Republican and Democratic representatives have called for stronger sanctions that shift toward halting the project for good, with even Biden himself citing it as a “bad deal for Europe”.

Biden’s public reasoning for opposing the pipeline’s construction is based on its negative implications for Ukraine: an ally and blossoming democratic state. For years, Russia’s gas pipelines have run through Ukraine, allowing the country to profit off of the 2 to 3 billion dollars in yearly transit fees, which account for a staggering 3% of the country’s GDP. A ten-year contract was proposed in an attempt to keep Ukraine afloat, which involved a minimum annual transport of 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas through Ukraine pipelines, but Russia has yet to agree. However, concerns for Ukraine stretch beyond financial instability, as this decrease in income could leave the country vulnerable to Russian influence. Ukraine is not the only country that faces this threat, as Russia supplies around 40% of Europe’s natural gas. Biden sees this supply as not only a relationship between Russia and European countries, but as a means by which Russian president Vladmir Putin can gain leverage and control, spreading anti-democratic sentiment. However, voices from Germany, primarily prime minister Angela Merkel, continue to insist that the pipeline is merely a business venture, not a political statement.

As the issue of the completion of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline continues to be discussed, the decisions and statements made by United States president Joe Biden could have significant implications; whether that be for Ukraine, Germany-US relations, or Russia’s potential control over Europe. Biden’s decision concerning sanctions on the pipeline will also give us a better idea of what we can expect from Biden in international relations going forward, and the relationships he intends to strengthen and maintain over the next four years.

Comfort Women in China

In 2019, researchers identified yet another five survivors of sexual slavery within Japanese troops during World War II that are still alive. This has raised the total number of survivors in China to 18. Women that were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II were called “comfort women”. There were an estimated 40,000 comfort women during this time, and around 90 percent of them didn’t survive the war.  The stories of these so-called “comfort women” are so important, and because of Japan’s lack of responsibility for these events, some of the only information we can get is from the few women left that have survived it. 

The oldest victim recently discovered is Liu Nianzhen, 102. She was born in 1918, and abused by the Japanese army during the war. Because of this abuse, Liu became infertile. She has also suffered severe psychological trauma, and refuses to let anyone touch her. Today, women like Liu are still fighting to gain recognition for the horrible things they have gone through. 

Another survivor, Liu Mianhuan tells her story of being kidnapped by the military in a book of primary sources called  Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s sex slaves, written by Peipei Qui. She says, “The soldiers drove all the villagers to the meeting place where there were haystacks and, after forcing everyone to squat down, they began to pick out girls from the crowd. I wanted to die but that would have saddened my parents, so I told myself not to die but to endure.” These Japanese soldiers would pick women at random from villages, take them, and then brutally rape and torture them, indefinitely. “It was not a place for humans.” Lee Ok-seon told Deutsche Welle in 2013. These women experienced rapes that would increase in roughness and number before battles, horrible living conditions, STDs, physical abuse, and pregnancies. Most of these women claim that the only hope keeping them alive during this time was that they’d possibly see their loved ones again. 

Lee Ok-seon, 14 at the time of her kidnapping, was running an errand for her parents when it happened to her. She was taken to a “comfort station”, which is basically a brothel that serviced the Japanese military, and from there she was forced into sexual slavery for over 13 years.  

Though these brothels had existed before, Japan’s military expanded them in attempts to take over the Republic of China and parts of Asia. December 13, 1937, was the start of a six week long massacre throughout the Chinese city of Nanking. They called it The Rape of Nanking. Through this massacre, Japanese troops raped somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 Chinese women. Though these women never got the justice they deserve, the powerful Emperor of the time, Emperor Hirohito, decided it would be best to build more of these “comfort stations” in order to prevent atrocities like the Rape of Nanking, and satisfy Japanese troops’ sexual appetites. 

One of the most important (things)/aspects about this era is Japan’s failure to recognize and take responsibility for these atrocities. For decades, Japanese officials had insisted that these “comfort stations” never existed. Once women began telling their stories, more and more began coming forward. Japan’s government finally gave slight acknowledgement in 1993, but South Korea was still asking for a stronger apology. With their mere offer of reparations to comfort women in 2015 when only dozens remained, Japan condemned South Korea’s requests proving that these issues are just as important today as they were during the war. “I never wanted to give comfort to those men,” said Lee “but I can never forgive what happened to me.”

Save the Bulls

In Spain, bullfighting is a significant part of the culture. The tradition has been continued for centuries, and to many Spaniards, it does not seem like it is going anywhere.

Bullfighting is a performance held between a professional Matador, and supposedly the most powerful animal in the Mediterranean, the bull. These performances are held between spring and autumn, and attract massive crowds. In the beginning, Cuadrilla, the entourage of men on horses, equipped with deadly barbs and harpoons, called Banderillas, slowly maim the bull until there is so much blood loss the bull is too exhausted to move. After the bull is sufficiently exhausted, the Matador enters the scene. Matadors are generally outfitted with skin-tight traditional clothing with many colors, and a sword used to kill the bull. The Matador pierces the sword through the neck of the bull, and the festivity is over. This is the “moment of truth”, as Earnest Hemingway put it.

Despite bullfighting being a staple in Spanish culture, and it being a tradition that millions support, there are severe moral and ethical issues that underlie this subject. In the arena, the bulls are pushed to the point of exhaustion, before facing their imminent doom at the hand of the Matador. The bull’s sense of hearing is drowned out by the thousands of unknown faces that hoot, holler, and applaud the inescapable, sword-wielding man that is the cause for its last breath.

Below is a photo of a Matador flagging a bull with Banderillas in its back.

Below is a photo of a Matador ready to deliver the final blow to a bull.

The argument that bullfighting should continue because of tradition is obsolete. There are plenty of examples of unethical activities that took place because of tradition, like slaughtering every city inhabitant that stood in the way of the Mongol Empire’s conquests. Instead of blindly following our ancestor’s traditions, it is important to stand up for what is the more ethical decision. In an article about bullfighting ethics by Prindle Post, Gabriel Andrade wrote that, “Many horrible things have been deeply enshrined in tradition (slavery, child marriage, female genital mutilation, etc.), but that in no way justifies them”.

While it may seem like a fair comparison to put Spanish bullfighting and the Roman Colosseum on the same level of morals, upon further inspection, it is clear that even the Colosseum had some values that outshine bullfighting. Every single bull that is brought into the arena is faced with certain death, and there is no way around it. Even if the bull gets the upper hand on the Matador, and can potentially hurt him, a horde of people will come out onto the arena to aid the Matador, and quickly end the bull’s hope to survive. On the other hand, within the Colosseum, most fighters were given equal chances, and if they won the fight, they could live to see another day. That arena hosted some of the bloodiest shows in human history and displays the worst of human desire and cruelty, yet almost every fighter that stepped foot into the arena, had a chance to win, and had a chance to survive. A bull in a bullfighting arena cannot expect the same, it was as good as dead before it even entered the show. By no means are Roman gladiator fights being glorified, but in the comparison of the ethics of bullfighting, gladiator fights shine brighter.

Stand up for what is right and stand up for the bulls. Together, the bulls can be saved.

Human Trafficking in the Balkans

A Roma girl from Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina was lured across Eastern Europe by a Bosnian security minister who told her that she would be given a scholarship for school in the West. But instead, she was dragged off to the Balkans and forced into human trafficking to be a prostitute. 

Every year hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani migrants and refugees go through the “Balkan route”-  the path stretching from the Middle East to the European Union through Turkey and South East Europe- so that they are eligible to enter the European Union to create a new life or seek asylum. (See map below). 

There has been an increase in migrants and refugees heading into Macedonia and Serbia from Turkey and Greece, since 2015. Countries in the West Balkans kept their borders open to allow migrants and refugees to continue traveling through them to a better life in western Europe. But the EU countries did not want this large migration to continue. By September of 2015, Hungary had built a wall along its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia to block further migrant and refugee crossings. In October of 2015, Hungary officially closed its border crossing with Serbia, blocking the route from Serbia into Hungary.

The journey is rough and often deadly, and many people find themselves exposed to different risks, vulnerabilities and exploitation, including human trafficking. Because so many people go through the Balkan route, it is not possible to estimate the exact number of victims related to human trafficking. 

(This image shows Syrian refugees traveling the Balkan trail. Crossing the border from Greece into Macedonia.)

When, why, and how vulnerability to human trafficking emerges in mass groups of migrants and refugees is still an open question. “The fast movement of an extraordinarily high number of migrants and refugees of mixed nationalities make it difficult for police, aid groups and other front line responders to identify cases of trafficking,” said Anette Brunovskis, Fafo Senior Researcher. Human trafficking is harder to recognize when there are huge and very mobile crowds. 

More knowledge and evidence of these risks and vulnerabilities are essential to better inform improved policy and programmatic responses in the fields of migration, asylum and human trafficking. The media can shape the public’s awareness and knowledge of human trafficking. “Current discussions and media coverage often conflate human trafficking and human smuggling, which are not only separate legal categories but also require fundamentally different policy and practical responses.”

Balkan countries are the main source to meet the demand for trafficked women in Western Europe. The reasons for the high demand are divided into three components. The first factor that increases demand is the men (and occasionally women) who seek out women for the purpose of purchasing sex acts. The second factor is the profiteers in the sex industries including the traffickers, pimps, brothel owners, and supporting corrupt officials who make money from sex trafficking and prostitution. The third factor is the culture that indirectly creates a demand for victims by normalizing prostitution. All three factors overlap in the Balkans, hence causing a high demand for women.

A young woman or girl in the Balkan region can be bought for between €500 and €5,000, and once she is forced into prostitution, she can earn her owner as much as €15,000 a month. Then she can be resold and replaced by another victim.

The Roma girl eventually found shelter, and told authorities that she was raped by local police and even a Bosnian security minister. The girl testified against the minister in the shelter easily because she has photographic memory and was able to describe all the details, proving that she was lured for human trafficking and not for educational reasons. The minister was arrested and put in jail. 

Racism in Italian Soccer

When people think of soccer in Europe racism is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, racism is a bigger problem than you might think. Racism is a problem throughout European soccer. As an example in a high profile match between England and Bulgaria in October 2019, the game was stopped twice as Bulgarian fans directed Nazi salutes and monkey chants towards black English players. Bulgaria was already subject to a partial stadium ban, blocking 5,000 fans from games due to racist incidents earlier in the season. After this particular incident the team was fined $83,000 and banned for two home games. England’s anti-racism and pro-inclusion group for soccer (Kick It Out) released information demonstrating that discrimination in religion, gender, race and sexual orientation had increased 32% from previous seasons. Racist incidents made up 65% of those statistics. Although racism is a problem throughout European soccer it is especially prominent in Italy.

Racism in Italian soccer is a long standing problem. Serie A, the top league of Italian soccer, has tried to combat racism but it is going to take a long time to uproot racist habits. Black players are not only harassed by fans but also by the media and people working for the clubs. In many cases clubs are not penalized for their fans racist behaviors. In September of 2019 Luciano Passirani, a sports commentator for the Milan-based local TV Telelombardia, was sacked for making an ugly racist comment about Lukaku, a soccer player. One of the country’s highest ranking soccer officials was accused of trying to conceal racist chants instead of addressing them. Racism runs deep in the industry.

One player who has been subjected to racist comments is Mario Balotelli. In November of 2019 in a match between Hellas Verona and Brescia, racists comments caused the match to be ended. Balotelli posted on his instagram: “‘The ‘people’ of this curva who made the monkey chants. Shame on you….#notoracism.’’’ In another incident Juventus fans said “non ci sono negri Italiani” to him which means there are no Italian blacks. 

Another example is with Romelu Lukaku. In September of 2019, during a match between his team, Inter Milan, and Caglairi he was subjected to racist chants by Cagliari fans. Later super fans that supported his team wrote him a letter stating: “‘We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist. Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist.’” This shows that black soccer players are not even safe from racist comments from their own fans.

The Observatory of Racism in Football in 2011-2016 documented 249 racist incidents in Italian soccer. In 2017-2018, 60 incidents were reported. Twenty Serie A’s clubs wrote a letter stating: “‘Images of players being racially abused in Italian football have been viewed and discussed all around the world this season and that shames us all.’” Serie A is trying to stop the spread of racism in the sport but some of their ideas have been very controversial. They had Simone Fugazzotto do three paintings for their “No-to Racism” campaign. The monkeys were painted to be Western, Asian and Black while in club colors. The artist said that he wanted to show that we are all monkeys but the public backlash was severe. Serie A has also been working with UNAR, an Italian anti-racism agency, to develop a plan to implement during the 2020-2021 season. 

Racism remains a big problem in soccer especially in Italy. Efforts to help black soccer players feel safer and comfortable while they are playing are underway but they have a long way to go. Anti-immigration sentiments have been on the rise in Italy for years. To fix racism on the soccer field it needs to be dealt with in society first. Rory Smith said in his article, “Ending the problem of racism in society is not soccer’s job. All that soccer can do is ensure that it does not feel like a safe space for those that hold these views to express them.”

Whose Culture Is This Anyways?

Female genital mutilation, also known as female circumsion, is a procedere in which the female genitals or cut or ripped without medical cause.

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These procedures often vary with ethnicity and can range from harming the clitoris to sewing shut the vaginal opening. This can then lead to numerous painful and dangerous side effects, including chronic menstrual pain, recurring infection, difficulties in childbirth, and loss of sexuality. Unfortunately it is estimated that 3 million girls a year are at risk of falling victim to this fate. Although FGM occurs mostly in differnt African and Middle Eastern communities, it has been documented in 30 countries and is becoming a global issue. 

Even countries that have banned FGM find themsleves struggling with how to actually prevent it from happeneing. The 65,000 women in Germany who have been affected by FGM, despite its ban, are a perfect example FGMs global reach.

So how is this happening? 

Well, the answer lies in the portion of Germany’s migrants that are coming from countries where FGM is consdiered a rite of passage or a prerequisite for marriage, including girls who are born in bi-national partnerships.

  In 2016, an estimated 280,000 migrants found refuge in Germany from conflict in Africa and the Middle East. As a result, Germany experienced a spike in the number of girls who underwent Female Genital Mutilation. 

According to the non-profit women’s right organization, Terre des Femmes, “some 15,500 girls living in Germany are in danger of being forced to undergo FGM.” The majority of these women migrated from Eritrea, Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iraq, and because Germany has a ban against FGM, families often send their daughters back to their home country to have a “vacation circumcision”

So how can this type of loophole be prevented? 

 Well, so far in Germany, authorities have been granted permission to take away the passports of parents who are suspected to be taking their daughters abroad with the intent of having the procedure performed legally elsewhere. However, an article published in 2017 states that according to German law, “FGM is already illegal even when it is carried out abroad…. in order to deter parents from taking their daughters back to their home countries to have the operation carried out there”.

Another challenge Germany faces trying to combat the proliferation of FGM’s is the actual identification of FGM taking place. Most of the time the victims of Female Genital Mutilation are too young to expose their offenders, especially because they tend to be a part of the family, if not their own parents. Despite this fact, victims often are left responsible to initiate the prosecution process. 

Currently the only professionals that would be able to identify a girl who had undergone  FGM are pediatricans. However, due to patient-physician confidentiality, physicians cannot report a case of FGM to any form of authority. 

So how can help be provided to victims in need? Well, one source/a German task force suggests two different strategies; “compulsory check-ups that include the examination of the girl’s genital intactness and the implementation of the obligation to report in case of detected mutilations.” Both of these policies remove the pressure to speak out from the victim and provide them with a safe place that will lend them a watchful eye, ready to give them the help they need.