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The Hungarian Divide

Poverty in Hungary has become an increasingly large problem over the last several years, and there is a great rift in between rural life and urban life in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Urbanization of Hungary has created an even larger divide between the rural areas and urban areas, as well as destroying the agricultural industry.

hungary graph Urbanization

This graph clearly shows the high percentage of Hungarian citizens living in cities rising over the last decade, having people migrate from rural areas to urban areas. This factor greatly contributes to the failing agriculture in Hungary, as the rural farmers are all migrating to cities because they are far too poor to maintain their land. As the urban population is rising, the rural population is in decline at a fairly high rate in the past decade.

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As this graph shows, the population in rural areas has dropped almost 6% in the past decade, giving way to the gradual decline in agricultural production. This does not improve poverty rates in the country, as the poor farmers move to the city only to get stuck in the slums. The unemployment rate is a growing problem in Hungary as well, going hand in hand with the poverty rate, with many people requiring financial assistance. There are as many workplaces as there are workers in most rural areas outside of Budapest, with more people living off the benefits of assistance than people who actually hold jobs. The image below depicts how poor some of the rural farmers are; no electricity and no internet, keeping them walled of from the outside world. This man must use the water in his well in order to keep things cold, as he does not have a refrigerator.

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The rural citizens compared to the residents of Budapest have a completely different lifestyle and views, and Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, appeals to them much more than urban areas, truly showing the divide between the different lifestyles. Orban has a strong anti-immigrant policy that those in rural areas agree with, for many of them are older and lived through soviet union control and are terrified of culture change. The Urban populous tends to be younger and be pro-immigrant, however, Orban won his third election by a small margin in the past month. This urban-rural divide does not seem to have any immediate fixes and will take large efforts by the Hungarian government to bring change and unite the people, and fix the agricultural decline.

Poverty in Rural Poland

The rural-urban divide of Poland is most evident in the widespread rural poverty. While urban Poland is placed among highly developed countries, rural Poland still has not achieved this status. Rural Poland is widely known as a “second Poland.” Rural areas make up 93.2% of the country’s territory and 38.6% of its population. The low income or poverty and the social exclusion of rural Poland’s population is a big factor in the separation of rural and urban areas. Poverty in Poland is mostly recognized as rural poverty, as the extent of poverty in rural areas surpasses the respective values for urban regions. 

As of 2005:

Overall Urban Rural
Living in extreme poverty 12.3% 8.2% 18.7%
Below the relative poverty line 18.1% 12.5% 27.0%
Living in poverty 18.1% 12.3% 27.3%

The groups and categories that are most at risk of poverty are children, multi-child families, families living in rural areas, and families with low level of education and unemployment of the head of the family. In Poland, many of the rural population are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as ex-workers of the former state farms and their families, farmers and their families, large families, and children in poverty.

The situation of extensive regional differentiation of Poland and especially of rural areas is widely acknowledged by researchers and policy makers. The Eastern regions, known as the “Eastern Wall”, belong to the poorest parts of Poland. The Northern voivodeships, such as areas where former farm-states are located, are heavily impacted by unemployment. In the People’s Republic of Poland there were over 1,600 state farms with about 500,000 workers that lived with their families – a total of about two million people. When these state farms were closed and the economy transformed in 1991-1993, about 100,000 people were left unemployed. In 2005 up to 29.9% of the residents in rural areas that neither own state farms nor have a source of income with social pensions, socials benefits, and unemployment benefits, live below the subsistence minimum in extreme poverty. Localised in rural areas, affected by long term unemployment, and with poor education of the head of the families, families in former state-farm communities bear the characteristics of Polish poverty.

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In the early 90s, 20% of the employed population worked in agriculture. By 2005, this number had decreased to 17.4% and now continues to gradually decline. In comparison to other EU countries, Poland’s productivity of agriculture is very low. This is a result of great fragmentation of agriculture, excess of labor, the low education level of farmers, and insufficient modern equipment of agricultural holdings. The share of agriculture in Poland’s GDP was only 4.1% in 2005. In the early 2000s, incompetent politicians rather than capable professionals directed the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Politics have an extreme impact on social policy in Poland, especially on rural issues.

Today, Poland’s most severe social problem is child poverty, as it poses an important threat to the future of the country’s society. The young age of poor and/or unemployed people is one of the most relevant and characteristic traits of contemporary poverty in Poland. In 2005, children and adolescents up to the age of 19 made up over 40% of the population living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty rate among children up to the age of 14 was about 19% that same year. It is especially difficult for children and young adults from poor families to access education. Educational barriers and low level of education completed by children from poor families easily leads to poverty, unemployment and social exclusion in adult life.

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Contemporary poverty in Poland is also directly connected with the number of children in a family, and in Poland, rural families tend to have more children than urban families. Families with four or more children are at high risk of poverty, as about 40.1% of people from such families were living in extreme poverty in 2004. Since the overall percentage of households living in poverty was 11.8%, extreme poverty in households with many children was more than three times greater than average. In 2005, extreme poverty of children from multi-child families increased to 44%.

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Child poverty is a long-term situation especially in rural areas of poverty, such as former state farm settlements, and quickly leads to long-term, chronic unemployment. Many programs have been put into action in Poland, addressing unemployed young people from both rural and urban areas. In 2002-2005 several governmental programs were implemented for occupational activation of the youth. The European Social Fund finances the active measure on the labor market, such as trainings and workshops. This financial assistance covered 340,000 people (95% of the unemployed). The EU rural development policy also considers the issue of rural unemployment, youth unemployment, and various forms of “hidden unemployment” in rural areas.

PiS Loves Rural Poles

A man stands on his farm, and next to him is the beautiful new tractor that was purchased for him by the government. Normally, this kind of thing would make someone ecstatic, but for this man (and many others like him in rural Poland), it only reminds him of the government’s actions within the EU.

After joining the European Union in 2004, Poland became a very successful and quickly growing economy. The political group in charge at the time, the Civic Platform, was very progressive. They believed that Poland should be a player in the larger world, and they generally were successful. The economy boomed, becoming the sixth largest, and to some this was a great benefit. To people in rural areas, it was not.

Different EU regulations on farming and agriculture had greatly affected the lives of farmers and people in rural areas. They felt as though a lot of the new improvements that the government had imposed upon them were unnecessary. Some had received money, but most also had to take out loans. The farmers had to sit back and wait while their fate was decided by a council in Brussels. They felt totally unrepresented by the government.

 

This map is incredibly telling of how Poland’s population is spread out. Normally, these have pockets of high density, surrounding low density, and then areas of very very low population. Poland’s population remains relatively constant, even very far outside those population centers in black. In all this area, a populist movement started to form. Feeling unrepresented, people began to align their beliefs more with the Law and Justice Party, the people that now are in power.

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As shown by this graph, the amount of people in the urban population in Poland has barely changed in the past ten years, and has even gone down. While this graph is a little amusing, it shows the greater problem in the area. People aren’t willing to change their lifestyles to fit the modern economy of Poland.

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The Law and Justice Party (PiS) saw this, and they took action. They started campaigning in the more rural areas of Poland, and were even endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Many people in rural Poland see voting as a religious action, and the fact that PiS had the Church’s vote essentially handed them the election.

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The amount of power that Roman Catholicism has in this area can not be understated. As shown by the graph, 90% of the population in Poland is Roman Catholic. In outer-lying, more insular communities, the grip of religion is incredibly strong. The use of it as PiS’s base was the perfect move.

This tactic proved incredibly effective, as shown by the map below.

 

The areas in blue are those that had more than a 40% vote for PiS. As you can see, they won handily. Currently the party holds the majority of seats in the parliament.

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They championed the ideals of upholding the wholesome and Christian values of Poland, while also hoping to improve conditions for farmers and rural people. So far they have raised minimum wage, provided a better safety net and welfare system, and have created some monetary benefits for low income families.

PiS is also playing a dangerous game with the EU, however. All eyes have been on Brexit for a while, but over in Poland, the same tension has been building. PiS is playing a dangerous game of tug of war with the EU, but it is yet to be seen what will happen.

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In rural Poland though, people are happy.

 

The Czech Republic’s Urbanization Quandary

Prague, The Czech Republic’s largest populated city (1.3 million inhabitants), is known as the aging city. There is an increasing amount of people over the age of forty than that of younger adults and children. Fourteen percent of the vibrant and historic city’s population comes from abroad. “Businesses across Europe have come to Prague to house their headquarters and the city now accounts for 25% of the Czech Republic’s GDP. The city is now home to more service-oriented businesses such as hospitality, finance and commercial services with these sectors making up 80% of its business activity. 20% is still given over to industry based businesses.” Densely populated cities, and there are very few of them, like Prague, have been a name to fame for The Czech Republic’s 4.7% economic growth in 2017.

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The city of Prague populated with multi-story red-roofed houses. 

The Czech Republic has been facing a constant growth rate in urbanization (~73%) each year since 2006. About 35% of the Czech labor force is employed in manufacturing, the highest proportion of any EU country.

czech urb1

Sub-urbanization, commonly referred to as urban sprawl,  is generally viewed as a negative process; but this is likely caused by overflow from the largely populated cities such as Prague, Brno and Moravia Silesia. This process demands a commercial industrialization to the more rural areas, traffic lights, highways and shopping centers flood to these areas where there is a more steady growing population.

All of this sounds good, right? Sadly, there is more to this story which includes industrial areas and rural areas trying to hold on to their economy and culture as populists benefit.  There is a significant divide between socialists and capitalists, “The ideological principles behind the allocation of housing in actual socialism illustrate the systemic difference with capitalism: ‘1) housing should be a universal provision, not a market commodity; and 2) its production and distribution should not be a means of unearned income.’” This drastic change from socialism to capitalism has left many in the dust (around 70,000 homeless and unemployed Czechs).

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In order to accommodate for this greater than  70% urban population, the Czech Government needs to invest in sub-urbanization. The built up and historical cities, like Prague and Brno, have a good standing system. But when the cities overflow and become completely overpopulated, citizens will need somewhere to go and not become another statistic for the homeless and unemployed population.

Hungary’s Agricultural Decline

Hungary, a country that rarely makes the news, is a relatively small country in the center of Europe.  It started as a part of the Ottoman empire, but now is closely tied to Russia. The country calls itself a democracy, but recently it has seemed to lean more towards being an authoritarian state. As many countries have experienced, Hungary is also become a much more urban country. The places where Hungarian citizens live have been shifting. For many years much of Hungary’s population lived in rural areas, farming to make a living, but as the country becomes more modern, more people are leaving the quiet farm life for big cities.

hungary-rural-population-percent-of-total-population-wb-data

(Population Living in Rural Areas)

This shift has created a divide between the urban and rural populations. This change seems to stem from many things, as it does in many countries. One reason more people have moved into urban areas is just that Hungarians are able to find better jobs in cities, there are more jobs and there is a wider variety of jobs. One of the greatest reasons; however, is the loss of industrial and agricultural jobs.

hungary-population-map

Since Hungary’s agricultural production has been declining for a long time, starting in the 1990s, Hungary’s population has become concentrated to living in cities, and no longer being spread out evenly throughout the country. Crop production and animal production have both decreased in the recent past. Agriculture has always been a big part of Hungary’s economy, with a large amount of employment coming from jobs in the agricultural sector. So, this decrease of overall agriculture has hit the Hungarian population very hard.

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Before the many transitions Hungary went through, political and economical, in the 20th century, Hungary was able to compete with other countries in Western Europe with their food products, but as the amount of towns and cities that are decreasing in population, competition is no longer possible. In the past, the industry had few issues, and was a practical line of work. Although there has been some support financially for Hungary’s agricultural sector from the Hungarian government, the invariable pay has led rural areas to lose able-bodied workers to better jobs in cities. This will probably cause even further decline the the county’s agricultural production.

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This sharp increase in urbanization has also left an interesting proportion of ages living in Hungary’s rural areas. Much of the rural population is made up of elderly people. Leaving the older populations to take care of Hungary’s farms.

With this older population being situated in the rural areas of Hungary, there is also a concentration of their political views. Many Hungarians have been known to support far right views, and a large concentration of these nationalists are living in rural areas. These nationalist views stem from the late 1900s when Hungary was having many different economic, social, and political issues. This almost “backward” thinking further separates citizens living in rural areas from other urban Hungarians. 

Throughout history, people have moved to cities to find prosperity. In Hungary, through an overall decrease in agriculture, Hungary’s rural population has declined and the amount of people living in urban areas has sharply increased. In some ways, this has made Hungary a more modern country.

 

Mexico & Drugs

The Mexican Drug Cartel, created in 2006, has been generating many problems for Mexico as a country.  This discussion focuses on the urbanization of drugs in Mexican States. The urbanization of drugs impacts Mexico in many ways, but tourism is at the top of the list.  The dangers that arise in Mexico due to drugs greatly affects the tourism, and more-so, the revenue generated from tourism. Due to the dangers that exist in Mexico, the U.S. State Department has instituted a system that is devised of four levels of danger in foreign states to warn American travelers of the dangers in foreign countries.  Level 1 means that there is not much to warn travelers about; there isn’t much conflict in a foreign country or state. Level 2    means that there is increased warning directed to travelers when traveling to a foreign country or state. Level 3 means that travelers should reconsider their decision to vacation in a foreign country or state. Finally, Level 4 highly advises travelers to steer clear of the foreign country or state, as it is very dangerous.

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There are 31 Mexican states; as a whole, the country is rated at a Level 2.  Level 2 means that American tourists should have increased caution when traveling to Mexico (https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/01/10/map-mexicos-worst-places-to-travel-according-to-the-state-department/).  This discussion focuses on Playa Del Carmen, Mexico City, Jalisco, and Colima.  All of these Mexican states range from Level 2 to Level 4 travel warnings.

 

Playa del Carmen is a very popular Mexican tourist sight, especially for college students around Spring Break.  In February of 2018, a ferry exploded in Playa Del Carmen. The explosion ultimately prohibited U.S. Government employees or officials from travelling on ferries in Mexico; private transportation is required.  The explosion injured 25 people, but did not kill anyone. While some fingers point to Mexican drug gangs as being responsible for the incident, terrorism has been ruled out. To date, no one has been convicted of the crime.  Due to this incident, the U.S. State Department has categorized Playa Del Carmen as a Level 2 for danger. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-blast/ferry-explosion-in-mexico-resort-town-caused-by-homemade-explosive-newspaper-idUSKCN1GN01V).

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Mexico City is another popular destination in Mexico. (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html).  An article states that in Mexico City, alone, there are over 20,000 places to buy drugs from undercover or well-hidden drug gangs (https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/20000-places-where-you-can-buy-drugs/).  Drugs are being sold everywhere in Mexico City, such as small grocery stores, football fields, and apartment buildings.  Overall, the sales of drugs have increased from 200 places to 3,000 in the past five years. This overgrowth has increased in homicides.  The state is rated as a Level 2 by the U.S. State Department.

 

Jalisco, Mexico is rated by the U.S. State Department at Level 3.  While U.S. citizens are highly advised to not go to Jalisco, U.S. government employees are under strict instruction if they are to stay in the Mexican state for work. (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html).  Jalisco is also home to the Jalisco Cartel, a Mexican Drug Cartel group that is infamous for horrible kidnappings and killings (https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/jalisco-cartel-new-generation/).  Most recently, the gang was involved in a mass shooting of 15 Jalisco police officers back in 2015.  Months later, the gang acted again and shot down a military helicopter. The gang has access to many military grade weapons.  Overall, Jalisco is considered a dangerous city, and not recommended for tourism.

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Colima, Mexico is known as the fourth smallest Mexican state.  Recently, it has gotten the reputation for being controlled by drug cartels and crime.  Drug cartels are fighting for the territory to easily important synthetic drugs in and out of Mexico (http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-mexico-states-warning-20180111-htmlstory.html).  Colima, Mexico has been rated by the U.S. State Department as a Level 4. The state cautions that no one travels there (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html).  U.S. State Department officials must abide under strict rules if they are to travel to the state.  Some of these rules include not attending adult entertainment clubs or participating in any kind of gambling.  At Level 4, Colima is considered an extremely dangerous territory for tourism and travel.

 

Mexico is often considered a popular vacationing country.  Over the years, it has become increasingly dangerous, impacting its ability to generate income via tourism.  The U.S. State Departments levels its individual states from Levels 1 to 4; 1 being safe, 4 being extremely dangerous.  Playa Del Carmen, Mexico City, Jalisco, and Colima range from Levels 2 to 4 in safety. Although none are classified at Level 1, Playa Del Carmen and Mexico City are considered the safest, ranked at Level 2.  While Jalisco and Colima are ranked at 3 and 4, respectively, travel there is scarce. Mexico’s drug urbanization is greatly impacting tourism and ultimately Mexico’s ability to produce an ample income.

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Photo 1: https://www.google.com/search?q=drugs+in+mexico&client=firefox-b-1-ab&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi5kovZrc_aAhXRmuAKHSqhCZEQ_AUICygC&biw=1267&bih=637#imgrc=qY17YcmAeBpidM:

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Photo 3: https://www.google.com/search?q=drugs+in+mexico&client=firefox-b-1-ab&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi5kovZrc_aAhXRmuAKHSqhCZEQ_AUICygC&biw=1267&bih=637#imgrc=T5S2Oij6m_FLpM:

Photo 4: https://www.google.com/search?q=drugs+in+mexico&client=firefox-b-1-ab&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi5kovZrc_aAhXRmuAKHSqhCZEQ_AUICygC&biw=1267&bih=637#imgrc=87HZmg4_6g7PGM:

Urbanization In Egypt

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Egypt’s capital–Cairo–has been facing the problem of overpopulation since 1960s, the most recent data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics in Egypt stated that within the Cairo governate, the overall urban population density is 117,000 per square mile—1.5 times more than the population density of Manhattan and the ville de Paris.

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Within Cairo, there are four different governates, and one that had the most significant gain is the one located in urban Cairo—Giza. It is located at the west bank of Nile river, and is considered the core of the urban area in Egypt. As a comparison, Kalyoubia is located to the north of Cairo and the majority of its population live in rural areas. Overall, from 1937-2012, the growth of the urban area is significantly bigger than that of rural areas.  Many people choose to move to Cairo because it symbolizes concentration of control, resources and countless opportunities in the minds of most people in Cairo, which established a centralized social order by which the whole population aspires the citizenship in Cairo. Therefore, this ambition to acquire citizenship of the metropolitan city generated a huge immigration from rural regions to urban areas.

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As a result of Egypt’s rapid urbanization process, an increasing number of buildings and factories were built. Since the 1970s, the brick buildings were built on the farmland with Nile silt that provide rich topsoil for the foundation of agriculture in Egypt. There is a distinctive line between these 12-story, unpainted, brick buildings and the farmland near the capital. Due to the limited amount of lands available, the buildings and farmland are in direct competition.  The Greater Cairo hosts about twenty percent of the country’s total population, over 18 million people. In doing so, a growing trend of informal and unsafe ares is generated by this huge presence of urban population. About 1,171 areas in Egypt are considered informal, and 60 percent of these areas are located in Cairo.

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The Egyptian government banned building on agricultural land in order to push the expansion of big cities into desert, and gain the massive new investment. Regardless of the ban on construction on agricultural land, most new construction in Egypt are located on farmland, which is a big problem for the country since only 2.75 percent of its land is suitable for farming. Each year, 16,000 acres of agricultural land are diminishing as a result of new construction projects. A growing trend of informal and unsafe ares is also generated by the huge presence of urban population. About 1,171 areas in Egypt are considered informal, and 60 percent of these areas are located in Cairo.  A contractor could pay a bribe of £230 for an illegal apartment to get power, and £900 for a building to be connected to the grid. The reason that more people are willing to live in these illegal apartments than government supported buildings is that there’s no “soft infrastructure”. Although the government has build roads, pipes, and power lines, there are not enough schools, hospitals, and cultural activities.

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Due to the unprecedented rapid urban growth over the past four decades, the infrastructure and service delivery system have troubles keeping up with cities’ population burden. Impoverished people have to settle in unplanned or unsafe areas because there is no public land or workable housing policies. After a while, problems like infrastructure deterioration, insufficient public transportation, high air and noise pollution, and traffic congestion surfaced as the result of improper planning. Urbanization in Egypt affects not only the capital, but also regional capitals, such as the Alexandria, by increasing their population exponentially caused by both the rural population shift and the demographic explosion. Currently, the biggest threat to the natural resources in Egypt is urban expansion and population growth. Water pollution and poor sewage treatment is partly responsible for the high infant mortality throughout Egypt.

The PKK’s War with Turkey

The fight for an independent Kurdistan has been a political and violent conflict for almost four decades now. As there are roughly twenty-eight million Kurds, they are considered to be the world’s largest stateless population. Centralized in Europe and the Near East, large masses of Kurds live within the borders of Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Syria, and Iraq, as well as a small part of Georgia. Nearly half of the Kurdish population resides in Turkey.

There are many different factions of the Kurds who fight under the same cause. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) functions as the focal point of the Kurdish rebellion. The PKK is best known for its use of severe violence, and is qualified as an extreme-left and nationalist/separatist group. The war between the PKK and Turkey has been devastating to both sides with over 40,000 deaths since fighting began 1984. The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, has been held under Turkish custody since his capture in 1999 when the Turkish military momentarily defeated the PKK. Ocalan and his followers officially began their rebellion in 1978, but did not begin using violence until 1984 when they began conducting terrorist attacks. Ocalan and his followers seek to create a freed Kurdistan state where they can function as their own government in eastern Turkey. This goal is a response to the Turkish government’s suppression and restriction of the Kurds.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has long tried to end the PKK’s rebellion. Erdogan and the Turkish government have suppressed the basic and natural rights of the Turkish Kurds for many decades. Reaching a compromise has been extremely difficult, but there have been many ceasefires, the most recent in 2012 and lasting only three years. Remaining under Turkish custody, Ocalan continues to spearhead the PKK, and appears to call ceasefires only when the PKK are weak or in a vulnerable position. Initially, Turkey did not fight back against the PKK, but Ocalan’s destructive use of guerrilla warfare and terrorism forced Tukey to fight back. Typically, the PKK would target Turkish government officials, politicians, and militants. The PKK has used suicide bombs, kidnappings, and attacks on Turkish diplomatic offices within Europe. Currently, the PKK is using a rather defensive military strategy within Turkey itself, but has oriented its focus towards Rojava in Syria. The PKK strategically attacks the Turkish government, using hit-and-run techniques, often fleeing to the mountains of Northern Syria. It is rare, but the PKK have also been known to attack other Turkish Kurds who do not support their views.

Ocalan and Erdogan, both extremely stubborn and egoistic, refuse to compromise. Since Ocalan is still the official leader of the PKK, he has the power to stop all the violence and end the war, but because of his ego, he will never succumb until he gets what he wants. The PKK, at its core, does not wish to be completely isolated from Turkey, but wants Kurds to be treated equally to the Turkish citizens. Since Ocalan’s detention, the PKK has created a political group, attempting to reroute their strategy to fight for a freed Kurdistan. When the PKK was first established, it was hard for the group to popularize itself and gain support, but after their its use of violence, recruits began coming from all directions. Today, the Turkish government clearly has the upper hand, both in size and in military. Turkey has become accustomed to using advanced warfare and technology, which has severely diminished the size of the PKK. Turkey measures its success based on the amount of PKK deaths.

The PKK must be considered as a guerrilla group that aims to function as a freed government under an independent Kurdistan, but the group’s fight is nearing its end unless Ocalan and Erdogan can reach a compromise. Ocalan won’t be satisfied until either all of his wishes are granted, or the PKK achieves complete damnation of the Turkish government. Erdogan believes that the PKK can be defeated by military force, and he hopes to fully diminish and disband the PKK, eventually having them join Turkish militants and politically back and support Erdogan. The goals of each leader are naive and overly hopeful, and most likely impossible to reach. It is unclear if Ocalan and Erdogan will ever get over their egos and recognize the destruction they have caused.

Power Hungry: Moldova in Economic and Political Upheaval

Moldova, a former country under the Soviet Union, suffers from domestic corruption and economic upheaval. These two ailments have caused Moldova to suffer the rise of power hungry oligarchs. Moldova’s oligarchs have run the country according to each of their own selfish beliefs, resembling a gang rather than a government, for the oligarchs are not being held accountable by the Moldovan people, the voters.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Bessarabia, now known as Moldova, belonged to Romania. During the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed Moldova from Romania. In 1991, following the demise of the Soviet Union, Moldova became an independent country; however, Moldova promised to preserve the country’s heritage of communism. The Moldovan legislature kept true to their word, for in 2001, Moldova elected a communist president, becoming the first country from the former occupied Soviet eastern bloc to support communism. After the 2001presidential election of a communist, Moldova started experiencing political and ethnic unrest. This upheaval stemmed from neighboring countries’ prosperity. As Moldova’s neighbors succeeded with democratic governments, particularly Romania, the Moldovan people began questioning Moldova’s communist regime. Since several thousands of Moldovans maintain ethnic ties to Romania, a successful democratic country, Moldovans pushed for reform within their government. Due to political unrest, the Moldovan legislature signed and ratified an agreement, the Association Agreement, which would make Moldova one step closer to creating a relationship between its country and the EU, appearing to the world as a move towards democracy. Despite this initial attempt to bring democracy to a previously communist country, Moldova failed to structure an orderly government.

After the 2014 elections, following the ratification of the Association Agreement, Moldova’s political landscape shifted, for the government steadily became intertwined with corruption and unrest. Corruption scandals came one after another. Following a banking scandal, where $1 billion vanished from the top three Moldovan banks, an investigation led to a series of loans transferred to five companies in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. The Moldovan government appeared to have covered up the transactions, which amounted to one-eighth of Moldova’s GDP, due to the involvement of Moldovan judges, prosecutors, and senior politicians. In response to the banking crisis, the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank refused financial assistance to Moldova, suspending $33 million dollars in subsidies. This denial of aid prompted many Moldovans to call for the resignation of President Timofti. Despite the façade of the Moldovan government, the top oligarch of Moldova happened to be Moldova’s richest man, Vladimir Plahotniuc, the reigning vice-chairmen of the Democratic Party. According to a report conducted by The New York Times, Plahotniuc is “Moldova’s most-feared figure, a man with a politically toxic reputation.” The former Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leanca, a former Plahotniuc ally, stated in a report that the United States State Department acted accordingly when the State Department requested to meet with Plahotniuc because “[the State Department] talk[s] with the people with real power all over the world…and he is the person with the real power in this country.”

Vladimir Plahotniuc, the reigning oligarch of Moldova since the early 2000s, maintains an expanse of power, allowing him to control business, media, and government sectors of Moldova. He created a platform for himself through business ventures, such as serving as an executive for Petrom Moldova (a Romanian gas and oil business) from 2001 to 2011, as well as acting as chairman of Victoriabank (Moldova’s leading commercial bank) from 2006 to 2011. In 2009, Plahotniuc developed his political career by becoming a member of the Democratic Party, which at the time was struggling financially. Vladimir Plahotniuc provided for this defecting party financially, gaining control of the party’s decisions in return for his favors. Critics of Plahotniuc tie his dealings to corrupt acts and abuses of power. The most famous unsolved allegation against Plahotniuc is his involvement in the Moldovan banking scandal. If evidence is released incriminating Vladimir Plahotniuc’s involvement in the Moldovan money-laundering scandal, which left $1 billion missing from several Moldovan banks, it would prove that Moldova allows oligarchs to maintain control, that the power does not lie with the Moldovan voters.

Following the aftermath of the banking scandal, Moldova experienced six prime ministers in six months with the ruling party, removing anyone suspected as a puppet of the business elite. Therefore, in an attempt to renew morale in the government, the Moldova legislature announced that the country would have the first direct presidential election since 1996. The pro-Russian candidate, Igor Dodon, won the election. Immediately, Dodon announced that there would be elections for more pro-Russian lawmakers and that he would end efforts in joining the EU. Due to Dodon’s close relationship with and Moldova’s economic dependence on Russia, gangs originating in Moldova were suspected to have connections with Russian intelligence agencies. In October 2015, Moldovan authorities, along with the United States F.B.I. (Federal Bureau of Investigations) released five years of joint information that incriminated Moldovan gangs for attempting four smuggling operations of nuclear material to extremist organizations in the Middle East. The nuclear material, after several studies, is believed to have originated in Russia. One Moldovan smuggler communicated to an informant that the nuclear material was being used to build dirty bombs, which would eventually be used by the Islamic State to kill several neighborhoods of a city. This investigation came as no surprise, for the Moldovan government has embedded itself firmly within criminal activity, and corruption scandals are of no shock to Moldovan people.

In an attempt to restore order and rid the country of corruption, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has begun to develop a National Integrity and Anti-Corruption strategy, which will be implemented throughout the years of 2017-2020. The UNDP believes their strategies, if properly implemented, will focus on the reform of the legal framework in the country, not on legal adjustments, which usually happen every year. Also, the UNDP has started debunking the corruption phenomenon in hopes of eliminating stigmas associated with corruption. They believe that by changing the country’s focus on anti-corruption to the “enhancement of the integrity of the society”, corruption will soon be demolished.

 

Af “gang” istan

For over 50 years, Afghanistan has seen conflict ranging from wars to dysfunctional governments. The region’s instability can be partially attributed to the structure of the Afghan government. Shortly after Soviet occupation in Afghanistan ended, the Taliban, an extremist Muslim group, seized control. In the early 2000s, a series of corrupt elected leaders intensified tensions. Hamid Karzai wasted billions of dollars in aid while earning money for himself through illegal businesses, solidifying the precedent for corruption in Afghanistan. The Afghan government tries to steal as much money and gain as much power as possible for the top leaders while many citizens live in extreme poverty and unsafe conditions. The Taliban’s presence in most of Afghanistan further undermines the influence of the government. The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang bent on enriching its members at the expense of Afghan society.

The Afghan government is directly involved with powerful families, the private sector, and terrorist groups, making positive change difficult or impossible. The goal of the Afghan government is not to govern, but to use the people for their own benefit. Corrupt governments, including Afghanistan, send the majority of their money and resources outside the country, which benefits the top leaders, but increases poverty. This structure is very similar to that of an institutional gang. Furthermore, similar to a gang, the Afghan government does not have a clear separation of powers, which would otherwise limit the power of individuals. In addition, kleptocracies, such as Afghanistan, are more susceptible to corruption. Citizens who travel within Afghanistan must pay bribes to the Afghan police at every checkpoint in order to pass. The lack of real police presence may force citizens to turn to the Taliban for protection, increasing their power. In fact, many people see the Taliban as a favorable alternative to the government. The Taliban provides loans, protection, and collects taxes more reliably than the actual government. Even though this appears to be a viable solution, both the Taliban and the Afghan government treat their citizens poorly, which is similar to how gangs treat their people. Relations between the Taliban and the Afghan government resemble wars between gangs for territory, resources, and power. Therefore, 80% of the Afghan people support neither the Taliban or the government. Support for the Taliban would shrink significantly if the undecided 80% trusted the government. This would decrease the Taliban’s influence and stabilize the state without military intervention.

The Afghan government closely resembles gangs in their domestic governing method. This correlation is clearly shown in the government’s control over the opium industry. The government first accommodates the opium farmers, then cooperates with them, and finally becomes a predator, eventually taking complete control of the business. This cycle shows how the Afghan government slowly transitions from a government to a gang when interacting with the opium farmers. In addition, the farmers must pay “taxes” to the government in order to grow opium even though its cultivation is technically illegal. The Taliban also instituted a similar taxation system for their land. The government seems to be very effective at taxing the opium farmers. The tax rates, which are dependent on the number of acres, rain, and crop yield, seem more reasonable than many US tax laws. Afghan officials are becoming more involved with the opium trade. They are competing with the Taliban for money and their competition can resemble that of drug gangs. Everyone in government, including the president, is involved with the opium trade. Using illegal businesses and sending money upward are two main determinants of institutional gangs. Opium cultivation benefits both the farmers and the government in the short term, preventing corruption from ending.

The Afghan government structure, foreign policy, and governing methods closely resemble that of an institutional gang. The Taliban and the Afghan government resemble two competing gangs with similar motives. This situation could be improved by directly supporting the people rather than giving aid money to the government.