Concrete web-magazine

29Sep/130

Syriana

The world rejoices, the UN security council has reached an agreement on Syria, condemning the use of chemical weapons - without stating any responsible faction - and demanding their destruction. Syrian dictator Assad has voiced his support for the destruction of his chemical weapon stockpiles and experts, which have warned that this is an almost impossible operation during a civil war and that the massive task leaves many loopholes for the Syrian army to hide a part of the weapons are generally ignored.

In short, we have witnessed yet another act in this grotesque theater play called Syria. The weeks during which an American air-strike seemed imminent had already created truly obscure situations. Most notably the anti-war demonstrations, touting the slogan "No war on Syria" - begging the question what exactly has been going on in Syria during the last months. It was a kneejerk reaction by the political left, stuck in an ideological dead-end in which any action by the US is wrong and imperialist by default - and in turn, their opponents justified.

The facts at hand, however, tell us that there is a war on Syria - and it is fought by the Syrian government with direct support from both Iran and the Hezbollah Militias. Where are the anti-war activists demanding "No war on Syria" in direction to the Iranian government, that trains pro-government troops on its soil and supplies military aid, or in direction to the Hezbollah, that has openly intervened in support of Assad and thus provoked the war to cross borders into the Lebanon?

It gets worse.

If we may recall, the civil war in Syria started with peaceful mass-demonstrations against the government, inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt that had been dubbed "Arab Spring" in the west. Assads regime reacted with massive violence, to the point of provoking open rebellion by a myriad of different armed groups. It is indeed quite difficult to gain a complete overview of the confusing power-structures in Syria right now, but a few things are certain: there are Sunni Islamist groups, massively supported by the NATO-allies Saudi-Arabia and Qatar. They are, however, a minority, at least if voices of Islamist groups themselves are anything to go by. A Chechen Islamist, for example, voiced his opinion about the Free Syrian Army that there were too many members fighting for "freedom and equality". Organizations like the Arab Reform Initiative or IHS Janes support the conclusion that, as of now, the majority of the FSA fights for a democratic government and human rights.

These fighters receive pretty much no outside support at all. The ongoing war is threatening to marginalize their positions, as they can not compete with the monetary support and professional training which both Islamist groups and the government forces can muster. Already the violent response to the mass-protests had pushed aside many of the more progressive demands, has marginalized certain groups within society, especially women, and brought to the forefront of the battle many groups whose lack of political expertise and civilian agenda is replaced with military skill.

Speaking of military skill: one of the most popular stories revolving around the chemical attacks in Syria is, that these may just as well have been commited by the rebels themselves. There is a few indices that speak out against this version of the story and in favour of the Syrian military as perpetrator. Firstly, there is little evidence that rebel forces had captured any of the governments stockpiles, which are well guarded for obvious reasons. Considering the political gain that Assads regime already had from the vague story of the possibility of a rebel chemical attack, we can be certain such an event would have been made public. Secondly, the Syrian opposition is generally doubted to have the skill necessary to transport and handle chemical weapons safely, something that can not be said about the government forces. Thirdly, from all available information we can conclude that the rebels do not possess weapon systems capable of firing chemical weapons.

All reliable foreign observers have come to the same conclusion: the chemical attacks were an act committed by the Syrian government. They were the most massive of a series of incidents, during which the Syrian government had obviously been testing out how far it can go in terms of violence against its own population to win the civil war. Apparently, the Syrian government saw some necessity in extreme measures, because the war had turned into a stalemate throughout the last months. Neither side seems strong enough to win now.

The prospect of air-attacks, even just very limited ones, had created hopes amongst the rebels that in its wake, some strategic gains could be made. This possibility is now off the table, the opposition to US-air strikes amongst the civilian population in the west was large and the diplomatic protection of Syria by its allies in Russia was too strong. Syrias government may no longer use chemical weapons against its enemies now, but it will certainly consider its conventional warfare, which was just as cruel.

However, the political left in the west will now lean back and pat itself on the shoulder: "job well done", as if an US air-strike on Syria would have made anything worse for the people in Syria and by averting it, there is now pretty much peace in the middle-east. If the political left and the peace-movement in the USA, Europe and beyond were to be taken serious, however, it would try to understand the situation in Syria, try to do what it can to stop the war waged by dictator Assad and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

And even if it would have to confess that the situation in Syria is too complex and chaotic for it to choose sides, there is still an monumentally vital task that any self-respecting left should adress: the plight of the refugees.

An estimated 1,5 million people have fled Syria to escape the war and they have mostly made it into desolate camps in neighbouring countries, half a million of them made it to Lebanon alone - a country that has less than five million inhabitants itself. This is a truly massive strain on the populations of neighbouring countries, but western governments do little to nothing to help. In fact, their main concern seems to be to make sure that as little Syrian refugees as possible end up within their own borders. Russia granted a whooping 500 (!) refugees asylum. Germany has granted permission to a measly 8000 Syrian asylum requests since 2012. That's the amount of people that left Syria in february this year alone.

Many of the refugees take to extreme measures to ensure their survival and child marriages amongst Syrian refugees have drastically increased, as families sell their daughters to feed themselves. If only the rest of the world would take its responsibility serious, these would be completely unnecessary acts.

27Sep/130

The Minimum is a Wage

Following the recent elections in Germany, the parliament is now made up entirely of parties which have voiced their support for the introduction of a legal minimum wage in some shape or another. The last bastion of vocal opposition to this demand that had initially been introduced to the public by the ex-communist Left Party a few years ago, the Free Democracts, have failed to win the necessary amount of votes to cross the 5% threshold barring minor parties from access to the German parliament.

But if I were asked to make a prediction, I would state with great certainty that this measure, which numerous capitalist countries seemingly have no problem with, will not be introduced to Germany. A general, legally binding minimum wage for all jobs within Germany is too much of a contradiction to German economic policy.

Within Berlins political strate, many seem to have realized throughout the last years that the campaigning for a minimum wage not only joined the Left Party and the Labor Unions together in one front - in a Republic where all parties have categorically ruled out a coalition with said party under any circumstances - but also earned them popularity with the general public.

This is not surprising, considering that Germans have suffered from an overall negative trend in terms of income. Over the last decade, Labor Unions have generally failed to negotiate wage raises that even just meet the inflation rates, leaving even those with secure jobs with de facto less money to spend. And this does not account for those who found their full-time, insurance covered jobs replaced with so called "mini-jobs", contracts that allow for a maximum income of 450 Euro per month and are not covered by social insurance - which saves employers a fair share of their profits.

The restructuring of unemployment benefits in the Federal Republic has enacted further pressure on the working classes, as unemployed Germans now find themselves in an almost surreal machinery geared towards forcing them to accept any kind of job, no matter the conditions. Germany's "Agency for Work" is quick to hand out punishments and cut payments to anyone not meeting application quotas, refusing to accept work offered to them or offend their beuraucrats in any other kind of way. Combined with a omnipresent "any kind of work is better than no work"-ideology, this has massively eroded the function of unemployment benefits as lower limit for wages. It's not an option in Germany to rather be unemployed than to work for a wage that is insufficient in covering your expenses.

A minimum wage is appealing under such circumstances. Indeed, it is an almost revolutionary idea, considering that Germany's entire export-oriented economy rests soundly on the fact that it has managed to keep its labor unions in check, maximize pressure on the unemployed a create a de facto negative trend for its wages, while the rest of the Eurozone did not. Germany is the manufacturing center of Europe, its industry geared towards exports and neglecting the domestic markets in order to achieve as positive a trade bilance as possible. This had devastating effects on the remainder of Europe once the economic crisis hit, but it has stabilized the German economy, at least for now.

But this is also the reason one should doubt the willingness of anyone outside the Left Party to really introduce a legal minimum wage, no matter their public statements. The ruling Christian Democrats are the party of the austerity-regime, the Social-Democrats and the Green were in a coalition when the groundworks for Germanys current economic modus operandi were laid, when unemployment benefits were cut and the force-to-work policies known as "Hartz 4" were enacted.

If there were any sincere intention to introduce minimum wages, we would have already seen them become reality. In fact, whenever such a measure was introduced to parliament in the recent years, minor difference about its height or its implemention were cited to turn it down. The debates are ludicrous and often just revolve about measly fifty cent differences. But these debates are also a strategy to postpone the implemention of a legal lower limit to wage cuts as long as possible, without raising the ire of the German public, as admittedly harmless as this ire usually manifests.

We may soon see the rest of Europe try to challenge Germany's low wages with cuts of their own. When that happens, Germany will probably turn the downward spiral on the labor market they started even further. Without a minimum wage, it is well prepared to do so.