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Cultural Wars and the Politics of Diplomacy – Journal #122 November 2021 – E-Flux

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“Speak Into The Mic, Please” is an essay series published serially in e-flux journal. This text by Hanan Toukan is the fourth in the series, for which I have the honor of serving as guest editor.

The title of the series comes from Lina Majdalanie and Rabih Mroué’s performance Biokhraphia (2002), in which Majdalanie speaks to a recorded version of herself that is constantly reminding her to speak into the mic in order for the audience to hear her better.

Similarly to speaking to the self in front of an audience, the commissioned texts in this series attempt to look at the conditions of production surrounding the contemporary art scene in Beirut since the 1990s. The backdrop for these discussions includes a major reconstruction project in the city, international finance, and political oppression, whether under the Syrian regime or under hegemonic NGO discourses.

The texts examine interconnections between the economic bubbles and the political and cultural discourses that formed in Lebanon between the 1990s and 2015. During this period, a number of private art institutions, galleries, and museums popped up in the capital, while the city was buried under the refuse of years of intentional political mismanagement and oligarchic rule.

—Marwa Arsanios

The Participation of Iraqi artists today in an exhibition organized by a foreign institution implies an acceptance of that institution’s logic in preparing the exhibition. Participating in a foreign exhibition should not be rejected in and of itself; what should be rejected is any objec­tive of an exhibition hosted by such an institution that is not positive, that aims at anything other than encouraging the artists and show­casing their talents. Most Iraqi artists also participated, for example, in an international exhibition held in India last year, and the Indian government has plans to organize an exhibition of exclusively Iraqi painters. But what does it mean when a colonial institution like the British Cultural Council hosts an exhibition for Iraqi artists?

—Shakir Hassan Al Said, 1953

Al tamwyl al ajnabi

Since Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century, Arab intellectuals have been embroiled in impassioned debates over the West’s superiority versus the Arab “lag.” From Amin Qasim’s call for the “liberation” of women to Taha Hussein’s situating of Egypt’s civilizational trajectory within that of the West, and Abed al Rahman al Kawkabi’s attack on despo­tism, the quest for modernity reverberated and found fertile ground in the debates around literature and poetry, and by extension the visual arts. As Timothy Mitchell has argued, “Modern discourse occurs only by performing the distinction between the modern and the non-modern, the West and the non-West.” Such distinctions, I also suggest, buttress the foundation upon which the discourse of society’s development from “backward and closed” to “open and free” has historically rested.

In 2007, the EU-funded, Mediterranean culture–focused online journal Babelmed published an article by Lebanese critic, poet, and journalist Youssef Bazzi. In the article, Bazzi recounts the story of Hiwar, a legendary literary Arabic journal from the 1960s, to launch an attack on contemporary local critics of global cultural funding for con­temporary arts production. He derides them as adamantly and senselessly anti-Western—linking them to what he frames as the irrational and hyper­nationalist critics of the 1960s. In his words, the way the Arab public views its relationship to foreign funding for cultural production “is a relationship that can at best be described as ‘dubious’ and at worst as ‘betrayal,’ ‘conspir­acy’ or working on behalf of the imperialist assault on the Arab nation or the ‘Zionist-colonialist project.’” He goes on to complain that “the list of charges runs through the full list of clichés that have comprised the Arab political dictionary for the last 60 years.” Bazzi essentially attacks what he believes to be an oppressive element in the cultural practices and discourses produced by Arab nationalism that linger years after the beginning of its decline in 1970. He ends his piece by emphasizing the impressive growth of the Lebanese arts sector—and of contemporary visual arts, specifically—under the auspices of US and European patrons since the end of the Lebanese civil war in a plea to locals to shed any lingering ill-feeling toward international funders, thereby drawing on the West versus non-West and modern versus nonmodern binaries that Mitchell underlines about the modern discourse.

Al tamwyl al ajnabi (foreign funding) is the most bandied-about term in the contemporary public discourse of cultural producers, funders, and activists in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan. The term refers to a set of questions posed and discussed largely by actors working in civil society organizations in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s. The discussion centers on the advantages and disadvantages of accepting funds from foreign, but especially Western, organizations, whether governmental or nongovernmental.

In fact, as a signifier in Arabic, the term al tamwyl al ajnabi is itself steeped in a deep imperial and neoliberal history, while the English translation of the term is neutral. As Nicola Pratt puts it, “The foreign funding debate is not about NGO financial matters, but rather about the identity of those who provide the funds (that is, organizations located in the ‘West’).” Cen­tral to this debate is what is termed in Arabic discourse ajindat gharbiyah or ajnabiyah (Western or foreign agendas); that is, it is not how much money a funder gives a local recipient but what is understood to be done with the money, and specifically how much this power relationship affects production. These conditions prioritize the funder’s interests over the recipient’s. In that sense, the foreign—or Western (the terms are often used interchangeably in public discussion)—cultural funding debate is not an empirical one based on objective facts about the impact of international funding on local NGOs. Instead it reflects the historical relationship between the Arab world and the West. This relationship with the West is defined by a discourse that operates in the realm of ideas that have to do with representations and identities that are essentially the byproduct of two hundred years of colonial encoun­ters between the Arab world and the West. In the field of the arts, how this unequal relationship of power between funder and recipient materializes is hotly contested. What I mean is how recipients of funds, whether artists or local arts-supporting initiatives acting as “middlemen” with politically vested interests in the region, play a role in shaping the aesthetical and formal practices of cultural production. By extension, how do such initiatives end up influencing the way we understand the role of the artist as a critical voice for change in society?

Every Arab country inherited various forms of knowledge and technol­ogy from colonialism. When it was officially over, colonialism left behind a complex cultural and intellectual legacy that the Arab world is still try­ing to process. The region’s persistent and historical grappling with multiple identities, memories, worldviews, and associated narratives—whether religious, secular, nationalist, socialist, liberal, global­ist, or cosmopolitan—means that cultural production and representation, whether for a local or global audience, inevitably become domains of contes­tation. In turn, this contentious politics of cultural production links to the loftier encounter with any cultural practices understood to originate in the West, as was the case with modernist poetics. Hence, Arab players alone do not attend to cultural production’s contentious discourse. Reflecting larger regional and global geopolitical trends, international players make themselves felt via their funding, visions, and discourses, and like local players, they as­sert themselves, directly and indirectly, through an intricate confluence of sect, class, and geopolitics. The debate around the contextual nature of contemporary arts production, couched as it is in a longer historical debate concerned with the problem of modernist avant-garde poetics being per­ceived as too “Western” by some local actors, becomes the medium through which varying ideologies express themselves and challenge each other in response to experimental aesthetics. Foregrounded in these debates are two master narratives that were almost always pitted against each other during the interviews I conducted: the myth of “modern” abstract art (and, by ex­tension, “postmodern” conceptual and overly theorized contemporary art) versus “authentic” and “domestic” social-realist art committed to painting and sculpture as both form and content. These narratives are predicated on a discursive framework that demarcates roughly two categories. The first is comprised of an older group of artists, writers, and intellectuals who came of age in the era of the 1967 Arab defeat against Israel or the Naksa, embodied in the term al-muthaqaf (the intellectual). This category of cultural producers considers itself just as rooted in localized aesthetical practices informed by historicized understandings of art’s role in attaining justice and freedom, as they are globally attuned to questions of aesthetics. The second group is, generally speaking, younger interdisciplinary artists born roughly between the 1960s and 1980s who tend to be more conceptually informed by the the­ories and practices afloat in more globally connected and professionally networked sites of art making. The latter category disparages in particular what it sees as rigid concepts in art, such as liberation and justice that have historically served the power politics of postcolonial nationalist regimes and their political rhetoric. In this framework, the binaries of authentic/modern, global/local, cosmopolitan/communal, and progressive/regressive inflame local discourses, sensibilities, and frames of thinking about the topic of inter­national, but often especially Western, support for cultural production. This bifurcation, which was often underscored in my field interviews, conceals two sources of tension. First, how much “the modern must always have its other,” and second, how much the construction of this other is inflected with capital, class, and power, whether we are talking about the so-called authentic-local or the cosmopolitan-global. This inflection in turn is elided by the tendency I found for cultural actors—and this includes artists, curators, and representatives of cultural organizations—to focus on the identity rather than the politics of the funder when thinking about cul­tural production’s relationship to its source of funding. This focus was often accentuated in conversations when the issue of the Arab Gulf art scene was raised. One well-known artist, writer, and cultural organizer succinctly summed up this prevalent perception: “Art and patronage is a dirty business, but at least the Gulf is Arab, unlike most of the other funders we have to work with.”

“In Beirut,” noted Daniel Drennan ElAwar, “the sponsors list of any given cultural event proudly lists the banks, foreign NGOs and other corporations that make such an importation and implantation of outside culture possible. No one seems to mind.” This statement exemplifies the way in which art from the Global South is systematically located within the framework of a postcolonial nationalism, on the one hand, and as the effect of a Westernized liberalism, on the other. Accordingly, notions of “importation” and “implanta­tion” abound in debates on cultural production and al-asala (authenticity) in the modern Arab world. Yet such approaches are inherited from the dominant tradition/modernity debate mentioned above that too easily dismisses alterna­tive interpretations of these tensions. Arguably modernity is not always a rude imposition or an “inauthentic appropriation,” and cultural actors in contem­porary Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan are not passive postcolonial subjects.

After 1990, the constructed binaries—historically drawn on to explicate the encounter with the darker side of Western modernity—arguably began to be expressed in a different tone, one less prone to the rigid categorizations of the pre-1990 years that the Hiwar experience highlights. Yet still somewhat dependent on cultural actors’ transnational ties and how closely they relied on Western curatorial frameworks, the general public and many actors from within the cultural domain remained generally suspicious of the role of funding for social and cultural projects from Western sources. Yet this time, and especially after 9/11, the backdrop was what Barbara Harlow describes in Resistance Litera­ture (2012) as the “drastic changes wrought—wreaked—in a catastrophically contested world order as the twentieth century turned into the twenty-first, relating a macro-narrative, perhaps, from colonialism, through decolonization, the polarized Cold War, a post-bi-polar world order, post-colonialism, global­ization.” The new tone reflected a more violent reality of a post-9/11 world but, at the same time, a more contingent postmodern world.

Hence, despite both funders’ and recipients’ insistence on implementing normative frames of understanding to distinguish cultural diplomacy from cultural relations, the former cannot be viewed narrowly as a tool of foreign policy under the remit of public diplomacy alone, even though it is commonly defined as “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples to foster mutual understanding” (Cummings 2009). Instead, cultural diplomacy entails a multifaceted process of interna­tional cultural politics, realized through tools and practices of cultural policy as they manifest in various contexts. Within this framework, cultural diplo­macy happens under a number of names. Its vast lexicon includes cultural re­lations, cultural cooperation, public diplomacy, public relations, cross-cultural exchange, and cultural development—all terms that encompass dimensions of culture as understood by Raymond Williams’s 1961 articulation of its wide meaning, processes, and significations. Depending on the lexicon in vogue since the 1990s, it has also articulated itself as developmentally attuned, civil society and people-centered, and/or democratization in practice. Although a neat genealogy could be constructed for each of these terms appropriated in the language of funders, and by extension the local fund recipients, I sub­mit that in everyday life and on a practical level they form something of an ideological miscellany. Regardless of the particularities of its individual parts, cultural diplomacy has pushed an understanding of the arts as a motor of change in a society that badly needs to reform its culture and democratize its society. By extension, the blurring of the terms “cultural diplomacy” and “cultural relations” in scholarly literature and in policy practice is one of the most insidious ways that power works in cultural production: its invasiveness renders funders and fund recipients oblivious, unwittingly or not, to the fact that the funding of cultural production is always an instrument of power, even if it is intercepted by local actors—or, to borrow from Zeina Maasri, even when those participants are not mere “passive dupes.”

Diplomacy or Relations?

In spring 2013, I met with the director of a leading and long-established Eu­ropean cultural funding institution in Amman. I noted to myself that the director’s home, office, and favorite café were all located where we were sitting in Jabal al Weibdeh, one of Amman’s oldest and, in recent years, most gen­trified neighborhoods. In the midst of explaining that my research reflected an interest in the local manifestations of cultural diplomacy and how they intersect with and shape artistic practices and discourses, we were interrupted by an activist, artist, and mutual friend who wanted to say hello. We all chatted briefly about her latest work with a well-known local arts collective located in quickly gentrifying downtown Amman. Before walking off to rejoin her friends, she thanked the director profusely for all his financial support and proximity to the project during the time of its making. That interaction—the whole meeting, in fact—made clear that the director was on good terms with everyone in his vicinity, from the artists he informally greeted to the barista who served him his coffee, and even the local vegetable vendor and his children, whom he greeted informally on our way out. So, it was as though he read my mind when he said to me almost immediately after our mutual artist friend left that the term “cultural diplomacy” makes him uneasy. He went on to clarify his point, stating that he regards what he and his organiza­tion do in Amman and the region more broadly as cultural relations or, more precisely, mutual cultural exchange, rather than top-down diplomacy. He was interested in knowing why I chose the term “diplomacy” to describe his foundation’s work. For him the word implied a distance from the people with whom his foundation worked, while “relations” alluded to a collective sense of ownership over a project. This was not the first time I had heard this in the field. In fact, it was one among a handful of times that a European or US funder adamantly insisted that he or she was invested in a two-way process of the exchange of culture rather than the top-down and rather archaic process of cultural diplomacy.

For these funders, cultural diplomacy harkened back to a place and time in the history of Cold War ideology that represented secrecy and espionage. They feel this comparison is a gross misrepresentation of what they do today. Perhaps I had gotten so used to meeting funders in their air-conditioned and finely decorated offices as opposed to local cafés where the interactions be­tween the community and the funder are clearer. What the director said to me triggered my thinking about the difference between the two concepts: cultural exchange/relations (which in a way I observed him “doing” that day), and cul­tural diplomacy, and the way each interact with local cultural NGOs, activists, artists, and bloggers. Yet I also came to wonder whether the precise term used to define international funding for cultural production mattered so much if essentially what each of these terms describe is a relationship defined by local arts and culture NGOs, whether they be governmental, semi-governmental or nongovernmental, and the artists they support. As I mention in the above section, when the source of Hiwar’s funding was uncovered by the New York Times on the eve of the 1967 war, it triggered a genuine outcry that became instilled in the collective cultural memory. An understanding developed that the cultural encounter that brought the journal’s editors and writers into the sphere of US government interests was directed and facilitated by the state for ideological purposes rather than organically produced in the direct interac­tions between writers and artists from different parts of the world. What did the designation of al tamwyl al ajnabi (foreign funding) convey about society’s shifting perceptions of the relationship between funder and recipient within the context of the continuously growing number of foreign funded and trans­nationally networked arts projects? Precisely, whose interests are behind the obfuscation of the terms “cultural relations” and “cultural diplomacy,” and why and for whom does it matter that the terms are obfuscated?

At the simplest level, cultural relations may be understood as interactions that “grow naturally and organically, without government intervention—the transactions of trade and tourism, student flows, communications, book circulation, migration, media access, intermarriage—millions of daily across-culture encounters,” and cultural diplomacy as that which “take[s] place when formal diplomats, serving national governments, try to shape and channel this natural flow to advance national interests.” Yet in the post-9/11 era, definitions of public diplomacy, under which cultural diplo­macy falls, have expressed a strong foreign policy orientation toward mutual understanding, which is reflected in terms such as “engagement,” “relation­ship building,” or “two-way communications.” More, culture in the study of international relations has been defined as the “sharing and transmitting of consciousness within and across national boundaries.” These terms emphasize horizontal, informal, and neutral exchange, insinuating good intention, rather than top-down formal diplomacy implemented solely to influencing politics. Viewed within this purview, cultural diplomacy has become a cornerstone of public diplomacy with an increased need to recon­figure soft power as a positive globalizing force. Hence, the new post-9/11 public diplomacy is being shaped in a context where nonstate actors such as NGOs have gained increasing access to domestic and international politics. The optimistic view of these new multidirectional flows of ideas, finances, and projects is that they are leading to a situation whereby states are compelled to create dialogues with foreign publics where the boundaries between foreign and domestic are less and less defined.

Structurally reinforced by a global network that is understood to foster open spaces of dialogue across divides, these perceived changes in diplomacy’s outlook and function unproblematically construe the global as a singular space through which continuous and unfettered links of people, ideas, capital, state and nonstate actors, institutions, and cities entwine in a series of projects, events, social interactions, and cultural exchanges. Yet this nongovernmen­tal diplomacy that is understood to embody cultural relations as opposed to top-down cultural diplomacy, leaves unpacked the power dynamics that are being obfuscated in these normative approaches to international politics prevalent in academic and policy circles. And while the literature on cultural diplomacy indicates that the term’s meaning varies according to context, a prevalent perception, especially among public diplomacy scholars, is that cultural diplomacy may be understood only within the larger rubric of public diplomacy and as a prime example of soft power—in other words, as a positive phenomenon.

However, these broad and commonly used normative definitions that depict cultural relations as distinct from and more effective as a soft power practice than cultural diplomacy are misleading. In practice, it is the norm to conflate “culture for the purpose of flourishing cultural assets, values and identities” and “culture as a means of foreign policy and diplomatic activities.” These essentialist definitions dilute the analytical and cate­gorical, yet constantly evolving and interwoven, dynamics at play in Raymond Williams’s three conceptions of culture and society, devised in 1961, and which I build upon throughout the following chapters: (i) culture as an “ideal”—a state or process of human perfection, in terms of certain absolute or universal values; (ii) culture as “documentary” that pertains to the body of intellectual and imaginative work, in which, in a detailed way, human thought and experi­ence are variously recorded; and (iii) culture in the “social” sense that describes a particular way of life, which expresses certain meanings and values not only in art and learning but also in institutions and ordinary behavior.

The former director of the Goethe Institute in Beirut explained the po­litical role of cultural funding vis-à-vis Germany’s and the EU’s interests in democratizing the region in the following way:

You cannot separate culture from democratization. In the 1960s and 1970s there was no social agenda in foreign cultural policy, it was more about en­tertaining people. But this is definitely finished today. Now we have strategic goals. We want to see open and democratic societies. Our focus is on the inno­vative and beyond the mainstream, not dabkeh [folkloric dance] for instance, and this creates irritation, especially amongst the more traditional in society. So culture contributes to pluralistic societies, something we are all working to achieve here. Yet, [this] is also quite a challenge.

He then went on to speak of the way in which interaction with the local cul­tural elite was historically limited to a one-way exchange, whereby culture was transmitted from Europe to Lebanon and other countries in the region by way of exhibitions, shows, and events that brought European artists under a “purely cultural” mandate. According to the Goethe Institute in Beirut’s former director, the Institute was “bringing culture in a more fluidly defined framework rather than supporting local culture through direct funding of institutions and organizations as is done today and which is perceived by the local population as carrying more of a political overtone.”

The director’s comments line up with logic long established among Western civil society funders. This logic views the promotion of contemporary arts as part of a larger democratization framework among younger generations in Arab societies as having the potential to revise much of the old way of thinking. Reports like The Challenges of Artistic Exchange in the Mediterranean: Made in the Mediterranean, which read contemporary art as an “anti-fundamentalist vaccine,” are not uncommon. Before the Arab revolution­ary process kicked off in late December 2010, interest in the arts as a mobilizer of revolutionary change from scholars, curators, and activists peaked. Young Arab artists were up against a growing Islamist conservatism because for many years, religious fundamentalism and autocratic Arab nationalist regimes had weakened the status of independent art in the public arena. Funders in this context aimed to correct this reality by bolstering “alternative” arts and encouraging Arab cultural NGOs. Their longer-term aim consisted of strength­ening “the role of civil society in the promotion of human rights, political pluralism and democratic participation and representation.”

As mentioned, only in the past twenty years has “culture” become an ever-more significant dimension of international relations because of globalization and advancements in communication technologies that reconfigure the power dynamics between different social actors. This shift is most obvious to the extent that culture as both practice and product has seeped into the language, rationale, and rhetoric of local and international civil society organizations concerned with democratization programing in the region. The perception of the potential role of civil society as agent of democratization in the MENA region, which filtered into most development assistance agencies in the 1990s and the first decade of the millennium, is often understood to lie within the purview of international development policies, rather than public (or cultural) diplomacy. Yet at the same, the genealogical underpinning of the phenomenon of international funding for societal development through local NGOs empha­sizes the same “universal” political and cultural values, needs, and aspirations that unproblematically drive the mission of cultural diplomacy.

During the late nineteenth century, the institutionalized use of culture in foreign relations emerged in Europe. Grandiose world expositions and fairs during the decades of post-1848 European nationalism were some of the earliest instances of the creation of a global public space where states could strategically instrumentalize culture and cultural representation for political ends; these large events were packaged as part of a panoramic “spectacle of modernity” that dominated representations of landscapes, industries, and especially the wealth of natural resources of societies colonized by Europe. Al­though international relations theorists tend to articulate culture’s role in politics through descriptive frameworks that emphasize the functional and positive role of culture, Timothy Mitchell has unraveled how culture factored into colonial practices by highlighting modern Europe’s fondness for transforming the world into a representation through cultural exchange: the “exhibitionary complex” of cultural display (1989). Through his discussion of nineteenth-century Pari­sian expositions, Mitchell shows how the preoccupation with organizing “the view” (of non-Western culture), as he puts it, is more than merely the content of a policy or a strategy of rule in cultural imperialism. By examining how the expositions objectified the cities and people they represented through miniature Cairene streets and buildings for their “Egyptian Exhibition”—in addition to his descriptions of the astonishing reactions to these models by Egyptian and other non-European visitors who encountered them when traveling—Mitchell shows that the preoccupation is in fact an intrinsic component of the cognitive methods of order and truth that constitute the very idea of Europe itself.

In the same way that policymakers and scholars are preoccupied with the terms used to describe the cultural relationship between the West and its former colonies, Europe is obsessed with organizing the view for the sake of categorization and display of power—which concerns Europe’s self-imaging vis-à-vis itself rather than the Arab region’s interests. As I have already men­tioned, al tamwyl al ajnabi is essentially a blanket term used in public dis­course to describe a relationship of power that shapes cultural representation, cultural exchange, and cultural diplomacy between two unequal sides. The discussion of what cultural diplomacy constitutes and how it plays a role in global cultural relations is essentially a discussion centered in the North American and European hallways of power. From the British Institute, to the Goethe Foundation, the European Cultural Foundation, the Institute for Cul­tural Diplomacy, the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy, and even the American Advisory Committee on Public Diplomacy formed in the aftermath of 9/11, and to the growing body of scholarly literature dedicated to understanding its function and potential, the term is a construct that describes the Western liberal ethic and its historical relationship of cultural exchange with the rest of the world. That same phenomenon is labeled and framed as tamwyl ajnabi, where ajnabi (foreign) evidences “Western,” rather than the more neutral and functionalist-sounding “cultural exchange” or “cultural diplomacy” taken up by Euro-American pundits, funders, and scholars.

In the first decade of the global war on terror, despite the foundation of Cold War cultural diplomacy policy on which policymakers could draw to formulate an integrated strategy in the post-9/11 world, the Bush administra­tion chose force as its primary tool of negotiation for shaping public percep­tions. Cultural diplomacy waned as the administration consolidated what was already developing in the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks. However, it did not drop out of the culture game altogether. In the years succeeding 1999, the State Department withdrew its support for some of its most popular programs like the Jazz Ambassadors Fund, American Houses, and the Embassy Libraries that allowed for the flow of ideas and artist exchanges between the US and other countries. Instead, funding went toward large-scale broadcasting projects like the Radio Sawa station and the Al Hurra television satellite programs that could more directly, and with greater impact, influence the negative public opinions of the US in Arab and Muslim countries.

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Poroshenko, ex-President, Returns to Ukraine, Roiling Politics – The New York Times

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Petro O. Poroshenko, a former president, returned to Kyiv on Monday facing possible arrest, adding internal political turmoil to a threat of Russian invasion.

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s former president and a leading opposition figure, Petro O. Poroshenko, returned Monday to Kyiv, where he faced possible arrest on charges of treason, adding internal political turmoil to the mounting threat of a Russian invasion.

Mr. Poroshenko led Ukraine from 2014 until 2019, when he was soundly defeated by his rival, Volodymyr Zelensky, the current president. Mr. Poroshenko’s return escalates their long-running feud and focuses attention on Ukraine’s fractious domestic politics, which analysts and critics say is a perilous distraction as the Kremlin masses troops at its border.

Since Mr. Zelensky took power, his government has questioned Mr. Poroshenko as a witness in a raft of criminal cases that he claims are politically motivated. On Monday he said he was under investigation in more than 120 separate cases. Police in the past month have also searched the apartments of members of his political party.

The charges of treason and supporting terrorism stem from his policy as president of allowing the purchase of coal from mines in areas in eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists, for use in factories in government-controlled territory.

He has said it was a necessary compromise to avoid economic collapse, and denied benefiting personally from any of the deals.

Mr. Poroshenko left Ukraine last month, saying that he had meetings elsewhere in Europe. Prosecutors say he left to avoid a court hearing. But he later announced he would return to Ukraine to face charges, and arrived early Monday at Zhuliani airport in Kyiv.

His hearing lasted all day and into the night without a decision on whether he would be arrested, and the court eventually said a ruling would come on Wednesday.

Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian, scored a landslide victory over Mr. Poroshenko two years ago, running as an outsider to politics who would fight corruption and uproot the entrenched interests of Ukraine’s political class.

But Mr. Zelensky’s popularity has since slumped. Opinion polls today show only a slight advantage in a potential future election against Mr. Poroshenko, who is now a member of Parliament in the European Solidarity party.

Mr. Poroshenko retains a base of support in Ukrainian nationalist politics, particularly in the country’s western regions, which want closer ties with Europe. He has clashed with Mr. Zelensky over the direction of Ukraine’s future, and has criticized him for what he claims is giving ground in peace negotiations with Russia to resolve the war in eastern Ukraine.

His appearance in the capital where he once governed comes after a week of mostly futile negotiations between Russia and the West seeking a solution to tense disagreements over the security of Eastern Europe, which has led to new fears that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could soon order a military offensive.

In an interview before his return to Ukraine, Mr. Poroshenko said that his arrest might help Mr. Zelensky sideline a rival but that the political instability would play into Mr. Putin’s hands.

“He wants to undermine the stability in Ukraine,” Mr. Poroshenko said of Mr. Putin. “He analyzes two versions: One version is a military aggression through the Ukrainian-Russian or Ukrainian-Belarusian border. The second is just to undermine the stability inside Ukraine, and in this way just stop Ukraine from our future membership in NATO and in the E.U.”

In Kyiv, opinions differed on whether the threat of an arrest was just another maneuver in Ukraine’s typically byzantine politics at home, or something more ominous related to the Russian threat. Polls have consistently shown Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Poroshenko to be Ukraine’s most popular politicians.

Some analysts suggested that Mr. Zelensky might be seizing on the distraction of the Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border to sideline an opponent, or that he hoped to tamp down possible opposition protests if he is forced to make unpopular concessions to Moscow to avoid an invasion.

“Maybe he thinks that with forces on the border, Ukrainians won’t protest” an arrest of the opposition leader, said Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor in chief of Ukraine World, a journal covering politics. If so, he said, it is a risky move.

“With the situation on the border, when everybody is yelling, ‘There will be a war,’ it’s very strange,” Mr. Yermolenko said of the spectacle of Ukraine’s two leading politicians squabbling despite the existential threat to their country. “It just seems ridiculous.”

Sergei Supinsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Zelensky’s aides have said that the charges against Mr. Poroshenko are justified and that courts have already issued arrest warrants for others accused in the same case, including a prominent pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk. They have said the courts, not the government, decided the timing of a possible arrest and other actions, including the freezing of Mr. Poroshenko’s assets earlier this month.

Mr. Poroshenko offered no evidence of a Russian hand in the political turmoil and described internal Ukrainian feuds as the most likely cause of the legal pressure he faced. But he said Mr. Zelensky might hope to win concessions from Russia by arresting a politician aligned with the nationalist wing of Ukrainian politics.

“I am absolutely confident this is a very important gift to Putin,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “Maybe with this gift he wanted to launch a negotiation with Putin, as a precondition.”

Andriy Dubchak/Associated Press

After massing tens of thousands of soldiers on Ukraine’s border through the fall, Russia demanded last month that the United States and NATO pull back forces from countries in Eastern Europe and guarantee that Ukraine not join the Western alliance.

Diplomatic talks last week with Russia ended inconclusively, and Russian officials now say they are awaiting a written response to their demands from the United States.

As a contingency, in case the Western diplomacy fails, Ukraine has also been quietly pursuing talks with Russia and proposed a bilateral meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin. On Friday, the Ukrainian presidential chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, suggested a three-way video conference with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders and President Biden.

The feud between the current and former presidents is seen as mostly personal, rather than ideological. Mr. Zelensky, former officials have said, was stung by Mr. Poroshenko’s attacks during the presidential campaign in 2019. Mr. Poroshenko’s government in 2017 also banned broadcasts of one of Mr. Zelensky’s most popular comedic television shows, as one of the actors was accused of supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which would be a violation of Ukrainian law.

The feud between the two men continued through the fall and winter, even as Russian forces massed at the border.

“The Russian threat didn’t stop them,” said Orysia Lutsevych, head of the Ukraine program at Chatham House in London.

One motivation for the arrest, she said, may be Mr. Zelensky’s plans to run for a second term in 2024 on a record of removing the country’s wealthy businessmen, known as oligarchs, from politics. Mr. Poroshenko owns a chocolate and candy company.

But the United States government has warned of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine within weeks or months. It was a point hinted at by Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, who pointed out the inconvenient timing of the feud in a statement on Monday.

“All political leaders in Ukraine need to unite against Russian aggression right now,” she wrote. “So important at this time not to lose sight of this.”

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Too much money in politics, and not enough in democracy | TheHill – The Hill

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The anniversary of Jan. 6 was a grim reminder of our democracy in crisis. Instead of hoping that the upcoming midterm elections will be a period of convergence on kitchen-table constituent priorities, we have ample reason to fear greater division. Recent election cycles have escalated polarization and mistrust.

Our dollars are adding fuel to the fire. We have too much money in politics and not nearly enough money in democracy. 

The 2020 election cost over $14 billion, the most expensive on record. Already, nonprofits like OpenSecrets and other campaign spending watchdogs predict that 2022 will set new spending records. At the same time, America’s multiracial democratic experiment, following five decades of declining public trust in government, stands at a crossroads. Organizations like International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance have labeled the U.S. a “backsliding” democracy, and The Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School released a national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds in December that indicates a majority of young Americans believe our democracy is “in trouble” or “failing.”

Many people who care about improving their communities choose to donate to political elections as their primary strategy to advance preferred policies. That is logical, of course, but insufficient.

A healthy democracy itself is essential for our system of self-government to function and rise to the challenge of tackling major challenges like public health, economic security, and education. It requires an engaged citizenry with civic knowledge, mutual trust, and a sense of community responsibility — regardless of political affiliation.

Donors need to rebalance their portfolio for short-term investments in elections together with long-term investments in our democracy.

If we can’t trust our elected representatives to express the will of their constituents, it won’t be solved by one more election. It requires strengthening through bottom-up investments in our local civil society and democracy, with an eye towards early intervention in our civic infrastructure.

Young people, who will inherit our democracy, know this well. I had the opportunity to speak with a young woman from Rhode Island recently, who told me “When you take a group of young people and talk to them about what is possible in their community, they start to believe they are capable of creating long-lasting and necessary adjustments for the betterment of society in all spaces.”

Investing in real-world democracy education for our nation’s young people is the high-impact, long-term investment our democracy needs now.

For a fraction of what is spent in a few months for an election, civics education organizations deliver high quality, project-based civics lessons to tens of thousands of students each year. The future of our institutions and systems belongs to millions of young Americans who see our collective challenges and are wondering if they might suffer them or solve them. We know that when young people are not just spectators to civic chaos, but active change makers it benefits them and sets us on a better path forward.

Starting at the school and neighborhood level, students can identify issues that matter to them and engage in deliberation, participatory research and community problem solving. This makes them agents of change, not just spectators of political bloodsport.

At Generation Citizen, a national civics education nonprofit, we’ve seen positive civic learning exemplified through nonpartisan, student-led projects that build on U.S. History classes. A class of 8th grade students from Fall River, Mass., was interested in protecting marine wildlife from plastics pollution, and wanted to beautify their city so that young people like themselves could take pride in their community and want to build their lives there. Students deftly grabbed local media attention and testified before the city council’s ordinance committee, successfully advocating for the reconsideration of a plastic bag ban.

Our communities and our students need these initiatives, which unlock a sense of agency in young people and a sense of hope in one’s community. Today, the investment helping young people get on the first rung of democracy’s ladder is too small, and the investment in hyperpolarized elections is too large.

Elizabeth Clay Roy is CEO of Generation Citizen, an organization working to transform civics education through working with thousands of young people every year.

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Politics Briefing: Health Canada approves Pfizer's COVID-19 antiviral treatment – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s oral antiviral treatment, known as Paxlovid, for COVID-19.

“This is welcome news we hope will save lives, reduce illness and lessen the burden on our health care systems and health care workers,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a news conference, describing the treatment as an additional clinical tool for treating COVID-19.

Health Canada has authorized the treatment for adults who test positive for COVID-19 on a molecular or a rapid test, who have mild or moderate symptoms, and are at high risk of becoming severely ill.

However, Mr. Duclos said no drug is a substitute for vaccination and public-health measures.

The minister confirmed the first delivery of the drug arrived over the weekend, ahead of regulatory approval today. The prescription drug can be used at home, he said.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, at the same news conference, said 30,000 treatment courses are now in Canada, with another 120,000 coming by the end of March. She said Canada has procured a million doses, with an option for 500,000 more.

Limited supplies of Paxlovid have prompted the Public Health Agency of Canada to ask provinces and territories to prioritize the treatment for people at most risk of serious illness, including severely immune-compromised patients and some unvaccinated people over the age of 60.

There’s a story here on Health Canada’s briefing, earlier today, on Paxlovid.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter sign-up page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

O’TOOLE PRESSED TO REVIVE COMMITTEE – Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is facing pressure from a growing number of MPs who want him to reverse course and revive a special parliamentary committee that probed Canada-China relations. Story here.

INCREASED FEDERAL SPENDING ON OUTSOURCING CONTRACTS – Federal government spending on outsourcing contracts has increased by more than 40 per cent since the Liberals took power, a trend at odds with the party’s 2015 campaign promise to cut back on the use of consultants. Story here.

RESEARCHERS OFFER ADVICE FOR FIXING SPORTS ABUSE – As Ottawa reviews how national sport organizations deal with abuse within their own ranks, University of Toronto researchers are laying out a possible path for the government to fix a system rife with potential conflicts of interest. Story here.

DOUBTS ON AIRPORT COVID-19 TESTING UPON ARRIVAL – Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer cast some doubt on the continued value of the government’s mandatory on-arrival COVID-19 testing policy for international air travellers. At the same time, business groups called for the policy to end. Story here.

TRUCKING COMPANIES FEEL IMPACT OF VACCINATION REQUIREMENT – Trucking companies are already feeling the impact of the federal government’s border vaccination requirement, with a sizable number of drivers leaving the business ahead of the new rule that came into force over the weekend. Story here.

LIBERAL MP SUPPORTS TAX FOR UNVACCINATED – A Liberal MP who works as a medical doctor says he’s in favour of making unvaccinated Canadians pay some kind of a special tax – and he believes others in his party agree. Marcus Powlowski outlined the view in a panel discussion with fellow MPs that aired on Saturday on CBC’s The House. Story here from CBC.

ANTI-VAXX TAX BILL IN FEBRUARY Quebec Premier François Legault says his government will table its anti-vax tax bill early next month. “The goal is to do everything to insist that people get vaccinated,” said of the legislation during a Sunday evening appearance on the Radio-Canada show Tout le monde en parle. Story here from The Montreal Gazette. Meanwhile, The Hill Times newspaper report that some pollsters say taxing anti-vaxxers is controversial, but could help Mr. Legault’s bid for re-election in October.

PREMIER ON THE ROAD – Ontario Premier Doug Ford was out on the roads of Toronto today, driving around in his 4×4 pickup helping other drivers caught in the snowstorm that hit the region. Story here from CTV.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.

JOLY VISITING UKRAINE – Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is taking a trip to a country her department is urging Canadians to avoid. Ms. Joly departed Sunday for a trip to Europe that includes a stop in Ukraine, now facing the possibility of invasion by Russia. On Saturday, Global Affairs Canada updated a travel advisory, available here, warning against non-essential travel to Ukraine “due to ongoing Russian aggression.” In Kyiv, Ms. Joly will meet with the Ukrainian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister as well as Canadian troops working on training efforts in support of the Security Forces of Ukraine. The minister is also travelling to Paris and Brussels for meetings with officials including NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. She returns to Canada on Jan. 22.

PHILLIPS REPLACED – Ontario Premier Doug Ford has appointed Paul Calandra to replace Rod Phillips as Long-Term Care Minister. Mr. Phillips announced his departure from the post and politics last week to return to the private sector. There’s a story here on that development. Mr. Calandra will add the new cabinet post to his existing responsibilities as Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader, said a statement from the Premier’s office. Of, Mr. Phillips, the Premier said, “I have no doubt there are great things for Rod ahead.”

LEGISLATIVE AGENDA IN ALBERTA – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the spring session of the Alberta legislature will begin with a Speech from the Throne on Feb. 22, and Finance Minister Travis Toews will deliver the 2022 budget on Feb. 24.

NEW HILL TIMES REPORTER – Kevin Philipupillai is joining The Hill Times newspaper after completing a master’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. Mr. Philipupillai previously earned a bachelor’s journalism degree from King’s College in Halifax and spent five years working as a producer at Accessible Media.

TRIBUTE

Alexa McDonough: The leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 1995 to 2002 died on Saturday at 77 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. There is an obituary here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remembered Ms. McDonough as “a trailblazer for women in politics and an inclusive voice for progressive change in Canadian politics.” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh noted that Ms. McDonough “dedicated her life to social justice, championed women in politics, and never backed down from a challenge.” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole praised the former NDP leader for her “trailblazing work” as a member of the Nova Scotia legislature and an MP.

In a Q&A here, Ms. McDonough’s biographer, Stephen Kimber, talks about her inspiring tenacity.

THE DECIBEL – On today’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, telecom reporter Alexandra Posadzki and Report on Business reporter Joe Castaldo talk about the story of Gerald Cotten , who founded Quadriga, one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges. His death in 2018, at the age of 30, coincided with growing concerns about the legitimacy of Quadriga. Jennifer Kathleen Margaret Roberston was Mr. Cotten’s wife, and was there when he died. And despite being at the centre of a huge scandal, she’s never spoken publicly about her husband’s fraud or death – or the suspicion it cast on her – until being interviewed by Ms. Posadzki and Mr. Castaldo. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister is scheduled tonight to participate in a virtual celebration of Thai Pongal, featuring front-line workers to highlight the contributions of Tamil Canadians during the pandemic. Toronto Mayor John Tory will be in attendance.

LEADERS

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was scheduled to hold a media availability.

No schedules provided for other party leaders.

PUBLIC OPINION

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is down six more points in polling approval amid frustration in Ontario over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by the Angus Reid Institute that also finds four premiers are receiving majority approval this quarter. The four are Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston, Quebec’s François Legault, John Horgan in British Columbia and Andrew Furey in Newfoundland and Labrador. Story here.

OPINION

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on a vaccine promise by Justin Trudeau that wasn’t intended to be kept: ”Justin Trudeau’s Liberals made an election promise to pass a law to protect employers from being sued when they fire unvaccinated workers, and they didn’t do it. Now those lawsuits are piling up. There’s no sign the Liberal government plans to fulfill the promise. Mr. Trudeau didn’t even put it in a mandate letter to any of his ministers. What’s worse is that it’s a promise that Mr. Trudeau was probably never really serious about keeping. Certainly, the Liberals never seemed to know how to do it. There was, after all, a not-insignificant question about whether Ottawa has the authority. Now employers are facing the lawsuits without the promised protections, with workers claiming they are owed cash payouts because non-vaccination is not a valid cause for dismissal.”

Philippe Lagassé (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why parliamentarians can be trusted with sensitive security information: ”Parliament needs its own standing committee that can safely handle classified information and review national-security matters. Canada’s existing committee, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP, has MPs and senators as members but is part of the executive, meaning it first reports to the Prime Minister, who then tables a redacted version in Parliament. NSICOP must be rethought. While this hybrid model worked when the government controlled the House of Commons, NSICOP was never going to cut it when we had a minority Parliament. To reconcile the government’s legitimate concerns about protecting classified information and Parliament’s constitutional power to compel the production of documents, we need a security-cleared national-security committee of Parliament.”

Tasha Kheiriddin (The National Post) on how she dared write about vaccinations, and paid dearly for it: “This episode has laid bare several things. First, that civil discourse is dead. The internet, which I alternately love and loathe, has emboldened millions of us to hurl insults into cyberspace under the cover of distance and anonymity. Comments once yelled at the TV in the privacy of our homes are now spewed out for all to read. My editor referred to it as “a firehose of bile.” I already knew this from Twitter, which is hip-deep in the stuff, but this served as an intensely personal confirmation.”

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