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Russian Human Rights Report Casts Europe as Land of Nazis and Gay Propaganda

According to an annual report on human rights in the European Union issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Europe is a dark, dark place, filled with Nazis and xenophobes.

The massive, 153-page "unofficial translation" of the report provides an account of human rights violations in all 28 European Union states. These transgressions include allowing torture and mass surveillance, deteriorating prison conditions, failure to combat human trafficking, ill-treatment of refugees and migrants, and even genital mutilation. And, of course, severe violations of the freedom of expression.

Some of the worst culprits include the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and especially the three Baltic states -- Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all of whom have a sizable Russian minority that, according to the report, is being mistreated.

European countries have been guilty of many serious human rights violations in the past year. But coming from Russia -- a country with a vibrant population of political prisoners, whose government largely controls the media, whose ethnic minorities are severely discriminated against, and whose laws prohibit the expression of one's sexual orientation -- the accusations are of course hugely hypocritical.

Here's the dark picture of Europe that Russia would have you believe.

Xenophobia, Nazism, and Racism

One of the most pressing problems the EU should be dealing with, according to Russia, is the rise of xenophobia and racial hatred. The report mentions "Nazism" 24 times, referring to the revival of the far-right ideology in Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, Sweden, Greece, Italy, and Hungary. It's a problem that public opinion in the region "clearly underestimates." The socio-political context of the neo-Nazi revival is the recent economic and financial crisis, as well as rising immigration. Discrimination against ethnic minorities, particularly the Roma, is rampant.

While all of this is true (though the Nazi threat might be a tad exaggerated) the Russians really should not be the ones pointing fingers. Ethnic discrimination, particularly toward the minorities of the Northern Caucasus is so widespread in Russia that even then-president Dmitry Medvedev admitted in 2011 it was a problem that could cause serious problems for the country and which should be dealt with.

In a surprising twist, Russia, which recently suppressed in bloody and brutal fashion an insurgent movement in Chechnya, cast itself as an upholder of Chechen rights in the Foreign Ministry's report, disapprovingly citing a Polish court ruling that held that a customs official who had called Chechens "despicable parasites" and "Caucasian idlers" had "not exceeded the limits of freedom of expression."

Gay rights

When it comes to the rights of homosexuals, Russia has a somewhat different interpretation of what does and does not constitute a human right. Last year, Russia implemented legislation which accord the country's citizens the right to be protected from "gay propaganda." In the Russian view, many European states regularly violate this fundamental "right." In "their aggressive promotion of the sexual minorities' rights," European countries have attempted to "enforce on other countries [presumably Russia] an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon that deserves support at the state level," according to the report.  

But in an attempt to add Germany to the list of human rights offenders, the report's authors have a bizarre change of heart and come to the defense of sexual minorities. "Despite the aggressive propaganda of homosexual love within the European Union and fierce criticism of third countries for alleged violations of sexual minority rights, it would be wrong to believe that the [sic] Germany's legislation in this area is free from discrimination and its society is completely tolerant. Facts show that cautious and negative attitudes towards members of the LGBT community, including homophobia, are widespread in the German society."

Freedom of expression

From there, the report only gets better as it tries to upbraid European countries for their alleged violations of press freedoms. According to the report, the EU imposes "significant restrictions on the freedom of expression and the media." In Germany, for instance, "commercialization" of the press "adversely affects the quality of information and comprehensive coverage." Though the Russians refrain from suggesting a way to fix Germany's media problem, the obvious solution would be implementing the Russian model -- where the authorities own or control most media outlets.

Forgetting that Russia has launched a massive and intrusive surveillance program to up security ahead of the Sochi Olympic, the report also criticizes EU nations for carrying mass surveillance activities as revealed by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Omitting their own atrocious prison labor camp system, which was most recently described by jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, EU nations also come under criticism for their deteriorating prison conditions.

The European Union still has a lot to work on. In an unfortunately worded statement from the report, Russian experts write that "the existing system of protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms in the EU remains ineffective and flawless." And, yes, the Russian Foreign Ministry really distributed a document with that egregious a translation error. 

But there's a glimmer of light in the tunnel. Luxembourg, one of the European Union's founding members, had no "noteworthy violations." There, the human rights situation "remains favorable as a whole."

What a relief.

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In Bangkok, Sowing Chaos to Provoke a Coup

Don't be fooled by the tens of thousands of protesters in the streets. Massive demonstrations that have blossomed in the streets of Thailand this week have very little to do with democracy.

Instead, those protesters hope to oust the current government and replace it with an unelected "People's Council." They would probably settle for a military coup as well.

Dubbed "Shutdown Bangkok," anti-government protesters, led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban, have made it their goal to bring the country's capital to a standstill. Demonstrators have clogged the major intersections of Thailand's capital city, and Bangkok has seen sporadic violence, including an explosion at the house of a former prime minister.

On Wednesday, protest leaders boycotted a proposed meeting to discuss postponing the Feb. 2 elections. The snub underscores the fundamental crisis of this standoff: the movement, orchestrated by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), has no interest in democratic reform. The partisans on the streets do not have sufficient popular support to win at the polls, and are, as a result, seeking to delegitimize the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra through blunt force.

With the PDRC planning to stay on the streets for a month and the prime minister unwilling to resign, the future of Thai politics likely lies in the hands of the army.

The latest demonstrations are an extension of the same partisan deadlock that has paralyzed Thai politics for years -- one that centers around the deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Though Thaksin, the brother of Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister, fled Thailand in 2008 amid corruption charges, he still wields significant influence in Thai politics. His high levels of popular support, particularly among rural poor in the country's north, swept his sister into power in 2011. Despite living in exile, he is thought to be key in determining her administration's policies. Yet he is equally maligned among Thailand's opposition Democratic Party supporters, upper and middle-class Bangkok elites, and southerners who have accused him of widespread corruption and vote buying. Fundamentally it is a fight about demographics. Yingluck mobilized a majority voting bloc that threatens the traditional power of moneyed elites.

In 2010, Thaksin supporters, dubbed Red Shirts, massed in the streets, eventually clashing with security forces. The crackdown left 90 people dead. With the current protests at a stalemate, a remix of the bloody 2010 confrontations may be exactly what Suthep is hoping for. Sow enough discord in the streets, and the army may step in and oust the government.

The open secret of the current demonstrations is that elections are not the end game. For weeks, anti-government protesters have called for the implementation of an unelected "People's Council." But with Yingluck standing firm in her commitment to stay in office through the election period, Suthep's last best hope for delegitimizing her administration may be the mobilization of her supporters.

After initial calls went out for Shutdown Bangkok in early January, Red Shirt leaders said they were ready to combat any effort to undermine the elected government. While Red Shirts have rallied in support of the Yingluck administration in provinces across the country, so far they have kept their distance from the capital.

But if they march on the capital, Bangkok could become the scene of some very ugly street battles. And that may be the opposition protesters' last, best hope to get the army to intervene on their behalf. If the current government proves that it cannot control the situation on the streets, that could give the army license to intervene. In other words, by mobilizing, the Red Shirts may very well be walking into a trap.

To understand what the future has in store for Thailand, keep a close eye on what the Red Shirts do in coming days.

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