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The Maastricht Diplomat

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A week of contradictions.

2020’s last week was characterized by contradictions. Tragedy and relief; restriction and liberation; control and dependency; provocation and allowance. They marked the end of a difficult year.

In Norway one of the largest landslides in recent times caused serious damage. More than 30 homes were destroyed, 1000 inhabitants evacuated, 10 people injured and another 10 missing, while one inhabitant died. This natural phenomenon, which took place in the village Gjerdrum, had occurred more often in Scandinavia. The combination of heavy rainfall, unstable soil and quick clay caused this particular disaster. Quick clay can be found in Norway and Sweden and has the tendency to become fluid under pressure, causing dangerous situations. A 2005 report showed that the affected area was at high risk of these landslides. The houses were built in 2008, however. The question thus remains: why was construction allowed in the first place?

While Norway found itself in tragedy, progressive Argentina had a sigh of relief. After a marathon of voting, abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy was legalized. Argentina traditionally opposed the legalisation of abortion, partly due to the conservative influence of the Catholic Church in societal affairs. Up until Wednesday morning, only rape and the mothers’ endangered health were seen as viable reasons for abortion. President Fernandez, who is a Catholic himself, promised the legalisation during his campaign. He justified this promise by arguing that he legislates for everyone, not only for Catholics. The pro-choice movement hopes that the decision will help and inspire neighbouring countries, such as Chile and Brazil, in their own fight against restrictions on abortion.

Albeit incomparable, the feeling of relief and the loosening of restrictions in Argentina wasn’t felt everywhere. News Years eve, which is usually a bang, was met with COVID related restrictions all around the world. In the Netherlands fireworks had been prohibited and France decided to work with a night clock. Despite the French curfew, an illegal rave with more than 2,500 attendees started on the last day of 2020 in Lieuron. It was only on January the second that the French authorities were able to stop the party. The party goers didn’t wear masks and kept no distance whatsoever, as they probably felt the uncontrollable need to liberate themselves from 2020 and its restrictions.

Britain, on its turn, liberated itself from Europe. After its official separation from the European Union, it finally had “freedom in its own hands’’ (Boris Johnson). David Frost, the special European adviser of the Prime Minister, argues that Britain is now far better off. Logically, the British Remainers disagree and so does the Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Her wish for an independent Scotland will only have grown, as she asked Europe to patiently wait for Scotland’s return. After the separation and new agreement went into effect, European fishermen suddenly depended on British approval. Dutch fishers risked a fine, if they sailed into British waters without permission. The UK eventually granted permission, after the European Union officially submitted a list with ships. Thus, the beginning of 2021 marks the reinvention of Britain’s relationship with Europe.

The relationship between Iran and the US also underwent changes last week. According to UN whistle-blowers, Iran planned on increasing its uranium to 20% purity which clearly breaches the international nuclear deal. This particular increase was a response to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhiradez, one of Iran’s best nuclear scientists. At the same time, US minister of defence Miller decided to withdraw the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz from the Middle Eastern waters to allay the tension between the two countries. It contradicts Trumps threatening and provoking Tweets, but shows promise for conversation in the future. President-elect Joe Biden is keen on America’s return to the nuclear deal and a redefinition of the US’ relationship with Iran.

2020’s last week knew tragedy in Norway, relief in Argentina, restrictions during New Year’s eve and disobedience – or liberation - in France. It also saw changing relationships between Britain and Europe as well as America and Iran; between control and dependency as well as provocation and allowance.


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