The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: interest groups

Question of the day: where, within one’s network of human contacts, is there place for a Gazprom lobbyist?

by fpman

Contrary to what some people may think, in the title I am asking an open question, having just read this article from RFE/RL. It concerns primarily decision-makers, of course, and not the ordinary person.

The article points out that EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (“EU foreign policy chief”) Federica Mogherini has a spokeswoman, Catherine Ray, who has a husband, Thomas Barros-Tastets, who in turn happens to be working for a company called G+ which has Gazprom among its major clients (G+ deals with Gazprom in the value of 300,000 to 350,000 Euros per annum).

Does this help Gazprom? Is it significant related to this that Federica Mogherini, before she took office, was thought by some to be too understanding towards Russia?

One obvious question that has to be asked is if Thomas Barros-Tastets’ work was kept a secret throughout the vetting process which saw wife Catherine get the job of spokesperson. And the answer is apparently it wasn’t. Mogherini as well as others knew.

Of course, for her part, Mogherini then takes even more responsibility for this, in case there’s anything wrong with this. Which is not easy to tell.

Some in the Commission have what seems to them an easy answer. Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesman for the European Commission says:

“(Catherine) Ray is charged with speaking on Africa, Latin America, and Gulf countries. Fellow foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic speaks for Mogherini on European affairs, including Russia. We therefore do not believe there is a potential conflict of interest with…Ray’s duties at the commission.”

While we cannot determine the answer to the above questions really (especially to the question of whether Catherine Ray’s position helps Gazprom), we can safely tell that Margaritis Schinas is using a flawed argument above. Gazprom, which used to be the Soviet Ministry of Gas back in the day, does not have interests only related to Russia but as a profit-making venture and as a State-Owned Enterprise (majority-owned by the Russian state) it has complex economic and political interests related to almost every continent, the Gulf countries being the most obvious example of this. So in the end this is still kinda interesting.

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A Non-Definitive Introduction to the Life of Gulnara Karimova

by AiteVer

I’m so excited I don’t even know where to begin. Why? Because the following story has long raised our attention here at the blog. It came up at that allegorical first editorial meeting at that allegorical pub where we discussed how fascinated we were by how one can get so far having a bulletproof last name – as we discussed the rise to fame of Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan’s only leader since 1989, Islam Karimov. Our guess is that the story will not end here so this piece will probably serve only as a brief introduction to the fabulous life of Googoosha or Guli. Why is now the time? It is because this Monday, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office named ‘Karimova G.’ amongst others as a suspect in the investigation of an organized criminal group.

As a prime introduction to Gulnara, I suggest you watch this:

This report from the 2013 Uzbek Fashion Week has everything that’s glamourous in it: fashion, music, famous people, Central-Asia-specific falconry motives and love messages both for FashionTv and well… Guli. It was posted on December 28, 2013 in the middle of the tumult that followed her return to Tashkent in September 2013 from Geneva.

As the linked RFE story goes about listing the conflicts of interest between her public persona and her business career (based on what we seem to know about the latter), it may become obvious to the reader that she kept a very high profile internationally for the past few years. She was involved in the fashion industry having her own fragrance and Guli fashion line but was also a popular singer and a poet in Uzbekistan (who even inspired the likes of Gerard Depardieu [sic]). Not an artist only in a-r-t, she accumulated a large fortune through her business ventures in media and telecommunications (apparently she was interested in restaurants, too) even as she had to master the art of diplomacy as Uzbekistan’s representative to the UN in Geneva. And, by the way, she also headed a charity organization called Fund Forum. Yet, regardless of said charitable niceties, she hails from a country where students are allegedly forced to pick cotton on the fields year after year. Accordingly, she had been strongly criticized for years for not doing enough, as a UN representative, to improve Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record, and was even implicated in it personally when her fashion show at the New York fashion week was cancelled in 2011, due to human rights organisations’ protest. On the other hand, she could enjoy a lavish lifestyle in Europe and largely undisturbed business back home up until 2012. That is when her opponents began to capitalize on her business scandals in Europe.

Her fall from grace was just as public as her life had been as a ‘princess’. Although she was named ‘the single most hated person in Uzbekistan’ by a WikiLeaks cable, she had 50,000 followers on Twitter including many of her younger fans who regarded her as the smallest evil when compared to other potential successors to her 75-year-old father.

The biggest blow to her public profile came in 2012 when news broke of Karimova’s close associates who allegedly accepted bribes worth of 320 million USD from TeliaSonera in exchange for governmental protection in Uzbekistan. The scandal has since provoked investigation in Sweden, France and Switzerland. This piece of Gulnara’s life would be worthy of its own post on the blog but now we will focus on the aftermath that has become a battle ground between Gulnara and her business associates, pitting them against Karimov’s closest circles, represented especially by Rustam Inoyatov, the president’s right hand, head of the Uzbek SNB state security service, and Gulnara’s younger sister Lola and her mother Tatyana.

Events sped up last year when Gulnara had to step down from her UN post in July (mostly because of the TeliaSonera scandal) and returned to Tashkent in September. In October and November her TV and radio stations were closed down, as well as her charity, the Fund Forum. In the beginning of 2014, she and her daughter were put under house arrest in Tashkent. And finally, after some of his associates were sentenced, including her boyfriend Rustam Madumarov on May 24, she was officially charged this week.

The mesmerizing characteristic of the affair probably isn’t even that a Central Asian high profile businessperson, let alone a presidential sibling, is brought under investigation but on how public this all turned out to be. As noted by FP, unusually for such circles, Gulnara’s fallout with her family was ‘uncharacteristically public’. She had always been known to be very open about her life on Twitter, which she had used to inform her growing fan base of her latest plans, whether it was her yoga class or her next musical collaboration. When her family turned against her, she decided to use the same platform to inform the public about the details of her struggles and began to accuse Inoyatov, as well as her mother and sister of trying to control the president and turn him against her. In the process, her account was disabled, deleted and reinstated multiple times only to finally disappear for good in February, which only strengthened her resistance against the pressure she claimed she was put under.

As a response, there was a BBC interview with her sister last September where Lola attempted to distance herself from Gulnara, saying they hadn’t kept in touch for the past 12 years. Then, after a handwritten letter obtained by the BBC in which she claimed she was held by her family, Gulnara’s son sat down with The Guardian selling the family out once again while voicing his concern for her mother’s well-being. The latest news came in August, when BBC received a voice recording from Gulnara herself repeating her cries for help from the international community to free her from her captivity where she was (and, if true, may still be) treated ‘worse than a dog’. We are speculating (and speculating only) that charging her officially was the response of her adversaries – and so we are eagerly waiting how the story continues to unfold.

GulnaraKarimovaGulnara, freely roaming a field, once upon a time…

“La primera vez”: Mariela Castro’s pseudo-historic “No”

by fpman

Here at the Patrimony we are not subject to the Chinese government’s ongoing attempt to teach journalists “to learn Marxist news values,” and thus, in our ideologically underinformed state, we cannot quite decide if the following piece of news qualifies as revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, or neither of those, in terms of classical socialist doctrine.

The link goes to an article in Spanish, the greatest part of which you can read here in English.

In short: Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, and consequently Fidel Castro’s niece, has recently voted no on proposed labor legislation in the Cuban parliament, in la Asamblea del Poder Popular — the Assembly of People’s Power that is powered by people who say yes to everything twice a year. In case you were worried as to what this might mean for labor code modernization in Cuba, the legislation safely passed, in spite of this very noteworthy resistance. Mariela Castro’s “No” was a lonely No, not only on the given day but historically speaking, too. A first-time No in the assembly. And that is of course the revolutionary aspect of all of this. Or a counter-revolutionary aspect of this… Or… let’s try to understand this a little more.

Here’s a photo of Mariela, demanding release of the Miami Five as they are known in Cuba, from US President Barack Obama — and then here’s a bit of background on her, too.

MarielaCastroMariela Castro (photo: Javier Galeano, AP)

Even as Mariela has her list of demands for President Obama, she is known as the one member of the Castro family who openly says she would vote for him in US presidential elections. This is largely related to her views as an LGBT activist, and her way of supporting Obama’s stance on gay marriage. She is also the odd one out in the family having travelled to the US in the past to attend a conference of the Latin American Studies Association in San Francisco, in 2011. She is a scholar, after all, and she has published several articles in the Cuban journal Sexology and Society, as president of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education.

In fact, the recent, historic “No” comes connected to Mariela’s activism. She voted the way she did because she was apparently concerned that the new labor law does not provide protection from discrimination to people who are HIV positive or have atypical gender identities.

Now ain’t that nice. However, if one goes all philosophical about this, there is more to the problematique of this parliamentary-familial mini-revolt to polemize about than an implicit clash of traditional and new leftist thinking and core values. Some observers claim that the new Cuban labor law to which the people’s power has given its seal of approval so eagerly, minus the one person in question who didn’t, is actually exposing private sector employees as a relatively weakly protected segment of the labor force. In a country where the private sector is growing.

Given that the one person who said “No” voted the way she did for reasons unrelated to this, yet framing her actions as a stance in favor of what by implication would be an “even more impeccable” labor law than the one presented as good enough for a socialist country, one gets the impression that this “No” is, well, a semi-tolerated, semi-sanctioned one — one that is meant to legitimize rather than de-legitimize.

And yet a first is a first. A case of organized spontaneity this may have been — it may still be followed by more actual spontaneity.