EU’s Struggle with Justice: Is the Cart Before the Horse?

In this issue of the Gordian:

Welcome to the July issue of The Gordian. The European Union is a remarkable institution, but the callous exclusivity of the block has risked making the Union a gentlemen’s club, whose head is very much up its own backside. The “Golden Curtain” of Europe is turning it into a fortress, a type of Noah’s Arc that cares little or nothing for the lives of others. In this issue, we will focus on justice across the European block.

This issue offers the usual mix of politics, interviews, culture, and galleries by our UN-aligneders across the world, including Ruby Goldenberg, Carla Pietrobattista, Katharina Wüstnienhaus, Nick Hautamaki, Victoria Davila, Partho Chatterjee and John C. 

The editors are Adrian Liberto and Ariana Yekrangi.

Letter from the editors

issue 3 vol6
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Welcome to the July 2022 issue of The Gordian. 

It was obvious to most that civilization shall have had to deal with far more than a war of aggression after one of Putin’s casual malign interferences around the world morphed into an unscrupulous war in Ukraine. A social and economic crisis was, perhaps, expected. Four months on, however it is clear that we are heading towards far worse: an orgy of human rights violations spearheaded by unsavoury governments and bureaucrats who are supposed to protect the rule of law and human dignity.

Despite this, the Gordian Magazine remains emboldened by UN-aligned’s vision for an alternative United Nations that would leave the alphabet soup of tepid condemnations aside and take action to protect human rights, animal rights, environmental protection and, ultimately, do what it was created to do: secure world peace. Make no mistake, this magazine will not be pussyfooting around any topic.

In keeping with our theme for this volume, we will be focusing on justice. This month, our cover story examines the European Union’s Golden Curtain: though a remarkable institution, the callous exclusivity of the block has risked making the Union a gentlemen’s club, whose head is very much up its own backside. The question we aim to answer is whether the EU is on the side of justice.

Of course, we also offer the usual mix of articles from various writers. Some of these include the recent US Supreme Court’s backtracking on abortion rights and what this means for women, America’s seriuos problem with lobbying and campaign donations, why Australia needs to legalise drugs and a gallery timeline of Finland’s troubled history with Russia. Our coverage does not end here. Our popular features on art, literature, the environment and general knowledge are all there as well. 

We hope you enjoy these stories and the many more in the following pages. Enjoy! 

Adrian Liberto and Ariana Yekrangi are the Editors of The Gordian Magazine.

the gordian magazine@2x

Before you strat: This magazine is supported through the voluntary efforts of UN-aligneder from all across the world. If you enjoy it, please help us to take our game up a notch and build on our independent journalism for future years. If you can, please consider supporting the Gordian Magazine with a Patreon subscription. Thank you!

If you are not able to help us financially, that is okay too. Reading the Gordian, telling your friends about UN-aligned and sharing our articles across your social media is enough for us. Remember that tou can also write, translate and research for UN-aligned at any point in time, see how you can get involved and contribute to The Gordian.


America going bananas, new dinosaur and an independent Scotland: June 2022 Recap

By Adrian Liberto

Monthly recap June 2022 1
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Quickly catch up with everything that you may have missed from last month.


The Golden Curtain: Does the European Union Stand on the Side of Justice? 

By Adrian Liberto

The European Unions Golden Curtain
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Many criticisms have been levied at the EU, a fair amount, as we shall see, may be justified, but most are part of that process that developing organisations with such a mighty mandate have to go through. All said and done, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks, as Britain’s ever-increasing list of post-Brexit crises, on the one hand, and the eagerness of neighbouring nations to join, on the other, makes evidently clear. There is, however, one flaw that unless remedied as a priority, will risk making the Union a gentlemen’s club, whose head is very much up its own backside. Rude language, but the reality is far ruder. I am referring to the EU’s callous exclusivity, which I will refer to as its Golden Curtain.

The remarkable achievements of the EU

The vision that led to what is now the European Union was fuelled by a desire for peace and mutual security. It was never meant to emerge as a sudden transformation, from countries that were at each other’s throats to a jolly fraternity holding hands in a garden of earthly delights. As Robert Schuman, one of the main pioneers of the Union, said:

“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

Strengthening financial interdependence was one of the motivators of this solidarity, which explains why the European Economic Community (EEC), created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, was one of the first milestones of the Union. It has gone a long way since then. Everything is easier now for EU member states: intercommunity trade, travel, study, migration, shopping… Even EU countries that have not adopted the euro are happy to be paid in euros. Everything is so easy and so easy to take for granted too, as many British people are beginning to find out. Of course, for people who sit in front of the television from dawn until dusk, these kinds of benefits mean little. The Union has moreover consolidated that solidarity that will make a war between EU nations almost impossible. Finally, to the chagrin of the Trumps and Putins of this world, it has created a powerful quasi-federation that can hold its own against other superpowers. What’s there not to like?

The darker side of the EU

As mentioned above, the EU has its fair share of faults. Some of these faults concern the governance of the institution, such as corruption and lack of transparency. In October 2012, for instance, there was a scandal involving the EU commissioner for health, John Dalli, who had to resign after an anti-fraud inquiry linked him to an attempt to influence tobacco legislation in favour of a fellow Maltese contact. The EU bureaucracy is also criticised for putting the needs of the private sector before those of its citizens. Other weaknesses are linked to its structure which lacks a common language and a cohesive fiscal policy, leading to misunderstanding in the first instance and imbalanced financial dependability in the second.

John Dalli
Sun Dawei and John Dalli. Photo: US CPSC/Flickr

One of the main problems of the EU, which impacts justice head on, is its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which was launched 60 years ago. Its main aim is to support farmers and affordable productivity in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. These are noble causes, but as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The agricultural policies have done more harm than good. They have encouraged over production and helped the meat and dairy industries become one of the main contributors to climate change. They have also penalised developing countries thanks to local subsidies that have made it difficult for them to compete, both within the EU and within their own borders as heavily subsidised imported goods can be cheaper than homegrown ones.

This said, the EU remains the world’s biggest importer of agricultural goods from developing countries and it is attempting to address the problem through such schemes as the 2001 Everything but Arms (EBA) programme, which removes tariffs and quotas from the least developed countries. The EU has also addressed other issues by creating the new CAP (A Greener and Fairer CAP), which was formally adopted on 2 December, 2021 and is due to be implemented from 1 January 2023. The issues addressed here, however, are more localised, such as fairer payments of subsidies to smaller farms, a more equitable distribution of funds to member states, more stringent labour rights and a focus on gender equality. Also, sadly, animal rights don’t even get a look in, while the devastating effects of intensive farming are virtually passed over.

This is just a cursory view of the EU’s weaknesses and is by no means exhaustive, as my focus in this article aims to be that Golden Curtain mentioned in my introduction.

The Golden Curtain

In some ways the EU is like the Soviet Union. The latter erected the dull Iron Curtain: a political barrier supported by its military might, to seal itself off from Western interference and ideologies, while keeping its citizens firmly in. The EU has erected a glamorous Golden Curtain: a comfort zone, supported by its military might, to seal itself off from foreign interference and ideologies, while keeping other’s citizens firmly out. In this context, we can speak of three categories. The first consists of nation states wishing to join the Union; the second is made up of asylum seekers and migrants who are seeking refuge or a living in an EU member state; while the last involves individuals who simply want to visit one or more EU countries.

EU membership

Zelensky and Gavrilița
Natalia Gavrilița, Prime Minister of Moldova and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine.

At an EU summit in Brussels on 23 June 2022, Ukraine and Moldova were granted EU candidate status. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its aggressive posturing added a touch of urgency to these applications. Georgia’s candidacy, however, was deferred owing to outstanding issues, while no progress was made regarding the application of the Western Balkan states, some of which are still going through turbulent times. Joining the club is not easy and even the privileged candidate states may have to wait a long time before their membership process is completed. This is fair enough.

A rogue member could undermine the institution from within, so caution and prudence are quite justified. One need only observe how Turkey’s President Erdogan is behaving in NATO, to understand that certain guarantees are preferable when admitting a member who will then wield substantial power within the organisation. Nevertheless, all the guarantees under the sun cannot safeguard against political erosion within a country. Hungary, for instance, is leaning further and further to the right and it may only be a matter of time before its position in the EU will be untenable. Still, at least the EU is doing its best here. Sadly, this cannot be said with regards to the next two categories.

The EU on asylum seekers and refugees

EUs struggle with justice
Photo: Jim Forest/Flickr

Whilst the EU’s focus should be on how to assist as many migrants as possible in a dignified and humane way, its obsession seems to be on how to keep them out. The budget for the EU’s migration and border management has rocketed. Frontex, the EU border and Coast Guard Agency has been increased by 194%, while overall funding for law enforcement, border control, military research & development and operations has increased to a whopping €43.9 billion, which is over 30 times higher than funding allocated to rights, values and justice. These funds also cover the strengthening of third country operatives to deal with migrants and refugees and stop them in their tracks. A recent guide, co-published by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute called: At what cost? Funding the EU’s security, defence, and border policies, 2021–2027 paints a grim picture of the tightening of borders that were already unwelcoming to start with. In its conclusion it states:

“The funds will significantly strengthen the internal and external security machinery of the EU and its member states, reinforcing both their repressive and aggressive powers. Police databases and information networks; intrusive counter-radicalisation policies; border surveillance technologies; detention centres; migration “hotspots” such as those already-established in Greece and Italy; weapons research; the development of security and military technologies; and an increased number of military operations will all receive increased financial backing through these budgets. These goals are being cynically pursued with comparatively little additional funding for human rights organisations and activism...”

Read more: Citizenship is a construct, our primary duty is to humankind: 5 problems & solutions to the migrant problem

Meanwhile, images of refugees being beaten by Greek border guards or left to freeze to death by Polish ones are recent enough, as is the repeated story of Malta ignoring distress calls from migrants at sea. People are dying, people are being abused. Does the EU really believe these people are worth less? Or is it too frightened of voters in national states to do the right thing?

The situation is not much better for those who make it in. They are confined to their point or country of entry and kept in a limbo for months awaiting judgement. If they manage to reach another EU country, according to the Dublin 3 Regulation, if found, they are soon returned to the original EU one. Moreover, the situation is complicated by there not being an EU level agreement on quotas for hosting asylum seekers. Individual states are touchy about the subject as a welcoming stance can spell disaster at the polls. This should make it all the more imperative for the EU to take control. Even though the EU can also be vulnerable to hostile voters, as a block it is in a better position to pursue inclusive policies and to educate the xenophobic elements of the public that human rights are not just national rights.

The Golden Curtain is just as rigid as the Iron one.

Rejection rates for those waiting at camps to see whether they have been granted asylum can also be very high. In 2021, for instance the rejection rate for asylum seekers in Italy was 56%, with the highest rates for people from Tunisia (92%), Bangladesh (85%) and Egypt (84%) and the lowest rejection rates for people from Afghanistan (3%), Somalia (4%) and Venezuela (6%). The full picture is along those lines and can be viewed on the Asylum Information Database.

Of course, If you just want to move to an EU country for cultural, economic or other reasons, you clearly do not stand a chance unless you are ridiculously rich or meet other genteel requirements. Working visas can be more flexible, but only if your particular skill is in demand. So all said and done, the Golden Curtain is just as rigid as the Iron one.

Visiting the EU

According to a European Parliament Fact Sheet:

Travelling to the EU
Are you a third party national and want to travel to the EU? Well good luck…

“In 2018, the ‘travel and tourism’ sector directly contributed 3.9% to EU GDP and accounted for 5.1% of the total labour force (which equates to some 11.9 million jobs). When its close links with other economic sectors are taken into account, the tourism sector’s figures increase significantly (10.3% of GDP and 11.7% of total employment, which equates to 27.3 million workers).”

With such high numbers, one would think that visiting an EU country was easy. Well, yes, if you are affluent or from an affluent country, but if not, you are more likely to hit your head on the Golden Curtain than land your feet on a red carpet. The statistics are bleak and can be found on the Schengen Visa Website

The average rejection rate for the issuing of a Schengen visa for all states in 2021 was 13.4% with Sweden, Norway, France and Denmark being most likely to turn down a request. This percentage may not seem that high, but it is averaged out by “westernised”  applicants from countries like Australia, Canada and Japan. It is also worth noting however that visa applications at a particular consulate, will not necessarily be submitted by nationals of that country.

Sticking with Italy as an example, in the case of its consulate in Ghana, 57.92% of applications were rejected. We are not talking about immigration here, just holidays, business trips or the like. Rejections from consulates in India, Morocco and Nigeria were also high, but it is interesting to note the difference between respective consulates:

India

  • New Delhi: 45.80% rejection rate
  • Kolkata: 22.21% rejection rate
  • Mumbai: 14.59% rejection rate

Morocco

  • Casablanca: 41.63% rejection rate
  • Rabat: 12.28% rejection rate

Nigeria

  • Lagos: 30.88 rejection rate
  • Abuja 1.86% rejection rate

You would be justified in thinking that the huge discrepancy between consulates in the same country reflects the demographics of the area. However, this is not necessarily the case. There is so much subjectivity in the process and so little in the way of clearcut guidelines, that some consulates are known to be stricter than others (more racist?).

People are often aware of this and learn which consulates to avoid. Official reasons for rejections range from incomplete or not fully legible forms to lacking evidence regarding the suitable funds for the journey or having a criminal record. Whilst many rejections may be valid, many rejections are arbitrary and a blatant abuse of human rights. 

When I lived in China, I was horrified at the amount of decent hardworking people I knew who were turned down for visas to Europe. The discrepancy between consulates in the same city is telling. Whilst the Italian Consulate in Guangzhou turned down 21.58% of applicants, Germany’s consulate in the same city only turned down 2.96% and France’s 2.53%.

Every case involving rejection is blow to the hopes, aspirations and prospects of the applicant. Perhaps they wanted to see the Pope or the Leaning Tower of Pisa; visit a friend or a relative; find out about business opportunities… Every case is a story.

Anahita Ahmadi
UN-aligned photographer: Anahita Ahmadi

The story I would like to briefly recount here involved my dear friend and colleague Ariana Yekrangi, co-founder of UN-aligned. A few years ago, his younger brother died tragically in China. His mother went to China from Iran to sort out the funeral arrangements and offer comfort to her other son, the twin of the deceased. She then tried to go and visit Ariana, who was living in Finland and was only 24 years old at the time. Despite the fact that she travels widely (as photo galleries in The Gordian testifies to this), her application was turned down. Respect for private and family life are enshrined in Article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and yet for no apparent reason, her application was turned down. Political reasons prevent Ariana from visiting his mother in Iran, so they will have to meet in a third, non-EU country because some EU bureaucrat thinks it wise to keep the family apart. There are thousands of Ariana’s, with stories that are equally or even more absurd and moving.

The Golden Curtain is turning the EU into a fortress, a type of Noah’s Arc that cares little of nothing for the lives of others. If this is its idea of justice, it had better think again.


Ukraine and Moldova’s EU candidacy status… beneficial?

By Ariana Yekrangi

Ukraine and Moldovas EU candidacy status beneficial
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

The European Union recently granted applicant status to Ukraine and Moldova. If approved, its many benefits, even rivalling NATO’s, include deterring Russia’s war machine. Here are some key questions surrounding the topic.

So Ukraine and Moldova are granted candidacy status, does that mean they are members now?

If only it were that easy! Based on a recommendation from the European Commission, the European Council can grant Candidate Status to prospective members of the European Union. The right to join the block, however, is not one that is automatically granted to countries who receive a candidacy status. 

While the European Council decides to begin accession negotiations with the candidate country, the Commission evaluates the application in light of the Copenhagen criteria, which we will talk more about below, and formulates an opinion. 

Attaining full membership status is a process that is very likely to take years to complete. North Macedonia, for example, was granted EU candidacy in 2005 and is still awaiting the opening of such membership discussions. 

So they’re not members? What’s all the fuss about then? 

Well, believe it or not, the decision to grant a country an EU candidacy status is a highly remarkable development in the process of becoming an EU member state. There is a lot of politics involved to receive this first seal of approval. Take Albania as an example, it took more than five years for the country to receive its candidacy status. 

The significance of Ukraine’s membership in the bloc is also increased given its ongoing conflict with Russia. Since its establishment with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, this is the first time the EU is granting candidate status to a country during a full-scale war. 

It takes years? Why is the EU so slow in processing applications? 

Well, the answer is simple: to assess a country’s long-term commitment. Once a country is in the European Union, the Single Market and other EU treaties, it will be able to have an immense impact on the future of the union. So understandably, letting in bad apples is not a risk EU members are willing to take. Can you imagine if Sultan Erdogan of Turkey became an EU member after receiving its candidacy status in 1999? 

The EU wants aspiring members to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minority communities. Additionally, new members are expected to have functioning market economies and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces within the Single Market. These and many more conditions are underlined in what are known as the Copenhagen criteria. 

Meeting all such conditions is likely to take years. Croatia, for example, who was the last member to join the bloc, took ten years to be officially accepted in 2013. 

Having said that, it must be noted that since adopting a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and a Political Association Agreement with Brussels eight years ago, Ukraine has been continually working to recognise EU laws and standards. Since June 2014, the Republic of Moldova has also been hard at work after signing an Association Agreement with the EU, which went into full effect in July 2016.

How do Ukraine and Moldova benefit from EU membership?

According to Kyiv’s ambassador to Brussels, granting Ukraine candidate status for membership in the EU would be a historic move that would show Russia that it can no longer assert a sphere of influence over its eastern neighbour.

Moreover, EU membership will also have some defence perks as EU member states are required by a mutual defence clause to aid a member if it is the target of military aggression. Joining the EU would come with a plethora of other rights including economic advantages and full access to the EU’s Single Market, which safeguards the unlimited and free flow of people and goods within the continent.

What about the EU, what’s in it for them? 

Ursula Von Der Leyen
President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen speaking to the EU Parliament. Photo: European Parliament/Flickr

In June 2022, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on EU governments to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova “without delay”, highlighting that there is no alternative to the enlargement of the EU, which is “more than ever a geostrategic investment” in a stable, strong and united EU. 

Members of the European Parliament outlined that: “the prospect of full EU membership for the countries striving to become member states is in the European Union’s own political, economic and security interests.”

In addition, MEPs noted that governments should grant candidacy status to Georgia as well, but only “once its government has delivered” on the priorities which were indicated by the European Commission.

So does that mean Georgia will also join the club soon? 

Despite the difficulties of the Covid pandemic, Georgia is steadfast in its commitment to implementing the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. However, there is so much work that still needs to be done, particularly in the areas of judicial reform and corruption. Sadly, Georgia’s reform requirements don’t end here.

The country fosters an incredibly hostile environment for the LGBTQ+ community. In 2021 the Tbilisi Pride had to be called off as 20 journalists were injured in the violence while LGBT flags were burned on the streets of Tbilisi. Legally, Georgia does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, however, the society emboldened by its Orthodox church, remains extremely selective towards human rights. 

Other affairs that are likely to make Georgia’s negotiations even more complicated are the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are de facto independent regions under the protection of Russia. It is unknown if the EU would want to extend membership to these regions, as the block did with Cyprus.

What is certain is that Georgia has a very long way to go before being able to meet the EU’s high standards on human rights, democracy and economy.


A peep at the labyrinthine justice within the European block

By Ariana Yekrangi

How Justice is ensured in the European Union
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Here’s a look over the five key judicial branches of the European Union and how they are safeguarding justice across the block.

The Acquis communautaire 

The Acquis Communautaire is the EU rule book that protects all member states’ citizens under the rule of law. Fun fact, if you read two pages of this EU treaty an hour, without any breaks because duh, stuff your dinner plans, you’ll be through it in just 4.5 easy years!

This ginormous legal textbook, which consists of 35 chapters within 80,000 pages, is a combination of all European legislation, including all treaties, directives and regulations established by the EU’s institutions, as well as all decisions rendered by the European Court of Justice. 

When acceding states prepare to join the EU, they must accept all the existing acquis. Currently, the acquis communautaire has been implemented into every member state’s legislative framework.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

If you are on the lookout for a 12.2 km long library, or, more likely, you are looking for the judicial branch of the European Union, look no further than the CJEU

How justice works at the EU
Towers of CJEU in Kirchberg, Luxembourg. Photo: Transparency International EU Office/Flickr

With a budget of €465m for the year 2022 and a force of 2,247 staff, the Court of Justice of the European Union is tasked to guarantee that laws adopted at the EU level are correctly enforced and interpreted. Since 1952, more than 42,000 judgments and orders have been delivered by the court. 

Structurally, the CJEU is divided into two major courts: The Court of Justice and the General Court.

European Court of Justice (ECJ)

The European Court of Justice, also simply known as the Court of Justice, is the highest court in the block for matters relating to EU law. 

The Court’s headquarters are in Luxembourg, where it was founded in 1952. It now has 27 judges, one from each member state, however, cases are typically dealt with in panels of three, five, or, less likely, fifteen judges. 

The primary responsibility of the ECJ is to process appeals and preliminary ruling requests from national courts. In other words, one cannot appeal against the decisions of a national court in the ECJ, but rather, national courts come to the ECJ with questions about EU law.

The General Court (EGC)

Coming into force after the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the General Court considers cases brought against the European Union’s institutions by people as well as member states. 

The court considers a wide variety of topics including: “cases lodged by individuals or companies against acts by EU institutions; actions brought by the EU Member States against the European Commission and the Council; and actions seeking compensation for damages caused by EU institutions or bodies.”

Each EU Member State has two judges on the General Court, who run for a renewable six years of office.

The European Commission (EC)

Although not a judicial body or a traditional court per se, the European Commission is tasked to ensure national law, which may be practised by member states’ administrations or courts, is aligned with EU law. 

justice within the European block the european commission
Photo: EU Parliament/Flickr

An individual may file a complaint with the Commission, which has the right to initiate infringement proceedings against the Member State if they believe that a national authority has violated the Charter when enforcing EU legislation.

If a member state is not following EU law correctly, the commission may examine the merits of a case and can contact national authorities to have it fixed. In case of disagreements, the commission ultimately possesses the power to take a Member State to the European Court of Justice. 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

The European Court of Human Rights is not an EU institution, but rather an organ of the Council of Europe, which is separate from the 27-member European Union. The Court is inspired, and largely based on, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was drafted in 1950 by the then newly formed Council of Europe. 

justice within the European block European Court of Human Rights
Photo: Claude TRUONG-NGOC/Wikimedia

Applications to court could be brought forward by individuals, groups or one or more of the other contracting member states. 

As for who decides on the various cases, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe chooses the judges from lists of three candidates suggested by States. Each judge is expected to serve for a period of nine-year, non-renewable terms. ECHR judges hear cases as individuals and do not represent their respective states, even though they are elected to serve them.

Let’s wrap things up with a little EU bureaucracy…

What? You didn’t think you’d make it through an article about the EU without getting some of those? 

Unlike all EU member states, excluding states with limited recognition of course, the European Union itself is not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is despite the fact that Article 6 of the EU Treaty of Nice required all EU institutions to accede to the ECHR. This essentially means that the actions of the EU’s institutions, including various EU bodies and agencies, cannot be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

EU’s accession to the ECHR could make the EU institutions more transparent as they would be subjected to the same rules and the same system of international oversight on human rights as its 27 member states and other Council of Europe members. 

However, in 2014, the CJEU rejected accession to the ECHR with an opinion statement stating that accession to the European Convention on Human Rights would, amongst other matters, “undermine the European Court of Justice’s autonomy”.


Lobbyland: The Story of American Lobbying and Campaign Donations

By Nick Hautamaki

American lobbying and campaign donations
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

The United States, although a mighty country, has its flaws. One of its flaws is how some lobbying groups hold immensely more significant sway than others, thus unfairly eliciting beneficial results for a minority group. Another such flaw is the restriction of representatives to be solely those who may afford to run. These systemic flaws, among others not mentioned, when compounded together, erode democratic representation and must be viewed as an existential threat. 

To fully comprehend the nature of the situation, one must understand lobbying and why it exists. When a legislator and their staff work in Washington, they are removed from the opinions of their constituency. In this capacity, lobbyists speak on behalf of industries, workers’ associations, etcetera, whom the legislator may be charged to represent and to advocate for their interests. In addition, special interest groups call upon such lobbying groups because they have the connections and means of assuring policy outcomes.

Within this article, groups which focus on the general public’s issues, such as wildlife protection, will be referred to as public interest groups. Accordingly, those whose concerns are for industry will be referred to as private interest groups. Aside from merely providing insight into potential viewpoints of constituents, lobbyists also offer legislators expertise and well-crafted research in their respective domains. The flip side is that lobbyists would never do hard work, repetitively organize and attend meetings, and the like, if they did not expect to receive something in return. Interest groups, therefore, employing lobbying groups exchange expertise for impact on policy outcomes. 

Lobbying occurs in various ways, such as inside lobbying, which, as the name suggests, may take place in the representative’s professional capacity, like in their office, at a paid-for meal, or at an event thrown by the lobby. Conversely, outside lobbying consists of efforts outside the institutions of power to enact the same results. Examples of outside lobbying include buying think-tanks for preferential findings, the proliferation of advertisements, and mobilizing fake grassroots campaigns to provide public pressure upon elected officials. 

Lobbying is an essential part of a healthy democracy.

Legislators must hear from stakeholders that their policies will affect to ensure that they will have the desired outcomes and, a lot of the time, conduct a cost-benefit analysis. In an ideal system, representatives would hear all interest groups equally. Yet, this is not the case for several reasons. 

Firstly, legislators only have so much time to devote to receiving interest groups aside from their regular duties. By picking and choosing which group to meet with, sacrifices are made based on whether one group has more financial clout or members than another. Although this is a logical outcome in a market-based economy, its results are not ideal when conducted repeatedly. As the interest groups that win sway with government officials gain further financial or other advantages, they will reassert this inflated affluence to repeat the process. As a result, interest groups deal with a system of exponential returns and experience intense competition, and the system’s product deteriorates. 

Secondly, public officials may not meet with particular interest groups, often public, if there are negative social connotations surrounding them or if they already do not have much support amongst colleagues. Much like the previous reason, this behaviour creates an elite of lobbyists who conduct influence. 

Because of this, the public’s views are not equitably expressed to legislators in the United States. Necessitating financial prowess or clout is not new to the lobbying system, and because of its fermentation, there are insurmountable barriers to those joining in now. For example, in 2021, the top twenty spenders on lobbying ranged between $12.4 million and $66.4 million in reported efforts. So naturally, public officials will be more inclined to listen to those with millions of dollars allocated solely for lobbying, due to those groups’ expensive resources, like research reports. The official’s view in taking their counsel may stem from believing that a large and influential group must represent an even greater share of the American population.

I cant afford a lobbyist
Protestor’s sign reads: “I can’t afford a lobbyist”. Photo: Occupy Irvine/Flickr

Unsurprisingly, though, only two of the top twenty spenders on lobbying are not private interest groups. It should be apparent that corporations’ best interests are not consistently in tandem with their employees’. Yet, those most heard by public office holders are from private interest groups. In fact, businesses accounted for 86.90% of lobbying in 2021, while ideological, labour, and others accounted for the rest. This is a broken system where those with money may purchase a seat at the table and ensure that there is less room for others at it. 

Inside lobbying is most likely what comes to mind for most people when they consider lobbying; but, as we shall see,  this is only the tip of the iceberg. Regarding outside lobbying, where pressure is applied to politicians openly, a phenomenon coined astroturfing took hold in the late twentieth century. Astroturfing is a tactic employed by lobbying groups when inside lobbying just won’t cut it. It is when lobbyists pay and orchestrate “grassroots” protests and rebukes of current or proposed legislation.

An early modern example was in 1993 when the oil industry enlisted a lobbying group to send forty-five people around the United States to make noise against Bill Clinton’s energy tax. These forty-five people did not particularly care about the economic deadweight loss associated with an energy tax and were just following orders. Since then, astroturfing has grown in scale and complexity.

Bill Clintons energy
In 1993, Bill Clinton proposed a BTU tax, which would have taxed all fuel sources based on their heat content except renweable energy. The tax was however never adopted as lobbying efforts mobilised against its adoption.

Around now, you, the reader, should be beginning to get the picture that the only limits to private interest groups’ lobbying efforts are what is necessary to enact change. Astroturfing is not just in-person events like the previous example, but also communications campaigns. A notorious and pioneering moment for communications efforts was in 1995 for the Competitive Long Distance Coalition (AT&T, MCI, and Sprint). For over two million dollars, the lobbyist Bob Beckel generated five-hundred thousand telegrams to members of Congress to façade the opposition to a bill that would make the industry more competitive. Unfortunately for Mr. Beckel, it became publicized that as many as half of the telegrams were fake, having used peoples’ names without their knowledge or even dead peoples’. Twenty-seven years later, lobbying groups have upgraded to using social media bots, groups, memes, and other online tools for their astroturfing. 

If lobbyists’ sway is not significant enough to get the desired policy outcome, they may also choose to enlist preferential think-tanks. These corporations, coalitions, and sectors fund think tanks to produce findings that benefit their agenda. An example of such a think-tank would be the Citizens for the Right to Know, heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This organization consistently produced data that found that high drug prices were not Big Pharma’s fault but drugstores’. Citizens for the Right to Know’s findings were inaccurate, with unethical research conducted by handpicking sources and misconstruing findings. Privately funded think-tanks remain prevalent throughout the United States. Although researchers would not use this group’s data, those in Congress are eager to.

American politicians are busy people

To understand why a legislator at the state or federal level would choose to base monumental decisions on this data, one must understand the position these individuals are in. American politicians are busy people who, aside from attending copious meetings, never-ending fundraising efforts and voting on/crafting legislation, among other regular tasks, do not have a moment to spare. These professionals spend their time in a closed-off environment, surrounded by staff, advisors, colleagues, and other political professionals.

Any regular person would lose touch with their constituents and everyday Americans by at least a degree. Compound this with the fact that to be able to run for office in the United States, one must have a ludicrous amount of personal wealth; the results are alarming. Aside from the five new Congresspeople in 2018 who are in debt from business, the rest of the freshmen have net worths between $2.8-166.3 million. This group did not, like most would, lose touch with the general American population when they got into office; rather, they were never a part of it considering the U.S. median net worth is only around $120 thousand. 

Therefore, when a Congressperson is brought out to the finest restaurant in D.C. with their meal paid for by the lobbyist, who has been sitting and speaking with them for quite some time, they may wrongly take what they have to say as holding more merit. If said lobbyist later conveniently shares with the member a report from a think-tank on an upcoming piece of legislation, perhaps informing them of the group’s association or not, the time-crunched professional will consider it.

house of representatives voting
US House Of Representatives. Photo: Nancy Pelosi/Flickr

Let’s say that doubts remain in the legislator’s mind about whether they should vote for the bill or not. They may refer to the internet, where social media platforms are flooded with the lobbyist’s exact position, or even turn to the lobbyist’s sponsored content masquerading as a news article. Potentially, despite these nudges, the politician is not swayed. That is until, on the way to Congress to vote, they pass by an emboldened crowd of protestors. These individuals hold weight with the Congressperson as the matter must mean so much to necessitate coming out and having their voices heard. In the end, the legislator, believing they are doing the best for Americans, follows through on what the lobbyist suggested. But, as one may have guessed, the same lobbying group orchestrated the protest.

None of these hypothetical efforts would have even hurt a private interest group’s wallet since the result of Congress successfully being lobbied is more money into the group’s pockets. The nature of the lobbying system is somewhat dystopian when considering inside lobbying, astroturfing, biased think-tanks, and inequitable access to decision-makers favouring the wealthy. 

Once one comprehends the workings of interest groups as discussed above, a disease affecting the United States ought to be analyzed, and that disease is the revolving door mechanism. If the sheer influential power of private interest groups is ever to be countered, then legislation must be enacted to prohibit such actions. However, a significant hurdle to this solution is that it is common for politicians and government officials to leave the public service after many years of employment and change their behaviour while still in office. These public servants go to lobbying and consulting positions that provide higher pay and better benefits. In exchange for delivering occupations of such attractive quality, the private sector receives several kickbacks. They receive experienced professionals who know the ins and outs of the institutions of power, have a vast network of connections, and if recruited while in office, act as directed, when incentivized. If lobbyists are former public servants, they know more about a typical legislators’ mindset, giving them an upper hand in each interaction. The revolving door poses a barrier to substantial institutional change as many of those in power to make these changes are in the clutches of lobbies. This is not even taking into account the political action committees’ campaign funding in all derivations and its colossal influence on who runs for office and what they do, which may be discussed in a future article. 

Despite being a hard ideal to attain, lobbying equity must be strived for, as only by journeying the path to perfection will a better system come to fruition. The United States is plagued by many issues, such as astounding crime rates, systemic racialized discrimination, polarization, and others, yet none of these may be adequately addressed until lobbying is. With lobbying groups ensuring powerful interest groups become increasingly so, and politicians in power remaining exclusively rich, the United States is becoming reminiscent of the bourgeois/bourgeoise divides of the French revolution. 


The Overturning of Roe v. Wade: Here’s what this will mean

By Victoria Davila

The Overturning of Roe v. Wade Heres what this will mean
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

The United States Supreme Court ruled on January 22, 1973, that under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a person’s choice on whether or not to have an abortion was protected in the United States and could not be criminalized. This constitutional right would stand for nearly 50 years and result in safer abortion procedures and reproductive healthcare that saved lives across the nation. 

While the developing decision was leaked prior to its final release, Roe v. Wade was officially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, marking the erasure of progress for human reproductive rights in the U.S. and leaving the decision of legalizing abortion up to the states.

What happens now?

With Roe v. Wade being overturned, certain states have taken immediate action to ban or apply restrictions on abortion, such as Oklahoma, Utah, and Texas, with others are following close behind. To ease the growing anxiety concerning other U.S. constitutional rights, the Opinion of the Court has emphasized: 

“… our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

Despite this statement, worries continue to grow after the opinion of Justice Thomas was released calling for future reconsideration of “all” due process precedents such as Obergefell (same-sex marriage), Griswold (contraception), and Lawerence (same-sex relations) with others like Justice Alito supporting this suggestion. So while the Opinion of the Court highlights their decision as solely concerning abortion rights, the future undoing of other U.S. constitutional rights was indeed a part of the discussion. 

Who has overturned Roe v. Wade?
Who has overturned Roe v. Wade?

How are pregnant individuals impacted?

In overturning Roe v. Wade, the responsible justices have failed to acknowledge how the right to reproductive healthcare like abortion impacts the lives of communities across the nation.  

With the ban or restriction on abortion rights in different states, the U.S. can expect a massive shutdown of abortion clinics throughout the country. These shutdowns include decreased funding for free/ low-cost abortions, travel expenses, and the lack of accessibility to safe abortion procedures. In the case where one is unable to travel out of state for an abortion, pregnant individuals may turn to life-threatening abortion procedures or continue with their pregnancy which may result in struggles for both parent and child in the future.

Today, where the U.S. Constitution no longer protects the right to an abortion, the mental and physical health of pregnant people throughout the nation can be expected to deplete along with increased death and injury rates. 

What does this mean for marginalized communities? 

Marginalized communities in the U.S. who already struggle with access to proper healthcare, such as people of color, immigrants, individuals experiencing houselessness/ low-income situations, the LGBTQIA+ community, and individuals with disabilities, will face intensified hardships under bans or restrictions on abortion care, especially where these identities overlap. 

While some leaders have taken action to protect abortion rights in their states, it is important to call attention to the pregnant individuals who will not receive the same access to reproductive healthcare in their location. 

What is next? 

The overall decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has unfortunately opened doors for the future recall of other human rights protected by the U.S. constitution, such as marriage equality and contraception. Moving forward, we must support those whose rights have been unfairly stripped away by pushing all levels of the government to strive for policymaking that works for and not against the lives of impacted communities. 


Finland’s troubled history with Russia — A Story in Photos

By Ariana Yekrangi

Russian troops in Helsinki during the Finnish civil war
Russian soldiers in Helsinki. After the February Revolution, Russian troops in Finland became a source of social unrest.

Finland is a young country, but one with a heartbreaking history. In this photo timeline, which consists of 11 events showcasing 80 photos, we’ll guide you through the country’s tragic history with Russia.


UN-likely Agony Aunt Letters: The Broadest Column in The Gordian 

By Ruby Goldenberg

Unlikely Agony Aunt Letters
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all ask each other whatever we liked without offence? 

Like how much does Antonio Guterres make? What does he weigh? Is he loved? Who will miss him when he dies? If there is one thing that winds you up… Well, we call that a good day. 

Send your unlikely questions to us. Ruby Goldenberg, The Gordian’s Administrator, will offer words of wisdom. If you have a question, you to [email protected], all questions will be published anonymously.

The following text has been inspired by David Mitchell’s Soapbox.


Australia Needs to Legalise Drugs

By JonC

Australia Needs to Legalise Drugs
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Many drugs taken for pleasure in Australia are illegal. Examples include cannabis (cannabis can be grown and consumed legally, but not sold, in the Australian Capital Territory), heroin, ice (crystal meth) and many others. Some drugs taken for pleasure are legal, such as nicotine, with tobacco smoked by 2.5 million Australians, and alcohol, drunk at least once per week by 8 million. In addition, about 800 prescription drugs are subsidised under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Prescription drugs are reported to be misused by around 1 million Australians. Cannabis can be taken legally for medicinal purposes in all Australian states by people with certain limited classes of health problems. The obvious question is – why are some drugs legal and others illegal?

The Australian National Drug Strategy came into effect in 1985, expanding from strict prohibition to explicitly include harm reduction. However only 2% of drug strategy funding is used for harm reduction, while 66% goes to law enforcement. The strategy doesn’t mention the words decriminalisation or legalisation, or explain why they are infeasible. 

Johann Hari, the author of a detailed history of the development of the global drug war, reports that it was born in the United States, even though almost all scientific and medical opinion opposed criminalisation. The war commenced in 1933, when the war on alcohol was heading for defeat.

Across the rest of the world, drugs were still sold legally. But over the next few decades, this began to end—and by the 1960s, they were banned everywhere, enforced by the US. The resulting international war on drugs has killed hundreds of thousands and imprisoned millions.

Where are recreational drugs legal?

Uruguay and Canada are the only countries that have fully legalised the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis. In America, 19 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia have legalised recreational cannabis, although it remains illegal federally. Medical use of cannabis has been legalised in many countries including Australia and in 37 American states. The national US prohibitionist policy is one of the main factors preventing other developed countries freeing up their own drug management programs, even though several would like to do so. 

In 2001, Portugal became the first and still the only nation to decriminalise possession of all drugs, with enormous benefits. The drug-induced death rate is now one fifth of the European average and one-fiftieth of the US rate.

Until the ACT government’s decision to legalise cannabis in 2020, the nearest Australia had got to decriminalising drug use was the establishment by the Uniting Church of their medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross, Sydney in 2001 and in North Richmond in Melbourne as a trial in 2020.

What have been the results of criminalising drugs?

Given the high cost and major trauma resulting from criminalising drug use in Australia, it would be hoped that there would be positive outcomes from the policy. However, there are numerous negatives but few if any positives. Out of about 20 negative outcomes, those most important are:

  1. The creation of a black market, valued at around $13 billion in Australia in 2016/17 lining the pockets of tens of thousands of drug dealers.
  2. The enforcement of drug laws costs Australia over $1 billion per year, which could otherwise be spent on education and assisting addicts to quit.
  3. The drug sector can be a significant area of police corruption, as dealers can pay off police to avoid arrest and some police are themselves drug dealers.
  4. Indigenous Australians are almost twice as likely as whites to consume illegal drugs and 10 times as likely to be in gaol. 

Given that there are few, if any, positive outcomes from drug criminalisation, it would be expected that there would be equally few negative outcomes from legalisation. This is in fact the case. The only negative outcome is that drug-related organised crime will try to find alternative sources of income, to replace the billions of dollars it currently earns annually from drug marketing. 

Some people think that consumption will increase if drugs are legalised, and this is certainly possible. However, America introduced nationwide alcohol “prohibition” from 1920 to 1933. This ended as a major disaster, cutting legal employment and state taxes, and generating huge profits for criminals. Average alcohol consumption increased from 3 litres per adult per year in 1919 to 4.5 litres in 1929. It is now around 10 litres per adult per year in the US and 11 litres per adult in Australia.

There are mixed reports on whether legalising cannabis in American states has resulted in an increase in consumption. However, it is clearly generating increasing tax revenues, for example reaching $1 billion in Colorado in 2020. 

So, what should be done?

Most drugs should be legalised and regulated, with sale through pharmacies or licensed drug shops. They should be taxed like cigarettes, though not at such a high level that a black market re-emerges. The tax generated could be used to help people quit, provide medical treatment when needed, and educate all about issues relating to over-use or addiction. This would: 

  1. Get organised crime out of the drug market, 
  2. Manage quality and thus reduce accidental deaths, 
  3. Educate people about drug use and dependency, and 
  4. Remove the offence of drug ownership and keep legal drug vendors and users out of the criminal justice system.

Governments in Australia should accept that their war on drugs has been lost, and take urgent steps to achieve sensible drug management. This should involve legalising and regulating most recreational drugs. Decriminalisation is a second-best option, keeping users out of gaol, though leaving the black market intact and drug dealers earning often huge incomes.


Water: Nature’s Invaluable Trove

By Partho Pratim Chatterjee

Water Natures Invaluable Trove
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Water is one of the stanchions of life. Around 60 % of the human body is made up of water. Drinking water from pristine sources has been linked to higher lifespan. Water provides oxygen in the form of dissolved oxygen to marine organisms. Global warming leads to an increase in the temperature of water. This reduces the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water proving detrimental for aquatic life. Water exhibits anomalous behaviour. The density of the solid state of water is less than its liquid state. This proves to be a boon in disguise for aquatic life. Ice at the water surface , being an insulator, prevents aquatic organisms from the harmful impacts of frigid surrounding temperatures. 

Out of all the water available on earth, only 3 % is freshwater. The Water crisis is a humongous issue for tropical regions due to the high surface temperatures in these areas which increases evaporation of water. Magnetic cities, which attract rural population towards them due to better opportunities, have high population densities. This increases consumption of water in these areas to a great extent.  This causes the water table to drop sharply in these areas, particularly during desiccating summers. As the water level goes down, the water becomes less and less potable due to an increase in the level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). Keeping these problems in mind, ingenious solutions are needed to abate the overexploitation of water. 

Countries across the globe also need to create National Water Commissions and provide them with statutory powers to counter pollution and overexploitation of water.  Further, taxes like Water Pollution Tax could be introduced. This could provide a double dividend. It could encourage industries to install new water pollution sequestration technologies to reduce tax payable to the government. Further, the revenue received from this tax could be used to install water resources and purification units like Borewells, Macro-Sediment -Filtration units, Reverse Osmosis units, Re-mineralization units etc. to provide potable water in the desired areas. Further, the tax amount could be used to clean and revamp water resources like lakes, ponds etc. which are victims of eutrophication. 

In the present era, where fuels like green hydrogen are being hailed as clean fuels, the sagacious use of water becomes even more important. Green Hydrogen is produced using electrolysis of water using renewable sources like solar energy, wind energy etc.  The process is both energy and water intensive. Therefore, proper policy interventions are needed to provide ample water for both non-commercial as well as commercial activities. This could include strategies like using grey water post treatment for producing green hydrogen and reserving freshwater resources for non-commercial purposes (drinking etc. )

In the contemporary era, desertification is expanding at a rapid pace. As desertification increases, the soil in the area loses fertility and plant density decreases. As plants contribute toward conserving water, a reduction in plant density does not augur well for water conservation. Therefore, it is high time that suitable afforestation initiatives like Miyawaki Technique are employed to increase plant density.

Water is an invaluable and inalienable resource. It finds its use from household inverter batteries to Nuclear Reactors. Hence, its conservation is of paramount importance. The combination of techno-economically viable technologies along with suitable policy interventions by the government will go a long way in conserving this invaluable trove of nature.


Kick Russia out of the UN, now!

By Adrian Liberto 

Kick Russia out of the UN now
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Via a video address to the UN security Council on April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the Council to expel Russia “so it cannot block decisions about its own war”, which he emphasised was responsible for “the most terrible war crimes”. Some days ago, on June 28, he went further and called for a complete expulsion, adding that an international tribunal should investigate “the actions of Russian occupiers on Ukrainian soil” so that the Kremlin could be “brought to justice”.

Interestingly enough, the League of Nations, which was the precursor to the United Nations, had expelled Russia on December 14, 1939, after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland a fortnight earlier on November 30. The current organisation, however, seems unconcerned. Of course, it is concerned; the problem is that, for all sorts of reasons, it is bound to the moral low ground. It barely managed to expel the rogue member from the Human Rights Council on April 7. What has changed since those pre-WWII days? Not much, really, despite the fact that the League was a very different animal which consisted of 42 Member States at its inception (January 1920) and only 24 at its demise (April 1946). Russia’s expulsion then involved the League of Nations breaking its own rules, as the vote had not received the overall majority required. The League was an organisation in crisis when it expelled Russia, but willing to do the right thing. The UN is in crisis now, but frozen when it comes to its mandate in being a force for peace.

It seems unlikely that the UN will ever find its moral compass and expel Russia no matter how many war crimes keep piling up. China can invade Taiwan, the US can roll back all its human rights legislation… The UN will sit back and watch. Really? Surely we deserve better.


Deep concern over Belarus

By Adrian Liberto

Deep concern over Belarus
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Anaïs Marin, issued her annual report on June 29, which paints a dire picture of tightening legislation and diminishing civil and political rights. She said that the situation has been deteriorating steadily since the UN OHCHR condemned the violent crackdowns against mass protests challenging the presidential elections held in August 2020. The rapporteur also highlighted the fact that the constitutional referendum held on February 27, which endorsed further oppression, was neither free nor fair. The sinister reforms included the extension of the death penalty to “planning” or “attempting” to commit what the State can arbitrarily define as terrorist acts. Moreover, the report claims: “Systemic human rights violations and impunity for those crimes have engulfed Belarus in a climate of arbitrariness and fear…” 

What the UN will do about it is another matter. With Moscow firmly supporting Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko there is probably precious little the UN will be able to do. The report will probably generate the usual expressions of concern, only to end up joining the ever-increasing shelves gathering reports on abusive governments… and dust.


Unlocked and Unbolted: Virginia Woolf’s Life and Works

By Alex Liberto

Virginal Wolf colorised
A colorised photo of Virginia Woolf. The portrait was originally taken in 1902.

Early life

Virginia Woolf was born in London on the 25th of January 1882. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was an eminent Victorian critic and man of letters. He was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. He was married twice. His first wife was William Thackeray’s daughter Minny.

After her death, he married Virginia’s mother, Julia Duckworth, who was also from an illustrious family. She was a widow and had three children from her first marriage. One of these children, George Duckworth, sexually harassed Virginia later on in life, devastating her psychological stability.

…there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind

Virginia had two brothers, Thoby and Adrian, and one sister Vanessa. Their childhood together was extremely happy until the first tragedy in Virginia’s life. In 1895 her dearly beloved mother, Julia, died suddenly. This tragic loss was to trigger her first nervous breakdown. She was helped by her half-sister Stella (Julia’s daughter from her first marriage), who attempted to take Julia’s place as a mother.

Unfortunately, the tragedy was repeated only two years later when Stella also died suddenly, causing Virginia to fall back into depression. In the meantime, she found no help from her half-brother who had already started tormenting her with his sexual advances.

At this point, Virginia was on the verge of a total breakdown. There was a metamorphosis in her character. She became sullen and introverted, her proverbial joie de vivre was lost forever. Then came the final blow. Her brother Thoby died of typhoid fever in 1906. There was no turning back for Virginia’s injured mental well-being.

The Bloomsbury Group

Virginia found great comfort in her sister Vanessa, whom she loved very much, and also in their new home in Bloomsbury. This home had become a fulcrum for intellectuals and artists who visited regularly. It was the beginning of the Bloomsbury Group, which was made up of outstanding personalities who broke away from Victorian convention in their quest for new styles in art and literature, and for a new nonconformist way of life.

Bloomsbury Group
Left to right: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Mrs. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell.

Vanessa married the art critic Clive Bell, who had been a good friend of Thoby’s, and both helped promote the Bloomsbury circle. Bell wrote about the group: “they shared a taste for discussion in pursuit of truth and a contempt for conventional ways of thinking and feeling, contempt for conventional morals if you will”.

Roger Fry
A self-portrait of Roger Fry

The group promoted modern French post-Impressionist painting, which outraged the straight-laced Edwardian public, still tied to the Victorian tradition of conservative ideas. The English painter who slowly helped change this narrow-minded attitude was Roger Fry, another Bloomsbury member.

Through the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia met her husband Leonard Woolf, who, along with her sister Vanessa, became her greatest lifelong friend. Virginia and Leonard had problems with their sexual relationship, which was scarred by Virginia’s psychological problems, caused by her half-brother’s sexual harassment in the past. However, their love went beyond mere physical attraction. She once told Leonard: “I feel no physical attraction to you [….] and yet caring for me as you do almost overwhelms me”. 

Her mental health progressively deteriorated, but her husband stood by her through thick and thin. Virginia was becoming very well-known as a writer. By 1930 she had become very successful and had earned a lot of money from her books. Leonard was also a writer of note and wrote about the Bloomsbury Group and about his life with Virginia.

In this period Virginia also befriended Vita Sackville-West, who was a renowned homosexual. Their friendship was intense and emotional, but Virginia still stood by her husband and never left him. Sackville-West was jealous of Leonard and said about Virginia that she liked “people better through the brain than the heart”.

Leonard Woolf and Sackville-West
Right Leonard Woolf, Left: Sackville-West

The beginning of the Second World War depressed both Virginia and Leonard. They both feared a possible victory of Hitler. Virginia’s depression, however, was far more serious. She could not bear the thought of going totally mad.

The one experience I shall never describe…

On the 28th of March 1941 while they were in their country home, Monk’s House by the river Ouze, she wrote to her sister and to her husband. To Vanessa she wrote: “I have gone too far this time to come back again. I am certain now that I am going mad again […] and I know I shan’t get over it”. To Leonard she wrote: “I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been”.

She then walked to the river and putting a large stone in her coat pocket, she jumped into the water to her death, which was to be, as she once said: “the one experience I shall never describe”.

Literary Career

Mrs Dalloway virginia Woolf
Cover of Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf proved to be a very competent writer by 1912, when she worked as a critic for the Times Literary Supplement. With her husband, in 1917, she established the Hogarth Press which published her works, and those of many other anti-traditionalist writers. Woolf wrote nine novels in all and also a great number of other works like short stories, essays, letters and diaries.

She wrote her first two novels in 1915 and in 1919. Both these novels, The Voyage Out and Night and Day, were plot-oriented and rather traditional in style. Her first attempt at experimental writing was made with Jacob’s Room which she wrote in 1922. The story is not revealed chronologically; it is understood through the reminiscences of the characters. These memories unfold the life of a young man and his experiences until his death in war.

1925 can be considered to be the turning point of Woolf’s style which, with Mrs Dalloway, marks her choice for the stream of consciousness, already experimented by Joyce in Ulysses and by Proust in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Naturally, the book was accepted with some resistance and a lot of curiosity.

“Virginia Woolf has taken fiction into new waters in Mrs Dalloway, using an experimental technique of directly recording consciousness, that ‘semi-transparent envelope surrounding us’, as she has called it”.

Chronicle, Dec. 1925
To the Lighthouse 1927
1st edition cover of To the Lighthouse (1927)

To the Lighthouse (1927)

In 1927 Woolf wrote To the Lighthouse. The first part of the book describes one day in the life of a large family and of other characters on holiday in the Hebrides. Mr and Mrs Ramsay, the main characters, mirror Virginia Woolf’s own parents and the relaxed atmosphere of her childhood prior to her mother‘s death. One of Mr and Mrs Ramsay’s eight children, James, wants to go to the nearby lighthouse, however, due to the bad weather he cannot.

In the second part of the book, there is a time-lapse. We learn that two of the Ramsay children had died earlier. Mrs Ramsay also died suddenly, leaving an unbearable void. The atmosphere is totally different. The third part recounts the events of one day, but ten years later. The family return to the house in the Hebrides with some friends. Mrs Ramsay’s spirit pervades their emotions of nostalgia and James can finally go to the lighthouse which remains steadfast in the unravelling of their lives.

Orlando: A Biography (1928)

One of Woolf’s most original books is Orlando: A Biography written in 1928. The book is about Orlando, who lives across time and sex gender. He lives through different centuries, changing from man to woman. The story focuses on the universal qualities of the human being who, according to Woolf, should be considered for the existential qualities which transcend time and gender. The novel is also an enigmatic way of recounting her relationship with her female friend Vita Sackville-West. Orlando was an instant success selling over 6000 copies.

The Waves (1931)

The Waves, which she wrote in 1931, was also successful, even though it initially encountered tough criticism. This novel was more like prose-poetry, depicting a very sad picture of existence through a life-span of a group of friends and their introspections and mental associations.

The Years 1937
1st edition cover of The Years

The Years (1937)

The last novel which was published in her lifetime was The Years (1937) in which she abandoned total experimentation for a more traditional approach. Between the Acts was published just after her death in 1941, and with this novel Woolf again blended prose with poetry, focusing on the performance of a pageant.

Virginia Woolf also wrote innumerable short stories, essays and letters not to mention her extensive diary, written between 1915 up to the day she died. The diary was published posthumously in 1953 as A Writer’s Diary.

Style and Themes

“How to impose significance on the flux?

In a sense, the whole subject of Virginia Woolf’s novels is this very question: when one thinks in the abstract of a typical Virginia Woolf character one seems to see a tiny figure on tiptoe eagerly grasping a butterfly-net alert to snare the significant, the transcending moment as it flies.”

This description of the works of Virginia Woolf, written by Walter Allen in The English Novel (Pelican, 1975), is a perfect portrayal of the essence of Woolf’s artistic achievement. The characters she created always overcame the general obscurity of the haphazard train of events, perceptions and emotions, by becoming essential pieces of a mosaic, which eventually disclosed the essence and inherent meaning of the whole picture.

Woolf managed to reach that “meaning” not by a traditional development of the novel, which needed a well-constructed plot and a conventional character study, but rather by recording, as she herself wrote in 1919: “the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall” and by tracing “the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness”.

She was, in this respect, utterly against conventional realism, which she called materialism. She was in controversy with Arnold Bennet, who was the writer of Anna of the Five Towns (1902) and of The Old Wive’s Tale (1908). Bennet was closer to the naturalists like Zola, and also to the realism of Balzac and Turgenev.

Two typical characteristics of Virginia Woolf are her use of the stream-of-consciousness technique and the interior monologue. However, she never reached the literary heights of James Joyce, whose works were intellectually more intricate and wrought.

drawing of James Joyce
Adolf Hoffmeister illustration of James Joyce in 1966

Arnold Kettle wrote in The Pelican Guide to English Literature (Pelican, 1973): “Joyce is a far bigger figure than Virginia Woolf – his work bristles with an intellectual and moral toughness which hers lacks”. Woolf’s characters are also not as universal as those of Joyce. They all belong to a specific upper class and basically follow very similar psychological standards. They are, nonetheless, unique and exceptional creations. Through their disconnected and incoherent development Woolf majestically manages to capture the essence of their existence.

Virginia Woolf’s prose style is vibrantly figurative and symbolic. Her symbols, like the sun, the night or the sea, are never banal. They are intelligently manoeuvred and woven within her use of the stream-of-consciousness. The language she uses is powerful in its imagery and in its technical adaptation to the mood by blending different patterns, such as short uneven sentences into longer descriptive ones.

The works of Virginia Woolf and her tumultuous psychological hardships should be considered together as an essential corner-stone of modernist fiction.


3 Magnificent Historical Graffiti You Should Know

By Carla Pietrobattista

3 Magnificent Historical Graffiti You Should Know
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

Who makes graffiti? Street children who vandalise walls or mysterious artists whose works are worth millions? You may be surprised to know these three historical graffiti.

My cultural background and my personal tastes have always made my interests oscillate (also for the purposes of research and study) between figurative and written art. There is a topic that thanks to certain dynamics of realisation and conception, allows me to combine these two main fields of interest in a single analysis: graffiti. In fact, in this “category”, the testimonies on the wall and the writing often merge into a single genre.

In our contemporary cultural and artistic context, there is a dichotomy in the perception that we have about the world of graffiti. On the one hand, we imagine mysterious artists whose works are worth millions, on the other we perceive street children who vandalise walls. There is rarely a middle ground in this perception. I am hardly ever particularly struck by this artistic medium in its contemporary expression, no doubt due to my own limitations.

Graffiti at Vatican Necropolis

Yet the historical and artistic value of some graffiti is immense because it has proved to be fundamental both as an artistic testimony and as a historical documentary source. Thinking about it, graffiti is largely responsible for one of the most important choices of my life: my academic direction at university.

plan of Vatican Necropolis
The Vatican Necropolis is located beneath the Vatican City, 5–12 metres below Saint Peter’s Basilica. Illustration: Mogadir/Wikimedia

In fact, I decided on my course of study during the last year of secondary school when I had the opportunity of listening to the Italian archaeologist and epigraphist, Margherita Guarducci. She had the great merit of discovering the place of the burial of St. Peter in the area below the Vatican basilica. The discovery and identification of the saint’s relics took place in 1968, after many years of fruitless searches that jeopardised the credibility of the primacy of Rome in the Christian world.

Graffiti at Vatican Necropolis
Interior of a Roman tomb a few meters away from the site of St Peter’s tomb. Photo: Blue 439/Wikimedia

The discovery was possible because Guarducci, as an attentive epigraphist, did not limit herself to an archaeological survey, but paid attention to testimonies that had, up to then, been ignored, namely the graffiti on a wall of the Vatican necropolis.

In an area known as wall G, there were many different graffiti with evident references to the figure of Peter, which even featured the letter P, the initial of the apostle’s name. This was created by fusing the key, a symbol that has always been associated with the apostle, to the graphic sign of the letter.

Vatican Necropolis graffiti
Photo: Blue 439/Wikimedia

Apart from the repetition of this initial, the graffiti that most of all had the merit of leading to the archaeological discovery, was the phrase ‘PETR … ENI’ which could be translated both as Peter is here, or as Peter in peace (Petros en irene).

Similar writing is not only present at the tomb of Peter, but is generally found at the burials of various saints. Often graffiti was engraved on the walls of cemetery areas, both to indicate the very presence of the saints buried there, and to testify to the individual faithful who had prayed in that sacred spot. 

Graffiti at Domus Celimontana 

As I progressed in my training, I often encountered and examined the world of graffiti. For example, while researching my degree thesis on the Celimontana house of Saints John and Paul in Rome, I was able to delve into a study of the graffiti preserved inside the Roman house discovered beneath the church.

Graffiti at Domus Celimontana 
Under the basilica of Saints John and Paul

In the Celio house, the walls contain various carvings. Some simply bear the name of the faithful who frequented the house after the fourth century, such as Rufina and Ursa. Others are verbs typically used by the early Christian community, like orate and vivas.

Near the Hall of the Praying Person, also in the Domus del Celio, we find fairly common religious graffiti depicting a boat, which symbolises the soul. Other graffiti can be found along the stairs leading to the cell of the house. These were of great help in identifying the place where the two martyrs, John and Paul, were buried.

Graffiti at Domus Celimontana 
The praying person depicted on the vault appears dressed in a yellow Dalmatic toga. Photo © Carla Pietrobattista.

Along the wall that runs along the stairs of the aforementioned cell (confessio), some faithful of the past had drawn notches side by side to testify to their presence in the place of worship. The signs thus engraved testify not only to a simple presence, but to the repetition of the pilgrimage of the faithful to obtain with greater certainty the grace requested of the venerated saint, or to obtain forgiveness for sins committed.

Next to these graffiti that testify to the historical and anthropological transformation of the period of early Christianity, there are others etched by pagans who looked at and lived this transformation with hostility and distrust.

The Titulus as a safe haven – Case Romane del Celio

Among the many that belong to this context, it is impossible not to name the graffiti known as the ‘Blasphemous Crucifix of the Palatine’ with Christ represented with the body of a man but the head of a donkey, or the lesser-known graffiti found in the taberna of the villa of Domitia Lucilla in Laterano, in which a fishbone with a human head represents a clear and ironic reference to one of the most ancient Christian symbols: the fish.

Graffit at Pompeii and Herculaneum

What we have examined so far highlights graffiti as witnesses of historical passages or moments in time. However, these scratches on the wall are by no means isolated historical sources. They fall within the meaning of “alternative documentary sources” because they amplify the official historical evidence reported by contemporary historians.

On the other hand, graffiti can be raised to primary documents when the less durable ones have been destroyed, as in the case of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The events experienced in these cities, victims of the destructive fury of the eruption of Vesuvius, have been admirably reconstructed thanks to the conservation of many testimonies that tell us about the life of the cities before the eruption. 

Pompeii and Herculaneum
Located in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Herculaneum (Italian: Ercolano) was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD.

We are talking about archaeological testimonies and written accounts, recorded not on paper but right on the walls of the homes that were involved in the eruption. This is because what was the main cause of the demise of these cities, paradoxically, was also the cause of their survival over time.

Thanks to the perfect conservation of the finds encapsulated by the blanket of ash and lapilli, the excavations of the areas adjacent to Vesuvius have given us a faithful glimpse of the life of the centres before the eruption of 79 AD. All the findings that took place in this excavation area allow us to understand the daily habits of the period, many of which are told in the numerous writings on the walls of the city buildings.

Reading these graffiti is really interesting from both an anthropological and historical point of view, because they enrich our perception of daily life within Roman cities without the filter of official stories. 

Among the many secrets that the inhabitants of the past have told us by writing them on the walls of the cities, what has turned out to be fundamental for the purposes of study and research is an inscription that was found in the Regio V of Pompeii.

This inscription reads: “XVI ( ante) K(alendas) Nov(emberes) in (d)ulsit”; in other words: “On October 17 he indulged in food in an immoderate way”.

Graffiti at Pompeii And Herculaneum
Graffiti in Pompeii and Herculaneum Graffiti

This date recorded in the graffiti speaks of the sixteenth day before the Kalends of November, effectively shifting the date of the eruption from 24 August to 24 October 79 AD. Historians, while still expressing themselves with caution, have begun to evaluate this until recently unknown graffiti with particular historical interest.

What has been said so far does not always include the name of the author of the writings or drawings and, when it does, it does not greatly enrich our knowledge of the person who hides behind the graffiti.

Graffiti at Medici Chapels (Michelangelo)

Graffiti at Medici Chapels
© Public domain

Taking a considerable time jump compared to the facts just mentioned, however, we find a series of graffiti that enrich our knowledge of a decidedly well-known character. I refer to those preserved in the area below the Medici Chapels in Florence, more precisely inside a secret room whose access was hidden from the outside, which tells us about an almost unknown aspect of Michelangelo.

Photo of Medici Chapels
The hidden room was about 7 meters by 2 and was discovered in 1975.

In this environment, in 1530, the artist hid for about three months to escape the revenge of the Medici family who were in exile after a popular revolt during which Michelangelo had sided with the rebels. In this narrow space, (we are talking about a small room of seven metres by two), Michelangelo filled his time with art rather than with solitude, creating charcoal drawings reproducing new interpretations of old works and conceiving new ones.

On the walls, we find a head of Laocoon, a reinterpretation of Leda and David, bodies found on the walls of the Sistine Chapel and probably a self-portrait of the artist, who is folded in on himself, certainly challenged by this forced stay.

Graffiti at Medici Chapels
Michelangelo graffiti drawn while in hiding. © Public domain

Not all scholars agree in attributing these drawings to Buonarroti, but the type of stroke, the natural pose and the sensation of movement of the body of the subjects drawn on the walls make me lean towards a Michelangelo’s attribution of graffiti. The need to communicate and express oneself, which is the basis of every “traditional” work of art, is also the basis of graffiti that testify to a life, told through the only means available to their author.

Notwithstanding that I am against the censorship of thought and that I believe that every expression of the self deserves space and attention, I cannot understand some nuances of metropolitan graffiti, though I am perfectly aware of the particular nature of many graffiti of the past.

Pompeii itself has given us strong and colourful attacks, for personal or political reasons, against some people of the city. It has even presented us the rates of brothels, but next to these more immediate and impetuous manifestations of human life, it has also transmitted writings that are real jewels. I refer to phrases created to disclose and celebrate feelings through carefully chosen words as if they were poetry.

My perplexity about some graffiti is not the result of false and sterile respectability. I firmly believe that everyone must be aware that what we express through drawings or graphic signs reveals nothing less than our true and intimate nature. We must therefore choose with deep awareness what we want to convey about ourselves and the means through which to express it, remembering that… ‘Scripta Manent’.

Read this article in Italian.


She’s got a chicken to ride! That’s right — July Quiz

By Katha Wüstnienhaus

GDP is an imposto copy 5
Photo by the UN-aligned design team.

The Gordian Magazine’s July quiz is here. Join us for some serious fun.


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