< SWITCH ME >

We all know that all is fair in love and war. What you may not know, though, is that apparently, many politicians seem to think that all is fair in politics as well. Here are five examples of European politics at its worst - and sometimes, most dangerous.

# 5: Poisoning, because the way to your enemy's heart is through his stomach

Viktor_Yuschenko
Image: GFDL
Viktor Yushchenko, whose face is still scarred from his poisoning

We have all heard the story of the philosopher Socrates who was sentenced to death with a shot of poison. As practised in ancient Athens, when the death penalty was still accepted by most Europan states, poison was often a preferred method of execution.

Recently, Europe has woken up to a reality where poisoning is indeed not only a relic from the past, but is still present in high stakes politics: first, presidential candidate in Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, was allegedly poisoned on the campaign trail in late 2004. The old prime minister appeared disfigured and weak in pictures that were sent across the world, but eventually Yushchenko managed to win the presidential elections.

Merely two years later, the story of Alexander Litvinenko shocked an unsuspecting public. The former Russian spy was hospitalised in London and died of radionucleide polonium-210 poisoning after having left no doubt regarding who he thought had poisoned him, as he describes in his last statement "Why I Believe Putin Wanted Me Dead". The case awakened old diplomatic tensions, and Russia-UK relations (because Litvinenko was granted asylum in the UK back in 2001), are still suffering from the allegations and distrust that followed the Litvinenko murder.

We have to count ourselves lucky that plutonium is so hard to come by, and that cyanide is a means used only in Agatha Christies novels - if it weren't so, the days of dirty trick poisoning could pose a serious threat to political life, even in the 21st century.

 

# 4: Don’t want to abide by the law? Make a new one!

Number four on our list of dirty political tricks is one that is not so overtly dirty, but perhaps that's why it is one of the most preferred solutions to tricky situations. Again, we all know this trick from our history books: when Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus presented evidence that the earth was not the centre of the universe, the power centre that was the Catholic Church decided quite simply that this could not be so, banning the right to express their views. Moreover, the very reason Socrates was sentenced to death was that he was corrupting the young minds of Athens by asking critical questions – he needed silencing.

On the present list of people who have seized the opportunity to pass laws that favour them we have quite a few European celebrities. A number of countries have introduced laws that have protected incumbent office holders from criminal investigation (oh, hello there Berlusconi). Indeed, the current trends of hiding dirty deeds behind the veil of the law seems to follow directly in our ancestors' footsteps. Specifically, today the attack from the power holders is towards restricting existing press freedoms. Russia, Italy and Belarus have long been criticised for repressive attitudes towards reporters, and now others are taking a leaf out of their book. As Hungary took over the EU presidency in January 2011, the country also introduced a media watch panel, given the authority to impose fines of up to €700,000 for content that among others could "violate public morality". Moreover, the panel would have the authority to request and disclose anonymous sources to the media. Needless to say, this is a political trick designed only to drag Hungary and Europe back to the middle ages.

NEXT ISSUE
IN -1105 DAYS