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WORLD CUP: POLITICS ON THE PITCH

WORLD CUP: POLITICS ON THE PITCH

Last week, we looked at a few ways in which the World Cup reflected broader themes in global politics. During an intensive review of the action this week, Alex Kliment, Signal’s unofficial tournament correspondent, spotted two new examples of politics on the pitch:


Balkan Bad Blood

Switzerland’s stirring last minute victory over Serbia last week dripped with Balkan political intrigue. Three of the Swiss team’s biggest stars have roots in Kosovo, the ethnically-Albanian province that won independence from Serbia after a brutal war in the 1990s. Serb nationalists consider Kosovo to be historically part of their country, so when two ethnic-Albanian Swiss players celebrated their goals by flashing a nationalist hand signal (pictured above) that mimics the distinctive Albanian double-headed eagle, things got hot fast.

FIFA rules prohibit on-field political displays. After an investigation, the players escaped with a fine, but the politics didn’t stop there. After the game, Serbia’s coach said the German referee — who failed to award a penalty after an egregious foul against Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic — should be sent “to the Hague” to be tried “like they did to us.” The Hague, of course, is home to the international tribunal that prosecuted dozens of people for crimes committed during the Yugoslav civil wars, many of them ethnic Serbs.

The Bavarians Again

Meanwhile, in an eerie reflection of the broader uncertainty that plagues Germany’s coalition government, the German national squad also reportedly suffers from a rift between a faction of “Bavarians” (in this case Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, and Manuel Neuer who all play for Bayern Munich) and the so-called “bling bling gang” which includes Mesut Özil, Jerome Boateng, and Sami Khedira. Supposedly, there is a long running disagreement between the blingers, who are all of immigrant origins, and the Bavarians about whether it was right to leave Leroy Sane, a German footballer of Senegalese ancestry, off the squad. The alleged friction comes as the conservative Bavarian CSU is split with Chancellor Merkel over letting in non-ethnic Germans into the country.

Finally, yes, German midfielder Toni Kroos’s game-winning strike in the final seconds of extra time against the Swedes was one of the most beautiful goalsyou’ll ever see (go on, watch it again, you know you want to). But it may have been a political, and not just a sporting, accomplishment: by sparing Germany the national humiliation of crashing out of the tournament in the first round, Kroos might just have offered a little relief to the embattled Merkel. The squad’s post-match rapport certainly left the team’s fans in a more cheerful mood.

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When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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