Siddhant Pyasi

Racketeering, Turkey and Greece, and Drew Pavlou

Aug 2, 2020 | Read time: 7 min | 1249 words

Hello, as promised, here’s TDS number 18, in a record time of 17 days. It’s been a year since I started to write this series of newsletters! The first one had come out on 31 July 2019.

In the United States, there exists a weird word used to denote any form of organised criminal activity - racketeering. I don’t know, the word just sounds really funny to me. After a lifetime of hearing the word “racket” in the context of noise - “oh those idiots made a hell of a racket last night”, the very word racketeering brings to my mind an image of a couple of professional noisemakers, doing their best to try and demolish everyone’s eardrums.    

The Republican speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Larry Householder, was indicted on charges of racketeering last week. Now this dude took roughly $60m from a nuclear energy company (FirstEnergy) to shepherd a bill through the House of Representatives that would bail out FirstEnergy to the tune of $1.3 billion. I’m sure that the people at FirstEnergy saw this as a very nice call option - pay $60m, and get a payoff that is a little more than 20x. But I think they didn’t calculate the downside correctly - it is not just $60m, but the additional cost of litigation as well as reputational risk that would come if this scheme were discovered. A lot of times the downside we see isn’t the real downside, there’s always a bit more. The next time you want to bribe someone, keep that in mind.

Turkey and Greece are not happy with each other right now. The facts are these - almost a 100 years ago, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed between Turkey (which had just become a republic) and France, England, Italy, Japan, Greece and Romania. The treaty settled the borders of Turkey, and led to the new Turkish state being recognised by the international order. It also brought stability to that part of the world - Turkey focussed on reconstruction and reformation post World War I, and Greece knew that the Turks would abide by the treaty, so they went back to having siestas and fiestas, only to be surprised by a German invasion in the second world war.

Erdogan does not like this treaty. He doesn’t like the fact that the treaty gave to Greece several islands that Greece uses to claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that is more than what the Greeks are entitled to. Back in 2017, on an official visit to Greece, he surprised his hosts by saying as much.

Take a look at the map below (taken from this article in The Economist). The island of Kastellorizzo, which is barely 800 metres away from Turkey, belongs to Greece. Because the island belongs to Greece, they claim the surrounding waters too for Greece’s EEZ. How much area do the Greeks claim? An area 4,000 times larger than the area of the island. For its part, Turkey says that the calculation of EEZs should happen from the mainland, and not from some random far-flung island. I get Erdogan’s point here - it all seems terribly unfair to Turkey. But I also see the Greek point of view. And the waters here are supposed to contain oil and/or gas. So dollar signs are flashing in front of both Greece and Turkey right now.

El sceno de crimo

Late last month, Erdogan announced his intention to send a Turkish survey ship, the Oruc Reis, into the Greek territorial waters to conduct some surveys.  Turkey has one of the larger navies in the region, so Erdogan definitely had the muscle to back up his threat. 

Having frazzled Greece, and by extension, the European Union (EU) thusly, Erdogan received a phone call from the one and only Angela Merkel. Long story short, he announced that for now, no survey will happen, pending further negotiation. If all goes well, the Greek foreign minister will pay a visit to Turkey sometime in the fall. Stay tuned for more.

Drew Pavlou is a self-righteous, indiscreet, grandiose and disobedient 20-year-old student at the University of Queensland (UQ), Brisbane, one of Australia’s premier universities. Because of all the adjectives used to describe him, you may have guessed by now that he belongs to a class of people commonly known as the “student activist”. Last year, he organised a protest against what was happening in Hong Kong. Counter-protesters (in this case, people favouring China) showed up, and Drew was, uh, treated roughly. Soon after, he got elected to UQ’s senate (which, by the way, is a pretty sweet gig that pays AU$50,000 per year). 

But Drew didn’t want a cushy gig, from the looks of it. He wanted UQ to donate his salary to the cause of Uyghurs being repressed in China, and when the uni disagreed, he called them names, never mind the fact that he could just donate the money to the cause himself. Soon after getting elected, he announced that he will work towards getting the Confucius Institute at UQ shut down (I don’t think he could, though? Student leaders get a lot of publicity, but they rarely have very many substantive powers). Drew also wanted UQ to end its association with a Chinese consul general, who had been given an adjunct professorship by UQ. Are serving diplomats from other countries given professorships at universities? I don’t think so. There’ll be plenty of retired diplomats running around in academia, but never serving ones, that too in countries different from their country of origin.

Earlier this year, at the peak of the COVID scare, our man Drew pulled up at the Confucius Institute at UQ wearing a hazmat suit, holding a board that said the Confucius Institute was a “biohazard”. Soon after, he received notice of an inquiry against him, and a 186 page booklet detailing his crimes was delivered to his doorstep. He was charged with violating university policy, and last I heard, he has been suspended for 2 years.

Put aside the “student activist” facade of Drew for a second, and really listen to the points he’s making. Drew’s unhappiness at the PRC stems from their ever increasing influence on academia in the western world. China funds Confucius Institutes at universities throughout the world, with the stated purpose of increasing awareness about the Chinese language and culture. So in a way, the Confucius Institutes are similar to, say, the Alliance Francaise? Yes and no. Yes in that language classes are offered there. No because the Alliance Francaise institutes operate independently - they don’t tack themselves on to a college campus. It is the presence of the Confucius Institute at college campuses that has caused issues for universities. The universities want the money that the institutes bring in, but with the money comes Chinese interference. What sort of interference? They pressure students, they pressure professors, and pressure some more professors, whenever the students/professors talk about issues that China is sensitive about.

This is a tough problem to have. How does a university administrator keep a campus open to opposing viewpoints, minimise violence, minimise pushback from an aggressive nation many miles away, minimise pushback from the university’s own nation, and keep the university running well, financially, since the aggressive nation from far away sends a lot of students that pay fat fees? 

That’s all for now, more coming up soon. Thank you for taking the time to read it, and please feel free to give me any feedback you have. And of course, take care, and stay safe.

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