European Leaders Stun European Importance

The EU is now officially headed by an aubergine, and a turnip. It’s actually two people, really, and I am sure they are worthy of all praises, but the fact that their notoriety was strictly limited to local phone directories and the immediate family suggests that 27 European leaders can only agree on names nobody will ever be satisfied with (and never mind they look like Gary Larson’s characters too).

The end result will be two-and-a-half years in which hundreds of millions of European will be represented on the world stage literally by Nobody. Could anybody please tell me who is ever going to listen to “Nobody”?

Expect 30 months of European daze.

Congratulations to all those not selected, as it indicates they were candidates of some importance. And please do keep the President of the EU away from the President of the USA, as in terms of charisma they are the respective antiparticle. If they’ll just shake their hands, they’ll annihilate!

British Workers First! Down With Foreign Labour!

I will show my support for the British strikes against the use of foreign labour by leaving the country the day after…getting back all the taxes I have paid in the UK since Nov 1, 1997.

It’s your chance, Gordon, to free up yet another workplace for a native of Albion. And for a relatively minor amount of money too!!!

A Novel Idea for Obama Against Recalcitrant European Politicians

Some worries on The Economist about what the Europeans will make of the upcoming new relationship with President Obama, admittedly a very open question as the interests of the United States very seldom perfectly coincide with anybody else’s.

There is one big difference with Obama though. I think especially in Europe, he enjoys such a vast popularity, all he’ll have to do is show up on TV and make direct appeals to European public opinion.

Local politicians, each one of them no doubt already praying to be the First One To Be Photographed With Barack, will simply declare their concordance with whatever the White House will propose regarding Iraq, Iran, Israel, Russia, NATO, and the choice of hypoallergenic dogs.

Morabito’s Turkish Defence on the LRB

The London Review of Books has kindly allocated some space in the Letters section of the latest issue to my letter on the (mis)treatment of Turkey by Perry Anderson, Professor at UCLA.

One important addendum, as my original text has been energetically and mercilessly shortened: at the end of the letter, when it says

“the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’”

it should actually read as

according to Anderson, the left, the Kurds and the Alevis are precisely the factors impeding Turkey’s ‘accession process’”

For reference, these are my original comments in full: on Turkey and on Cyprus.

and these Anderson’s articles I am referring to in my letter:

(a) On Cyprus
(b) On Kemal
(c) On Turkey after Kemal

Time for No-frills Banking?

Overbloated rewards, periodic bankruptcies, giant inefficiencies, always ready to ask for Governmental handouts…that’s the characteristics shared by national airlines, and an unseemingly large number of banks.

When will anybody take the chance to build a no-frills bank?

Perhaps one or two of the super-rich Sovereign Funds or Oil Magnates will give it a try. They do have the money, after all…and they have just seen lots of it getting burned by professional bankers.

Financial Crisis…Hopefully, Not Charles II’s “Cure”

Fingers crossed…after clueless proclamations by clueless European politicians, we can only hope the current “financial crisis” is not a remake of the notorius case of King Charles II’s being “cured to death”

[On February 2, 1685] Charles [...] suddenly uttered a cry of pain and erupted into thrashing fits (most likely from a stroke that produced a brain seizure). A physician [...] applied “emergency treatment,” that is, he let sixteen ounces of blood from a vein in the king’s left arm [...] Scarburgh drew off an additional eight ounces [...]

Unfortunately for the king, he stirred, and this “auspicious sign” was taken to mean that he would benefit from more fluids being extracted from his body. This Scarburgh did with a “volumous Emetic” that induced retching vomiting [...]

Again His royal majesty stirred, and this time he was given an enema to extract still more ill humors [...] another enema [was] administered [...] force-fed an oral purgative [...] the doctors shaved his head and smeared it with blistering camphor and mustard plasters [...] encouraging frequent urination and the loss of more humors.

The patient, who thus far had felt no pain, spontaneously regained consciousness. The doctors were ecstatic. Their treatment had worked! Surely the king would benefit from more of it. [...]

No need to dwell into more details of the ordeal. Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland finally died after 5 days of “treatment”…

Belarus, Just a Tad Less Hopeless

Surprisingly upbeat news report on BBC Radio4 tonight about the upcoming elections in Belarus (Sunday 28 Sep).

President/Dictator Aleksander Lukashenko is still the dominating force but his Government is at least pretending to be more democratic than last time around. In all likelihood, these overtures will result in an organized opposition, leading to a new round of repression and/or the end of Lukashenko’s Dictatorship.

ps rumor has it that Belarus is just trying to woo the EU, in order to have a little more weight in its relationship with Russia…

Thirty Thousand Attempts to Keep Turkey Out of the EU

I was attracted at first to UCLA History Professor Perry Anderson’s contribution to the London Review of Books (LRB) in the 11 Sep 2008 issue (“After the Ottomans”, also titled “Kemalism”) by four peculiarities.

First of all the topic: the discussions about letting Turkey in the European Union are obviously helping define what the “European Union” actually is (or is not). The history of modern Turkey occupies an important spot in the debate, and Anderson’s article promised to deal with that in great detail.

In fact (and here lies the second oddity about “After the Ottomans”) it was a very long piece, running to a total of more than 14,000 words.

This is not a good or bad thing per se: but the vast majority of LRB articles are much, much shorter, little more than a couple of pages in print and less than 5,000 words (2,700 words for Rosemary Hill‘s “Making Do and Mending”, 25 Sep 2008; 4,700 words for Sheila Fitzpatrick’s “Like a Thunderbolt”, 11 Sep 2008) .

Longer pieces are not common; for example the 15,000 words for John Upton’s “In the Streets of Londonistan”, 22 Jan 2004). Actually, the fact that authors are given a restricted space to express their opinions, does set the LRB apart from, say, the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker.

Third, LRB articles usually sport very peculiar titles (check the examples above): Anderson’s was very uncharacteristically just a pure statement of fact.

Fourth, as it appeared obvious from the start, Anderson was not going to review any particular book: “After the Ottomans” was an essay in political history, with more than a whiff of polemics about everything Turkey.

Imagine then my surprise (or lack thereof) when the very next issue of the LRB hosted yet another Perry Anderson article on Turkey (“After Kemal”, 25 Sep 2008).

Once again the unimaginative title, the lack of any book to review (rather than simply quote and mostly, summarily dispose of), and the huge amount of paper devoted to it: 10 full pages, 16,000 words, of course mostly with very little of positive to say about Turkey.

So we got all of 30,000+ words on the single topic of post-Ottoman Turkish history: perhaps a record for the LRB, perhaps not. But it was all natural that I started wondering what was behind the LRB Editors’ choice to deluge their readers with enough words to fill up around 15 “standard” articles.

Now, I am not going to dwell into the “truth” of what Anderson has written about, from the end of the Ottoman Empire to today (it would be nice if a counter-article were to appear, perhaps on the LRB itself).

Who am I (who is anybody) to be able to reply to Anderson’s finely detailed history of Turkey, without risking getting buried by hundreds of pieces of information that only a lifelong study of a subject can provide?

And still: the two bits I dare considering myself rather familiar with, the conditions leading to the 1980 coup and the preparations and aftermath of the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, I do not remember them as clear-cut as described by Anderson, with the Turks invariably playing the “baddy” roles.

In truth, “After the Ottomans” and “After Kemal” do not read as works of scholarship as much as political-journalistic polemical essays, like a pamphlet of old, with an underlying “discourse” that keeps both articles together and absolutely consistent throughout. Oh, and all scholars that disagree with Anderson, each single one of them, have sold their souls to the Devil, I mean, the Ankara government.

In Anderson’s Turkish history everything is explained and neatly falls in place within the “narrative”. Even what shouldn’t follow that pattern (like the end of Menderes’ rule after being described as economically and politically strong) is classified as “part of a cycle” common to all centre-right Turkish governments: a cycle whose existence and reasons are however not truly explored.

Therein lies my biggest critique of Anderson’s double anti-Turkish whammy. Readers are being offered a partial and partisan representation of history, dressed up as the one and only truth, with no a single doubt expressed to it.

Turkey, they learn, is invariably on the wrong side of history (Turkish leftist politicians aside, apparently), behaving rather badly and with little in common to the rest of Europe, apart from a relentlessly-pursued (by Anderson) list of all that makes successive Kemalist and post-Kemalist governments in Ankara a sort of heirs to the Nazis.

That may be so: but why devote 30,000 words to it right now? Well, Anderson does actually provide an unwitting explanation to that: ironically, by making a very strong case for Turkish EU membership:

The conventional reasons for which it is pressed within the EU are legion: militarily, a bulwark against terrorism; economically, dynamic entrepreneurs and cheap labour; politically, a model for regional neighbours; diplomatically, a bridge between civilisations; ideologically, the coming of a true multiculturalism in Europe. In the past, what might have been set against these considerations would have been fears that such an elongation of the Union, into such remote terrain, must undermine its institutional cohesion, compromising any chance of federal deepening. But that horse has already bolted. To reject Turkish membership on such a basis would be shutting the door well after there was any point in it. The Union is becoming a vast free range for the factors of production, far from an agora of any collective will, and the addition of one more grazing ground, however large or still relatively untended, will not alter its nature.

In Turkey itself, as in Europe, the major forces working for its entry into the Union are the contemporary incarnations of the party of order: the bourse, the mosque, the barracks and the media. The consensus that stretches across businessmen and officers, preachers and politicians, lights of the press and of television, is not quite a unanimity. Here and there, surly voices of reaction can be heard. But the extent of concord is striking. What, if the term has any application, of the party of movement? It offers the one good reason, among so many crass or spurious ones, for welcoming Turkey into the Union. For the Turkish left, politically marginal but culturally central, the EU represents hope of some release from the twin cults and repressions of Kemal and the Koran; for the Turkish poor, of chances of employment and elements of welfare; for Kurds and Alevis, of some rights for minorities

Is it this then: with his essays, is Anderson trying to weigh in to keep Turkey out the EU unless certain conditions are met, exactly because there is an overwhelming list of reasons for Turkey to be accepted right now? It is telling that the listed “hopes” for the Turkish left, the Kurds, the Alevis form for Anderson some of the reasons for impeding Turkey’s “accession process”: thereby killing those very same “hopes”…

One last point: Anderson has been provided a pulpit by a major publication. Is the LRB in the business of torpedo-ing the chances for a European Turkey?

I do think the LRB Editors should come out honestly about it, explaining their own reasons for allocating a large amount of magazine real estate to…a pamphlet. A pamphlet unlike any other LRB article.

Georgia and Russia: Where Are We?

It’s been a month since the first Georgian attack against the civilian population of South Ossetia. Where are we? Here a brief summary, based on various sources (Il Sole 24 Ore, The Economist, International Herald Tribune / The New York Times, Spiked Online, Il Corriere della Sera, Il Riformista, The Globe and Mail):

  1. Russia: weak and insecure. It “needs” to prove itself otherwise, but then fighting soldiers don’t even have a decent pair of boots. With its strong internal problems, and a strong inferiority complex, it is pretty much isolated, constantly just two steps ahead of a crisis. For how long?
  2. Georgia: maybe a democracy, maybe not. Surely, it is not a solid democracy. There is too much desire for a fight. It is like a “Russia of the Caucasus”: same weakness, same inferiority complex, etc. etc.
  3. The EU: it has done well with its cease-fire diplomacy, only to revert to type and to its abundancy of stupid national interests. The whole is less than the sum of the parts indeed, making it vulnerable and dependent, despite its size and wealth.
  4. The USA: its own dependency on oil has reduced the one and only Superpower to a tired, failed has-been. Too many people in the control rooms still play like in the Cold War, and still think of revenge despite having won twenty years ago.
  5. The Rest of the World: orphans of a serious U.S. policy, they move back and forth waiting to see what the consequences will be.
  6. Several commentators: all involved in the game of historical equivalence. Some say it’s 1968 all over again, some point 1956, others to 1938. I say it’s 1919. In any case, I have read quite a few pernicious, interventionist ideas, in a chaos of ideals without purpose.

Back to Basics on Iran and the Bomb

Oceans of ink are being wasted without addressing the most basic issue regarding Iran and its nuclear weapons program. The latest example is Peter D. Zimmerman’s op-ed, “Nearer to the Bomb” (IHT, July 8), where we are treated to 674 words in order to state the most obvious of facts (“the real purpose of Iranian enrichment is to provide fuel for weapons, not reactors“).

However, not a comma is dedicated to the problem of Iran’s own security, regularly and openly threatened with talks of war and mentions of foreign-supported “regime change”.

Have we learned really nothing from years of negotiations going nowhere, of sanctions resulting in nothing, and of incentives regularly failing to persuade successive Iranian Presidents and negotiators? Does anybody seriously think that Iran can afford, at this stage, to remain nuclearly unarmed?

Mr Zimmermann rather tellingly is able to contemplate harsh sanctions but only “modest low-calorie sweeteners“. That is exactly the kind of attitude that has brought the “Iran Bomb” issue where it stands at the moment.

When and where will the EU or the USA find instead the courage to offer full security guarantees to the Islamic Republic, in order to achieve a less nuclear, more secure world?

Kosovo: Good Guys vs. Bad Guys?

Letter to the International Herald Tribune

Dear Editors, dear Ms. Dempsey

Can anybody seriously describe the ongoing Kosovo crisis as a good-guys vs. bad-guys conflict, as attempted in Ms. Dempsey’s “Letter from Europe“, June 11, 2008, published on the IHT as “Deadlock in Kosovo risks Balkan instability“?

The articles is a relentless attack on everything Russia and Serbia have to say about Kosovo, with the EU depicted as the poor victim of a machination intending to deprive Kosovo of true independence, by keeping the UN around.

We are even treated to the classic “It is not for lack of trying by the Europeans or the United States to reach an agreement with Russia over Kosovo“, about the aborted Ahtisaari Plan.

Well, Ms Dempsey is well aware and even describes in the article the situation in Northern Mitrovica: could she please then try to explain on what basis would the Ahtisaari Plan free Albanian Kosovars from Belgrade’s rule, while effectively imprisoning the Mitrovican Serbs under Pristina’s?

Neither the EU nor the USA have shown much interest in upholding the rights of the minority Serbs in Kosovo, all too focused in promoting the rights of the minority Albanians in Serbia. This is no recipe for a lasting and peaceful settlement, with or without Russia: and in fact to this day there is no lasting peaceful settlement in sight.

It is also too easy for Ms Dempsey to push aside the legality question. It is not just a matter of Vladimir Putin “claiming that Kosovo’s independence had no international legal basis“. In fact, like Ms Dempsey, also the EU, the USA and legions of international legal experts still have not found any legal basis for Kosovo’s independence.

The best they could come up with, it’s a “sui generis” clause, hoping that all problems will evaporate if everybody agrees that Kosovo’s is a case unique in history, never to be repeated again.

That’s no legal explanation for bypassing the United Nations in order to create a new State in Europe.

Does anybody believe the situation is better today than before “independence” came to Kosovo, with the EU’s “undermined security ambitions” also thanks to its deep divisions on the topic, as correctly pointed out by Ms. Dempsey?

Are we any better down the path of Balkan stability, a “region where the slightest misunderstanding or provocation can lead to violence“? I for one am not sure about that. But if we want to be serious at dealing with this problem, that’s not just a question for Russia to answer.

regards
maurizio morabito

The Moral Equivalence of Hamas and Israel (and us)

Another day, another series of reports on tens of dead, dying and injured people in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

I’ll leave the sorting out of who’s to blame to anybody wishing to waste their time.

Sure, there are more victims on the Palestinian side than on the Israeli, indicating an overwhelmingly disproportionate response as if the value of human life really depended on nationality (a consideration unfathomably shared by the Palestinian leadership too: prisoners exchange usually involve a handful of Israelis to tens of Palestinians).

On the other hand what purpose can it be in the launching of aimless rockets by Hamas, randomly towards civilians? Apart, that is, from killing if not terrorizing them on purpose, because they are civilians: as if that has ever won anybody’s war.

The height of mutual stupidity is that people in charge on the two sides are determined to brutalize each other. At the same time, retaliation after retaliation, they have kind of abdicated all hopes of recovering their own humanity…to the sudden appearance of virtuous behavior in the other camp.

It’s fairly obvious that whatever the causes of their madness, they are all directly responsible for untold miseries that will befall on their own children.

=========

What should be done to bring peace to Israeli and Palestinians alike? It’s more than obvious, it’s actually boring. Stop wishing the others could go away. Realize the land is for the two of them, and for the rest of humanity as well. Decouple Israel from the messianic undertones, by getting it into the European Union.

But that doesn’t look like in anybody’s interest. The main hope is that the situation has worsened since the quasi-agreement with President Clinton in 2000, because when everybody knows peace is tantalizingly near, everybody rushes to settle the last scores.

=========

But that’s still too easy an analysis.  

Who else is brutalizing civilians in the futile attempt of getting a military and thus a political advantage in a never-ending war, worsened exactly because and by that brutalization?

It’s us from NATO.

The civilian victims are in Afghanistan, nowadays, and likely but less evidently in Iraq.

And it’s no novelty. Leaving aside the famously useless killings of tens of thousands in Dresden during World War II, just fifty years ago the French Government tried almost casually to defend the bloody bombing of a Tunisian border village, in the Algerian war.

Despite our illusions, things have not changed since. We are still eliminating fellow human beings without much of a thought. Here’s NATO proudly using American and European taxpayers’ money to kill road building workers. Never, or almost never, big news in our media.

=========

It is high time we leave aside idle discussions about other peoples’ business to mind about our own idiocy.

Serbia: Trapped in the past…by the EU!

I find the IHT’s Feb 25 Editorial on Serbia and Kosovo rather disingenuous (“Trapped in the past“, IHT, Feb 25).

They state that “Every effort has been made by NATO, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to accommodate Serbian fears and sensitivities” but then undermine that very claim by decrying Serbia’s lack of “any willingness to negotiate the province’s independence” (as if this were a fait-accompli from the very beginning: so much for “accommodation“…).

They also accuse Belgrade of having “never demonstrated any remorse for the carnage unleashed by the former dictator Slobodan Milosevic“: thereby forgetting how young the Serbian democracy is, and its obvious innocence with respect to the crimes of a past dictatorship.

Serbia and the Serb may have a lot of soul-searching to do having lost pretty much everything and some in their misguided attempts to restore national pride by way of armed conflicts. But nothing, almost nothing has been done by the EU in primis, and by the USA, to help them out of that trap.

Actually, it is apparent that Kosovo has been recognized by some States, and not by others, only as part of a wider USA/Russia geopolitical game. What trust should Serbia put in such a process, is anybody’s guess.

If that can be the basis against “triggering wider conflict“, it’s very much doubtful.

Go Serbia!!!

Let’s hope the news don’t change through the night.

This is just a step towards uniting Europe (the really big push forward can only come from the EU itself: sadly, the Netherlands of Srebrenica memory are among those refusing to play fair, at the moment, together with Belgium and its inability to do much about the Rwanda genocide).

Still, a Tadic victory goes (would go) in the right direction.

Lessons to the World from Union of Otherwise Inconsequential Nations

I wrote a few months ago: “As a sort of grass-root United Nations, the EU could then become the first gift to Humanity by a more peaceful, re-born Europe“.

And there it is: “Emulating the EU, countries join forces to speak with power and focus” (Stephen Castle, IHT, January 22, 2008):

“Europe’s attempt to weld 27 disparate nations into one bloc is being imitated around the globe, from Asia to Africa, as countries experiment with new ways to maximize influence.

[...] the European experiment with integration is being copied most successfully by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, [aiming for] a single market by 2015.

The African Union, conceived in 1999, while bigger and more unwieldy with 53 members, also borrows from EU structures, including its most influential bureaucracy, modeled on the European Commission and known as the AU Commission. The Latin American dream is to have something like the EU. [...]“

There are some comments in the article along the lines of having a more centralized EU structure to achieve the goal of continental thinking.

I do not see that as a must: what is important, is for all the EU (and AU, and ASEAN) members to realize each of them is too small to be of any consequence compared to the Powers called USA, Russia, China, India, maybe even Japan.

Co-operative behavior will then be a natural consequence of that realization, without any need for cohercion.

I still believe that is the main reason why the British are reluctant to fully enter the EU: because that will mean them accepting that the days of the Empire are really a thing of the past.

Britain, the European Union’s Half-Virgin

And so we see again another big debate in Britain about Europe, about the European Union, about the need to be part of it and the will to stay away from it. Some people will argue for a referendum limited to the EU Constitution-in-all-but-name, others will declare their intention to ask the populace if they want to stay in the EU at all. The smarter people in the two main political parties will try to postpone any decision, avoiding the risk of internal rifts, in the hope that the Irish will kill off the Constitution with their own referendum.

I have even heard former PM candidate William “The Vague” Hague dodge the question on what he wanted the country actually to do right now: one wonders what the “let’s stay in Europe but without the Constitution” people will say were the UK left to be the last one to ratify the so-called Lisbon Treaty (like, they had the courage to kill it anyway…).

With more than 10 years of UK residency behind me, this circus is becoming very boring. Somehow the UK wants to mantain a nominal independence AND lead or least stir Europe in the directions most convenient to itself. The practical result is that neither goal is ever achieved, and the best Downing Street can do is come back from Brussels with opt-out clauses, while the big scheme of things is dreamed up, directed and implemented from somewhere else.

I just wish there were a single, comprehensive referendum asking the British people the question: do you want a. to get completely out(1) of Europe or b. to engage within it fully (with the Euro and the “whole hog”)?

Then we could move to a different subject. And if the answer were b., we could finally see the UK at the forefront of the Continent, instead of occupying the position of Chief Sulker.

(1) Of course that’s an euphemism. With all the trade links between the UK and Europe, a wholly-disengaged Britain would turn into some kind of overtly rich Norway. Nominally “internal” legislation would then show up as faxes from Brussels with the latest EU directives, about which not a vote could be cast at all.

What Did They Kill One Another For?

The Croatian Parliament on Saturday backed the new government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader [...]. Serb official Slobodan Uzelac [of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS)] was designated a deputy premier.”

During the wars that dissolved Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, more than 140,000 people died, and more than a million were displaced. And the Croatian War of Independence, fought mainly between Croatian and Serb ethnic nationals living in the present territory of Croatia, was “striking for its brutality and intensity“.

On Nuclear Hypocrisy

Letter published on the International Herald Tribune, Dec 14, 2007

Regarding “Get Tehran inside the tent” by Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh (Views, Dec. 7): The one underlying issue that the writers do not mention, and that does not appear in the article by Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin (“In Tehran we trust?” Views, Dec. 7), is that Iran is alone in a sea of hostile neighbors.

Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb is as logical as Israel’s or Pakistan’s. For the current Iranian regime, and perhaps even for a hypothetical Iranian democracy, it would be extremely foolish to leave the fortunes of the state to the whims of the United States, Europe, Russia, or the Sunni Arab states, especially with troubled neighbors like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is obvious that the West needs a new policy for Iran. Perhaps once – just once – the powers that be will pay attention to the basic needs of Iran, starting by ruling out an invasion.

Isn’t it telling that Nasr and Takeyh repeat the old fairy tale that during the Cold War “confronting Communism meant promoting capitalism and democracy,” forgetting to mention an egregiously contrary example? In a most tragic decision 54 years ago, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh was toppled and an autocratic monarch reintroduced, all in the name of fighting world Communism.

Maurizio Morabito, England

The Economist: Does Charlemagne Speak Any French?

Perhaps it would be better for commentators in European matters to travel and live a bit more around Europe

Letter to The Economist:

Dear Editors

The author of the “Charlemagne” column makes quite a fuss about the alleged ability in EU documents for fish to “fish themselves” (“A fishy tale“, Dec 13).

The incipit and a lot of the sarcasm in the article are about “a daring, if grammatically correct, use of reflexive verbs, so that a ministerial statement blamed undersized hake that se pêchaient et se vendaient, suggesting the fish had fished and sold themselves.”

The actual ploy though appears to be based on “Charlemagne“‘s own challenged relationship with the French language.

Far from being “daring“, “passive impersonal” (or “passive reflexive”) is a very common construct in French and in other languages, with the reflexive pronoun “se” used to avoid the seldom-liked standard passive voice.

No French speaker, and nobody but a person with plenty of negative prejudices against the European Union, would have imagined that anybody had ever suggested that “the fish had fished and sold themselves“.

If you have something to criticise about the EU (and there is plenty of material in that respect!) could you please at least make an effort not to concoct baseless innuendos.

Burma, Myanmar, India and us

Are we going to let India lead us by our noses once again?

In these hours not that dissimilar from that night on 3 June 1989, hours before the Tian-an-men massacre in Beijing, it may be difficult to think of how to realistically support the demonstrations in Burma, apart from sending more and more appeals for calm to a Military Junta probably second to none in matters of bloody-thirsty repressions and the political and economic strangling of a country.

Still, it is possible to perform three not-just-symbolic gestures:

(1) Categorically refuse the use of “Myanmar” in place of “Burma”.

Even if “quasi-etymologically correct”, “Myanmar” is the invention of the Military Junta, forced upon the country in 1989 with no democratic process at all. If the Burmese will want to change the official “foreign” name of their country to “Myanmar”, they will be able to do so after getting their country back from the usurpers.

More: a couple of years ago the Foreign Minister of Burma protested for the use of “Burma” by the US State Department: all more the reason not to use “Myanmar”.

(2) Let’s publish the names of the dictators.

For way too long the Military Junta of Burma has been treated as a shapeless entity, not as a group of ferocious dictators (humanity-free to the point of denying Aung San Suu Kyi the chance to meet her dying husband for one last time).

Here then some of the persons who should be answering charges in a court of law, instead of commanding Burma against the will of its people:

General Than Shwe – President
General Soe Win – Prime Minister
General Major Nyan Win – Foreign Minister

If we force as much publicity as possible on the names (and pictures) of those in charge of Burma, they won’t be able to hide themselves with the anonymity they have so far much cultivated.

(3) And finally, we should not let India lead us by the nose once again.

Not only many European Governments have underplayed the scandal of the Dhruv helicopters, built also using European supplies and then supplied to the Burmese Junta against every EU embargo rule. It’s worse than that: while outside the Burmese monks were demonstrating, Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was busy signing a US$150-million agreement for natural gas research in Burma: a clear sign of support of the Junta on the part of a “democratic” Government.

This behaviour is part of New Dehli’s strategic myopia, with India so scared by rebellions in the Northeast to the point of propping up the Burmese Military Junta to get their help in preventing an escalation of those conflicts. And it is based on the apparent impunity when a State goes against rules established by other democratic countries.

If that way of thinking would be intolerable when done by communist China, all the more so for India.

Foreign and International Trade Ministers from all the EU countries (and elsewhere) have a clear duty tonight to apply all possible pressures: including a protest against the present Indian acquiescence, and possible future complicity with the Burmese Junta, before things turn to the worse.

(link to the AVAAZ petition “Stand with the Burmese Protesters”)

Turkey Bashers Should Be More Honest About It

People ideologically bent on keeping Turkey outside of the EU should be more honest about it, instead of trying to come up with yet more excuses.

President Sarkozy of France is maneuvering to prevent further openings of talks between the EU and the Ankara government, taking advantage of the impasse over Cyprus and still toying with the silly idea of a Mediterranean Union of poor States with the main aim of keeping them out of the EU.

Reader H.R. Clausen applaudes the stance on the International Herald Tribune (Letters, June 28) and goes as far as accusing Turkey of “badly lacking implementation of the Copenhagen criteria“.

But Sarkozy (and Clausen) can’t have it both ways. If Turkey were not complying with the EU minimal requirements, there would be plenty of rules already in place to halt its entry into the Union.

And therefore there would be no need to stop negotiations. Simply, these would report the current non-compliance.

If some are trying so hard to even prevent negotiations, it may actually be out of their own fear that Turkey is not really so far off in fulfilling the EU entry criteria.

90 Years After Killing Itself, Europe at the Crossroads

The umpteenth EU summit is taking place in Brussels from tonight.

The issue at stake is far heavier than in past meetings of Heads of State and Government. With the expansion to include countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, the EU has to find a way to work despite its components living in different histories.

Call it “Constitution”, call it “Treaty”, call it “Donald Duck” but a new set of rules is needed for a future of prospects rather than implosion.

As I wrote yesterday, the best way to keep one’s life truly alive is to deal with the diverse times that cohabit in one’s soul: just as well for the European Union. Its old, Western core is several decades in front of the new Eastern members in matters of handling national interest in a multi-state Union.

It is not that the Poles or the Czechs are slow-witted: it is that by wrapping their national evolutions in ice under the Soviet domination, it is all too natural to them for history-heavy questions such as strategic defence and World War II considerations to be on the table right now.

Unfortunately, those are exactly the questions that cannot interest their Western counterparts. Because to them, history is at best a nuisance.

———

Europe and European culture committed suicide around 1917 and perhaps didn’t stop stabbing itself for another 30 years. All the Empires that boldly entered World War I in 1914 were irreparably damaged by three years of war, and in all the participating countries only the most rabid types were not appalled by the pointless carnage.

To compound the situation, millions had joined the fight inspired by enthusiastic nationalism, almost invariably spiced up by religious references. Ominously, they had done it in Britain, in France, in Germany, in Russia, in Italy, everywhere following similar patterns.

They literally marched on to kill one another, seemingly unaware of their extraordinary similarities. And obviously in hindsight, their war could not end, as they were able to perfectly match and outwit one another.

That’s why it was a mass suicide, of bodies and of culture. The U.S. officially joined the war on April 2, 1917. Their mere presence was enough to finally put it to a stop. Old Europe heard its bell tolling.

———

Fast-forward to 1947. Hell-bent on destroying themselves, Europeans had managed to complete the Great War with the even bigger World War II. A great chunk of them were taken out of history by falling into the hands of that failed experiment called Soviet Communism.

Another large chunk, to the West, decided to forego history altogether, laying its soul finally to rest. No more violent nationalism, no desire to stomp on one another, no talk of reparation of this or that historical tort, and since they were at it, steam ahead with a Union of nation states, but down with religion and all mores of old (from “Father knows best” to “A woman’s place is in the kitchen“). Some call it “modernity“.

Sixty years later, the process is almost complete. There is no aspect of contemporary (Western) European life that has not been affected by modernity. The artistic renovation s of the 1920’s have fathered an incredible variety of movements. Religion is on the wane, especially organized religion, and it has become perfectly normal to practice homosexuality and to raise single-parent children, things considered quite deviant as recently as 30 years ago.

Frankly, it is more than absurd to imagine the great-grandchildren of those knowingly sent to die at the Somme or Caporetto, accept any Government initiative without much skepticism.

————–

That’s not the experience elsewhere on the Continent and beyond. For example it is almost impossible to deny the impetus given to liberation of Western European women by the request to work during both wars in stead of their war front-bound men. That’s not exactly what has happened in Communist countries (where the desire to free men and women alike somehow became synonimous of morphing citizens into State servants).

And that’s not what has happened in the Middle East either. Who knows, without World War I there would still be little or no voting rights for female citizens of…liberal democracies! (The U.S.A., of course, is a whole different topic).

————-

And so the new bunch of countries cannot simply join the European Union without a lot of kicking and screaming: Poland especially, a former Empire in itself from the Baltic to the Black Sea, then put together, dismembered and forcibly moved westward by its neighbours.

Will the Brussels meeting be any fruitful? Usually, if a summit like that fails, it is simply forgotten. But let’s hope it does succeed, so it will leave a mark in history.

Imagine if Germany could finally accept Poland’s requests, recognizing each other’s completely different historical paths, and convince it to actually become a leader in the Union: putting to rest at least 13 centuries of enmity.

———–

If the EU will be able to rationally accommodate so many countries with such a variety of experience, cares and worries, then it will be ready to expand even further: Turkey, the Ukraine, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia…and why not?

As a sort of grass-root United Nations, the EU could then become the first gift to Humanity by a more peaceful, re-born Europe. 

Kosovo, Another EU Failure

The European Union is chugging along with its Ahtisaari Plan for the future of Kosovo, the quasi-independent province still nominally and legally part of Serbia albeit occupied by NATO and a UN protectorate since the end of the 1999 war.

In truth, that Plan seems more the result of a vision-free EU that is trying its might to get out of a region that has seen the Union’s reputation hit rock bottom several times for the past 15 years or so.

Of course, ultimately any failure and the blame for any violence lie with the Kosovo residents. It’s their lives that they themselves seem so apt to make more miserable than should be.

But the sudden push for making Kosovo independent does not look like the wisest of choices for the EU.

They are now claiming that they want to prevent development of local dependency on foreign aid, but foreign aid will surely continue flowing to Kosovo for the foreseeable future.

Also, the Ahtisaari Plan is highly-detailed: yet more evidence that there is no comprehensive vision for both communities. Expect further hardships for the Serbs.

What are the alternatives? For example, simple allow Serbian areas of Kosovo to rejoin Serbia, rather than remain a small minority in a brand-new State that Serbian will never be.

And what is this idea of attaching peoples one to the other with superglue even when they blatantly do not want to live together?

The EU itself is made up of nation-states that were established and are still run on the idea that people of the same nation (traditions, culture, but at the end of the day a matter of shared heritage with dubious genetic aspects) must be allowed to govern themselves free from the influence of other nations.

The Kosovo plan makes no sense in this respect. Why force them something we have no intention to do ourselves?

The Elephant In Europe’s Integration Room

HDS Greenway leaves as an exercise to the reader to complete his reasoning on European attitudes on integration (“Europe’s integration problems“, IHT, May 4).

What would it mean if Europeans accepted “that theirs is a society of immigrants the way America has always been“?

Under those most unlikely of circumstances, Europeans would publicly recognize that no nation comes from a single heritage, and immigrants have been positively adding to the new home nation’s culture for centuries.

It is high time indeed that European societies abandon their superiority complex to allow those to contribute culturally and socially as well as economically.t

Alas, nothing of the sort is currently allowed by the snobbish ways of France’s total assimilation or the UK’s diversity-conservation. And so there is no such a thing as a Moroccan-French or Indian-Briton to compare to Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans.

Even President Sarkozy of France is and cannot be no Hungarian-French…he is, and he has to be, just French. Anything else, and he would be rejected.

Long Live the European Dream

It is encouraging to see that there are still politicians courageous enough to stand out of the crowd, as Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt does when speaking the simple, yet inexplicably unorthodox truth that the European Union’s very lifeline resides in its outward expansion (“Open wide Europe’s doors”, November 7)

Inspired by a historic opportunity of peace, (or more likely,  unwittingly), EU leaders have been creating for the past 40+ years a community of states perhaps like no other: something like a mixture between a Honors Club, accessible only after passing tough exams on civil rights, infrastructure and the fight against corruption; and a peaceful Roman Empire, forever beaconing the people outside its borders to join in the benefits of free movement for people and goods

And just like the Roman Empire, the European Union will start to die the day it decides it has expanded enough, and cannot go any further

Only the lack of visionary politicians such as Mr Bildt could prevent the EU as an Association of States to move beyond the arbitrary definition of what Continental Europe is, and embrace all Asian and African nations capable to “pass the grades” (apart, perhaps, from the already-giant states like Russia, China, the USA)

May that be our future, I really hope: and not the whining, embrittled EU of those too afraid to continue the European Dream

Napoleon Was (not) Here

What if a member country’s relationship with the European Union depended on the achievements of the most famous Corsican in History?

Take…the United Kingdom (please! I mean, as an example)

What about the UK? Don’t we all know that the Emperor of France was unable to cross the Channel? Those 25 miles of sea had seen the advance of Julius Cesar, Claudius Augustus and William the Conqueror, but were impenetrable to the Victor of Austerlitz, either by sea (with his fleet destroyed at Trafalgar by Admiral Nelson), or by a risky tunnel from the Calais area.

But that is the point: having endured no French invasion, the English (and Welshmen, and Scots) did not experience some important changes, “details” that are now native to cultures and societies of the European Countries, that around the year 1800 were under the hegemony of Paris

From this point of view, many of the clashes and misunderstandings between the British nations and the rest of Europe are consequences… of the Fall of the Bastille (a reminder to Chinese President Mao’s 1950s answer about the impact of the French Revolution of 1789: “Too early to tell” )

Some differences between Great Britain and the Continent are self-evident: for example, Napoleon deliberated for cemeteries to be transferred outside cities, whilst most London Churches sport quite more recent tombstones nearby

But the real break with past after the violent end of King Louis XVI of France, was something more meaningful than simple administrative decisions concerning public hygiene

In fact, the French (people and elites) moved on to export the Principles of the Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Those were extraordinarily new concepts and revolutionary indeed for an Europe rigidly divided then (as now) in sovereign States keen to defend their own (ruling classes’) interests

Amid all the chaos of war, French armies propagated those Principles in the popular consciences in Germany, Spain, Italy and beyond. The administrations that followed had the stated goal of freeing their “brothers”, that is all nearby nations, reorganizing them around the idea that all the Citizens have the same rights, and are equal in front of the Law

The very notion of a European Union proceeds from the idea of a Militant Fraternity between Peoples (curiously, an attitude currently disliked as “American”). More: in its fit of destruction against the Ancien Regime France allowed a person like Napoleon Bonaparte, born far away from the old Bourbon elites, to become first a General, then a Head of State, and finally an Emperor

Of Italian origins, with little links to the Upper Strata of society, and without a large inheritance to sustain himself, Napoleon came from Corsica, a restive island itself far away from the command centres of the Kingdom and then the Republic

The conquering French Emperor and his armies, powerful and invincible masters and liberators of Europe (apart from the British islands and little more), showed thus to all the people of the continent that lineage, commercial interests, money were not needed (not even a good accent) to soar to power

In the United Kingdom instead, there is no historical trace of a popular revolution capable to change the nation and subvert the Establishment, nor of a non-Establishment person (no matter how exceptional), to take control of the State

Popular uprisings, of course, did happen in centuries past, but they all failed. The most serious, in 1381, saw thousands of peasants march only to see a young king renege on his promises (and execute their ringmasters)

The one Revolution that succeeded brought to power nobleman Oliver Cromwell in 1646: but he refused to let himself proclaimed Head of State (in stark contrast, Napoleon crowned himself in Paris in front of a reluctant Pope)

Europhile Ireland, also untouched by Napoleon, managed instead a popular revolution to free itself from United Kingdom at the beginning of XX the century, reinforcing the feeling that British ambivalence towards the European Union is linked to a its (un-) revolutionary history

The consequences are not difficult to imagine. The British population has become allergic to any thought of an uprising, and has maintained a strong sense of Authority. In what other modern state could one find the citizens officially defined as “subjects” of the Queen?

And with all the wars and revolutions of the XIX and XX century, where else is power firmly in the hands of the (old) ruling classes, the so-called “The Great and the Good”, a mixture of nobility and hereditary merchant classes uninterruptedly in control, at least from the age of Wilhelm of Orange (King since 1688 having been “invited over” by a group of English parliamentarians)?

Obviously not all the UK political leaders of last three centuries were of high lineage or coming from powerful, rich families: but all of them effectively belonged to, or became part of the Establishment. Margaret Thatcher, potentially an outsider woman in a world of men, worked instead to re-establish the most cliched idea of what the British society ought to be (centred, not by chance, around her person as a sort of Queen-in-all-but-name)

The British tradition of Authority is continuously renewed also in the apparently more democratic aspects. For example, governmental planning, a process theoretically opened to the opinions of all citizens, is so mysterious and forcefully dedicated to reach a consensus, that is almost impossible for plans not to be watered down, let alone be able to change the status quo

The British citizen is educated never to complain in an effective manner. The tradition of the “stiff upper lip” is waning but not disappearing: think of a person that does not reveal feelings nor emotions, and whose mouth never betrays joy nor anxiety: whose passions, and whose angers therefore, remain hidden, to leave Society undisturbed. People may complain about the quality of the trains, but they will do nothing more, stoically enduring antiquated pre-modern services reminding of 1980’s continental Europe.

True, the National Health System (NHS) is now at the forefront of contemporary provision: at the wrong forefront, one might say, as it is showing the rest of Europe that nurses can cheaply (but how effectively?) “diagnose” illnesses simply by following rigid criteria based on the patient’s own reporting of symptoms, rather than with a careful analysis and an experienced doctor

The dutiful “customers” accept the situation as a necessity, unaware of the fact that today’s awful service will become tomorrow’s standard. Healthcare managers of course are very happy with the savings, and further encouraged to find out how to spend less, without consideration to the actual health benefits to the patients

Particularly rigid and unmovable, cold and impersonal, the British bureaucracy is clearly geared to satisfy superiors rather than citizens. The year 2006 opened with the case of an old couple separated by social workers: he, a veteran of the Second World war; she, blind. The husband’s GP ordered him to enter a clinic specialised in the treatment of the elderly. Alas, the wife could not follow, as her situation did not fulfil obscure criteria established by the local Council

Last I checked on this piece of news, paradoxes were piling up, all related to an excessive importance given to the “Authority”. The husband is unwillingly parked in the clinic, but does not return home as he is following doctor’s orders. The wife is home just as lonely with the family taking care of her now. Some letter-based protest had been lodged by their children, but they did not move their father back nor considered using a private healthcare provider

The social workers, instead of improving the citizens lives, became responsible of a serious and self-evident injustice that ruined the life of two old innocents. Why couldn’t they do differently? Because there is no alternative

Any “personal interpretation” of the rules (the shock! The horror!) would be considered an act of insubordination and the career of the “guilty” probably finished to the moment. And of course there is no official channel where to ask exceptions to the regulations in exceptional circumstances.

In a centre-driven, hard, harsh, pyramidal and frozen structure, even the social worker, as any other representative of the State or any organization, is just a messenger

There is also a European aspect that is directly affected by this attitude. The EU is famous for its “directives”: technically, “a legislative act of the European Union which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result

Peculiarly, those directives do not have the same consequences in the UK as elsewhere. For example recently hundreds of local British abattoirs have been closed due to some EU directive, whilst nothing of the sort has happened in the rest of the European Union.

Some fundamental cultural misunderstanding must be at work: so whereas most countries consider a “directive” as a “strong suggestion”, a rule indicating the direction of things to come, in the UK it is interpreted as a mandatory law that must be followed to the letter: exactly the difference between guidelines expressed by popular representatives, and the imperative commands of a King/Ruling Prime Minister.

Even in 1968, to the rioters in France, Italy and Germany the English youth answered with pointless rebellions as seen in movies like Quadrophenia. And today, instead of blocking crowded trains like in Turin or Milan, London commuters find refuge in witticisms about the state of the railroads

It’s not by chance that British humour is famous worldwide, well developed (and widely tolerated). It’s one of the three main discharge valves for life-stressed citizens. Another valve is the creation and destruction of myths (like Tony Blair). And the third is the ambiguous celebration of alcohol and alcoholism, but these topics deserve their own articles.

And so consider Bonaparte’s disasters at Trafalgar and Waterloo, when trying to understand British idiosyncrasies about “Europe”. For now let’s just heave a sigh whilst lamenting: Napoleon, why didn’t you come here?

Help the EU save some money…

…for once!

The European Parliament should be located in Brussels

It costs European taxpayers approximately 200 million euros a year to move the Parliament between Brussels/Belgium and Strasbourg/France. As a citizen of the European Union, I want the European Parliament to be located only in Brussels.

MEP's from different parties are behind the initiative

Please sign the on-line petition. It surely won't hurt. As of this moment there are already 60,000 signatories

And if we "need" the Strasbourg building because we "have to", let the French Government pay the whole bill

Petition to the EU Parliament – unfair, double-taxation of UK working families

Dear Committee on PetitionsI am an Italian citizen, in England since 1997, writing to you now to highlight the unfair treatment of working families, by the United Kingdom's tax system.

Since both I and my wife work (employees) for most of the week, to fulfill our natural aspiration to provide our son with the best possible conditions we decided early on to have him taken care of by a nanny, during day time.

We have strived to follow all rules and regulations. That means I am effectively the employer of my son's nanny, and I pay all her tax and national insurance contributions.

The unfairness of the system is in the fact that the money my nanny is paid with, comes out of my salary as full-time employee, in other words the nanny's _gross_ salary is money that has already been taxed .

Indeed, despite me being an employer, I do not have any right to detract the nanny's gross salary from my total income for tax purposes.

As the situation stands, that money is effectively taxed twice, as the nanny then has to pay income tax of her own.

This is a blatant case of the UK's Inland Revenue taking advantage of my situation as full-time employee to tax my income two times.

I repeat: I do not have any trouble in paying all contributions ought to the nanny, her national insurance, etc.

The system should be re-assessed, with for example a simple mechanism introduced, with the nanny's employer getting taxed on his/her gross salary MINUS the nanny's gross salary, and not regardless of it.

Unfortunately this is far beyond the means of the "little guy", if only because a legal fight with the mighty Inland Revenue would be long and costly.

But the fact that I don't want to risk the financial ruin of my family to fight this particular injustice, does not detract from the fact that thousands of UK families are taken advantage of by the current system.

Is there any way you can help redress the situation? Please do let me know