Archive | May, 2007

>Young ‘n’ Green? Or grey and black? Czech Civic Democrats look ahead


An interesting article on the direction of the Czech Civic Democrats in the usually dull-as-ditchwater Czech right-wing magazine/webzine CEVRO by Jan Morava, who despite his name, is a young ODS deputy from Central Bohemia. After a fairly dire opening heaping praise on ODS leader and current Czech PM, Miroslav Topolánek, for his supposedly visionary leadership of the party since 2002 – actually a rather patchy and lucky record, in my view but Topolánek admittedly has a knack of succeeding – he cuts to the quick and tells us his view of the current state of ODS and the position of the Czech right.

ODS, he suggests, has moved on from its obsession with the collapse of the Klaus government in 1997 and the ‘Sarajevo assessination’ of then PM Václav Klaus. Helpfully, Klaus stepped down and, even more helpfully, he was elected President and thus had the small matter of being head of state to keep him busy and so didn’t have time to interfer too much in the running of the party. Ex-Social Democrat PM Miloš Zeman, by contrast, felt the need to mix it with almost all subsequent leaders of his party and settle accounts with other ex-colleagues in vituperative memoirs (a ‘foul fart of a book’ as my SSEES predecessor Kieran Williams put it) despite supposedly having retired to a cottage to the Czech-Moravian Highlands. More than half the Civic Democrats’ current membership, observes Morava, joined since ‘Sarajevo’ and this helped the party gain some reformist elan – well, at least until it failed to put together a majority coalition after last year’s elections and had to water down its flat tax plans and started to split, but that’s another story….

However, the rise of regional politicians – of which Topolánek’s narrow election as party leader was perhaps the best illustration– has, Morava notes, despite some benefits in reconnecting the party to real life has also built in a centre-regional tension, which brings a real long term risk of splits (of the kind that briefly visible before and after Klaus’s departure as leader in 2002): there are apparently ‘deputies willing to blackmail their own government to fulfill their personal ambitions and internal party elections shows that the post-Sarajevo generation of members is already trying to gain the whip hand (hlavní pozici). Being popular and in office also brings problems of clientelism and careerism (the party as ‘lift to power’ in Czech parlance), Morava concedes and he seems to associate this with post-1997 members and ‘influential regional governors’ although he doesn’t quite spell it out. The party he says is facing a ‘critical period’ because it risks losing its clear liberal-conservative ideology and becoming a catch-all ‘people’s party’ As my own soon-to-be-published book on the Czech right makes rip roaringly clear, this particular fear is one that has troubled ideologically minded odesáci since at least 2002, probably rightly, although some would say the party has already become just such as catch-all alliance of business and regional interests years ago (and perhaps always was).

His solution to help the party ‘maintain its position’, he claims, is to try to appeal to young and old: the young who voted in large numbers for the party in 2006 as a vehicle for change and an expression of dislike for the incumbent Social Democrats could become disenchanted and move to the ascendent Greens as a protest against both. Also, he says, ODS needs to address senior citizens and – while not making concessions to material demands for higher state pensions – show verbally that it values their ‘lifetime of work’and ensure they ‘social dignity’. Personally, I think most would prefer the cash…

Most interestingly- and clearly building on this theme – Morava suggests that the Civic Democrats should look more to working with their Christian Democratic coalition partners, rather than thinking in more Cameroonian terms and embracing their other coalition partners the Greens more tightly (dismissed as collectivist baddies). The old – a growing demographic group – seem to win out in his strategic calculation as does the fact that the Christian Democrats are drifting with loose cannon for a leader and electoral support stuck dangerously just over the 5% national threshold. Morava seems to anticipate some kind of Fidesz or Polish-style electoral coalition ‘or even the merging of ODS and the Christian Democrats (lidovci)’. Radical stuff, although an idea currently popular in more conservative ODS supporting circles which I have heard elsewhere. Quite how the two very different organizations would merge God alone knows – the liberal-Christian-Democrat Quad-Coalition of the late 1990s came unstuck precisely because of imbalances of membership and influence, but its all very interesting. Morava also favours the gathering of pro-ODS intererest groups (trade unions or at leasts business organizations) around the party, suggesting a Christian Democrat drift in a party which traditionally regarded such co-operation as coporatist and illiberal.

>Global citizenship: now UC see it…


Are you for global citizenship? I certainly am. And, so more, importantly is UCL, which defines its mission in these terms and, not surprisingly, wants the idea to perculate through its teaching and research. I’ve been puzzling for while quite what this might mean in concrete terms, so the Roundtable on Global Citizenship held as part of the launch of the new UCL Department of Political Science seemed an ideal opportunity to find out, especially as the star turn was Bernard Crick of In Defence of Politics fame – a book which even penetrated behind the Iron Curtain, inspiring at least one leading Czech dissident (Petr Pithart) to reject the anti-political drift of non-conformist intellectuals in communist Czechoslovakia after the collapse of the Prague Spring.
UCL’s corporate view of ‘global citizenship’ stresses the idea of well-rounded individualists moving freely big and diverse world, tooled up with critical thinking skills, a well developed sense of entrepeurialism and a willingness to take on responsibiltiy and leasdership roles (and, of course, get good a job to pay the bills). In political science terms, however, the term raised questions rather more difficult questions than being a dynamic university with liberal values and a global reach: what actually makes up ‘citizenship’ and what political institutions that might define and protect it. All panelists were actually rather sceptical of the term.
Having opened with some slyly humourous recollections about his time as a ‘token young man’ at ‘UC’ in the 1960s when it tried and failed to start up a politics department to rival the hegemony of LSE, Sir Bernard decried the vagueness of the term, which short of some form of Wellsian world government could at best mean the promotion of ‘citizens from different parts of the globe’ and worst serve as a pretext for ducking difficult issues closer to home. Teachers of citizenship as a secondary school subject, he suggested, sometimes found discussion of the Amazon rainforest a convenient way of ducking discussion of more immediate problems of citizenship on the ethnically and religiously diverse streets of Britain.
Although Prof Richard Bellamy linked global citizenship to the global spead of democracy – the best form he argued for maintaining and defending civil and political rights – other panellist including Bernard Crick were less sanguine, pointing out that citizenship predated mass democracy and happily coexist with authoritarian political forms. Globalization was, however, seen as the bigger challenge in a world which, it was agreed, national states not supranational institutions (even the EU) or global civil society will be not only the main actors and the main providers and protectors of democratic citizenship.
Not that national citizenship remained had untouched by globalization or Europeanization. The partial unravelling of the building blocks of traditional national citizenship – membership of a specific community; civil and human rights; and opportunities for participation in decision-making – into looser forms of ‘post-national citizenship’ actually created a hierarchy of citizenships with migrants and non-nationals relegated to a second of third class status ( ‘denizenship’ so to speak) in the guise of post-modern. Citizenship is, after all, an illiberal notion based on exclusion as well as inclusion.
90 minutes later as I crunched on a biscuit I still didn’t quite know how to ‘do’ global citizenship, but I had a whole lot more to ponder.

>Ireland’s transfer season


Taking a break from marking, I sat up late reading throughthe Irish election results with the help of the Irish Times election special. After a few scares along the way, dominant incumbent party – indeed dominant party in Irish politics full stop – Fianna Fáil scored a convincing victory, although its coalition partners the small liberal Progressive Democrats, like so many liberal parties in CEE, were finally whacked almost into parliamentary nothingness (2 deputies, TDs (Teachtaí Dála) I should say. Commentatrors suggest that, however, that in the Irish case the demise of PDs was more due them being victims og their own success in spreading the free market gospel, rather than victims of Fico-esque or Catholic nationalist populism. The Greens, support concentrated in Dublin, stood still and Sinn Fein – powersharing deal with Ian Paisley in the North – failed to make the anticipated breakthrough, probably because voters distrusted their left-of-centre economic policy (scaled back during the campaign) and they were squeezed by the two big parties, Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael, the latter (historically less nationalist) party making gains but still coming behind FF and having litle prospect of forming another ‘rainbow coalition’ with the Greens and previous coalition partner the Irish Labour Party, one of the few mainstream European social democratic parties to be a long-time minor party in its own national political system. An FF-Labour coalition isn’t apparently ruled out.

The best thing about Irish politics from the lecturer’s/anorak’s point of view, however, is Single Transferable Vote system, which is not only appealingly complex in istelf with its quotas, multiple transfers of voters from losing candidates (and sometimes winning candidates with a surplus), but offers incredible strategic permutations: how many candidates to field, how to manage the splitting of first preferance votes between candidates, ‘losers’ on first preferences being elected as transfers gradually increased their score, candidates hanging on across multiple rounds (up to 13 this election) in waiting for a big transfer from a popular losing candidate, competition between candidates from the same party in multi-member constituencies and, of course, the personal voter for personalities and politicians with a local following. STV Irish style is not super proportional due to the (constituionally fixed) size of constituencies (3-5 members) but it does offer ample scope for local independents to come through. There were 14 in the outgoing 166 member parliament, 5 in this. Interestingly, and perhaps for this reason, there were almost no extra-parliamentary minor parties standing. Sitting up till 1.00am looking over the results from bits of Dublin where various aunties and uncles life and trying to work out why Sinn Fein failed to get a TD elected in Donegal despute getting 20% of first preferences, I became an instant STV groupie.

>Political deadlock and the Czechs: nobody does it better…

>I see with interest that recent polls in the Czech Republic record a falling off of support for the centre-right in the Czech Republic, which ballooned to implausibly high levels in the wake of last year’s deadlocked elections: STEM (as reported in LN 17.5. 2007) now as the minority governing Civic Democrats (ODS) on 28.6%, and the opposition Social Democrats on 27.6%, the Christian Democrats on 6.6% – clearly, having a provincial politician suspected of taking backhanders with an illiberal record on Roma does you no harm politically,it seems, but not much good either, the Communists up on 12.6% and the Greens doing well on 9.2%. This works out at a projected 71 seats each for ODS and the Social Democrats, for the Christian Democrats 11, Greens 18, Communists 29. Depressing for the Civic Democrats that they have been caught up by their biggest rivals, but doing the maths, that would once again leave things even stevens with the current Civic/Christian Democrat/Green coalition having still exactly 100 of 200 seats.

Recent polling by Median (see LN 9 May) shows a broadly similar trend (ODS 34.5% (=77 seats), Soc Dem 32.3% (=73 seats), Communists 12.2%, (=24%)Christian Dems 9.9%, ( = 16 seats)Greens 7% (=10 seats) although with better news for the Christian Democrats, who seems to have a flaky (perhaps in all senses) floating vote in addition to their ultra-loyal rural Catholic core vote. Slighly better news for the current coalition as it comes out at 103 of 200 seats, a comfortable majority by Czech standards, but with a 2.5% margin of error, what it really means is that Czech politics is indeed deadlocked with plenty of scope for knife edge elections.

Political deadlock and the Czechs – nobody does it better…

>Bulgaria’s euro-elections: another dose of ‘centrist populism’?


Bulgaria’s incoming Euro-election results are interesting, but not totally surprising. Initial reports suggest they had been won by the Turkish minority party Movement for Rights and Freedom. But despite polling well just over 20% of the poll – probably due to the fact that admit a derisory turnout (26%) it was roughly twice as better at mobilizing as all others – it is the ruling Socialists (ex-communists) and the newly formed Movement for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) who come out on top, each with an estimated 21% of the vote. The once all-conquering Simeon II National Movement (NDSV) gets hammered and continues its political decline, while the far-right Ataka increases support to 14%, although given voter absenteeism and disillusion this doesn’t strike me as a huge breakthrough. The story, which for me is the political breakthough of GERB led by former mayor of Sofia Borrisov, which although tinged with more than a dose of populism seems set take over as the main force on the liberal centre/centre-right in Bulgaria, a role previously played by the Union of Democratic Forces (aka United Democratic Forces) and the NSDV. Apart from showing that being the capital’s mayor can be a good springboard for forming a new party in a fluid system and/or a presidential bid (think Lech Kaczynski in Poland, Basescu in Romania), it seems to yet another example of what as been termed ‘centrist populism’, the rise of broad liberal reformist middle of the road parties trumpeting their newness, European-ness and lack of corruption, which appear from nowhere and then rapidly exhaust themselves in office – this seems a particularly marked trend in the Baltic, where (at least in Latvia and Estonia) there is no strong communist successor party to anchor the left (whatever that happens to mean) of the political spectrum. Indeed, perhaps this ‘centrist populism’ pattern is the future of the centre-right in many CEE states – and thinking of France, where centre-right parties and sub-parties have emerged, merged and re-(e)merged since at least the 1960s perhaps this is not actually just an innovative or unknown pattern.
Predictably, there is scanty immediate information on the the party in English, although Bulgarian radio has two brief informative overview reports on its foundation – here and here. I guess one could painstakingly build up a mosaic from diverse English languages sources, but somehow I think it might be quicker to learn Bulgarian…

>CEE: If it ain’t nationalism, and it ain’t violent, then it ain’t news


Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia and perhaps stretching a point Ukraine seem belatedly – and thus in somewhat different form – to be undergoing the politics of liberalization and decommunization played out in most core CEE states in 1990s. I hadn’t taken a big interest in this until recently. In the same way, London taxi drivers won’t go South of the river [Thames] without good reason, I’ve tended to be a bit reluctant to go South of Danube. Prompted by a slew of exam answers on Romania’s presidential-parliamentary stand-off, which has just seen President Traian Basescu avoid impeachment procedures as the result of an overwhelming referendum with underwhelming (25%) turnout.

The immediate culprit was my energetic teaching assistant, who specializes in Romanian politics, and spotted that – along with President Yushchenko’s recent contretemps with the Ukrainian parliament – it was a useful case for testing out the contradictions of semi-presidential constitution as vehicle for effective reform in new democracies.

Coincidentally, in the run up to the Romanian referendum media outlets, including no less than Al-Jazeera and BBC World, were energetically firing off emails and phone messages in trying to find talking heads at short notice. The media, broadcast media especially, have mistaken assumption that any academic with a specialism in East European politics is basically current affairs analyst manqué with their fingers on events of any one of a dozen countries, able to offer sound bite sized insights on… well just about on just about anything dramatic anywhere in the region. Most academics can, of course, say interesting and informed things about some issues and some countries. Some can even do sound bites but I had no desire to try and navigate the complexities of Romanian politics on live TV (or pretend to).

Perhaps because it is a large country Romania with a deal of political and economic problems and (always good copy) sizeable numbers of nationalist extremists, it seems (occasionally) to register much more than the rest of CEE. The drama of Romania’s political crisis seemed to have caught Western media attention – with coverage in print media such as The Times, the FT and The Guardian and, it seems, on news TV – although similar events in Lithuania in 2004, which actually saw President Rolandas Paksas impeached (admittedly fairly overwhelmingly by parliament and without a referendum) barely caused a ripple in the international media. I guess that the image of embattled reformer fighting off obstructive politicos has more pathos than a populist outsider being booted out for dodgy dealings with a Russian businessman. Here, I think, Boris Yelstin’s conflict with the Russian parliament in 1992-3 was probably the master frame for such coverage. Curious though, how such conflicts tend often tend to pit presidents against erstwhile allies in parliaments that initially appear reformist and supportive. Could be that such standoffs are as much about coalition dynamics – as big reform blocs quickly splinter having gained power – than as a life or death struggle for reform and the soul of the nation?

Of course size matters too. Poland is the only other state in the region to have a similar profile: this currently centres on sensitivities and oddities of its governing Terrible Twins and illiberal attitudes to homosexuality on the Polish right, although the Roma-bashing antics of Czech politicians (Jiří Čuněk, Christian Democrat leader and deputy PM is currently the best known exponent) also sometimes get an airing. Bar that you need a sprinkling of violence and extremism to make the headlines. The Hungary (far) right street politics that emerged in the wake of Fidesz’s narrow election defeat in 2002 and continued in fits and spurts until it managed to take Hungarian TV off the air Hungary’s Socialist PM got himself into dire trouble last year with some taped truth-telling about the parlous state of the Hungarian economy and how he had fibbed to win an election. And of course, recent riots in Estonia have garnered more coverage for that country than any amount of e-government and flat taxation …

Basically, if don’t have a have a charismatic head of state playing the Lone Ranger of post-communist reform, and it ain’t got nationalism, and it ain’t violent, then, really, ain’t news…

I guess that demonstrates a kind liberal agenda for Central and Eastern Europe so perhaps I should approve.

But somehowI don’t…

>Whack! Kepow! Just another day at the office for a LibDem MEP…


Meanwhile the European Liberal Democrats and Radical group in the European Parliament has, I see come up, with political comic strip/graphic novel, Operation Red Dragon:

“Set in the European Parliament and the fictitious country Fang Dong, Operation Red Dragon is the fictional story of Elisa Correr, an MEP who gets embroiled in a risky and fascinating adventure whilst in pursuit of her parliamentary activities.

New instalments will be available for download every week from this site. So come back to follow the adventures of Elisa Correr.

The aim of the comic strip is to illustrate the activities and processes of the European Parliament in a more accessible than studying text books about the EU.”
Naturally, in the interests of innovation in teaching politics I dipped in. I’ve often felt the sleaze and manipulation of post-communist politics was good thriller material and some of the more gothic aspects of post-Soviet politics seem ready made for graphic novel treatment. However, the activities of Lib Dem Euro MEPs hadn’t quite struck me in the same light, although ex-leader of the Lib Dems Lord Ashdown and former High Representative in Bosnia was a former special forces soldier with an occasionally complicated love life so there is a life precedent for this particular brand of muscular liberalism.
The comic strip itself seems pretty standard (and indeed readable) evening newspaper stuff right down to vulnerable glamorous heroine in revealing dressing gown and all action journalist hero/love interest, although “the activities and processes of the European Parliament “ (perhaps thankfully) don’t get too much of a look in. All seems rather sexist for the ELDR, though. Surely Elisa can do a bit of rough stuff in Fang Dongian military coup before jetting back to Brussels or Strasbourg to help apply a bit of EU soft power and have EP pass a particurlt tough but balanced resolution expressing grave concern about recent developments and the deterioration of the human tights situation in Fang Dong?

>Serbie….douze points


So Serbia has won the Eurovision song contest and crowds take to the streets of Belgrade – and, yes I did watch it, although not all, you understand just least the half an hour or so, when the button on the remote control got stuck, soI just couldn’t quite switch over to watch that documentary on the Edwardian middle classes.
As Britain’s aserbic (Irish) TV host Terry Wogan was quick to point out even before the final votes were in, neighbours with close cultural and historical ties usually tend to back each other’s songs and – in an interesting hint of post-conflict reconcilation – viewers in the former Yugoslav republics did exactly that, propelling a rather saccarine love ballad to victory.
The role of the Eurovision song contest as an agent of Europeanization has been understudied academically, but as examples of earlier winners Estonia and Ukraine suggests, countries which are small and lacking in international profile or medium sized and lacking in reform, tend to take winning rather seriously. President Yukashenko even made a stage appearance post-Orange Revolution when Kiev hosted it, but mercifully wasn’t tempted to sing – outgoing Slovak PM Vladimír Mečiar’s rendition of folk song as part of his televised farewell broadcast is perhaps the closest East European politics can come to this.

Somehow West Europeans don’t take Eurovision quite so seriously. Post-Iraq, of course, we Brits never win – and, sad to say, the context has become a focus for euroscepticism (today’s edition of London’s free commuter newspaper Metro has several letters demanding that we ‘withdraw’ from Eurovisiob and spend the ‘wasted millions’ on schools and hospitals at home etc etc) – but I don’t think the streets of Hesinki were exactly heaving last year when the Finns briefly got a look in.

Democratic consolidation is when you can win the Eurovision song contest and just don’t care…

>”Confidence and Supply”: Czechs ahead of Kiwis?


Much talk in relation to Scotland of the signing of a possible ‘confidence and supply’ agreement in which a party – possibly the Lib Dems in Scotland – agrees to enable another party to take (and remain) in office as a minority administration and pass a budget, without concluding formal coalition and forcing ad hoc agreement on parliamentary votes on most other issues. This draws on the New Zealand experience of 2005 when a Confidence and Supply Agreement was signed between two minor parties, New Zealand First and United Future, and the Labor Party to enable the latter to stay in office, having suffered losses in the election to a resurgent National Party.
Briefly reading through the agreement with NZ First (link above), it seems damn similar in conception and even specific provision to the Opposition Agreement signed seven years earlier in the Czech Republic in 1998, also to allow a minority Social Democrat government to take office. The Czech Social Democrats were then very much an untried force, rather like the SNP and like the SNP had emerged as winner of an election with a perceived moral right to take office. Much slated at the time as clientelistic stitch-up between the two big parties, as Andrew Roberts has persuasively argued in Europe-Asia Studies in 2003 it worked rather well. Certainly, the Czechs shaped up for EU accession without too much problem. The Agreement is, however, seen as totally discredited in Czech politics today and ‘confidence and supply’ was very much off the agenda after the deadlocked elections on 2006, although I guess the problem was that it would again have required agreement between the two main parties after a polzrized and brusing election campaign. As if Labour were to provide ‘confidence and supply’ to the SNP.

>Election resources: Allemagne nul points…

>Since ElectionWorld merged with Wikipedia, I’ve been casting around for slightly more reliable election sites and recently came across the hub site, which also has a useful accompanying blog, Electoral Panorama. Alas it doesn’t overcome some of the deficiencies of some national electoral authorities – Germany’s election office for example has a poor and patchy site, on which it is difficult to trace the performance of minor parties other than in a couple recent national Bundestag elections. The German language originals seem as bad as the English pages.