Archive | January, 2009

>Israelis seek winning formula for interest parties


Ha’aretz carries an interesting report about how various Israeli politicians are trying to repeat the success (unlikely to be repeated) of the Israeli pensioners’ party GIL in 2006 with a formula by combining interest politics with a dash of populist razzmatazz. This time a disabled people’s party and a couple of constitutional reform cum clean government parties seem to be taking the field. The conflict in Gaza, however, seems to have dampened the Israeli electorate’s appetite for novel micro-parties this time, howoever

>Czech eurosceptic parties see confused light of day


It’s tough being an entrepreneur in the EU with a new franchise to launch, especially when you’re a political entrepreneur like Declan Ganley whose eurosceptic movement plans to take to the political field across the Union in the June Euro-elections. The Czech Republic, awash with right-wing euroscepticism since the early 1990s (well, if you read the papers) seemed like a great place for a national franchise: the Ganley-Klaus relationship

However, now ex-TV station owner, Euro MP and founder of the eurosceptic populist Independent Democrats grouping – who flopped in the 2006 parliamentary election, despite a surprise success in the lower-than-lower-turnout 2004 Euroelections – Vladimír Železný, who is a sort of Czech Berlusconi manqué, has stepped into the fray. Mr Železný has gone and nicked Mr Ganley‘s brand, but registering a party called without Mr Ganley’s approval or knowledge. So far, an seems to have got no further along the road to creating an official (given the Irish connection, perhaps we should talk about a ‘official’ and a ‘provisional’ wings of the movement) than translated the appeal on its website for supporters in the CR into Czech (Good start). Ganley, Železný has told the Czech press that could be a ‘Pan-European Obama, if he wasn’t so naïve’, but has proved too a talker, not a do-er and besides Czechs have their own Eurosceptic tribune in Václav Klaus, who hasn’t commented so far, it seems. On the other hand, Železný’s version of Libertas doesn’t so much as have a web page and there’s no a word on the subject on his otherwise up-to-date website about his activities as an MEP.

As, although one poll suggested that 22% might vote for the provisional Železný-led, commentators suggest that this reflects the Czech electorate’s usual short-lived enthusiasm for novelty parties and is unlikely to last or to be translated into at the ballot boxes. The entry of colourful old stager like Mr Železný, they think, will probably put the kiss of death on as a serious force.

In the meantime, Czech eurosceptic right-wing voters (actually, rather few in number) can always turn to the newly founded Party of Free Citizens (SSO) founded by Klaus thinktank protege Petr Mach. The SOS whose committee include the philospher Miroslav Bednář and former member of parliament Jiří Payne – both (ex-?)ODS members – as well as more marginal figures like anti-EU gadflies, writer Benjamin Kuras and political activist David Hanák, both of whom were active in the fragmentary campaign No vote in the EU accession referedum in 2003. So, not exactly a star-studded line-up. Hanák’s views, in particular, are part of a would-be conservative-nationalist revival just adjacent to the far-right, which no self-respecting (neo-)liberal like Mach should probably want to go near.

>Romania gas emergency decree hits pensioners


One group of victims of the current gas supply crisis – acute in SE Europe where supply seems to have been stopped and reserves are low to non-existent – are Romania’s pensioners. However, it’s less because they are freezing in unheated homes, but because – Nine O’Clock reports – emergency government decrees make it illegal to receive a state salary and a pension simultaneously. This common (and discriminatory practice) of applying financial sanction against working pensioners – or pensioners who want to work – has more often been seeen as means of shaking out the labour market and helping the young unemployed, but here seems to be have been smuggled in as an emergency measure. Romanian trade unions seem to defending the interests of their retired (former) members.

Update: Romania’s Constitutional Court has a subsequent report notes since ruled this element in the emergency decrees illegal and unconstitutional, although the government seems intent on pushing the policy through legislation (the ruling centred on the permitted scope of emergency decrees). Prime Minister Boc has come out with all populist guns blazing, claiming that the measure is needed to prevent ‘debauchery of state funds’ by unnamed elite groups (seem to include some former judges) rather than hard pressed retired public employees who may need a few extra lei to make ends meet.

>Imperialism and anti-imperialism in the small hours


It’s early morning but I’m wide awake and I can’t sleep, so I go downstairs to read. I finish off a couple of books I was reading, and almost got through, over the holiday. I always to try and read couple of non-academic books wholly unrelated to Eastern Europe, usually an impulse buy when I’m Christmas shopping or an impulse borrow from the local library. This year’s selections are a biography, Tim Jeal’s Stanley: the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, and Stefan Aust’s recently reissued book about The Baader-Meinhof Complex about the far left terrorism of the Red Army F(r)action in 1970s West Germany.
Henry Morton Stanley turned out to be neither the pillar of the British upper classes nor the go-getting America newspaperman I had variously imagined (although he played both roles) but someone born poor and illegitimate in provincial Wales. Abandoned in a workhouse for most his childhood, he made his way, emotionally withdrawn but very determined – through the

the expanding late Victorian world and ended up in the USA, where he reinvents himself as Henry M. Stanley (assumed names, but later backed by a concocted story of adoption by a wealthy cotton planter); had a series picaresque not to say bizarre series of adventures as trader, gold prospector, deserterfrom both sides in the US Civil War before finally making it at the age of 30 as journalist and heading off to Africa for he journalistic scoop of the century: ‘discovering’ missionary and explorer David Livingstone, whom his best selling book subsequently mythologizes as a saintly figure.

He then turned explorer himself making two epic journeys (in opposite directions) between Zanzibar and the mouth of the Congo, sorting out the true source of the Nile and opening up central Africa for European colonialism. His candour and exaggeration of his ruthlessness in his books, says Jeal, left him with a reputation for brutality, argues, was basically undeserved. Despite laying the some of the foundations of King Leopold’s Congo Free State, he can’t, says Jeal reckons, be held directly responsible for the atrocities of Belgian colonialism in Congo, which later transpired, but was guilty of some political misjudgements.

This thoroughly documented shades-of-grey interpretation and mildly revisionist agenda came across as basically plausibe, although left the question of how (and if) we should judge Stanley, – as well as much of the psychology that drove him – hanging in the air. Most interesting (if underplayed in the book) was the political and social context of the time that emerges: public and political attitudes to Africa is far from the gung-ho imperialist racism overlaid by a patina of religiosity that we perhaps imagined. Indeed, what is striking is how strong altruistic, humanitarian and liberal impulses seem to have be, albeit it mixed with Realpolitik and economic self-interest. Uncomfortably, recasting some of the politically incorrect language of the time, Stanley (in Jeal’s account, at least) and others emerge as a worrying modern figures concerned to deliver failed and/or underdeveloped states on the global periphery from local warlords, bringing them the benefits of development (‘civilization’), open and global markets and combating mass people trafficking (abolition of East African slave trade).

Anti-imperialism in West Europe, this time in the form of protest against and outrage about the Vietnam War and depredation of the Third World were also a driving force the story of the Baader-Meinhof group and the radical left in 1970s West Germany, as told in Aust’s reworked The Baader-Meinhof Complex, now, of course, a glossy and violent new film. Unlike Jeal’s biography which loses a bit of readability by dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, Aust’s book has fragmented episodic structure, making for a fast and compelling read . It’s easy to see why it was filmed as blockbusting political thriller-cum crime story-cum reconstruction of the 1970s.

Aust clearly knows his stuff, however, having been personally acquainted with some the leading dramais personnae and obsessively followed up the RAF story through the three decades worth of research and interviews with cops and terrorists alike. Without being too didactic, the book debunks much of the (self-)mythologization of and violent chic of the RAF as misguided but pure martyrs, showing them as a strong on verbiage, low on ideology and strategy, high on brutality (emotional and physical) and at key moments sustained by East European secret services and factions of the PLO.

There are gaps in Aust’s vividly but briefly sketched account of the West German radical and ultra-radical left of the 1960s and 1970s . However with forty years’ hindsight the sociological and ideological sources of the RAF seem clear enough: orthodox Leninist vanguardism, Maoist voluntarism; anarchist ‘propaganda of the deed’ and New Left notions of radical political engagement as a form of personal therapy; the moral ambiguity of incompletely de-Nazified West Germany and the German Social Democrats’ coming to terms with it (many RAF members were briefly members of the SPD youth); and the New Left project of students, lumpenproletariat and Third World as a substitute for the Western working class’s definitive failure to show up (again) for its appointed historical role of revolutionary vanguard.

The psychology and background key RAF personalities, however, remain as much of a cipher that of the compulsively driven Stanley and his fellow explorers/adventurers, although both seem to share a self-destructive urge and strangely toxic mix of overblown moral certainty and callous brutality. However, I couldn’t help the rather odd feeling that world of the Baader-Meinhof Complex was utlimately more distant and unfamiliar – perhaps the word I am looking for is irrelevant – than of that Stanley and late Victorian imperialism/globalization in the making.

>Czech thinktank publishes details of financing


Czech e-government and anti-bureaucracy thinktankE-stat publishes its annual report on its financing for 2008 – it has an income of around 17 million crowns, mostly from foreign and Czech business donors, mostly spent on salary costs. Would they approve of it becoming the backbone of a Libertas style Czech movement or party? Is it enough cash anyway to sustain a entry into electoral politics? Probably not.