23 December 2006

Holocaust denier is not kosher

I really feel with the shareholders of the Danish food conglomerate Arla. Arla's profits plunged rapidly in the aftermath of the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in Jyllands Posten. Arla has clearly been trying hard to improve its image; it was rather amusing to find them at the finance careers fair at my university, among the likes of Morgan Stanley and KPMG. (Someone should have told them that we do not even have an Islamic Society. When Jack Straw MP spoke out against wearing of the veil, Student Respect had to invite an activist in hijab from nearby Leeds to explain how offended she was.)

Poor Arla's bosses now have a new headache. Danish arts group Surrend managed to mock the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The half-page ad below was published in the conservative Tehran Times, whose editors were clearly unconscious of the fact that the first letters of each slogan, when read from top to bottom, result in S-W-I-N-E. Spot on, one hastens to add.




Jan Egesborg of Surrend commented on the act for Reuters: "We did it to cause a reaction. There is a young population there [in Iran] which wants more liberalisation. Hopefully they will be inspired." The students at Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran do not seem to need a hint; they are already spearheading the student movement against the authoritarian President. Last week they cut short his speech, shouting "death to the dictator."

21 December 2006

Contemporary Polish dinosaurs call Jesus to service

It has definitely been an eventful year in Polish politics. Warsaw Business Journal ran a feature summarising the most bizarre events which affected the Polish political landscape in last 12 months.

Everyone has heard of the Polish plumber and the Polish-German potato war, sparked off by Die Tageszeitung. However, the mayoral election in Białystok went largely unnoticed outside Poland, which is a pity. Krzysztof Kononowicz stood on the radical platform of "abolishing" alcohol and cigarettes, and pledged to ensure that there would be "no banditry, no thievery, there will be nothing" in his election broadcast. He managed to poll 2%.

Maciej Giertych, an MEP for the LPR (Liga Polskich Rodzin) party made a shocking revelation, claiming that "research shows that dinosaurs and man were contemporaries." The academic community was clearly cornered by his persuasive arguments; "in every culture there are indications that we remember dinosaurs. The Scots have Nessie; we Poles have the Wawel dragon, Marco Polo spoke of an imperial carriage in China which was pulled by a dragon." Giertychs son Roman, the current Education Minister, provided some comfort to the embattled Darwinists: evolution should be taught in schools "as long as most scientists in our country say that it is the right theory". Giertych Senior rewrote the history one more time: "A scientist showed me a picture of an American boxer. He had all the traits of Neanderthal man. These people are among us. They are part of the human race, probably more prevalent once upon a time, but who still exist." This time his sons reaction was rather timid: "I am no expert. I am not a biologist." Daddy, who received a PhD in biology (tree physiology) at the University of Toronto, simply cannot be wrong.

As if all that was not enough, the Samoobrona party has now been hit by the sex scandal involving the Sejm deputy Stanisław Łyżwiński and the party leader Andrzej Lepper.

All that makes the desperate Poles retreat to the last resort; Jesus is being called to reign in this blessed earthly kingdom from now on, forever and ever. I personally consider that as a progressive step in the right direction: surely the Son of God has made himself a reputation as someone who dislikes haggling; the Council of Ministers proceedings could run much more smoothly if the heroic Poland gathers enough courage to take this bold step forward. And how envious would the Germans be! Also, their Pope would suddenly become a mere servant of the Polish King!

19 November 2006

Two new Euroblogs of note

In the beginning, blogging was reserved for computer nerds. Then the whinging masses started to write their web diaries. The pundits followed. But now even the established think tanks believe that if they want to stay connected with the "real people", they have to start blogging.

Civitas was the first cuckoo; but recently the Eurosceptic Open Europe and Europhile Centre for European Reform, renowned London-based think tanks, also launched their blogs. We in cafebabel.com will definitely have more to write about when an issue on blogosphere is published next time.

Why Iraq cannot be democratic

This article does not have an ambition to be a complex analysis of what is happening in Iraq. Neither am I sure that its conclusion is right. Nevertheless, I feel I am offering you a likely explanation of why Iraq cannot become democratic in the near future.

Let us first review the basic facts: Iraq is a middle-sized Muslim state, with no major faction being strong enough to hold power alone. Perhaps the Shias would be capable to rule without anyone else within the current constitutional settlement, but they are just as divided themselves as the whole country.

So why Iraq cannot be democratic? Because there is no Iraq. There are no Iraqis. There are just Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. They share little common identity. There is no feeling of togetherness among "the Iraqis". They only live together because the European colonial powers once drew the boundaries the way they did. The only Muslim Middle Eastern state which is not an authoritarian regime (Saudi Arabia...) or is not in chaos (Iraq, Lebanon) is Turkey. Turkey is able to be democratic and stable in the same time because it has succeeded in building One Nation.

Consequently, there cannot be loyalty to the institutions of the state of Iraq, provided by there is no Iraqi nation. That could only have worked under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, who enforced the authority of the state by terror.

So what should be done to prevent Iraq plunging into civil war? It is clearly impossible to divide Iraq, even though in theory it would be the best solution. People who do not want to live with each other would not have to. However, the Sunnis, the only ones who do not have oil fields in their territory, feel obliged to keep Iraq together; just as they did prior to 2003. Baghdad is inhabited by all 3 groups - just as Brussels is preventing the dissolution of Belgium would Baghdad obstruct the disintegration of Iraq. Moreover, there are Realpolitik reasons why Iraq cannot be divided: nothing would be a clearer admission of the US failure than the territorial split-up. Turkey, with the sixth largest military in the world, is ready to invade should the Kurds in the north proclaim independence. The only player which could benefit from the break-up of Iraq would be Iran; but is not it actually more advantageous for the ajatollahs to torture the West with the Shia insurgency? Somewhat strangely, violence in Basra seems to escalate whenever Iran's nuclear ambitions are mentioned by the Pentagon...

Having established that democratic Iraq with a strong central government is impossible, and the partitition of Iraq is not feasible, what solution is left? The only way to stop the civil war unleash is to destroy the site for it. To destroy Iraq in all but name. In my opinion, Iraq should follow the Bosnian model with weak central government, and powerful autonomous administrations for each constituent group (Sunnis, Shias, Kurds). That seems to be the only way to convey democracy in Iraq.

Of course, this carries the risk that the Kurds or the Shias will attempt to go all the way and demand independence. And yes, you guess right, they would not ask for it twice. But now is the time when President Bush should not be afraid to take bold decisions and take the initiative. The risk could pay off - and after all, he has got hardly any political capital to lose.

UPDATE (26 December 2006): An interesting comment piece advocating the two-state solution for Iraq was published in the Boston Globe today. I definitely think that the proposal deserves more attention.

14 November 2006

The shape of world to come

Every analyst likes predicting the future. John Witherow, The Sunday Times Editor, started off his speech to the York Union today by displaying a short film called "Epic 2015". The video, created by the Museum of Media History in Tampa Bay, is definitely worth watching: not only it forecasts the outlook for the media world, but also the way we will consume information. I personally believe that the film's prevision cannot be dismissed as pure conjecture; to a large extent I feel it allows us to see the shape of things to come.

24 October 2006

To demonstrate, or not to demonstrate: that is the question


The National Union of Students (NUS) is organising the National Demo against the university top-up fees on Sunday 29 October 2006 in the streets of London. The York University Students' Union aims to contribute the largest amount of students from all the northern universities, as it managed in 2003. It may as well achieve that, for the "trip" only sells for 5 pounds. I must admit I find the price very tempting (not so much the 5 am departure time); I would like to experience the atmosphere of the march. But I cannot agree with the arguments the NUS is putting forward in the opposition to the tuition fees.

The proposition: the tuition fees will deter students from applying to university. The university applications declined by 3.5% this year. Wrong; the fees will not discourage those who are really determined to study. There is now a generously funded centralised grants system, complemented by the bursaries provided by the individual universities. No student should be worried about his/her financial situation any more than in the past. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the number of applications decreased as a direct consequence of the higher fees. Could not it be caused by the fact that the teenagers have finally realised that working hard for a degree does not pay off when everyone has got it? Is not there higher demand for plumbers than for historians? Also, has not the drop been partially caused by smaller number of students graduating from high school overall?

Therefore, those who would be deterred to go to university, knowing that they will only have to pay their tuition fees back once they earn over 15 000 pounds a year, needless to say without any interest, do lack basic assessment skills. If they do not value their education enough to be ready to invest in it a considerably small sum, why should the rest of the society do?

The NUS also warns that the 3000 yearly cap on the fees could be lifted, after the report on the higher education is published around 2009, 2010. I agree that the fees should not be much higher than now, as the students from poorer backgrounds would find it difficult to start their careers so heavily indebted. Therefore, the cap must be kept. Scrapping the cap completely would lead to the richer students going to universities which would charge more, and inescapably would then attract better lecturers and provide better learning facilities. As you can see, this would create a vicious circle of social discrimination, not dissimilar to the American practice. Low social mobility would entrench inequality in the society. That is by no means acceptable. However, it is not very likely that the cap will be lifted; in 2004, the current Higher Education Act only passed by 5 votes amidst a widespread opposition.

Recommendations for the UK government:
1) Enhance the system providing grants on living costs, and make it EU-wide (I will come back to this later, I promise). Do centralise the whole grants system, so there is no "bribing" through the amount of university-provided bursaries.
2) Do not lift the cap completely.
3) Do not introduce the up-front fees.
4) Do not provoke the anger of students by commments like students will "learn to love the fees" (Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education).
5) Do develop the policies aiming to help the young families with housing, childcare etc, as a part of long-term pro-population policy.

Recommendations for the NUS:
1) Do acknowledge that the poorest students get more money through grants system while at university than they have to pay back later. That is a significant improvement compared to the way the system worked in the past - there were no tuition fees, but also no grants.
2) Do not scare potential students off. In fact, it is the NUS campaign which has dissuaded many prospective students from going to university. It is the NUS that employs the politics of fear, telling the students that they will not be able to afford their studies.
3) Get rid of the "tax the rich" policy (although it has not been used in this campaign).
4) Do concentrate your campaign on the students' problems to finance maintenance. It is a much bigger item of student's budget, especially in London and the South East, than the tuition fees. And, unlike the fees, students need to cover the living costs during their actual studies.

11 October 2006

The Czechs, how many of us is out there?/Češi, kolik nás je?


The Czech state treats the Czech expatriats rather harshly; for example, it disables the acquisition of double citizenship. An active, organised and well-targeted support of the expat organisations, as practised by Hungary, is missing painfully. As a consequence of this, the second or third generation of foreign Czechs have very weak bounds to their old homeland.

In my opinion, the solution would be to establish a central registrar of the Czechs, combined with a more agile policy of the Czech government to retain the sense of national identity among the expatriats. Which of you is going to become one of the "first Czechs?"

To survey the support for such an idea, I have started a group on Facebook.

Český stát se chová k zahraničním Čechům macešsky; například znemožňuje získání dvojího občanství. Citelně chybí aktivní, řízená a smysluplná podpora krajanských hnutí, jakou praktikuje třeba Maďarsko. Důsledkem pak je to, že již druhá či třetí generace zahraničních Čechů má velice slabé vazby ke staré vlasti.

Myslím, že řešením by bylo zavedení centrálního registru Čechů, kombinované s agilnější politikou českého státu za cílem udržení národního povědomí mezi krajany.

Abych zjistil jakou můj nápad bude mít odezvu, založil jsem skupinu na Facebooku. Kdo z vás bude jedním z "prvních Čechů?"

11 September 2006

Ventotene


Last week, from Sunday 3 September to Friday 8 September I took part in the mythic JEF seminar at the island of Ventotene. Altiero Spinelli, the founder of Movimenta Federalista Europeo and the author of the of the federalist Ventotene Manifesto, was imprisoned there during the Fascist era. The magical soul of the place, the rich programme, but above all the stay among the fellow federalists made the seminar a one-in-life experience. I will report on the seminar as soon as possible.

28 August 2006

"From identity to European integration"


Last week I was a participant at a unique summer school. It was organised by Asociace pro evropské hodnoty/the Association for European Values and held in the beautiful setting near Chotěboř, Czechia.

The lecturers were about the best the Czech scene could provide. To start with, we had the political scientist Rudolf Kučera of the Caroline University, Prague talking about the European legacy left by the ancient Greece. Radim Marada, the sociologist of the Masaryk University, Brno analysed the concepts of the modern European demos and the European civic society. The ex-politician Pavel Bratinka examined the much disputed notion of European cultural borders. Josef Zieleniec MEP, the former Czech Foreign Minister, laid down his vision of the Union's institutional reform, desperately needed to satisfy the calls for more legitimate and transparent EU. Karel Kovanda, Deputy Director General for External Relations of the European Commission, introduced us to the daily work of the Commission, and emphasized how much it would be facilitated should the EU go federal. Jan Kohout, the Czech ambassador to the EU, explained the challenges facing Czechia in regards to taking up the European Council Presidency in 2009. Michael Žantovský, the Czech Ambsassador to Israel, warned us about the dangers of multiculturalism.

Elmar Brok MEP once stated: "To identify oneself with the aims of the European integration process is a question of reason. To identify oneself with the European ideal, and the values behind it, is a question of heart." I feel that many fellow federalists fail to comprehend this; they suppose Europe can enlarge endlessly beyond its cultural borders. The stay in Chotěboř strengthened my hope that the young Czech generation will not allow the project of united Europe to be ruined that way.

Addition: The weekly Reflex reported on the summer school here. So did the online mutation of Hospodářské noviny.

06 July 2006

No to Turkey

To keep it short, I do firmly oppose prospective Turkish membership of the European Union. I believe that a federal Europe can survive if and only if there is a strong feeling of mutual identification and solidarity among European citizens. Put it simply, only if there is a strong sense of European identity, or better still - a European nation.

I believe that people of Europe can never feel close enough to Turkey because it lies in a different cultural sphere. Yes, Turkish accession may be beneficial for economic reasons once the issues of the Armenian genocide and the occupation of Cyprus are solved. Yes, Turkey can be the key to overcoming the Western inability to communicate with Teheran and Damascus. Despite all that, the Turkish entry to the EU would mean the end of deeper political integration, the end of pursuing the ideal of a united, federal Europe. That is indeed why the Eurosceptic forces like the Czech President Václav Klaus or the British political establishment wish that Turkey joined the Union. On the other hand, the fervent federalists, like Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the President of the Convention which drew up the Draft Constitutional Treaty, are against Turkey joining the EU.

My political party, Europe United, has a very good policy on the enlargement. Every new candidate state should be subjected to a vote in a pan-EU referendum:

A Pan-Union referendum would be simultaneous referenda in each member state with each vote being counted at Member State and Union level. This means that a citizen who votes contrary to the majority in their respective Member State can still have their say at Union level. A Majority would be required in 65% of Member States and at Union level.

As a result, every big constitutional change such as enlargement would have to acquire full backing of the electorate, while eliminating the possibility that just one small state might block a reform supported by everyone else.

Nevertheless, the Party cannot actually be neutral on the subject, because it has to decide whether it will have a branch in Turkey or not. So far, there is a Turkish branch and as an implication Europe United supports the Turkish membership of the EU.

I, and my fellow Senators Nikolas Tilaveridis of Italy and Araceli Turmo of France have therefore drafted a resolution regarding Turkey, which we thought had a realistic chance to get a majority of votes. It basically demands depriving Turkey of its status of an EU candidate country unless it recognises Cyprus and takes responsibility for the genocide of the Armenians.

The resolution has now become an official policy of Europe United, having received a majority of votes in the internal Party poll. You can read the whole text of the resolution and the debate on it here.

27 June 2006

François Bayrou urges the EU to go federal

Le Monde reports that leader of the French centrist UDF (Union pour la Démocratie Française) party François Bayrou said at a conference at the weekend that if the French were asked to vote again on the EU Constitution, which 55% of them rejected in the referendum last year, they would vote no "by more than 60%." So why have not the French attitudes towards the Constitution warmed?

The main reason why the French put a brake on the Constitution was that the extremist parties were ready enough to deploy "politics of fear." The voters were not asked to consider the merits of the Constitution per se, but rather to deliver a judgment on national government's record and the EU in general.

Thus the extreme left could capitalise on scaring the voters; the Constitution would apparently be the end of the European social model. Paradoxically, the Constitution's Charter of Fundamental Rights would actually entrench the workers rights. The major bogeyman was the proposed EU law on services, the so called Bolkestein directive. Now, when the directive has already been enacted, needless to say in a very limited form, the anti-neoliberal French should no longer worry about the Polish plumbers.

Contrariwise, the extreme right attacked the Constitution on the grounds that it would further reduce French national sovereignty. However, this argument did not resonate among the electorate as much as the claim, not completely unsubstantiated, that the Constitution would pave the way for the further, uncontrolled EU enlargement. The French, generally uneasy about the prospects of the Turkish membership, flocked to the "No" camp. The concerns that Turkey could enter without the explicit public consent have now been appeased by a constitutional amendment which requires calling a referendum on every new EU entry after Croatia.

It is good news that the worries of the French have been addressed - the services directive was designed to take in account French uncertainties; the use of referenda for further enlargement was guaranteed. Unfortunately, in spite of all that the opposition to the Constitution rose if we are to believe Bayrou's words. So where lies the mistake?

Clearly, the French government is still unpopular, and the anxieties of the French seem to persist. The country suffers from low self-confidence and frequent political scandals. The citizens are afraid of globalisation, afraid of the Constitution, afraid of change.

Nonetheless, it is too late to resurrect the Constitution. Despite all the talk, it seems unlikely that the Constitution would ever be revived in its current form.

Bayrou went on to to call for a "reconstruction of the federal dimension" in order to protect differences in Europe, and, in the words of Le Monde, help the EU "escape its transformation into a techno-legal superstructure which makes people flee." These are fine words. Let us only hope that the remedy will come soon; otherwise the people will keep fleeing.