Browsing the archives for the European Politics category.

Questions and answers

Culture, European Politics, Media / journalism, Politics, US culture, US Politics

First things first

Foremost (h/t The Plank): The question to guide your day-to-day life in this new era.

Rush Limbaugh, conservative giant

Also via The Plank: Who is Rush Limbaugh? According to Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey, yesterday, “it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing.”

But he had that all wrong, he realised today, after some constituents helpfully called in to remind him. In reality, he corrected himself in a statement titled “Gingrey comments on Rush misunderstanding,” Rush Limbaugh is not just a “voice [..] of the conservative movement’s conscience”, but … a “conservative giant”.

Who are the hottest professors?

In love with your prof? If so, he/she is likely to lecture languages. There is “Real Social Scientific Data” (mind your footnotes) on the relative hotness of the different disciplines, which comes via Prof. Henry Farrell (Political Science, ranked fifth) at the Monkey Cage.

Law and criminal justice take a prominent second and fourth place (out of 36) in the ranking, which might please fellow blogger Joefromchicago. Unsurprisingly, engineering, computer science and chemistry rank at the bottom, so pity the poor professors in those duller disciplines — after all, tenure without temptation is like aspersions without alliteration.

Economists, however (ranked 30th) have reason to harbour hope, judging on Shivaji’s observation that they’re up next to be fetishized by pop culture:

After the phenomenal success of books such as Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, Armchair Economist [..], every economist is under pressure to come up with some innovative approach to explain mundane things in life. Forget earlier topics like “Why aid doesn’t work in Africa” or “Implications of direct cash grants on Philips curve” that used to keep economists intrigued; the best talent in business are now looking for more relevant topics. And even though some of the most pressing issues facing mankind such as “Overpricing of the hotel mini-bar” (Tim Harford) and “socioeconomic patterns of naming children” (Steven Levitt) have already been worked upon, there still remain some fundamental questions that remain unanswered. For example, “How many love songs are written for every break-up song and why” or “why do men wash underwear less frequently than women”, or “Why does Ronald McDonald not get fat”? 

Where are Americans moving to? And from?

Talking about comparative hotness – which states of the US are hemorrhaging homes, and which ones are rapidly reeling in the residents? Earlier this month, Patrick Ottenhoff dug into the demographics on domestic migration between 2000 and 2008, and put up a map on The Electoral Map. It’s not as simple as cities versus flyover country, he emphasises: loser states cover a contiguous chunk of territory from Massachusetts to Nebraska, while most of the states strongly gaining ground are clustered together in the West and on the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Florida.

What’s the real reason Putin handpicked Medvedev for President?

Of course, or so the cheekier of conventional wisdoms go: term-limited out of the Presidential office, Putin needed someone to keep his seat warm while he played Prime Minister for a few years, so he could return to the Presidency soon enough. But why Medvedev?

Why, his luxurious head of hair of course. It’s the only way the steely-eyed leader could deal with the longstanding law of succession when it comes to ruling Russia. Lenin – bald; Stalin – hairy; Khrushchev – bald; Brezhnev – hairy; well, you get the idea. Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin hairy, and well – let’s be honest, Putin isn’t particularly blessed in this regard.

By choosing Dmitry last year, Putin bent the Bald-Hairy Theory of Russian Leaders to his will to power – and the two can rule till death do them part.

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The bright side of Northern Ireland’s strange politics

European Politics, Politics

Chekov at Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness highlights the extent to which the most unusual of political alliances has entrenched itself in Northern Ireland. For a little over two years now, the government is made up of Sinn Fein – the long-time political arm of the IRA – and the DUP, the hardline Unionist party that was led for close to fourty years by the rabblerousing Rev. Paisley.

An odd couple indeed, but one that’s digging its heels in – and in turn has the opposition unifying across religious lines. When the Catholic SDLP and the Ulster Unionists joined up last week with the non-sectarian Alliance in an attempt to block government legislation, First Minister Robinson (DUP) called theirs an “unholy” alliance, which understandably has the Ulster Unionists in a tizzy:

Yesterday, in an ill-tempered display, First Minister Robinson hit out at the UUP, Alliance and SDLP for co-operating on the Financial Assistance Bill. He had the cheek to describe the three parties as an ‘unholy alliance’ – on the same day as he and his party trooped into the voting lobbies 6 times with their friends in Sinn Fein.

3 democratic political parties co-operating to hold the First Minister and deputy First Minister to account is positive, democratic politics – Messers Robinson and McGuinness clubbing together in a power-grab is truly ‘unholy’. [..]

[T]he closeness of the DUP-Sinn Fein alliance is now obvious for all to see. Two parties, conceived in sectarianism and bound together by a mutual loathing, but united by their arrogant contempt for those parties who dare to hold them up to scrutiny in the Assembly. Mr. Robinson was entirely right that an unholy alliance exists – the problem is that it is an alliance of his party and his colleagues in Sinn Fein.

Eloquent – I love the “Two parties, conceived in sectarianism and bound together by a mutual loathing” bit. And yet, there’s something reassuring about seeing a cross-sectarian opposition arguing against a cross-sectarian government and making the kind of accusations (bulldozering through legislation and the like) that could feature in any country.

An opposition primarily identifying itself, not along religious or nationalist lines, but as a “positive, democratic” alliance whose first priority is enforcing accountability and good governance – even if it’s all situational, that’s a long way from Northern Ireland’s not all too distant past.

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Anastasia Baburova was just 25 – and the fourth Novaya Gazeta journalist to be murdered

European Politics, Media / journalism, Politics

Most news reports last week on the double political murder in Moscow focused on Stanislav Markelov, the intended target of the assassination, rather than Anastasia Baburova, his fellow victim. With reason – Markelov was a prolific lawyer, who excelled in taking on human rights cases that few others in Putin’s Russia would take. He had long demonstrated a courage in pursuing these cases that earned him enemies far and wide – something that would make it hard to identify who had him killed even if anyone in a position to do so would want to. 

At RFE/RL, Zoya Svetova runs through the list. Was it the Russian colonel who raped and strangled a Chechen woman, and whose early release from prison Markelov was trying to stop that very day? Maybe it was the major from a special police forces unit, who once threatened to kill Anna Politkovskaya (the journalist who was assassinated in 2006) and went on to torture a Chechen student to death? Markelov represented both Politkovskaya and the Chechen. Perhaps it had to do with the case of a local newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who had gotten in the crosshairs of the mayor and was mysteriously assaulted? He is still in a coma; Markelov represented him in court. Maybe it was the fascists, because of the anti-fascists Markelov defended? Maybe Markelov was killed because of his involvement in the case of a man who disappeared last year after accusing the Chechen authorities of running secret prisons?

Svetova’s commentary (“Russia’s ‘Open Season’ Of Murder Continues”) lists some of the recent victims on the “unending list” of political assassinations. Just a week before it was Markelov’s turn, a Chechen was assassinated in Vienna as he left a grocery store. It was Umar S. Israilov, who had fled Russia after he’d accused Chechnya’s president of participating in kidnappings and torture sessions. (They’d already tried to force him back by abducting and torturing his father.)

Anastasia Baburova

Anastasia Baburova

The Washington Post highlighted the trend most pointedly (“Two More Critics of Vladimir Putin Take Bullets in the Head”): “The larger story here is of serial murders of Mr. Putin’s opponents, at home and abroad. Ms. Baburova [..] is at least the 15th journalist to be slain since Mr. Putin took power. No one has been held accountable in any of the cases [..].”

But amidst the dismay about Markelov’s death, there were fewer personal notes about Baburova, a friend of Markelov and a journalist at the opposition Novaya Gazeta, who wrote about racism and the frequent attacks on ethnic minorities. 

She was the daughter of a factory worker in the Crimea, and was studying journalism at the Moscow State University in the evenings. She was also a radical activist, who had joined the anarchist group Autonomous Action the day before she was murdered. According to the group’s tribute, she “was into physical sports such as parachute jumping [and] well trained in martial art”. It didn’t save her; she was shot while trying to apprehend the gunman. 

Her colleagues from the Novaya Gazeta paid tribute to her. Markelov was their legal advisor; Baburova was one of their newest colleagues. You will forgive them a sense of pathos; Baburova is the fourth NG journalist to be murdered (NG co-owner Aleksandr Lebedev has now requested that his journalists be permitted to carry guns).

Anastasia Baburova only joined Novaya gazeta in October 2008.

She very much wanted to work for the newspaper and decided to investigate crimes committed by Russia’s Nazi groups. She had very little time to do her job.

In essence, Stanislav and Anastasia were simply decent people who could not tolerate what the majority in our country has accepted. That was enough for the lords and masters of Russia to issue their verdict [..].

[..] Nastya Baburova was also a romantic rebel, an anarchist who took part in the anti-fascist movement and the Dissenters’ marches. It was no accident that she found herself in such company: she quite consciously chose that path in life.

In the eyes of the regime and ordinary people, who only want to keep out of trouble and quietly survive the present regime, Nastya’s choice also made her an outsider. Therefore few people in our country could die as she did, struggling to apprehend the assassin. In the office in front of which Stas and Nastya were shot people heard gunfire and even understood immediately what had happened. They were afraid to go out, however, or even to glance through the window. [..]

It was not by chance that Stanislav and Nastya had been friends for many years (she was only 25!) They were people who had an absolutely clear understanding of good and evil. Such abstractions acquire meaning when people act.

The killers have no fear because they know they will not be punished. But neither are their victims afraid, because when you defend others you cease to fear. Those today who are fearful are the people who keep out of trouble, trying to survive these bad times, when the bad times (for some reason) never seem to end. 

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Russia’s gradual embrace of Stalinism

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Politics

When it comes to Russia’s creeping rehabilitation of Stalin, a good follow-up read was published last month in openDemocracy: The Embrace of Stalinism. It was written by Memorial’s founder Arseny Roginsky, apparently on the eve of the police raid. It starts off slow, but ends up sketching an instructive panorama of the current junction in Russia’s development.

The urgency of the moment when it comes to determining historical memory reflects the same tragedy as Spain’s; any opening is about to be too late. The terror is “a passing memory. There are still witnesses, but they are the last of their kind, and they are dying, taking with them the personal memories and experiences.”

The difference, of course, is that Spain is witnessing a last-minute rush to uncover stories and records from the totalitarian past, while the last opportunities to do so in Russia are rapidly being clamped down on. All the signs point the other way – as was poignantly underlined by the raid on Memorial and the further assassinations of dissidents this month.

So why is today’s Russia romanticising the memory of Stalinism, Roginsky asks – and proceeds to walk the reader through the ingredients:

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Updates: Follow the links

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

Re Spain’s orphaned children of the revolution: I found the photo of the Women’s prison Les Corts in Barcelona on Flickr, but the original source must be this site: Memòria de les Corts, prisión de mujeres, a site of the Catalan government. There’s many more.

Re: the raid by armed Russian police on “Memorial”: only after writing that post did I find two openDemocracy articles about it. Russia: raid on Memorial HQ has the official statement from “Memorial” from 4 December, outlining that “the confiscated discs contain databases with biographical details of tens of thousands of victims of the Stalinist repressions [which] has taken “Memorial” 20 years to collect”. In Eleven hard disks, “Tatyana Kosinova itemises the material, which includes Memorial’s massive project for a Virtual Gulag Museum” and the whole of its electronic archive of oral history.

Re: Speech wars and past inaugural addresses: for a comparison of the words used by GWB and Obama in their speeches, check out this mysterious webpage. It lists the “words which appear in one speech, but not the other, in decreasing order of number of times mentioned”, with words of less than 4 letters and themost frequently used words excluded for clarity.

Re: reasons to hate Chris Matthews, read this hilarious account of watching Mathews present the inauguration: Chris Matthews’ Inaugural Jib-Jabbery. Money quote is right at the beginning:

Nobody in TV news stir-fries his ideas and serves them to the audience faster than MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Drawing from a larder filled with old anecdotes, unreliable metaphors, wacky intuition, and superficial observations, the always-animated Matthews steers whatever’s handy into the hot wok that is his brain. The sizzling free-associations skitter through his limbic system, leap out his mouth, and look for a resting spot in the national conversation, where they steam like fresh lava in untouchable heaps.

When I ranted about Matthews, I mentioned his mindblowingly shallow stupidity, but mostly I focused on the way he “turns with the wind with the self-evidence of someone who is so obliviously vain and unreflective, he wouldn’t even be able to recognize that he’s doing it.” But what strikes me in Shafer’s account is the man’s enduring love for authority, or maybe it’s celebrity. His knees go weak in the presence of celebrity – not the best trait in one of the country’s premier pundits.

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Reenacting their parents’ revolutions as farce?

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Politics
May Day march of the Greek communists (KKE and allies) in 2008. Image used under CC license by xamogelo.

May Day march of the Greek communists in 2008. (Image shared under CC license by Flickr user xamogelo.)

“You can only imagine the bitterness this must have left in families [with] Republican, anarchist or socialist traditions,” I wrapped up my previous post about the lost children of Franco’s Spain. This might be something to keep in mind when eyeing the still vibrant leftist countercultures in the Mediterranean.

In Germany and Holland, countercultural hotbeds in the eighties, even the parties furthest to the left have long embraced classic social-democratic programmes that are more redolent of Willy Brandt than Karl Liebknecht. But in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal there are still significant constituencies waving the red or black flags of revolutionary communism or anarchism. Maybe stories like those of Spain’s lost children are part of the explanation: the political emotions go deeper, are rooted in more personal stories.

This is what an IPS report on the Greek riots last month posited. Explaining the sheer intensity of anti-police violence, Apostolis Fotiadis reported:

Many [of the young people who joined the demonstrations] were joined by their parents, who experienced military dictatorship between 1967 and 1973. “I came because I felt responsible for the stalemate we left to these children to deal with [..],” said Tania Liberopoulos, a middle-aged accountant.

The protests were fed by the political memory of a history of social and political struggle. Almost by instinctive conscience, many people in Greece distrust the state. The latent Greek dislike of the police, which erupted so volcanically, has its roots in the old dictatorship when the police functioned as the colonels’ enforcers against the citizens.

Constant misuse of the police for anti-social purposes has led to its dehumanisation; officers are met with hate and contempt, and they hate back.

I’m not sure I buy into this – or at least, I’m not sure whether it works as much of a defense.

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Spain’s orphaned children of the revolution

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, History, Politics

A heartbreaking story in The Times this month underlines the sheer, unprecedentedly ideological cruelty of the 20th century – and the lasting traumas it left behind, like so many time bombs:

Find General Francisco Franco’s stolen children of the Spanish Civil War, says court

She was 54 when she first got to know her mother, but Antonia Radas was one of the luckier ones. Taken away when her mother, Carmen, was imprisoned after the Spanish Civil War for her father’s Republican links, Mrs Radas’s adoptive parents lied to her, telling her that she had been abandoned, and changed her name to stop relatives tracing her. Mother and child were finally reunited in 1993, 18 months before Carmen died.

Now 71, Mrs Radas is among an estimated 30,000 children who were separated from their parents on the orders of General Francisco Franco. Many of them never knew who their real parents were.

Their cause was taken up by Judge Baltasar Garzón, the man who went after Pinochet and officers from the Argentinian junta:

Garzón [..] has claimed that Franco and 34 henchmen were guilty of the systematic killing or disappearance of at least 114,000 people during and after the civil war.

Among the victims were children of Republicans who were adopted by Franco sympathisers to prevent them coming under the influence of Marxism. Others, whose families fled abroad, were lured back to Spain under false pretences. “Child refugees were also kidnapped in France by the repatriation service of the regime and put in state institutions,” Judge Garzón wrote. [..]

Julián Casanova, a historian, claims that the aim was to “reCatholicise” the children of “Reds”. He said: “The Church was responsible for the theft of these children, from Red families. It wanted to purify them.”

The stories are all the more tragic because it’s too late now, for all but a few victims. The children who were robbed from (and of) their parents are in their old age. Their parents will almost certainly be dead, so there is no prospect of a cathartic reunion.

Womens prison Les Corts in Barcelona, 1952 (Image shared under CC license by Jaume dUrgell). Google Books allows for a peek in Prison of Women, by Tomasa Cuevas and Mary E. Giles, which has testimonies from this prison.

Women's prison Les Corts, Barcelona, 1952 (shared under CC license by Jaume d'Urgell). Google Books provides a peek in "Prison of Women" by Tomasa Cuevas e.a., which has testimonies from this prison.

Moreover, Garzón last November had to relinquish “what had promised to be the first criminal investigation of wrongs committed by Franco and his allies”. He was forced by state prosecutors to concede jurisdiction to regional courts, “who now have the authority to decide whether or not to take up these controversial cases”. He also had pass the responsibility “for opening 19 mass graves believed to hold the remains of hundreds of victims” to regional courts.

Xenu Ablana, 80, holds little faith in the proceedings. “The courts are still run by Francoists. These people have a lot of influence,” he said. His story is one of the heartbreaking ones:

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Entropa: Derailing Europe

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Funny, Politics
Entropa, a controversial exhibition

Entropa, a controversial exhibition

Eternal Remont flagged this story a few days ago already – before it hit all the news stands. I laughed out loud but didn’t think of bringing it here until I came across more detail at openDemocracy and elsewhere. If the story missed you by so far, read the account of a credulity straining clusterfuck at the highest European levels – which manages to tie in some urgent developments in individual countries as well.

Chronicle of a wreck foretold

As of the beginning of this month, the Czech Republic took over the presidency of the European Union for the next six months.

To celebrate the occasion and underline the presidency’s commitment to art and Europe’s cultural variety, the Czech EU Presidency embraced the idea of an exhibition on the premises of the European Council, one of the EU’s three main institutions. The commission was won by David Černý, a Czech artist. In his proposal, one artist from each of the twenty-seven member states would contribute a symbolic representation of their country. In a postmodern, playful kind of way, of course. The Czechs boasted, recounts the BBC’s Mark Mardell, that the artwork would speak where words fail.

Černý may be best known for the stunt he pulled back in the heady years after the velvet revolution. He and his friends took to a Soviet tank that was still being preserved as monument to WW2 Soviet tank crews, and painted it pink. After he was promptly arrested and the tank was repainted green, 15 members of parliament took advantage of their official immunity and re-painted the tank pink again. In short, the artist had the kind of fame that would allow him to land a job like this, but might also have alerted the Czechs to what was going to happen…

Entropa: Bulgaria portrayed as a series of Turkish squat toilets

Entropa: Bulgaria portrayed as a series of squat toilets

The resulting Entropa exhibition is shaped as a giant, 256 m² (2,760 sq ft), “Airfix” sprue frame, which is affixed to the European Council seat, the Justus Lipsius Building in Brussels. Each country, adorned in various, um, colourful and controversial ways to reflect national specificities, is shaped as a snap-out plastic part inside a frame of tubes, like one of those old-fashioned modelling kits.

The Czech EU Presidency published (6MB, PDF) a suitably fancy brochure. It features an introduction by Černý:

The EU puzzle is both a metaphor and a celebration of this diversity. It comprises the building blocks of the political, economic and cultural relationships with which we ‘toy’ but which will be passed on to our children. The task of today is to create building blocks with the best possible characteristics.

The cost of the work has been variously put at €373,000 or $500,000 (EU Observer), 10 million Czech crowns or $606,000 (National Post) or 13.2 million crowns (Wikipedia). Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra spent lavish praise on the artists. “I am confident in Europe’s open mind and capacity to appreciate such a project,” he said, and, a tad defensively: “in today’s Europe there is no place for censorship”.

The EU Observer sketched the scene on the 13th:

Gaggles of EU officials, diplomats and journalists were to be found standing under the construction throughout the day trying to puzzle out where their country could be found. [..]

“We’re Ikea …of course,” said one grinning Swedish official, referring to the representation of his country as a giant flatpack [..]. “Who are you?” he asked. But his colleague was unsure. She thought she was the “one with meat on it.”

Not amused

Even before it was unveiled, the exhibition backfired, however. While some Germans expressed unease at how the pattern of highways that crisscrossed their country in the exhibit was somewhat redolent of a swastika, it was the Bulgarians in particular who were not pleased at what they saw.

“It is preposterous, a disgrace,” declared Betina Joteva, spokeswoman of the Bulgarian permanent representation to the EU. “It is a humiliation for the Bulgarian nation and an offence to our national dignity.” The government promptly demanded that the Bulgarian piece of the puzzle be removed before the official opening.

More photos and video below the fold.

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Testify. (Miliband and the “War on Terror”)

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary and mini-Blair, is a bit of a twat. But today he published an op-ed in the Guardian (via Kevin Drum), which is eloquent in staking out long-lost grounds of sanity and humanity when it comes to the “War on Terror”.

It’s called, simply: ‘War on terror’ was wrong.

Testify:

The idea of a “war on terror” gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. The reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate. Lashkar-e-Taiba has roots in Pakistan and says its cause is Kashmir. Hezbollah says it stands for resistance to occupation of the Golan Heights. The Shia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq have myriad demands. They are as diverse as the 1970s European movements of the IRA, Baader-Meinhof, and Eta. All used terrorism and sometimes they supported each other, but their causes were not unified and their cooperation was opportunistic. So it is today.

The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common. [..]

The “war on terror” also implied that the correct response was primarily military. But as General Petraeus said to me and others in Iraq, the coalition there could not kill its way out of the problems of insurgency and civil strife. [..]

We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama’s commitment to close it.

Bold words, even now. Yeah, if he and his New Labour peers had spoken up sooner, it would have saved lives. But it’s still a message that deserves to be repeated over and again, because there are still far too many people who will not hear.

It also suggests the Brits are really, really glad to see Bush and his administration go…

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The wry that came in from the cold

Economy, European Politics, Funny, Politics

The Russian-Ukrainian dispute over gas is a mess of economical, political and geostrategical dilemmas. It tears at conflicts both open and latent between the two countries, between both countries and the EU, and between large and small countries inside the EU.

But in the meantime, ordinary people in Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Bosnia are left in the cold – literally. The AP report telling the story has the quote of the day:

“People are fed up with thinking globally but freezing locally,” said Valeri Naidenov, a newspaper columnist.

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In which the great Vladimir Putin solves yet another nettlesome international issue

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Funny, Politics

Pirates(and)Diplomats at Eternal Remont has a point about the dilemmas involved in Serbs burning Russian flags. (They’re doing so because they’re freezing, due to the gas shut-off). “If a Russian flag were to, say, accidentally flip during the messy burning process, wouldn’t the Serbs in fact, be burning their own flag?”

However, another article they’re linking to today suggests a simple answer. The ten men and women whom Kommersant Vlast Journal selected for its annual list of Russia’s biggest yes-men and -women (#10. Svetlana Semenova: “The people have become kinder – this is an attribute of Putin’s policies”) would certainly agree. Just put Putin’s face on the Russian flag, and no Serb need worry about tipping his burning flag the wrong way anymore.

Russian flag with Putin profile

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Always a frown with golden brown

European Politics, Politics

Good God. If there was one thing at least that was good about the Brown government, it was that he finally threw out those execrable Blairite beasts of spin and deceit, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell. And now they’re both to return? And Alan Milburn too – for a healthy injection of free market idolization, right now the crisis is exposing its folly?

Throw in the floated return of Blunkett and Clarke and the authoritarian wing of New Labour would be back in full force too, for a fully-fledged restoration of late Blairism. Great – cause that was proving to end so well a couple of years ago.

Image used under CC license from the World Economic Forum

Image used under CC license from the World Economic Forum

What Brown is lacking is a spine and a consistent vision. His problem is not that he veered away from Blairite policies; it’s not that he supposedly turned all Old Labour. It’s certainly not his assertive response to the financial crisis, which was praised internationally. It’s his opportunism.

After staunchly pushing through New Labour economic policies for a decade, he missed the credibility to stir traditional Labour constituencies from their slumber again, when he finally appeared to want to correct Blairite excess. And before you could say “maybe he really means it,” he’s already turning on his heels again, in desperation at Labour’s turgid recovery in the polls.

His profile has simply been incoherent. In an otherwise rather silly take on Milburn’s return, the Telegraph’s Janet Daley does put her finger on it when she reviews Brown’s erstwhile snubs of Blair’s ultras: “Did he block them back then because he was opposed in principle or simply as part of his great sulk over Tony Blair’s ascendancy?”

Right, that’s the question he never delivered a persuasive answer to. So now he’s ended up with the worst of both worlds, trusted by neither the left nor the Blairites; by neither the disaffected working class voters who have come to prefer staying home or even voting BNP, nor the business types and middle class suburbanites who see a new and improved Blair in David Cameron.

Half a year ago, Jon Cruddas, after coming in third in the race for Labour’s deputy chairman post, laid out a sound and sensible analysis of the problem Labour faces and how the current time offers it an opportunity to reinvent itself:

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