Browsing the archives for the European Politics category.

Take my country. No, really – take it.

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

Did Roman Abramovich, the world’s 15th richest man (and Russia’s second wealthiest), get an offer he can’t refuse?

An unknown Latvian called Andris posted a letter on petitonline.com which reads:

Dear Roman Abramovich. As you may already know our homeland Latvia went bankrupt and is currently holding talks with the International Monetary Fund on the sale of our country for 7.5 billion euros ($10.7 billion). [..]

I would like you to consider the possibility of purchasing Latvia: the population are hard working and pleasant, environmentally clean area and plenty of space to dock your yacht.

A prank, right? But one that got signed by 1,025 people (and counting).

It’s mostly Russian names – and since anyone can sign (I know; I tried), this is of course the perfect foil for a latest dig in the ongoing flamewar between Latvia and Russia. Then again, since the 40% or so Russian-speaking residents of Latvia have been largely and vocally dissatisfied ever since independence, there shouldn’t be a lack of signatories from Latvia either.

Not, moreover, that this is a first. As the bloggers at Eternal Remont point out:

Apparently this is not the first time Latvians have joined together to petition a foreign individual or state takeover. Also this year, over 2000 Latvians petitioned for Swedish occupation.

And this particular Baltic tradition goes back further than that, in one of my favourite bits of party political history. When the Estonians held their first national elections after independence in 1992, those were understandably won by conservative nationalists. But coming in sixth in a fragmented landscape was the Estonian Royalist Party.

The Royalists proposed establishing Estonia as an absolute monarchy. Of course there was the slight dilemma of Estonia never having had a royal family, so instead the party suggested the Swedish Crown Prince Carl Philip could become King of Estonia.*

The Royalists won no less than 7.1% of the vote, and 8 of the 101 seats in parliament.

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Yearning for a “none of the above” ballot option

European Politics, Politics
(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Neil101)

(Image used under CC license from Flickr user Neil101)

In Russia, until a few years ago when Putin’s acolytes decided the option was creating altogether too many headaches, voters had the option of foregoing all the available choices and instead checking a box on the ballot marked “none of the above”. The option had some actual teeth as well: in case more voters opted for “none of the above” than for any individual candidate, the elections had to be done over. (That’s what let the government to eventually shut down the option, after a couple of embarassing reruns in regional governor’s elections.)

Judging on some recent opinion polls, there’s plenty of Europeans who would love the option. Take Britain and Hungary.

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And you thought you had a voter registration fraud problem

European Politics, Politics

Talking with Americans about voting fraud – or more correctly: voter registration fraud – gets you roughly two kinds of answers, depending on whether you talk to a Republican or a Democrat.

Ferencvaros (Image used under CC license from Flickr user Peiboliche)

Ferencvaros, Budapest (Used under CC license from Flickr user Peiboliche)

It happens on a large scale, is a scandal, and surely indicates that there must be a problem with actual voting fraud as well. Or it’s a hype, stirred up by a losing party eager to avoid facing up to its failure; something that only occurs on a small scale and doesn’t affect the actual election results anyway.

Either way, the subject’s offered much fodder for controversy.

Well, here’s a reality check from Hungary. You thought you may have a problem?

Police probe fake candidate petition slips in Budapest local constituency

More than 2,200 fake candidate petition slips were discovered in Budapest’s ninth district, where parliamentary constituency elections are due to be held on January 11 [..].

Under Hungary’s electoral system, it is necessary to collect 750 slips showing support among the local public before standing a candidate. [..] The forgeries involved the conservative opposition Democratic Forum (MDF), non-parliamentary radical nationalist MIEP and the non-parliamentary radical nationalist Hungarian Social Green Party (MSZZP) [..].

The National Printing Office [..] has examined the slips received and found that 1,152 of those given for the MSZZP candidate had been forged while only 13 were genuine. There were 669 fakes out of 1,015 slips sent in for MDF’s candidate, and 415 fakes out of a total of 781 MIEP slips. [..]

Parties which had qualified to stand a candidate were the Humanist party, the Free Democrats, the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party and Fidesz-KDNP.

13 out of 1,152 genuine! I mean, wow.

It actually gets a little more byzantine than that. Note these paras:

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Taking a moment to realise how different it could have been

Economy, European Politics, Politics, US Economy, US Politics, World Economy

This is Josh Moulitsas-Soros, acting CEO of Observationalism.com.

Most readers know that the views expressed on this blog are…

OK, just joking.

Ezra Klein uses the progressive blogosphere’s shitstorm in a teacup of the day to reflect on the agenda of the Third Way think tank, and how events since 2004 have overtaken it and made it irrelevant. It’s a good way to consider just how different things could have gone – and while we’re at it, to consider the looming reversal of roles between US liberals and European lefties.

It’s just four years ago, when Third Way was announced on November 11th, 2004, that this seemed like a good idea:

This was a week after John Kerry lost the presidential election, and the young organization was sold as a DLC for the next-generation. “As Democrats continue to stagger from last week’s election losses, a group of veteran political and policy operatives has started an advocacy group aimed at using moderate Senate Democrats as the front line in a campaign to give the party a more centrist profile,” wrote The Washington Post.

In other words, Third Way was formed under the theory that the Democrats’ problem in 2004 was that they were too far to the left, and as such, had lost middle class voters. The organization focused on upper middle class voters and followed the Mark Penn strategy of machine gun bursts of small, bite-sized policies meant to attract professional whites and rural voters.

Ezra does a good job in briefly sketching how quickly the Third Way’s strategy became an anachronism:

This year, Barack Obama was, on domestic policy, the most moderate of the major Democrats, which put him substantially to the left of every major Democrat running for president in 2004. His health care plan was more universal than Gephardt’s, his Iraq plan was more aggressively focused on withdrawal than Dean’s, and he was a black liberal from an urban center. Clinton and Edwards ran on similar platforms. None of them bore any obvious resemblance to the office park bait Third Way advocated. [..]

Third Way [..] were built as the vessel for a particular argument about the path to a Democratic resurgence, and their side of that debate lost. [..] Democrats have won atop something like the opposite of their advice and very different from their predicted majority coalition, which may explain why they’re acting so defensive.

All of which provides a good Zen moment to consider, even amidst my kind of bellyaching about Obama’s appointees, the blessings there are to count. You could have ended up with the Third Way recipe. Instead, the Democratic Party’s has moved left even as it gained political dominance.

This doesn’t just hold up in comparison with what the future looked like in 2004, either. Take the 850 billion euro economic stimulus plan the Democrats are preparing. That’s 6% of America’s GDP, more or less. Now compare the €200-billion stimulus plan that EU leaders eventually agreed on last week that involves the member states pumping the equivalent of 1.5% of GDP into their economies.

Alternatively, consider the £20-billion British stimulus package that Gordon Brown is proposing. On the eve of the EU summit, it stirred the German finance minister into a frenzied tizzy in Newsweek about “tossing around billions,” a deplorable “breathtaking switch” to “crass Keynesianism,” and the “breathtaking and depressing … speed at which proposals are put together .. that don’t even pass an economic test” – and that’s a plan that involves, if I’m getting the numbers right, all of 1.6% of British GDP.

Basically, after years in which European lefties like me groaned about a Democratic Party so milquetoast it would be a right-wing party in our countries, we’re suddenly faced with American peers who are moving more boldly to tackle the economic crisis than any EU government seems able or willing to do. While Obama’s party appears to be prepping a rapid shift of perspective to rediscover the wisdom of Keynesianism, the European governments are shackled by the EU’s deficit rules. It might not be long before we actually cast a jealous eye on those American peers we disdained just a few years ago.

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Sarko’s Angels No More?

European Politics, Politics

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy personally shepherded three non-white women of immigrant background into his government in May 2007, it was a bold move; no government before, left or right, had been as inclusive. (To appreciate just how groundbreaking it was, read my previous post.) Not to mention that Fadela Amara is a Socialist.

Fadela Amara (Image under CC license from Flickr user h de c)

Fadela Amara (Image under CC license from Flickr user h de c)

In a government bureaucracy as status conscious as France’s, it was all the bolder because all three come from truly modest backgrounds. Fadela Amara, the long-time fighter for women’s rights in the impoverished suburbs, grew up as one of 11 brothers and sisters in what she describes as a shanty-town. Rachida Dati, the tenacious networker who shone as spokeswoman for Sarkozy’s 2006 presidential campaign, was one of 12 children of a Moroccan bricklayer. Rama Yade, just 30 when she was appointed, was the daughter of two influential Senegalese professors, but after their divorce her mother raised her in the towerblocks of Hauts-de-Seine. (Bonus trivia: as teenager, she only got to go on holidays thanks to the summer holiday camps which the communist French People’s Aid ran for the underprivileged).

It was a “fairytale”, as Guardian journalist Angelique Chrisafis called Dati’s story last month. But is it, now, as she put it, a fairytale that “has started to go spectacularly wrong”? “The rise and fall of Rachida Dati,” her article was called. This month sees a new article headlined “The rise and fall of Rama Yade“. So what happened?

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Obama’s victory confronts France with its own troubled status quo

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

During the US presidential election campaign, Doug Saunders noted in the Canadian Globe & Mail last month, “the big question in Europe had been whether Mr. Obama’s liberalism connected to the values of the social democrats and socially moderate conservatives who tend to govern Europe. Was he good enough to be a European?” It was, in at least one major aspect, the wrong question. When it comes to race, Saunders pointed out, the question is rather the other way around. Would European voters have been able to do what American voters did? Would they measure up to the way Americans overcame racial prejudice in electing Obama?

There are some 5 million blacks in France and the UK alone; some 12 million across Europe. Arguably more marginalised still are the Muslims of Western Europe; the immigrants and children and grandchildren of immigrants from Northern Africa, Turkey and Pakistan. There are 7-10 million of those in France, Germany and the UK alone, with another 5 million spread elsewhere through Western Europe. So how about it? Could there be a European Obama?

Rama Yade (Image used under CC license from Flickr user philippe leroyer)

Rama Yade (Image used under CC license from Flickr user philippe leroyer)

No way, said France’s only black minister, Rama Yade in an interview with the Telegraph, at least not in France. Her country “will never elect its own Barack Obama under the current ageing, white political elite,” she said, calling the prospect a “pipe dream”. And this is not some cynical lefty talking; Yade is the secretary of state for human rights and foreign affairs in a conservative government, which she joined as something of a protege of President Sarkozy.

“I’m 51 and I’m sure I won’t see any Barack Obama in France in the next generation,” Saunders was told by Azouz Begag, who  served as Minister for Equal Opportunities under Jacques Chirac.

“Obama puts the political system in France on the hot seat,” Pap Ndiaye of the School for the Advanced Study of the Social Sciences in Paris told the Christian Science Monitor. His election “has a direct social effect in France, because the black youth think it is possible there but not here.”

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History as farce

European Politics, Politics

Budapest riot police, 2007I’ve given up on chasing after the riots like I used to (texts, photos), but the national holidays and commemorations which they unvariably adorn here in Hungary still have an eerie quality. Living downtown, you have the sound of the choppers hovering overhead all day and night long — and when you venture out in the evening, the boulevard is cordoned off and a convoy of cop cars and vans filled with riot police sirens past.

A quick glance at the usual breathless minute-by-minute reporting by the right-wing Magyar Nemzet newspaper suggests that an overpowering police presence this time stifled the would-be rioters – a generation yearning to emulate the heroic fights of its grandparents, doomed to imitate them as farce. At what cost they are succeeding is another question.

Update: Police did find “three petrol-fuelled explosive devices with timers attached” in the boot of a passenger car by Budapest’s Western Railway Station.

On the other hand, there was a rare occasion of, let’s say, civic intervention:

A group of 200, most of whom were wearing ski masks covering their faces, moved on to join a World Federation of Hungarians gathering in another part of the city when residents of a nearby building doused them with an unidentified liquid probably water. They responded by throwing rocks at the offending apartments.

That’s a first, I think.

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Haider’s death offers little hope for the fight against the far right

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

Joefromchicago was straight on the case here yesterday to comment on the death of Jörg Haider, the charismatic far right leader who has left such an imprint on Austrian politics these last two decades.

Joerg Haider

Joerg Haider

Haider was the scourge of Austria, and his self-inflicted death by speeding will not be mourned by many democrats. Unfortunately though, his death does little to stop the renewed momentum for the extreme right in the country.

After suffering an electoral rout in 2002 and a bitter split in 2005, the Austrian far right has demonstrated its resilience, regrouping and coming right back up again to score its best elections result ever earlier this year. And the story of its resurgence offers a sobering lesson for those European democrats who believed that the far right could be defeated through cooptation. It provides a similar reality check for those who were still betting on the far right’s dependency on rare charismatic leaders.

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End of the Road for Haider

European Politics, Politics

The results after Haider uncharacteristically passed on the left

Shortly after one o’clock on a foggy Saturday morning Jörg Haider, governor (Landeshauptmann) of the Austrian province of Carinthia, lost control of his VW Phaeton on a street in the town of Lambichl, near the provincial capital of Klagenfurt. The car hit the embankment and a concrete fencepost before flipping over. The 58-year old Haider died in the crash. And thus ended the career of one of the most controversial political leaders produced by Austria since the end of the Second World War.

Haider’s death follows by less than two weeks the parliamentary elections in which the party he led, the Alliance for Austria’s Future (BZÖ), captured close to eleven percent of the votes and 21 seats in the 183-seat lower house of parliament. A BZÖ spokesman said that Haider’s death was “like the end of the world for us.”

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