Browsing the archives for the europe tag.

Regional elections in France and the National Front scare: After the run-off

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

It’s a great relief for any democrat that Marine Le Pen’s Front National (FN) failed to win any region, after having led in six after the first round, and after Le Pen herself had prognosticated that the FN could win “four or five regions”. That would have been disastrous, not just in terms of policy but as signal of a new stage of far-right penetration, at a time when the politics of xenophobia is on the rise across Europe.

Record number of votes for the Front National

The Front National received a record number of votes in the second round of the regional elections

But the party still booked an all-time record result in this weekend’s second round, in terms of raw votes (see chart to the right, from here). 6.8 million votes went to the National Front’s candidates. That’s not just over 800,000 more than in the first round, but also more than voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round of the 2012 presidential elections. Which is all the more striking considering that there were 36.6 million votes in total in those, and just 26.5 million now. In the PACA region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), for example, Marion Maréchal Le Pen  led the FN list and received a whopping 45% more votes in this second round than Marine Le Pen had gotten in her presidential bid.

So Le Pen is still very well-placed to improve significantly on her 2012 result, when she received 17.9% of the vote in the first round, in the next presidential elections.  A new opinion poll illustrates this.  If Sarkozy runs for the right, Le Pen would get 27% in the first round, with Sarkozy and incumbent President Hollande both getting 21%, centrist candidate Bayrou 12% and leftist candidate Mélenchon 10%. If, instead, the more moderate Alain Juppé runs for the right (in which case Bayrou would drop out), he would get 29% of the first round vote, Le Pen 27%, and Hollande 22%.

In practical terms, the FN tripled its number of councilors. (See the charts in the right column here for the share of councilors it won in each region.) Due to France’s electoral system, the FN has always had trouble building a good bench of local and regional politicians, and this will help it expand that bench significantly.

Libération, meanwhile, highlighted the ground the FN has won in terms of the political discourse. It pointed to the mainstream right’s winning candidate in the Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne region, Laurent Wauquiez, as example; he recently published a piece which proclaimed “Immigration, Hollande, Brussels: ça suffit” (“that’s enough”). Marion Maréchal Le Pen had already announced before the first round: “we have won the battle of ideas, not that of the parties”.

In her concession speech, Marine Le Pen gave a taste of what her presidential campaign will sound like. She argued that the withdrawal of the Socialist Party candidates in two crucial regions proved that the left-wing and right-wing parties are all the same, and triumphantly announced that there is now a new new kind of “bipartisme” – not between left and right, but between “patriots” and “mondialistes”.

Along similar lines, Marion Maréchal Le Pen denounced “the cynical profiteers” of the traditional parties, against which the Front National likes to contrast itself so much as clean alternative and authentic voice of the people. “Our love of France has never been as exalted,” she told her supporters. The Front National mayor of Hénin-Beaumont, Steeve Briois,  instead engaged in some projection, accusing “the republican front” of having “played on people’s fears and pursued a campaign of hate”.

Why the Front National failed to win any regions in the second round

Front National victories were prevented by a combination of three issues. One was that turnout increased significantly compared with the first round. As a result, the FN may have gained an additional 800,000 votes, but the other parties added a much higher number of 2,7 million voters to their tallies. It proved that there is still, for now, a “republican” majority for whom the FN is beyond the pale. A recent poll showed that 60% of the French think that the FN is “a dangerous party for democracy” and only 31% believes the FN is “capable of governing the country”.

The second reason the FN candidates fell short, surprisingly clearly in the case of Marine Le Pen herself in the Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie (NPDCP) region, was that the Socialist Party withdrew its candidates in crucial regions. In the NPDCP and PACA regions, Marine and Marion Maréchal Le Pen had received over 40% of the vote in the first round, with the candidates for the traditional right-wing lists behind by over 14 points and the left’s candidates in third place. In both regions the left’s candidates retreated in order to block the Le Pens. In the northeastern region Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, the Socialist Party withdrew its support from the Socialist candidate there who insisted on proceeding to the second round against its advice.

In Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie, Socialist activists went as far as leafleting for the right-wing candidate to help stop Le Pen. While the Socialist withdrawals lead to “an explosion of blank votes” in those two regions, as some left-wingers went to the polls but refused to vote for either candidate, the mobilization of a “republican front” was nevertheless impressive. In the left-wing first ‘arrondissement’ of Marseille, for example, the left’s withdrawal and support boosted the traditional right-wing candidate’s results from 17,7% in the first round to 80,1% in the second round.

France regional elections: vote transfers

France regional elections: vote transfers between the first and second round in the two regions where the socialist candidate withdrew

The chart to the right, showing the pooled voter flows in the PACA and NPDCP regions, shows it nicely as well. The increase in turnout in the second round benefited both the traditional right and the far right, but the former more so than the latter. Most importantly, however, it looks like almost a third of the vote for the victorious traditional right’s candidates came from left-wing voters. The picture was much more straightforward in the other regions, which had three-way run-offs with left-wing, right-wing and far-right candidates, though again it’s noteworthy how the increased turnout benefited the former two much more than the FN.

The Socialists paid a heavy price for this exercise in civic spirit though. Nord-Pas de Calais had been one of the left’s traditional strongholds; the Socialists came first in every regional election there since the region was created in the mid-1980s. Now, the Socialist Party will not have any representatives in the regional assembly, nor in PACA.

Third, the FN leads in the first round were partly deceptive because of the role smaller parties played. The Socialist Party may have received just 23% of the vote in the first round, but various green and leftist candidates received an additional 13%, and those formed a natural reserve of additional second-round votes for Socialists who made the run-off. The traditional right could at least to some extent fall back on voters from the Gaullist, Eurosceptic “Arise France!”. But there are no smaller far-right parties of note which the FN can draw on in run-offs.

For example, the Socialist Party candidate in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté placed third in the first round, with 23% of the vote against 24% for the traditional right’s candidate and 31% for the FN candidate. But in that same first round, 12% voted for other left-wing candidates, who collectively put the left at 35%; and 8.5% of them voted for Arise France! and the center-right MoDem, which would put the traditional right at a total of 32.5%. There were no minor party candidates which provided a pool the FN candidate could draw from. From this perspective, the second round result was no surprise at all, since it almost exactly reflected the proportions of each “camp” (as wide-ranging and eclectic as those are) in the first round: 35% for the left’s candidate, 33% for the traditional right, and 32% for the FN.

The results and challenges for the left and (traditional) right

The end result, in which the left won five regions against seven regions for the right, was a better than expected result for the left. “At the beginning of the campaign,” the conservative Figaro wrote, the socialists “had hoped to hold three regions at most”. But Le Monde published a chart which emphasizes an important distinction: the regions the right won have twice as many inhabitants as the ones the left won. This is in no small measure due to the right winning “Île-de-France” (Greater Paris), which Libération called the country’s “mammoth region of 12 million inhabitants”. The loss of Île-de-France smarts all the more because the left had held it for the past sixteen years.

By ways of symbolic comfort, @Taniel pointed out, the Front National was very weak in the two Paris arrondissements where last month’s terrorist attacks occurred, getting just 5% of the vote there while the left romped home.

Map: results of the run-off, by commune

Regional elections in France: results of the run-off, by commune. Source: Le Monde.

The less-disastrous-than-expected result is still likely to reignite a long-standing fight within the Socialist Party. What should the strategy be, ahead of the next presidential elections? As Le Figaro wrote: “In a landscape where three political parties compete in the first round, with an advantage for the Front National, the crucial objective is to make it into the second round. But how? By achieving, foremost, unity on the left, or by trying to quickly search for voters in the centre? It’s this question the socialists will now struggle to answer, knowing that it divides them deeply.”

Sarkozy’s supporters on the right and center-right face similar, perhaps even more combustive internal arguments, however. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the vice-president of Sarkozy’s party who had already earlier openly dissented from his line, pointedly remarked last night that if the left had applied the same “neither-nor” line which Sarkozy imposed on the right, obliging its candidates to refrain from any kind of alliance with the left against the FN, the right “would have lost”. The right’s candidates in the PACA and NPDCP regions seemed well aware of this, making sure to thank the left’s voters. But Sarkozy’s line has strong allies too, like the above-mentioned Laurent Wauquiez. [Edit: One day after I wrote this post, Sarkozy had Kosciusko-Morizet fired and replaced by noone else but Wauquiez.]

What will complicate this fight is that there will likely be an additional argument over when the right’s presidential primaries should be held. If the right’s contenders, like Sarkozy and Juppé, are waging a bitter fight until shortly before the presidential elections themselves, this could harm them and create opportunities for a Left vs FN run-off. But aspiring contenders who are currently further back in the primary polls, like former PM François Fillon, want the extra time, Le Figaro explained. To add to the complications, Sarkozy seems like the front-runner, but the polls show Juppé doing much better in a run-off against Le Pen.

Education, income and partisan preference, France & Netherlands edition

A French polling outfit called OpinionWay did a survey for Le Point about who voted what in the second round of the regional elections, and the breakdowns by education and income are stark. They also happen to echo findings by Maurice de Hond’s polling outfit this weekend in the Netherlands.

Map: Run-off results by "département”

Another way of visualizing the run-off map: leading party/candidate by “département”. Source: Liberation

Breaking down results by three educational levels, OpinionWay found that a whopping 44% of lower-education voters voted for the Front National, while just 16% of higher-education voters did. Both the left and the traditional right did better among higher-education voters, and both — perhaps surprisingly — by roughly the same margins.

Among professional categories, workers (“ouvriers”) went for the Front National by a stunning 54% to 26% for the traditional right and just 20% (!) for the left. The unemployed, however, spread their votes evenly among the three camps. But another set of data from the survey shows that turnout among them was a bitterly low 36%.

The Front National also easily led among those with the lowest incomes (less than 1,000 euro/month), attracting 43% of them to 34% for the traditional right and just 23% for the left. The left came closest to leading among the upper middle income category of 2,000-3,500 Eu/m, getting 34% of their votes to 38% for the traditional right and 28% for the FN. The traditional right did best among the uppermost income category, getting 47% of its vote.

The Dutch poll had shown the far right with similar, dominant leads among lower-education voters. According to de Hond (also using three education-level categories), Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party are getting 37% of the lower-education vote, and just 14% of the higher-education vote. Almost half (46%) of lower-education voters would consider voting for the Freedom Party, vs just 20% of higher-education voters. The only other party whose support is slanted towards the lower-educated is on the opposite end of the political spectrum: the Socialist Party gets 13% of the lower-education and 7% of the higher-education vote. (“Would consider” voting for the Socialists: 28% vs 17%.)

Conversely, the liberal and conservative center-right parties (VVD, CDA and D66) are pooling a strong 48% of the vote among higher-education voters, but just 22% of the lower-education vote. It’s a serious cleavage, which has shown up in surveys in the Netherlands for years now, and seems much more pronounced than class-based cleavages in earlier decades. It’s a serious cleavage, which has shown up for years now, but seems so much more pronounced than class-based cleavages in earlier decades.

It’s also an arguably much more damaging cleavage. In the post-WW2 era, the Dutch working class disproportionally voted for the Labour Party (though the christian parties also always received a substantive chunk of the working class vote), and the Labour Party regularly got to govern, ensuring that working class interests would at least sometimes be met. As a result, working-class voters had some reason to retain an extent of confidence in the political system. However, neither the Freedom Party nor the Socialists in the Netherlands, nor the Front National in France, are likely to gain entry to government (and in the case of the far right parties wouldn’t do much constructive on behalf of working class voters even if they did). Meanwhile, the Dutch parties that are most amenable to coalition governments, like the VVD, CDA and D66 as well as the Labour Party, have less reason than ever to prioritize working class interests, since that’s not where their electorate lies (anymore). The political cleavage therefore threatens to lock working class voters in an anti-systemic camp, as that’s where the only parties are which appeal to their interests and sentiments, but those parties won’t be able to represent their interests in governmental policy and the other ones will have less reason to do so; all of which in turn will only erode any confidence working class voters have left in the system. It could be a real vicious cycle.

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Budapest riots: not what they used to be anymore

European Politics, Politics

— Crossposted from Cogitamus —
It’s March 15, a national holiday, and police was duly out in massive numbers to guard the some twenty different, mostly oppositional, manifestations that took place. March 15, on which Hungarians commemorate the 1848 uprising against their Habsburgian overlords, is one of the two or three most volatile days in this country. There’s always a great number of protest manifestations (especially if there is a leftwing government), and the last couple of years there was widespread rioting.

Which is why today was a bit of a disappointment, really.

I was sort of ready to ignore the festivities already, since after two and a half years and a dozen iterations, the demo-cum-riot scene has jumped the shark. It’s always the same anyway: angry grannies and families with Hungarian flags in the afternoon, hooded and balaclavad youths in the evening, when the mainstream conservative politicians sternly intoning their dire warnings make way for younger rabble-rousers, who shout about PM Gyurcsany, the commies, the police and the Jews. Demonstrators who look like the kind of mix of students and squatters you’d get in a far-left demo in Western Europe. Much posturing, waiting around, exchanging of tall tales, waving flags and shouting slogans; not to mention trying to impress the far-right girls, who are surprisingly cute. Marching this way and that, avoiding the police, building barricades, and then the inevitable show-down; teargas, batons, the crowd tearing back with scarves over their mouths. A lengthy cat-and-mouse game, as the rioters taunt the cops and pelt them with stones, until the dull thuds of tear gas grenades being shot into the crowd set everyone running again. Only for the game to start over twenty minutes later once the dust is settled. Rinse and repeat.

Nevertheless, I did keep an eye on the website of the Magyar Nemzet, a national-conservative newspaper which at every new iteration publishes a breathless minute-by-minute account of goings-on in the city. Very practical if you want to know where the riots are at any given moment. Not saying they actively incite the rioters, but … OK, who am I kidding, they do.

But it was thin gruel today. No large street battles, no kidnapped tank being driven around by demonstrators. A year ago, and two years ago, rioters would control sections of major thoroughfares downtown a mile long, rocks would rain down on the police shields. Barricades would be built, phonebooths felled and used as material, Molotov cocktails hurled. This time there was basically one violent clash of sorts, in the late afternoon near the Saint Stephen’s Basilica, around the corner from my work. Which was quickly smothered by an overwhelming police presence, with the riot cops easily outnumbering the rioters. (They’ve been recruiting).
By the time I bothered to haul myself over to the area, it was kind of sad really. Clumps of protestors, hanging around in small groups. Barely a flag among them, though there was a guy or two in a Hungarian Guard uniform. No chants of “Gyurcsany, bugger off”. Just waiting, cracking the odd joke but generally sharing a desultory mood. Warily watching the columns of riot police, clad in black, that blocked off the sidestreets. Sometimes a unit, upon barked commands, rattled off in a lockstep run, or moved into place. The whole street lined with police cars, vans, a whole bus arriving with fresh manpower.

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Blurry images from the 2006 riots

Some grannies, the national tricolor pinned on their chest, heckled the cops; a drunk in camouflage slurred insults. We pay you, our taxes, now look at you. But mostly, the status quo was complete. A far right teen, in the practical combat-ready outfit of boots, thigh-highs and skirt, posing for the photo with her girl friend; a guy in near-folkloric nationalist outfit jollying around in mock-poses when I turn my camera his way. On the other side, the helmeted cops are painstakingly polite to anyone with a camera or otherwise visibly not part of the scene. Hard to imagine these were the troops who two years ago were condemned by Amnesty International for violent abuse of demonstrators they had carted off in their vans: they allegedly handcuffed and lined up rows of suspects on their knees, and beat them with truncheons. Though they do still look the part, and at one point wrestled someone from the crowd and violently pushed and shoved him into one of the waiting vans.

Generally though, the police seem to have learnt a lot, these past two years. In the first round of rioting, when protestors briefly occupied the building of Hungarian Television, more cops were injured than protestors. Night after night, they were hunting after bands of rioters running amock, unable to do more than chase them off to ever new places. Now, they seem in full control. What are they doing differently now? Lesson one: overwhelming numbers. Have a disproportionate presence vis-a-vis the rioters. Outnumber them in such proportions, they’re intimidated before they even start. Lesson two: preempt their moves. Smother even the slightest rioting before it escalates. Block off entire neighbourhoods if need be. Lesson three, and this may seem paradoxical: mingle. Well, mingle is perhaps not the right word. But again and again, a point arrived where a phalanx of riot cops crossed the street or jumped out of a bus — not, in old school style, to form a big line of shields and then push the protesting youths into a pack and then backward — but to mix into the crowd. With one cop for every protestor, noone even thinks of resistance as the cops scatter and demand ID from every youth, and frisk many of them.

Of course that’s only possible thanks to their force of numbers. And how this fits with your various civil rights, I don’t know. I’ve never been asked to ID myself just for gathering in protest when taking part in demonstrations back home – and that’s all these kids were doing, by the time I arrived.

Hear me, I’m defending fascists now. And there is genuine reason to worry about the flourishing far right movements, with the Hungarian Guard ceremonially inducting 650 new members today. Just two days ago, a right wing group called the Hungarian Arrows Liberation Army (named in reference to the WW2-era Arrow Cross regime) claimed responsibility for a bus explosion in Bács county. The group said it had wanted to punish a local coach company that had transported a group of Roma “marching against Hungarians” to a demonstration in Ózd, in order to “avenge the anti-Hungarian sentiment”. In all, four people have been killed in seven recent attacks against Roma.

The silent majority, meanwhile, is just disgusted with it all. A Eurobarometer poll published last month showed that just 16% of Hungarians trust their national government – compared to 45% who trusted local and regional authorities and 51% who trusted the EU. More damningly, a national pollconducted last month showed that “all Hungary’s politicians [..] have negative ratings”. Neither the President, a conservative, nor the Prime Minister, a socialist (albeit, as is the case with many ex-communists in the region, one who has embraced the market reform with a passion), was evaluated positively. Nor was the Speaker of the Parliament – or any of the main opposition leaders.

Nor does it seem to be a particularly ideological matter. While the conservative opposition party Fidesz “towers above all the other parties” in the poll, the least impopular politician is actually a Socialist. Moreover, it’s Katalin Szili, the parliamentary speaker who often criticizes PM Gyurscany … from the left. So the Hungarians don’t agree whether the answer lies to the left or to the right, they just know they’re fed up with what they have now. Which neatly summarises the political history of postcommunist Hungary, come to think of it.

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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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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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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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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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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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Being European

Culture, European culture(s)
Sarkozy: no postmortem welcome in Bucharest. (Image from Flickr user oaspetele_de_piatra under CC license.)

Sarkozy: no postmortem welcome in Bucharest. (Image under CC license: Flickr user oaspetele_de_piatra.)

My colleague told me she’d called one of the people in our network today, a personal friend of hers too.

He happened to be in Romania, for some meeting or conference. He’s French, works in Brussels, and was quite surprised to stroll into a park in this Romanian town that was named after Charles de Gaulle.

Flippantly, he asked the taxi driver whom he hailed to take him back, so … what? In thirty years, will you have a Sarkozy Park?

The cabbie didnt skip a beat answering, a little brusquely: No — he’s Hungarian.

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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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Fictional minority again declared unwelcome by Hungarians

Culture, European culture(s)

The Hungarian TÁRKI Social Research Institute conducts an annual survey on xenophobia. As part of the survey, the sociologists asks respondents whether they would accept or refuse refugees from a list of specific ethnic backgrounds. Standard fare, so far.

Except as control group, they slip in a fictional group: the Pirezians.

Hungarian press agency MTI reports that once again, Hungarians blithely dismissed entry for these obviously no-good Pirezian refugees:

Somewhere there is Piresia, the editors of Uncylopedia helpfully note

"Somewhere there is Piresia", the editors of Uncylopedia helpfully note

Sociologists divide Hungarians into three groups – 25-33 percent who would hermetically seal the country’s borders to all foreigners, 10 percent who would accept everyone with open arms, and the middle group of about 58 percent, who would pick and choose whom to accept, wrote [..] Nepszabadsag, citing a recent survey.

Sociologist Endre Sik pointed out that a key point in the survey [..] concerns the “Pirezians,” a non-existent ethnic group included in the survey as a reality-check. The two extremes on the scale for the pick-and-choose group are Arabs (rejected by 83 percent) and Russians (rejected by 76 percent) on the one side and ethnic Hungarians from neighbouring countries (rejected by 7 percent) on the other. The Pirezians were rejected by 66 percent of the mid-group, down slightly from last year’s 68 percent rejection figure, and up a bit from 59 percent in 2006.

The TARKI data reveal (Hungarian) that the middle, “pick-and-choose” group itself shrunk, while the xenophobic group that would hermetically seal the country’s borders to all foreigners grew in the past two years from 24% to 32%. So the group that would dismiss all foreigners, including those poor Pirezians, grew — and in addition, a larger part of the middle group looked askance at them as well. All in all, then, 70% of Hungarians want none of them Pirezians (Piresians?), against 65% two years ago.

Then again, other foreign peoples should be so lucky… It’s not just the Arabs and Russians that are even more undesired.

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