Steinmeier on Belarus

Well, following up the last post on Belarus, it seems that German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has mirrored what went on in that Patterson School command post exercise to an eerie degree. In the simulation, apparently, Gerhard Schröder made a fool of himself by lining up with the Russians…and, strange to tell, Steinmeier has done so too, at least in the eyes of Transitions Online’s Belarusoblogger.

Seems he’s arguing for a “measured” approach and more “dialogue” with the Belarus government – or to put it another way, doing nothing. Is it “the natural gas, stupid”? Perhaps. One of the delivery pipelines from Russia to Germany (the Yuma pipeline) passes through Belarus, but German policy seems to be more about bypassing the Central Europeans, and surely (as I blogged regarding the Ukrainian gas crisis) it would be in the EU’s interest to limit the degree to which Russia can disaggregate the customer states.

Deeper than that, I think it’s fair to say that Germany – or to be more accurate, the German foreign policy establishment – has an enduring preference for Moscow. As far back as Willy Brandt, in fact. The Treaty of Moscow in 1970 preceded the Treaty of Warsaw and the Grundlagenvertrag with East Germany, and extensive partnership agreements were signed with Gorbachev as a preliminary (indeed a quid pro quo) to the reunification. Timothy Garton Ash, I think, remarked that “this Germany and all previous Germanies have a special interest in good relations with Moscow”.

This was obviously true regarding Deutschlandpolitik and reunification–the Ostpolitik was a prerequisite of the Deutschlandpolitik. But is it still true now? Clearly the degree of hostility between Germany and Russia is much less, which is all good, but the degree of interdependence is much greater. And the conflicts of interest are hardly less.

One thing the German policy establishment did well in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was to synchronise their own policy with that of the EU. It would seem that a tension is emerging.

ETA ‘Calls Permanent Ceasefire’

Now this is news (even if it not entirely unexpected).

The Basque separatist group ETA on Tuesday announced a permanent cease-fire, apparently bringing a dramatic end to nearly four decades of violence that claimed more than 800 lives, Basque television reported following a communique from the group.

The authenticity of the announcement could not immediately be verified, but ETA often uses local Basque media outlets to issue statements. The group said the cease-fire would start Saturday, and that it would be “permanent.”

Speculation about an end to ETA’s armed campaign has been building for months, despite a recent wave of small-scale bombings against Basque businesses.
Source Reuters

The origin of this report is the Basque Newsd Agency EITB24, and the english version of this site does seem to does seem to be collapsed by all the traffic at the moment. However, if you can access, this thread is the one to watch (and this review of ETA statements, and this history of ETA ceasefires, are obviously highly relevant).

I don’t have time for much in depth commentary and analysis about all this right now, so please consider this post an open thread for any comments or questions, which I will try and answer if I can.


Want to know what’s happening in the Belarus civil war? Belarus Today‘s yer blog. Except, of course, it’s not. As it says at the bottom of the page:

This website is part of a foreign policy simulation. The events depicted are not actually taking place.

Thank God for that. After all, by the end of the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs’s scenario simulation, the NATO Secretary General had suffered a heart attack, Gerhard Schröder had made a fool of himself, Minsk was in flames and USAF and Italian aircraft were heading for their targets..

It sounds fun. Just a pity that the transcript isn’t on the web.

Update: (From Edward, apologies in advance to Alex for butting-in like this, but there didn’t seem to be enough for a separate post here). Events still seem to be tense in Belarus with Lukashenko opponents attempting to gain ‘orange-like’ traction, and EU observers keeping up the pressure. Also it may be worth pointing out that Belarus is another one of those incredible shrinking countries, and I’ve just posted a little data about this on Demography Matters, so either way – with or without Lukashenko – the future looks extraordinarily bleak for these long-suffering people (remember they were also hit by Chernobyl).

Update the second: The Patterson School’s website is here.

Theatre of Citizenship

Everyone’s been terribly worried about France. First of all, last autumn’s carburning outbreak saw a lot of people who really ought to know better gathering to hail the end of days and the Islamofascist conquest of Eurabia, or something. Now, the students are out on the streets to protest the government’s new labour laws, and perhaps the trade unions will be coming too. And then there was the supposedly anti-semitic stabbing of a few weeks ago.

That stabbing, one will remember, brought thousands onto the streets for a heavily earnest, government supported demonstration against antisemitism, terrorism and a few other isms. I’m usually very sceptical about demos like that, and the Spanish tradition of demonstrating against terrorists-they aren’t listening, after all, and it is always worryingly close to demonstrating in favour of the government. There’s a strong case that one shouldn’t take part in a modern version of the demos by (supposedly) torpedoed merchant seamen that Winston Churchill put on in the first world war to shame strikers.

But is there more use to it than I think? (More, and more sense, below the fold..)
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The Fire Not Quite This Time

On Sunday, the people of Belarus will vote to elect their new president, who will be the same as their old president, Alexander Lukashenko. The incumbent will win about three-quarters of the vote because, I’ve been reading, that is the share that he wants to receive. Which only shows that he is a slightly more sophisticated autocrat than his many late and unlamented predecessors in Eastern and Central Europe. (Or Western, for that matter.)
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Italian Elections 2006 IIIa

Well we’re having a fairly lively discussion on the original post about the future of Italian democracy, so I thought it might be useful, as a sort of side plate, to link to this analysis from Morgan Stanley’s Vincenzo Guzzo. He highlights the recent changes in Italian election law, and the impact they may have on the final outcome of this year’s poll. In particular he suggests that:

these new rules have encouraged the main parties on both fronts to seek alliances with a large number of miniscule formations, thus exacerbating the risk of political fragmentation within each of the two coalitions and possibly diluting the content of the two platforms“.

Well rather than diluting, the word hijacking comes more to mind, expecially if I think about the influence Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya has been able to have on the implementation of the Zapatero programme here in Spain. I don’t know if anyone indside Italy has any views on how the new balance could affect political agendas?

Update: Hans Suter has just mailed me making this point (which is also partly touched on by Guzzo):

It’s usually forgotten that there aren’t only political elections, a month later there will be administrative elections (mayors etc). There will at the same moment the election for a new head of state, and shortly after there will be a referendum about the changes the center right government has made to the constitution. For rest:the coffers are empty and the mess immense. Wish us good luck.

German Demographics

The Berlin Institute for Population and Development published a study this week detailing falling population in certain parts of Germany, particularly economically depressed parts of eastern Germany, the Ruhr valle and the Saarland. In eastern Germany one of the developments that has been discussed on afoe it becoming clear: Deferred or deterred childbirth in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of communism will have an echo around 2015, as children who were not born around 1990 fail to enter prime reproductive years about age 25. Shortly after German reunification, birth rates in the former East Germany fell as low as 0.77 children per woman. The present rate for all of Germany is 1.36, which the study says is the lowest in the world. (I’m not completely sure of that; I’ve seen very low figures for Spain, Italy, Latvia and Hungary, but don’t have them at hand to check.)

The German newspaper whose website has moderately improved quotes the head of parliament’s Committee on Families as saying the main problem is balancing work and family. No kidding. And about 20 years late.

The accompanying graphic tells another tale: People are leaving poor areas and heading where the money is. Almost all of the big drops–10 percent or more–are in rural parts of East Germany. Can’t keem ’em down on the farm, even the old collective farm. This is a hundred-and-fifty-year trend and should not be fought. People are also moving to the suburbs; just look at the belt around Berlin.

Wisdom of the Ages

The Roman Empire has won significance, and its rulers became famous and mighty, because numerous nobles and sages from various countries congregated there […] As settlers come from various countries and provinces, they bring with them various languages and customs, various instructive concepts and weapons, which decorate and glorify the royal court, but intimidate foreign powers. A country which has only one language and one kind of custom is weak and fragile. Therefore, my son, I instruct you to face [the settlers] and treat them decently, so that they will prefer to stay with you rather than elsewhere, because if you were to destroy all that I have built and squander what I have collected, then your empire would doubtless suffer considerable loss.

Thus King St Stephen I of Hungary, to his son, in an exhortation probably drawn up by a German monk. As quoted in The Hungarians by Paul Lendvai. Emphasis added.

Italian Elections 2006 III

Well Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi finally got to meet up in front of the TV cameras last night, even if they didn’t exactly enter into face to face combat. The poll consensus seems to be that Prodi won it on points.

The debate seems to have centred around economic themes, and Euractiv has a summary of it here. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has been trying to put a brave face on things, by claiming that Italy is now “on the right tracks” and that the situation of Italy’s “public finances is good”. Mario Draghi, the new governor over at the Italian central bank does not seem especially convinced, since he was claiming only last week that the Italian economy had run aground.

Again unsurprisingly a poll held shortly before the debate showed that a large number of Italians are still undecided about how they will cast their vote, even if there is some evidence that the Prodi coalition may be hanging on to their lead.

Roberto over at Wind Rose Hotel has the third of his election posts now up. He draws our attention to the latest contributor to the ‘great debate’, semiologist and erstwhile novelist Umberto Eco (link in Italian). Eco has indicated he might consider leaving Italy were Berlusconi to be re-elected. Democracy, according to Eco, is in danger in Italy. Angelo Panebianco, writing in Corriere della Sera (which has remember endorsed the Prodi coalition), takes issue with Eco and asks: why so much theatrical drama?:

For two reasons, I think. The first is that such dramatisation is exactly what attracts the kind of ‘intellectual’ audience which has chosen Umberto Eco, and especially Umberto Eco, as its very own champion and reference point. The hate for Berlusconi among this section of the public is palpable and evident, we have surely all of us found this in recent years in scores of private conversations and in the fascinating phenomenon of collective psychology. …..

The second reason for the dramatisation, I think, is to do with a problem which is typical of our (Italian) culture. It is an ancient legacy here, for many, to mistake democracy, which is a method of resolving conflicts by counting heads instead of breaking heads them……..(to mistake this process) forthe realisation of their own ideals. To mistake the victory or defeat of their political views for the victory and defeat of democracy: this is a kind of childhood illness of democracy.

Well it seems that Italy is a society which is rapidly ageing but where ‘childhood illnesses’ abound. Reading the piece by Panebianco I could not help but think, not of Umberto Eco, but of Nanni Moretti, whose films I thoroughly enjoy, but whose perceptions of contemporary Italian society have always struck me as being ‘warped’ to say the least. Democracy is not in danger in Italy in this election, it is not even in doubt. What is in danger, and about this there should be no doubt, is the Italian pension system and the mid-term economic well-being of Italian society. Far from the Italian pension system having been reformed and fine-tuned to the extent which Tremonti alleges, the necessary adjustment has only recently started on the road, and this small step was taken only after the last minute tussle and haggling (in part with represantatives of Berlusconi’s insurance industry interests) which was needed to salvage at least one piece of reforming legislation from 5 years of a decidedly ‘reform unfriendly’ government. What Italy needs at this point in time is a government which is serious about introducing the Lisbon agenda in Italy. This would not be a Berlusconi-lead government. Will it be a Prodi-lead one? This is what remains to be seen. If it turns out that neitherof the alternatives are up to the task, then Eco may well, in a certain sense be right: Italy will then have a crisis of democracy, but not, I think, the one he has in mind.

Montenegro III: Am Not, Are So

Continuing AFOE’s first point-counterpoint debate between two posters, here’s my final post on Montenegrin independence.
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