Legacies of the Soviet Past

Interesting. Original, in Estonian.

For months now, a dispute about the demolition of a bronze statue from the Soviet era has been raging in Tallinn. Krista Kodres takes up the cudgel for the communist regime’s cultural legacy. “Just imagine if people had pulled down the palaces of the hated Bourbons after the French Revolution, or if the Winter Palace and the Kremlin had been destroyed in the Russian Revolution. Or what if Estonia had destroyed its huge estates, the symbol of 700 years of slavery… The Soviet Union had its own culture too. Naturally, it wasn’t always free of ideological influence, but writers wrote, artists painted, composers composed and architects built. True, not all of it can be called high culture, but everything that was created can still be categorised as culture.”

From the estimable folks at Eurotopics.

Gone Fischerin’

News from Berlin these days tends to come from the enormous parties in front of the Brandenburger Tor or in the Tiergarten. But spare a thought for a moment from whether Ghana will beat the eminently beatable Brazilian team and glance over to the Reichstag building, home of Germany’s parliament.

Today, more or less as I write, Joschka Fischer is taking part in his final session as a German parliamentarian. He leaves behind a long list of firsts, significant achievements and all of the right enemies. Member of the first Green delegation in the Bundestag, first parliamentary leader of that delegation, first Green minister in a state government, member of the first Red-Green cabinet at the national level — and thus first Green vice-chancellor and first Green foreign minister.

He’ll be teaching for a year at Princeton, but nobody in the German press believes we have heard the last of Joschka Fischer. I don’t believe it either. He’s too big a talent to fade away.

“Ein ganz normaler Arbeitstag”

So, Franz Beckenbauer, the president of the organizing comittee of the World Cup, got married yesterday with his long-time partner Heidi Burmester.

Nothing especially interesting here, except for the shocking fact that the Kaiser did not even bother to let his coworkers know beforehand about his wedding. World Cup spokesman Jens Grittner has this amazing reaction to the news:

Heute beginnt für ihn ein ganz normaler Arbeitstag. Er wird sich die beiden Achtelfinalspiele Deutschland gegen Schweden in München und Argentinien gegen Mexiko in Leipzig anschauen.

Loosely and badly translated as : “Today is really a normal working day for him. He will attend the two round-of-16 games between Germany and Sweden in Munich and between Argentina and Mexico in Leipzig.”

I was tempted to say “lucky bastard” but then I realized that Beckenbauer also had to endure the ghastly England-Ecuador game this afternoon.

A disturbing pattern

I’ve been surprised at the lack of uproar over the discovery that the CIA has been data mining SWIFT transfer archives. I suppose it’s because this is far from the first troubling secret breech of the right to privacy by the Bush administration, and most people – the ones that don’t have large sums of money – generally don’t have any banking privacy anyway. But this new secret program touches a core Bush constituency: white-collar criminals. If Bush is able to secretly monitor transactions in the name of anti-terrorism, a future Democratic government might be able to use it against money laundering and accounting fraud. That’s surely something the Republican Party could never stand for.

SWIFT is headquartered in Belgium, but operates computer centres both in the US and the EU, so the company probably was not in a position to refuse the government’s request. According to page 4 of the original NY Times article: “Intelligence officials were so eager to use the Swift data that they discussed having the C.I.A. covertly gain access to the system, several officials involved in the talks said.” If they were prepared to break in to get the data, there was little to be gained by the firm taking a stand.

But I note in today’s Le Monde something about this affair that I find troubling.
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Ooh harsh, Cristina

Two Serbia-related stories come together this week.

One, you may recall that I speculated about the Serbian team’s chances in the World Cup. I didn’t rate them very high. But I’ll admit I didn’t expect the famous defense to simply disintegrate. Plavi will limp away from the Cup with the worst record of any team: 0-3, with a shocking ten goals allowed versus only two scored.

Two, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica recently complained about the EU’s action in freezing talks on Serbia’s candidacy. Brussels did this because the Serbs have been consistently unwilling or unable to produce wanted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic. This, said Kostunica, was unfair; the EU was punishing Serbia, and holding it to too high a standard. He blamed the EU for not understanding Serbia’s situation or appreciating its very real efforts at cooperation.
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In Search of Lost Time

Time is a fascinating concept. Today we learn that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘time’ is top noun in use terms in the English language. Interesting statistic that, especially as time is such an integral component in our decision making process.

Also in today’s news we learn from Dr. Kunio Kitamura of the Japan Family Planning Association that “”Japanese people simply aren’t having sex”.

Now why should these two little details be interesting, and what connection could there be between them?
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ICRC admits Israel and Palestine

According to this morning’s news, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had admitted the Israeli Magen David Adom and Palestinian Red Crescent Society as full members, following the final passage of a text allowing the new “red crystal” symbol. The red crystal looks to me like a red Renault logo, but I guess at least it doesn’t have much religious significance for anybody.
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