1..2..3..And They’re Off!!

Well, with the summer party universités d’été done and everyone going back to work, the run-in begins in earnest to the French presidential election. This shows every sign of being very interesting indeed. After all, it’s the biggest direct mandate for any politician in Europe and the second-biggest in the whole democratic world (I exclude Russia because whatever it is, it ain’t democracy), so it ought to be worth watching anyway. This one is especially interesting, though, as everyone has a lot to prove.

The Socialists are desperate to recover from the disaster of 2002 and regain some power. Whether they can do this, and how they do it, is going to be a bellwether for the Left throughout the world. Inside the party, there is a whole world of bitter conflict to work out. The extreme-left is desperately trying to unite, in the hope of capitalising on the victory against the CPE and eventually getting some tangible results from their combined 12-15 per cent of the first round vote. After all, whatever they hoped to achieve, you can be sure that a Chirac-Le Pen runoff wasn’t it.

On the Right, there is an even more savage internal struggle in progress. The blue-eyed boy, Nicolas Sarkozy, is lining up for the final straight with his bid to bring something eerily like Tony Blair to France – free markets and mass surveillance – whilst Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin still hopes to seize the succession to Jacques Chirac. This overlays the old distinction between the Gaullists and the “classical right”. But what’s this?
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Just one more gelato

Two entries in three weeks? It’s surprising we’ve even managed that much. Come on. It’s August. We’re in Europe. We’re all away from the computer and you should be too, enjoying the final hot, sweaty gasps of summer.

But if you just can’t tear yourself away, here are a few tid-bits from my corner of things.
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Art and therapy

Dutch art weblog Suds and Soda tells us about an interview the Dutch publication Vrij Nederland recently conducted with British artist Tracey Emin. The interview is not available online, but the author of Suds and Soda gives us one quote:

Last week I went back to my therapist (Tracey says). I told him how happy I was. Yet, at the same time I was afraid of what that happiness might do to my art. Do you know what he said? “Woman, just go home and be happy!”

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The AFOE Plan

Jonathan of The Head Heeb sums up the detail of the US-French UNSC draft on Lebanon, and it looks eerily like the AFOE consensus solution. Key points, as we predicted, are how to arrange for everyone to claim victory..

If all these hurdles are overcome, then the Israel-Hizbullah war will end on terms that allow everyone to gain something. Israel will have weakened Hizbullah and will get a stable northern border for the first time in more than 30 years, Hizbullah will be able to claim that it fought the IDF to the end, and the Lebanese government will obtain sovereignty over the entire country as well as a chance to resolve its outstanding disputes with Israel. France, as Lebanon’s once and future patron, will increase its regional influence, and even the United States will (against all odds) have played a critical role in brokering the settlement.

This means that the proposed resolution is, at this point, about the best possible end that can be imagined for the whole sorry mess. A war in which all parties can claim achievements is one that is less likely to fester and more likely to provide a foundation upon which the underlying issues can be settled. As Israel has learned from bitter experience, a draw that leads to a resolution of the root conflict is preferable to a victory that doesn’t – the Yom Kippur War ultimately resulted in peace with Egypt while the Six Day War led to nothing but an endless nightmare of occupation. If this war, like the war of 1973, leaves all parties proud but chastened, the not-defeat may have better results in the long term than an unequivocal battlefield victory.

Terror Plot in Britain

Scotland Yard gets their man. Or in this case, at least 25 21.

Plots to blow up numerous planes en route from UK to US; Heathrow closed to incoming flights; numerous airlines cancelling flights; carry-on luggage effectively banned right now on UK flights; MI5 says threat is ‘critical.’ Glad my fishin’ trip doesn’t involve Britain just now.

A terrorist plot to blow up planes in mid-flight from the UK to the US has been disrupted, Scotland Yard has said.

It is thought the plan was to detonate explosive devices smuggled on to as many as 10 aircraft in hand luggage.

Obviously still developing.

Meanwhile, in Austria

I’ve said before that Austrian politics has a really sick character you hardly find anywhere else, a sort of utter blankness of principle and whorish debasement in pursuit of preferment that would embarrass Silvio Berlusconi. But, Jörg Haider has managed to excel himself yet again.

Recap. Once upon a time there was the FPÖ, a rather nasty hard-right outfit that got into government by offering the mainstream conservative party, the ÖVP, a helping hand when it lost an election. Cue shock from many (mostly social democratic) European capitals and (practically meaningless) “sanctions” from the EU. A couple of years on, the sanctions are off and there has been a world of scandals. The FPÖ splits after its titular leader Susanne Riess-Passer, a relative of Haider’s who acts as his representative on Earth and Austria’s Vice-Chancellor, becomes dangerously independent and Haider launches a separate party conference to seize back control. Riess-Passer shuffles off to obscurity. Eventually, Haider and the Carinthian provincial party secede and rename themselves the BZÖ, using the colour orange rather than the FPÖ’s traditional blue.

The Chancellor promptly switches the new-old Haider group into his coalition instead of the rump (and never was the term more appropriate) FPÖ. By this manoeuvre, note, the Haider group has neatly ensured they don’t have to deal with the FPÖ’s debts, which are substantial.

Now, with elections due in October, Haider announces his BZÖ will campaign as “BZÖ – Die Freiheitlichen” and mostly in blue, with various old FPÖ stalwarts like Peter Westenthaler (who sat the whole thing out whilst holding a well-paid sinecure with industrialist Frank Stronach’s car-parts empire) and the execrable Helene Partik-Pablé. (She is remembered for explaining to parliament that “black people do not just look different, they are different, and especially aggressive”, and that “babies flee from a black shape placed over their cradle” in the same context.) Not just that, but his campaign material will carry a large stamp reading “The Original!”

Partik-Pablé does not seem to have improved with keeping. Her latest campaign is to examine the Geneva Conventions and the Refugee Convention to see if they are up to date. Gentle reader, the prospect buggers the imagination. Haider’s old followers in the original FPÖ are now appealing to the courts (they sure ain’t appealing to anyone else) to stop him going to the polls with their intellectual property.

Commenter “Munis” on Der Standard’s website sums it up:

ich kann einfach diesen widerwärtigen machtgeilen, arroganten Gnom, diesen neoliberalen Ex-Mascherlträger aus Hietzing einfach nicht mehr sehen und riechen. Sowas von überheblich und herablassend, sowas von charakterlos, untergriffig, diffamierend und wortbrüchig (wenn wir dritter werden dann gibts Opposition etc.). Ich frage Euch ganz ehrlich: Wie kann man so etwas wählen?? Diese ÖVP kotzt mich nur mehr an.

In English: “I can’t bear to see and smell this neo-liberal ex-goatee wearer, this arrogant gnome disgusting with lust for power any longer. There’s something both low and haughty, dishonourable, underhand, libellous, and liable to break his word (“if we come third we’ll go into opposition”) about him. I ask you, honestly – how could anyone elect him? This ÖVP makes me sicker and sicker.”

I remember the Austrian writer Robert Menasse saying, during a demo back in the spring of 2002, that Haider was a good thing for the country because he would force the Social Democrats to raise their game. I disagreed. Menasse told me I knew nothing of dialectics.

Georgia on Her Mind

SueAndNotU, a Washington DC blogger who’s been in Georgia for the last year, has more on possible escalations in and around Abkhazia.

A fascinating spectacle is unfolding in the wild, uncontrollable west of the country where parliamentarians and well-coiffed ministers are squaring off with warriors and wise men from another time. It’s as perfect an illustration as you could ask for of the whole untamed spirit of this place in the modern world; at times wearing modernity like an ill-fitting suit.

More here.

Meanwhile in an EU Candidate State

From Lebanon’s Daily Star:

Turkey on Monday appointed a general who is expected to adopt a tougher line toward EU negotiations to replace the head the country’s powerful military, who was widely considered a moderate. The change in leadership, which was widely anticipated, comes as Turkey is insisting that Washington do more to crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels operating out of bases in northern Iraq…

Buyukanit raised eyebrows this year by praising a soldier subsequently jailed for a bombing believed to be aimed at stirring up unrest in the mainly Kurdish southeast. The bombing triggered riots in the region and a parliamentary inquiry.

Analysts say Buyukanit’s no-nonsense views have been shaped by the time he spent in the southeast during the 1990s, heyday of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is now seen as weakened but far from defeated.

“Buyukanit is more pro-American, more security-minded than Ozkok. He is not against the Europeanization of Turkey but he is more influenced by nationalist tendencies,” said Hussein Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.

“He will be much tougher in the fight against the PKK.”

Hmm…

Security-minded is what one would usually expect a general to be, but the key question will be how broadly he defines the interests of Turkish society. Has he kept up with changes, or will he try to turn the clock back?

I’m not at all sure that “no-nonsense” is the proper way to describe someone who advocates purely military solutions to Kurdish issues in Turkey. In fact, that view is full of nonsense, as much of the 1980s and 1990s demonstrate.

And just what a “tougher line toward the EU” means is another question. The EU line (and the NATO line, for that matter) is that civilian governments control the national military, full stop. The fact that the political views of a Turkish general are a matter of interest is itself a sign of the distance still to go for Turkey. Questions like this are a normal part of accession — Greece’s military junta ended its rule just seven years before that country joined the EC; there were worries early on about Poland’s military (a legacy of Col. Pilsudski in the inter-war era); Spain and Portugal probably had to address the issue as well, given Franco and Salazar.

Bears watching.