Good job, get a Bob!

Well, that rhyme may not be a particularly, well, good job. But then, there’s really not that much that rhymes well with “BOB”, despite the fact that the BOBS, Deutsche Welle’s Blog Awards, have become a rather well known by now.

THE BOBs

And this year, A Fistful of Euros has been nominated in the category “Best Weblog (english)”.

So if you, gentle readers, think we deserve it more than any of the other great blogs on the shortlist, you can click here to go to their voting form and vote for us!

Bahrain blogger Mahmood censored

This falls under the category “Not Europe” here at AFEM but on the internet the world is a global village and one of the voices in that village has just been silenced, albeit in his own neighbourhood, along with a few others. Mahmood from the Bahrain weblog Mahmood’s Den was presented with a site blocking order and, as he wrote yesterday:

I just heard confirmed news that this site (Mahmood’s Den) will be blocked effective immediately, together with 6 others (don’t know which yet) by order of the Minister of Information. The memo has been printed and delivered to all the ISP’s this afternoon apparently. I am yet to receive my copy. But if I go off the air for too long, you know the reason, and it’s not inconceivable that prisons will be used to silence criticism.

This is not good. And really bad PR for the Bahrain government.

Update (November 6th): Mahmood has been unblocked. Long live Bahrain!

Elections in Bulgaria (II)

Last week we posted about the Presidential elections in Bulgaria, which led to a runoff between incumbent center-left President Parvanov and challenger Volen Siderov, founder and leader of the xenophobic populist-nationalist “Attack” party.

Well, a pleasant surprise: Parvanov won the runoff with a whopping 78.7% of the vote, outpolling Siderov nearly 4 to 1. To put it in context, Siderov barely did better than Le Pen did in France a few years back.

Kudos to the Bulgarians.

HOWTO Protest with a Tank

Der Standard reveals all you need to know about driving a stolen tank into the police lines. Apparently, the man who stole an ex-Soviet T34/85 from the 1956 revolution commemorations and used it on the Hungarian riot police has been arrested. He is reportedly a former soldier (no surprise, as Hungary either has or used to have universal conscription) who might conceivably have driven one before.

This is not that likely but is possible. The T34/85 was possibly the best tank of the second world war and remained a mainstay of the Red Army into the 50s, but was already being replaced by the T54 series in 1956. By the time anyone likely to be fighting with cops in Budapest this week would have been serving, the Warsaw Pact armies had long since flushed most of their T34s out of the ranks, and for that matter their T54s. Most of the T34s that avoided scrapping, museums or use as targets were exported to the Third World – as is well known, there’s nothing you can do for poor people that will do them more good than sending guns.

Anyway, the report in the Standard gives some useful hints on how to protest with a tank. You’ll need enough voltage to turn over a really hefty diesel engine. The Hungarians solved this with several car batteries hooked up in series (not in parallel, mark!). You’ll probably find the tank is locked or worse, so bring an angle grinder, oxy-acetylene torch or arc welding set. In Budapest, the tank’s hatch proved to be padlocked – so it was a good job he came with the right tools.

It doesn’t sound likely that the tank would be fuelled up and ready to go, so the wise man would want to bring a jerry can or three of diesel – after all, once you get it started you can always stop and fill up. Given all the equipment, you’ll almost certainly need an accomplice, or perhaps several. But when arrested, remember to say that you acted entirely alone.

Europe and secularism

Via DJ Nozem I was directed to a very interesting and very important article on Eurozine about European secularism and its role in shaping European identities. The text contains many useful insights and provides a wealth of discussion material. I’ll give one quote for our readers to consider and debate, emphasis mine, but please do and go read everything.

Internal differences notwithstanding, western European societies are deeply secular societies, shaped by the hegemonic knowledge regime of secularism. As liberal democratic societies they tolerate and respect individual religious freedom. But due to the pressure towards the privatization of religion, which among European societies has become a taken-for-granted characteristic of the self-definition of a modern secular society, those societies have a much greater difficulty in recognizing some legitimate role for religion in public life and in the organization and mobilization of collective group identities. Muslim organized collective identities and their public representations become a source of anxiety not only because of their religious otherness as a non-Christian and non-European religion, but more importantly because of their religiousness itself as the other of European secularity. In this context, the temptation to identify Islam and fundamentalism becomes the more pronounced. Islam, by definition, becomes the other of Western secular modernity. Therefore, the problems posed by the incorporation of Muslim immigrants become consciously or unconsciously associated with seemingly related and vexatious issues concerning the role of religion in the public sphere, which European societies assumed they had already solved according to the liberal secular norm of privatization of religion.

The sentence in bold goes to the heart of what I personally feel to be one of the main issues we are dealing with. Sure, Muslim fundamentalists who are ready to throw bombs and cause physical damage are a real threat and get plenty of media attention, deservedly or not. However, I believe the issues are much larger and much more complex. Terrorists, for better or for worse, are still a minority within a minority. There are bigger forces and trends at play here, as Eurozine points out:

The final and more responsible option would be to face the difficult and polemical task of defining through open and public debate the political identity of the new European Union: Who are we? Where do we come from? What constitutes our spiritual and moral heritage and the boundaries of our collective identities? How flexible internally and how open externally should those boundaries be? This would be under any circumstance an enormously complex task that would entail addressing and coming to terms with the many problematic and contradictory aspects of the European heritage in its intra-national, inter-European, and global-colonial dimensions. But such a complex task is made the more difficult by secularist prejudices that preclude not only a critical yet honest and reflexive assessment of the Judeo-Christian heritage, but even any public official reference to such a heritage, on the grounds that any reference to religion could be divisive and counterproductive, or simply violates secular postulates.

A béka segge alatt

Another look back at Budapest in 1956, from the New York Times, by way of Crooked Timber’s comments:

THE first time I saw deep joy on my father’s face — the kind that comes from within and which is a child’s most reassuring signal from a parent — was on Oct. 23, 1956. It was at Bem Square, on the right bank of the Danube, where thousands of students, a sprinkling of workers and even some young soldiers still in uniform had spontaneously gathered to hear the students’ list of demands for reform by Hungary’s Communist government.

I was holding tight to his hand when a woman appeared on the balcony of the Foreign Ministry, which faces the square, and waved the Hungarian tricolor. The hated Soviet hammer and sickle had been cut from the center. Thus was the symbol of the Hungarian revolution (and so many others still to come) born. When someone in the growing crowd brazenly shouted, “Ruszki haza!” — “Russians go home” — the revolution had its slogan, as well.

The post’s title is Hungarian for “under the frog,” which is the shorter version of an expression for when things are very bad. You’re under a frog’s butt at the bottom of a well, or simply under the frog.

Moscow’s Respect for Strasbourg

Peter Finn writes in the Washington Post that despite the Russian government’s problematic relationship with the rule of law, it has actually been quite good at complying with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, aka Strasbourg. Of course, it would have to: Since 2002, the court has issued 362 judgements concerning Russia; 352 of them have gone against the Russian government.

Finn starts with the Salvation Army’s seven-year struggle with the city government in Moscow. The city had maintained with a straight face that the Salvation Army was a foreign paramilitary organization and suggested that it might involve itself in the violent overthrow of the state. Strasbourg was not amused.

Russians now file more complaints with the court than any other member nation. They account for more than 10,000 of the 45,000 petitions Strasbourg receives annually. The vast majority are never heard.

In another case:

For Alexei Mikheyev, redress came even before the court ruled. In 1998, he was subjected to nine days of torture, including electric shock, in a local police station after being picked up as a suspect in the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl in the central Russian city of Nizhniy Novgorod.

Mikheyev confessed to raping and killing the girl but retracted his statement after he was taken to the prosecutor’s office. Returned to the police station and facing more torture, he threw himself out of a third-story window and was left partially paralyzed. The girl he had confessed to killing returned home the next day.

Prosecutors opened and then dropped 23 preliminary investigations into the police force’s treatment of Mikheyev, in what human rights activists call an effort to stymie any trial. After the European Court agreed to hear Mikheyev’s case in 2004, prosecutors reopened the case and finally secured the conviction of two police officers, who were given four-year sentences for abuse of power. In January, Mikheyev was awarded approximately $300,000 in compensation.

(As if another datapoint were necessary to show torture’s ineffectiveness.)

Still, while the Russian government takes its obligations seriously enough to pay fines, Strasbourg does not have enough leverage to force systematic reforms. Still, it is an effective lever, one that deserves to be more widely known outside judicial and activist circles.