A Russian Sickness

Yegor Gaidar, a former Prime Minister of Russia, was rushed to a hospital in Dublin last week. The next morning, he checked out and apparently flew to Moscow, where he checked back into a hospital. According to the Moscow Times, he was still there on Wednesday.

What’s ailing Gaidar? It’s not lead poisoning. It’s probably not polonium poisoning. Beyond that, no one is saying.

Anatoly Chubais, a colleague of Gaidar from the early days of Russia’s transition and now head of the Russian electricity system, told the press that doctors believed the illness might not be natural. The Irish Foreign Ministry, through an anonymous spokesperson (how’s that for conviction!), denied that there was anything suspicious or untoward about the illness.

Strange business indeed. Settling of old scores? Preparation for changes in Russia? Or something natural and coincidental?

Stephen Maturin, Drug Fiend

From The Commodore, pp. 187-88

Yet [Maturin] had some faults [as a physician], and one was a habit of dosing himself, generally from a spirit of inquiry, as in his period of inhaling large quantities of the nitrous oxide and of the vapour of hemp, to say nothing of tobacco, bhang in all its charming varieties in India, betel in Java and the neighbouring islands, qat in the Red Sea, and hallucinating cacti in South America, but sometimes for relief from distress, as when he became addicted to opium in one form or another; and now he was busily poisoning himself with coca-leaves, whose virtue he had learnt in Peru.

An open thread for considering Patrick O’Brian as a European author.

The secular jihadi two-step

In a previous post, I argued that the extreme Right has rebranded itself as a “secular jihad” against “Eurabia” to appeal to the liberal hawk/”decent left” tendency. Where once the New York Times‘s op-ed pages wrung hands and wagged fingers against the rise of Haider and Le Pen as a renaissance of anti-semitism, now Melanie Phillips flirts with the Vlaams Belang as strugglers for Western civilisation.

Blogistan reports that the BNP is trying to make nice with the Jewish Chronicle over an article, ironically by Melanie Phillips, which accused them of being anti-Semitic and allies of Hezbollah. (One wonders exactly how.) Amusingly, she quotes the Communist Morning Star‘s pointing out that BNP leader Nick Griffin has both supported Israeli military action in Lebanon and crazy Eurabia propagandist Bat Ye’or as evidence that the Left is anti-Semitic and so is the BNP. The only logical route to this proposition is that “the Left criticise the BNP for being pro-Israel, therefore the left is anti-Semitic because all criticism of Israel, or even the Eurabia mythos, is anti-Semitic by definition” – something which a lot of JC readers would have been outraged by had it been made explicit.

The further leap, that the BNP is really anti-Semitic despite its explicit and noisy support for the Israeli hard right, is based on a statement by some BNP “theorist” that the party needs to stop being obsessed by Jews. At some point here, clearly, we have slipped the surly bonds of logic and sailed off into the pure air of propagandist ravings. This is an example of using a point in debate that means the exact opposite of what you wish to say. There is absolutely no doubt that the BNP *is* anti-Semitic, in that many if not most of its members are and much of its past history is. But it is very significant that its leadership and its “theorist” are trying to retarget its hatred onto Muslims.

Phillips’ mental model is founded on the assumption that a) the CPGB is representative of all leftwing opinion, a highly noticeable step, and b) not only is criticism of Israeli policy equivalent to Nazism, but this protection extends to the Eurabia meme, rather as “extended deterrence” was held to protect Western Europe as well as North America.

This kind of ideological acrobatics is usually a signal of a big realignment a-coming. It is reminiscent of the good communist who had to believe in the necessity of war against fascism up to the moment he or she learnt of the Nazi-Soviet pact, then of the essential non-dangerousness of Hitler, and then the exact opposite immediately on hearing the morning news on June 22, 1941. After all, precisely the people in Europe who believe in the Eurabia meme are…the BNP and Co. And if it is now the acid test of fascism, then Melanie Phillips can’t logically avoid lining up with Nick Griffin.

Slight update: I recall that a few years ago, the “Loyalists” in Northern Ireland were reported to have started adopting Israeli iconography, and the Republicans had begun to wave Palestinian flags in response. No doubt part of the reason is that the colours were roughly right for Glasgow Rangers, but still. The BNP, C18, NF and Co are known to have contacts with the “Loyalist” paramilitaries.

Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.
Continue reading

Twitchers

Torture, war, elections. Let’s talk about birdwatching for a bit.

Twitchers. The term is British. When a rare bird shows up, twitchers are people who will drop everything and rush to the scene.

They used to have phone trees, then for a while it was beepers. It’s cell-phones and e-mail now. Here is an interesting thing: if you look back to the early days of twitching, the 1960s and ’70s, you see them using an alert system that’s eerily similar to the formal regime for planespotting developed by British civil defense during WWII. Direct copy, inspiration, accident? I wonder. Does anyone here know?

Anyway. Your classic twitcher will leave job, family, or church service behind, seize camera, binoculars and notebook, jump in the car, and roar off to the copse where the black-bellied whistling duck has appeared for only the third time in Britain since 1937.
Continue reading

So what does the US *really* think of EU defence?

Getting away from the eternal baboon threat displays and absurd disinformation for a moment, what do we know about EU and US defence? The lazy/cowardly/decadent/anti-imperialist Euros refuse to do anything, spend any money, or fight, and the US is permanently and increasingly stronger, right? Let’s see what the professionals think. The latest issue of Parameters, the journal of the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute at Fort Carlisle, is out and it’s a special on Europe. (Mmm, a treat.)

Stephen J. Coonen writes that the EU’s efforts in the security arena should not be seen as competitive with NATO, but complementary and providing means to act if NATO does not – something which cannot be overemphasised enough, in my opinion. He assesses EU and US capabilities and concludes that the power gap is small, and specifically concentrated in a few areas such as strategic airlift and satellite reconnaissance. He argues that “sound plans” exist to reduce the gaps, for example, the NATO C-17 purchase and the SALIS project, which jointly leases Antonov-124 aircraft to support NATO and EU-RRF operations, the Anglo-French Stormshadow missile and more (see note 29, if you’re like that, or for a more sensational argument read all about France’s latest ICBM test).
Continue reading

More Stages of the Globalisation Process

Who knew Hungary has an entire shopping centre devoted to Chinese-owned businesses? Der Standard reports on the “Asia Centre” in the 16th district of Budapest, home to a community that has made Hungary the biggest entrepot for Chinese goods in central Europe. Last year, $4bn of Chinese exports entered Hungary, of which two-thirds was re-exported. The centre is 90 per cent utilised and is going to expand. Not entirely surprisingly, its owners are the Austrian construction group Strabag and the Austrian mutual banks’ investment arm, Raiffeisen Investment AG.

Apparently, there may be as many as 60,000 Chinese in Hungary, the flourishing legacy of a botched late-communist trade agreement. In order to keep up appearances after the two sides failed to agree anything substantive, they ended visa requirements between China and Hungary. This came into its own a year later, when large numbers of people quit China after the Tiananmen Square massacre and arrived in a Hungary that was about to be the first mover in the wave of revolutions. Originally, their businesses shot out of the ground around the eastern railway station’s freight yards. Later, the Austrian investors built the new centre.

It’s striking that they will be very well placed if this railway project comes to fruition.

On the other hand, there’s a fist. Jörg Haider’s election posters this time around carried photos of two “violent Chechens”, whose access to social services was then cut off. They haven’t been accused of an offence, and neither does the Klagenfurt police know of any case involving a Chechen.

The Right and the Extremists

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, French conservatives are no more united than the Left. In fact, they are much less so, as they are a long way from even choosing a leader yet. Candidates are proliferating: as well as Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé is back, Dominique de Villepin refuses to give in, Michéle Alliot-Marie just entered the fray, and Jacques Chirac is still leaving the option of a third campaign open at the age of 71. The key insight is that the party structure is tenuous, two right-wing traditions exist, and the leading personalities despise each other. It’s like the Borgas with spin-doctors. On the Right, it won’t be anything as simple as an election that decides the issue, because the main party (the UMP, a King’s party set up in 2002 to support Chirac) is really a coalition wrapped around the Gaullist RPR, which has its own leader.

De Villepin, Juppé and the old fella all represent the same thing – the hunt by Jacques Chirac for an alternative to Sarkozy who can be trusted to maintain the social peace and carry on the Gaullist tradition. The problem being, of course, that De Villepin is damaged goods, Juppé is a rush-job and a crook, having just returned from trouble with the law, and Chirac is old, unpopular and has scandals like a dog has fleas. Sarkozy, for his part, represents the heritage of the non-Gaullist “droite classique” and, more importantly, appeals to the cult of America. His argument (everything is terrible and only I, the new young US-style leader, know what to do) and his prescription (free markets and mass surveillance) bear a far closer resemblance to Tony Blair than anything found on Ségolene Royal.

But the Chirac side fears that he will either win, and strike down with great vengeance on them, or scare the public to the Left. Hence the snark hunt for a stop-Ségo-and-Sarko candidate, which is another way of saying Jacques Chirac.
Continue reading

What now, then?

So, the French Socialists have made their decision. The questions are, then, what the ones who made the wrong decision will do, and how the Right reacts. Everyone within the PS is already being very responsible and congratulating each other – DSK says the party is already united, and that he is at the new leader’s disposition, and even Laurent Fabius is making conciliatory noises, although he does want a “sign of her anchorage in the Left”. (Does that mean a cabinet post, or am I too cynical? With Fabius it’s hard to be.)

The realities are clear. For prestige reasons everyone will stand in the first round, which means that there is a wealth of options for disgruntled socialists. Traditionally, these votes will troop back to the PS in the run-off, but this is of course only of interest if they get into the run-off. As there is likely to be a strong extreme-left challenge, the ffirst priority for Royal is to mobilise the base in order to deliver the 25 per cent plus of the vote needed to reach the run-off.

The Communists and the extreme-left have been struggling to find common ground ever since what they perceive to be their triumphs over the European Constitution and the CPE. This week saw their third “national antiliberal meeting”. As is traditional, they agree on very little, and the Communists naturally believe they ought to be in charge. The Trotskyists, naturally enough, suspect that the Communists are trying to nick their votes through something like the classic united front strategy. Their long-standing candidate, Marie-George Buffet, was recently re-elected by a genuinely communist 96 per cent, and is now banging the drum for “orphan socialists” to join her collectif antilibérale. Meant are the supporters of Laurent Fabius, some 18 per cent of the membership. José Bové, meanwhile, who until a while ago was touted as a far-left unity candidate, accused Royal of Blairism, which we’ve said before is bound to be the meaningless word of the campaign.
Continue reading

Dutch troops tortured prisoners in Iraq

In November 2003 Dutch Military Intelligence tortured dozens of prisoners in the Iraq province of Al Muthanna. Al Muthanna was under British command at the time. The Dutch did not have an official mandate to interrogate prisoners. Torture consisted of keeping prisoners awake by throwing cold water on them and the use of high-frequency noise and bright light. The venue was a complex of the Coalition Provisional Authority in As Samawah.

Later more. For the time being there is still a lot of denial and obfuscation. Dutch newspaper article here.