About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

Greece: citizenship for children of immigrants?

In between trying to deal with one of Europe’s worst economic crises and a crippling series of strikes, the Papandreou government in Greece has introduced a new immigration law. It would allow the children of immigrants to apply for Greek citizenship, provided that

(1) their parents have lived legally in Greece for at least 10 years, and
(2) the child has completed at least three years of schooling in Greece.

By one estimate, over 250,000 children and young adults would qualify for citizenship. As many as 100,000 of those may be of voting age.

This is a huge, huge deal. In order to understand why, you have to understand the odd position of immigrants in Greek society. Continue reading

Kosovo: waiting for the ICJ

So Kosovo and Serbia are now waiting for the International Court of Justice to rule on whether Kosovo is independent or not.

Except, not really.

Back in October 2008, the new Government of Serbia asked the ICJ to rule on whether Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (“UDI”) in March 2008 was legal. This was clever in several ways. Internally, the new, relatively liberal and pro-Western Serbian governmnent shored up its flank against certain sorts of nationalist attack. Externally, it showed Serbia being a good, reasonable international citizen by submitting its problem to the highest body of international justice. And tactically, it invited the Court to rule on a narrow issue — was the UDI, done in that way at that time, legal? — rather than the much broader and more fraught question of whether Kosovar independence itself could be legal.

The case went before the Court for several days in December of 2009, with 25 countries submitting oral or written testimony. A decision is expected in summer.

But here’s the thing:the ICJ is very unlikely to deliver a clear opinion. Continue reading


New Years Eve is coming.

Here in Germany, you can only buy fireworks this week — the few days between Christmas and New Years. New Years Eve is the one time it’s socially acceptable to set off fireworks. (Or so I’m told. If Germany advances in the World Cup this summer, I imagine that rule might get bent.)

Is this just Germany, or is it true elsewhere? Also, is there any country in Europe that has completely banned fireworks? That would be understandable — every New Years Eve sees an unhappy harvest of lost fingers and eyes — but also kind of dismal.

And while we’re on the subject: which European country has the loudest New Years? I can’t imagine anyone is louder than Serbia; when we lived in Belgrade, sleep was impossible until long past midnight. The Serbs love their fireworks, and they set them off in the streets with a cheerful disregard for safety or good sense. It’s not an Eastern European thing, though — the Romanians like fireworks too, but they’re a lot more restrained about it.

Also, I’m thinking this is the year I’ll take my little boys (ages 8 and 6) to the store and let them pick out a couple of fireworks, which I will then ignite for them in our back yard just before bed time on the 31st. Too young, or about right? What think you, Europeans?

Europe in the World Cup Draw: Zzzzzz

All the major European sides are in groups where they are likely to advance. England has an interesting match against the US, but does anyone really think the English are going to fall to Algeria or Slovenia? The Netherlands, to Denmark or Japan? Italy, to Slovakia or New Zealand?

The closest thing to interesting is down in Group D, where Germany faces three teams that, while not as good as Germany, are all good enough to perhaps pull off an upset. But Germany is still very likely to advance.

Since “which major European side advances” is not interesting, and the obvious stuff about the draw has already been discussed a million times elsewhere (Italy lucks out! France is not punished! Portugal, too bad!) let’s briefly consider the structure of the groups. Continue reading

Europe in the 2010 World Cup

Looks a lot like Europe in the 2006 World Cup, actually.

Qualifiers this time: Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. That’s almost the same list as last time. Oh, we won’t have Poland, or Croatia, and the Danes, Slovaks and Slovenes got in, but eight of the thirteen are the same, and the Big Five all got in as per normal. Is it cynical of me to think that switching the Slovenes and Greeks for Sweden and the Czechs won’t make much difference?

Anyway. Consider this an open thread for World Cup football. With 192 days to go, what have been the big surprises so far? (Have there been any, really?) And what are the wild hopes? Who’ve you got?

About that coal in Kosovo (II)

A couple of years back, I wrote an article about Kosovo’s coal industry. Short version: Kosovo has lots of coal, and most of it is middle-quality lignite. But the mines suffer from a horrible lack of investment; many of them are still using thirty to forty year old equipment. So both output and quality are far below where they should be.

So I wasn’t exactly surprised to see this recent article:

Continue reading

Death on the Tisza

A sad story from the edge of Europe last week: fifteen Kosovar Albanians died trying to cross the border between Serbia and Hungary. The border there is a a river, the Tisza, which is a large and swift-flowing tributary of the Danube. The Albanians were illegal immigrants trying to move from Kosovo into the EU. Their boat capsized and most of them drowned. The immigrants seem to have been family groups, and the dead include at least two children.

Kosovo declared a national day of mourning last week. Serbia, which still claims Kosovo as part of its territory, made no official statement.

It’s a very sad incident that points to some realities in the region.

Continue reading

Everyone must move to Finland right now

So some British think tank called the “Legatum Institute” has published an index of the best countries in which to live. Apparently they’ve been doing this every year for a while now, but it just now caught my eye.

Let me start by saying that I find this index pretty dubious. (N.B., there are a lot of bad international indexes out there. Don’t get me started on the American Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.) The Legatum Institute’s staff appears to be a mixture of warmed-over Thatcherites and recently-unemployed American conservatives. So it’s not surprising that the top 20 countries are dominated by western Europe and the Anglosphere, while the bottom ranks are all former colonies full of brown folk.

To make matters worse, they’re being shifty about their methodology. If you download the report (.pdf), you’ll find that it says it’s using 79 different variables, assigned to nine sub-indexes. But it does not say clearly what these variables are, nor where the information is coming from, nor whether they are weighted to create the sub-indexes. The sub-indexes are not weighted, which is another bad sign — they’re just taking the scores that they’ve generated and averaging them together.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan are conspicuously missing. Okay, that could be from a lack of good data. On the other hand, they found enough data to go forward in Sudan, Yemen, and the Central African Republic. And having Mugabe’s Zimbabwe absolutely last makes me say “hm” — I can think of half a dozen places that should be in contention, from North Korea to the Congo — as does the very low rank given to Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela. (I’m no fan of Hugo’s. But Venezuela is the worst country in Latin America? Even after throwing out Guyana and a few other small countries that weren’t ranked, that’s a very large “hm” indeed.)

Having said that, this index is at least interesting. Continue reading

Fall of the European Left, revisited

Parties of the left are out of power in three of the Big Four now, and everyone expects Labour to lose the next General Election in Britain. Going down the list to the Next-Biggest Four, we have Spain (Zapatero’s center-left government hanging in there), Poland (center-right), Romania (grand coalition of the two largest parties; can’t exactly say left-right, because Romanian politics always don’t map well on that axis) and the Netherlands (bizarre Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Labour, with Labour far down in the polls and expected to be kicked out soon). It’s not unreasonable to expect that by next summer, Spain might be the only large country in Europe with a left-of-center government.

There’s a recent post over at Crooked Timber deploring this, and suggesting that it’s because

[We’re seeing] the end of the electoral strategy which began with Bill Clinton and which (arguably) is still being kept alive by Kevin Rudd in Australia. Basically, it’s the view that you can keep a balloon flying by constantly chucking out left-wing ballast. Which worked very well in the 1990s and early 2000s, but it does have a limited lifespan built into it. After a while, you run out of ballast to throw out and you find that the hot-air burners aren’t working any more; the traditional left-wing base of your party has switched off, the unions can’t provide blocks of support and you’re left as a more or less identikit technocrat party, largely indistinguishable from your opponents and trying to compete on the basis of more efficient provision of “public services”.

Well… maybe. I submit that this model works tolerably well for Britain (though I have some reservations); somewhat less well for Germany; and hardly at all for France. (Italian and Spanish politics I leave to those who are better informed.) Continue reading