About Guy La Roche

Dutch translator and subtitler living in Brittany with his three cats. Has also lived in the Flemish part of Belgium. Speaks English rather fluently and in a former life used to have a decent command of Spanish. Knows swear words in German and Russian. Not quite francophone yet, but slowly getting there. Vaguely centrist observer of the world around him, extremely naive and, sometimes, rather proud of it. Writes Venale Pecus.

Geert Wilders criminally prosecuted

The Amsterdan Court of Appeal has ordered the criminal prosecution of Dutch MP Geert Wilders (you know, the Fitna guy). I do not have time to elaborate on this right now, but I thought the Court’s argumentation (see first link) makes for some nice debating material. Two snippets:

The Court of Appeal has considered that the contested views of Wilders (also as shown in his movie Fitna) constitute a criminal offence according to Dutch law as seen in connection with each other, both because of their contents and the method of presentation. This method of presentation is characterized by biased, strongly generalizing phrasings with a radical meaning, ongoing reiteration and an increasing intensity, as a result of which hate is created. According to the Court of Appeal most statements are insulting as well since these statements substantially harm the religious esteem of the Islamic worshippers. According to the Court of Appeal Wilders has indeed insulted the Islamic worshippers themselves by affecting the symbols of the Islamic belief as well.

And Godwin is in there too:

However, the Court of Appeal makes an exception as regards insulting statements in which a connection with Nazism is made (for instance by comparing the Koran with “Mein Kampf”). The Court of Appeal considers this insulting to such a degree for a community of Islamic worshippers that a general interest is deemed to be present in order to prosecute Wilders because of this.

BBC News article here. Maybe more later.

European stereotypes part II

The Czechs have done it again. The EU presidency was recently taken over by the Czech Republic and its Eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus and now another Czech citizen is ruffling some EU feathers. Artist David Cerny embarrassed the Czech government, and the EU, with his revelation that the art installation entitled Entropa commissioned by his country to celebrate its EU presidency was not, as stipulated, created by 27 European artists. Cerny created the installation himself and invented the names of the other artists:

Entropa was commissioned by the Czech Government to mark its historic first turn in charge of the EU’s rotating presidency. Yesterday it tried to laugh off the growing controversy around the installation – unveiled on Monday in the atrium of the European Council building – but the incident has further undermined confidence in the Government’s abilities; coming, as it does, after a faltering start to the EU presidency since taking over from France on January 1.

As far as I can tell from the pictures here Entropa is an ugly but really funny piece of work. It basically is a collection of European stereotypes, some of them being rather poignant and astute. I love, for instance, how he depicts my home country The Netherlands as completely covered with water and showing only the tops of minarets. His idea for France is very apt too. “Grève” means “strike”. I am not so sure about his depiction of Germany with its many motorways (looks vaguely like a swastika, but this may be unintentional) but you gotta love Romania as a Dracula theme park and the fact that he simply left out Britain. How do you say “pwned” in the Czech language?

PS: If any of our readers finds more pictures of Entropa, please post them in the comments section. The sketches for the individual countries with explanations from the artist himself hiding behind fictitious names can be found here (pdf), courtesy of 20minutes.fr. He also talks about the Czech contribution to the installation:

Let the head of state have his say! A constant stream of brilliant Václav Klaus quotes. Words of wisdom that deserve to be etched in stone. The President’s sublime, pertinent comments about the whole world, and especially the EU, whizzing across a three-line alphanumeric LED display. He is OUR president, we elected him, so let’s show him off to the world with joy in our hearts. He’s not just a skier, he’s a great guy!

Afterthought: This reminds me of another controversial art piece, by Spanish artist Carlos Aires, that was commissioned to celebrate the 2006 Austrian EU presidency.

Instant update: More here (Dutch, but introduction in English) including a link to a BBC News slideshow. And even more here. Okay, that is it, I am done procrastinating.

AFOE nominated for Best Business Blog

Even though AFOE is not really a business blog, our recent and extensive coverage of the financial crisis seems to have earned us a nomination for Best Business Blog at the 2008 Weblog Awards. If you, like Paul Krugman among others, appreciate the hard work done by our authors, I invite you to cast your vote for us by clicking on the pic or by going here.

You can also cast your vote for a few other great European weblogs, like Kosmopolito and good old Nosemonkey.

PS: A big thank you to the reader(s) who nominated us!

The face of Russian nationalism anno 2008

One of the top three faces that define Russia. By popular vote. Fair enough, I suppose:

The Kremlin in the Putin era has often sought to maintain as much sway over the portrayal of history as over the governing of the country. In seeking to restore Russia’s standing, Mr. Putin and other officials have stoked a nationalism that glorifies Soviet triumphs while playing down or even whitewashing the system’s horrors.

As a result, across Russia, many archives detailing killings, persecution and other such acts committed by the Soviet authorities have become increasingly off limits.

Bonus link (added 29th): the whitewashing of Stalin in the West and a nice quote by a reader of this BBC article:

I cannot help to think that the fact that Stalin was mostly bad to his own people and that his policies actually weakened his own country had something to do with the fact he is mildly looked upon in the West (compare this to Hitler who brought destruction to everyone else’s doorstep). No doubt that if Hitler was an ally of Britain and had restricted his genocide to within Germany, his crimes would have been swept under the carpet by the British press for the benefit of the greater good.

Europeana

Cool, Europeana, the EU cultural online library, is back up again, albeit still in a test phase. On its launch in November the site was swamped with hits and crashed. Great tool if you are feeling a little escapist.

Update (hat tip Brusselsblogger): Please check out Kosmopolito’s post on Europeana.

Europeana could have developed into a true cultural European project that fosters cooperation between citizens that are willing to contribute to it, either integrated into wikipedia or as some sort of wikipedia clone! At the moment, it is only a cultural search engine with millions of external and not integrated content “items”, basically a traditional library catalogue with some nice thumbnails!

Popes and rant snippets

It is good to know that in these times of economic crisis our spiritual leaders care for our well-being. From the International Herald Tribune:

Pope Benedict said Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

Too bad the article does not elaborate on just how pope Benedict wishes to save humanity from homosexual or transsexual “behaviour”. Nor does it answer the question of why Benedict believes that particular kind of “behaviour” is a threat to humanity. I am sure it is not a matter of demography. Too bad, because it is hard to rip an argument apart with so many unknowns. All we know from the quoted snippet is that the pope went on a rant, for the umpteenth time, against homosexual (and transsexual) “behaviour”. Too bad, because my typing fingers are itching…

Instant update: Mail Online has a better article and maybe an explanation of why the pope is so worried:

In a clear reference to homosexuality, he said the failure to respect the union between a man and a woman amounted to the ‘auto destruction of mankind’.

Like I said, it cannot be a demography thing. And there is maybe an explanation of how Benedict would like to see the gay problem solved:

This month the Vatican opposed a proposed UN declaration, backed by all 27 European Union states, calling for an end to the practice of criminalising and punishing people for their sexual orientation. The declaration was seen as an important condemnation of countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality can be punished by death. A Papal spokesman was later forced to clarify that the Vatican continues to condemn the use of the death penalty for any crime, including any related to homosexuality. Instead, the Vatican said its opposition to the UN proposal was driven by concern that countries that prohibit gay marriage would somehow be targeted. The Italian gay rights association Arcigay branded this an ‘excuse’ to distract people from the real intent of criminalising gays.

Guess the people at the Vatican have itchy fingers too. But they do not seem to be for typing. I know I am being populist here, but hey, Benedict is exaggerating too (I hope).

Afterthought: I think gay people are a real pain in the pope’s ass – no pun intended – because their acceptance by modern society (at least legally) subverts his Church’s authority so much. Should secular Western governments at one point reconsider criminalising gays then the Vatican’s stance on gays (or by proxy even women’s rights) would be confirmed. This would then surely reconfirm the Church’s authority and the authority of religion at large. Methinks there is a lot more at stake here than mere reproduction. BTW, wasn’t homophobia criminalized in the EU?

Mumbai

Some bloggers’ thoughts and impressions concerning the horrible events in Mumbai that have me both horrified and puzzled. From Death Ends Fun:

Everyone around me is talking of the terrorism, but there’s an air of bonhomie about. Plenty of backslapping as friends catch sight of each other, good cheer and chuckling. Are we used to terror now, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?

From India Uncut:

Suddenly, what is familiar seems macabre.

From Known Turf:

This isn’t about the spirit of the people. It isn’t about people feeling secure either. I see all this terror and am just exhausted. I am not feeling spirited, not at all. Yet, the only desire I have right now is to be able to get all dressed up, step out of my house, catch a train, walk into a café, chat with friends, make plans, talk about books, watch a good play. And I will. We all will. Like we did after the last blast, and the blast before that one, and the one before.

If the frequency of the blasts is going up, and if there are annoying security checks even at hotels and cinemas and shopping complexes, well, we’ll go through the checks and go on living. There will be music and travel and art and blasphemy and new religions and old philosophies. There will also be territorial wars and faith-based conflict and bias and sycophancy and illegal immigration.

What kind of brainless twit cannot see that people do not change so easily? That no number of blasts can cure people of the desire for normalcy and fun. For beauty and passion and laughter. For money. And also for justice and truth.

From Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind:

In this light, the taking of American Jewish hostages may be of great importance. It may represent the changing alignment in the Pakistani terror movement as its leadership passes from a more South-Asia-focused leadership to a more Arab-focused one. This could be the unfortunate concomitant of the failed US war in Afghanistan as the old Al-Qaeda leadership, driven away from Afghanistan but made more powerful, has now taken over operations in Pakistan. Hence the attacks of November 26 are extremely similar to attacks on foreigners in Cairo and in Beirut, with the focus being to attack the US and Israel while humiliating India.

So when the Lashkar e Toiba say they are innocent, perhaps they are right. While their old cadre may be involved in the project operationally and the ISI may still be a major mobilizing and training force, the old brain-trusts of the LET are perhaps no longer in control of the Pakistani Jihadi movement. In other words, the actual Jihadis may be South-Asian but the ones pulling the strings thousands of miles away may be Arabs. Which is why they go out of their way to take a Jewish American hostage and that too a Rabbi.

The train and bus bombings were the “old” way of doing things. These endeavors meet their objectives in the following manner: 1) cause panic 2) make the Indian government make heavy-handed arrests 3) portray those arrested as innocents by “friends” in the media and 4) antagonize minorities who are fed the message that they are being targeted. This I expect will continue.

But November 26 has shown that there is a new kind of terrorism which has emerged—-the kind that does not make much attempt to hide its foreign bonafides, which seeks to effect a more direct toll by breaking international confidence in a country’s economic and political institutions, and which has multiple strategic objectives one of which is to promote and provoke sectarian violence.

Twitter feeds can be followed here.

Former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt on Europe and the financial crisis

Here is some interesting reading and debating material for our readers (hat tip Sargasso). Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has published an essay through Bertelsmann entitled The Financial Crisis: Three Ways Out for Europe (pdf). Teaser (emphasis mine):

What counts in this new world order is the multiplicity of empires and civilisations, not the dominance of one. What matters is the political stability and economic growth that they can create at a regional level, not for one or other of them to rule the whole world. In a nutshell, this is not about nostalgia for a return to the European empires of old but rather the birth of new types of political organisations, established by open and free societies, competing with each other at a global level, building bridges rather than walls, but each retaining its regional roots and customs.

The financial crisis is acting as a sort of ‘particle accelerator’, speeding us on our way to a new multipolar society. This is abundantly clear in the economic sphere, but politically and militarily too great powers in the making are beginning to sit up and make their presence felt. Russia and China particularly, but India as well, let no opportunity pass to show the world that they are a force to be reckoned with. The question is, though, whether Europe will be able, or willing, to play a part in this multipolar concert. ‘Able’ it most certainly should be, but ‘willing’ is another matter. Europe continues to suffer from cold feet. (…) Yet the way ahead for Europe is only too clear. If it wishes to play a role in tomorrow’s multipolar world and survive the ‘new age of empires’, its only option is to take a bold and decisive new step in the integration process. Seen in this light, the current financial crisis is not a disaster but rather a golden opportunity for the future. What is needed now is for our political leaders to overcome their cold feet and take the plunge.

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi: The Shape of the World to Come

We live in interesting times, but where exactly will those times lead us?

French intellectual Laurent Cohen-Taugi addressed this question when he presented his latest book The Shape of the World to Come, charting the geopolitics of a new century to the Carnegie Council in New York City last month. David Stewart at The Columbia University Press Weblog has published videos of the talk Laurent Cohen-Tanugi gave at this occasion. Teaser:

In Laurent’s analysis, the West has lost influence in multilateral institutions since these institutions are out dated for today’s world. The notion of democracy promotion is also challenged in many quarters, such as Russia and China, says Laurent. Laurent is courageous and correct in saying that today’s multi-polar world is not just more equal but also more unstable, contrary to the European hope of equalizing relations with the United States. Nationalism is returning and we are “moving away from the post-modern ideal of global governance,” and we are witnessing a return of “nineteenth-century geopolitics.”

I haven’t had time to delve into this myself since Cohen-Tanugi’s book and Stewart’s blog post were only brought to my attention today, but I invite our readers to go and have a look and share their first impressions. In the meantime, I’ll ask Columbia University Press for a review copy of The Shape of the World to Come. Looks really interesting.