Pedant’s Corner

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in a speech at Dublin Castle —

The Irish have always been visionaries. They have never been afraid to dream big. It was William Butler Yeats who said: “I have spread my dreams beneath your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Over the past few decades, the dream of a dynamic, prosperous, confident nation became reality. And today, despite grave setbacks, this dream is still very much alive. 

But Yeats also said “in dreams begin responsibilities”. And those responsibilities are the co-responsibilities of Ireland and Europe.

Yeats didn’t say “in dreams begin responsibilities”. He wrote “in dreams begins responsibility” as an epigraph in his Responsibilities collection, a line which he attributed to an old play. The commonly cited quote that Lagarde uses is a Delmore Schwartz book title.

Bunkers of the DDR

British urban-exploration geeks report on their tour of a wealth of cold-war and Nazi bunkers in the former East Germany back in 2003. Thrilling and uncomfortable stuff—they were the first to revisit the ultimate DDR fortress, the bunker that was built as an alternate seat of government for Erich Honecker and the rest of the Zentralkomitee. That is merely tankerpunk, of course, but I thought this was very cool indeed..

After many hours beneath the surface, we emerged from the gloom and after thanking our guide, headed off to the next site, nearly 150 miles away, the former East German PTT (Post Office Telecom, basically) satellite uplink station ‘Intersputnik’ at Neu Golm to the south east of Berlin.

The site came into service 1976 as the first (and only) ground satellite station in the GDR. Then part of the integrated international telecommunications network, ‘Intersputnik’, (which has nothing to do with the Sputnik remote transmitter sites mentioned elsewhere in this report) was one of 15 INTERSPUTNIK sites which were in service in 13 countries. These sites used to transmit telephone, fax, TV and data signals. In the Former Times, this site‘s services were also used by the then West German PTT services for satellite links to the Soviet Union, i.e. it was a non-military complex. Later, it used the Soviet satellites Stationar 4 and 5 in geostationary orbit 36,000 km over the equator, but initially used the four Soviet Molniya satellites, which were in a non-stationary orbit, i.e. the dish had to be oriented towards each of the four in turn as they came into view for a 6-hour “period of duty”. The dish could rotate through 360° and was so finely balanced that a 250 W drive is sufficient to rotate it. However, the entire site is now a conference centre, even if the redundant original dish (12 m in diameter and weighing, with its base, 60 tonnes) is still on the roof.

Note especially that Deutsche Telekom shared the installation with the East Germans and the Russians, a fine example of what used to be called the DDR’s secret membership in the EEC, and the difficult moral position the West Germans were regularly pressed into – between doing things that would improve life in the East (but perhaps reinforce the regime) and the desire to put pressure on the DDR leadership.

Afghanistan, seen from Berlin

The Globalist’s Stephan Richter weighs the pros and cons, difficulties and opportunities of an increased German military involvement in Southern Aghanistan and comes to the – in my opinion correct – conclusion that increased combat participation is much less a domestic policy problem than it is usually thought to be.

It’s a tricky question because the American example of nation-building as exercised in Afghanistan is not a particularly convincing one … The Germans truly believe in a different concept. It basically says that, in the long run, you cannot quell violence unless there is a bright future on the horizon. … But since Germans rightfully believe that there is good reason not to let Afghanistan slip back into a state of lawlessness and anarchy, they have to embrace an enlarged role — which implies more sacrifices. However, this must be part of a well thought – out strategy and not only another quick fix.

Solidarity with allies in the common fight is of utmost importance, but what do you do if you’re responsible for the lives of the soldiers you send, believe the common strategy to be seriously flawed, endanger the results achieved in the North, but you don’t really have the clout to change it? Exactly. You send some planes.

The Jewish-European heritage

On the day following Israel’s national holocaust memorial day, writing in Haaretz, Fania Oz-Salzberger reminds both Israelis and Europeans that, for centuries, Jewish history has been an enriching element of European history. Concerned about the effect of class trips of “roudy groups” of Israeli teenagers to Auschwitz, she recommends trips to Spain instead –

Take the money, enlist more supportive foundations, and take select groups of Israeli pupils to Andalusia, in the south of Spain. Because there, in many ways, begins the story that ends in Auschwitz: the story of Jewish Europe, which is both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi tale.

Somewhere in Andalusia there was a small paper mill at the end of the Middle Ages. It was at that time that the ancient Chinese technology arrived, after a long journey across Asia and North Africa, and entered Europe via Spain. Without it Gutenberg would not have been able to print. And lo, that mill was operated by two partners, a Jew and a Muslim. Their clients from the north were Christians. This story, symbolic rather than historic, should be told to 17-year-old Jewish and Arab Israelis. You have to be a great pessimist not to tell it. It is a story of life and rejuvenation. It would not overshadow the story of the persecuted and the murdered, but empower it greatly.

Woe to a Jewish-Israeli identity that relies only on the ashes of the crematoria. Our European past also includes a thousand years of life, art and the spreading of knowledge.

I don’t think trips to Andalusia should replace trips to Auschwitz, but they certainly seem like a valuable addition. They represent what I like so much about the the Jewish Museum in Berlin – it’s not just a holocaust memorial but also offers a glimpse onto Jewish European’s life before the Shoah – as well as thereafter. Because, as opposed to Ms Oz-Salzbergers claim above, I don’t believe the story of Jewish Europe ended in Auschwitz, not even in Germany.

The statistics of recent Jewish immigration, particularly from Russia, are unequivocal. But it’s the anecdotal evidence that, I think, matters more in this case. The Jewish community in my home town, Mainz, is one of the oldest in Germany, dating back to the 10th century, possibly even to Roman times. In the 1970s, there were only about hundred community members. Today, there are about a thousand, and a new Synagoge – architecturally slightly reminiscent of the Jewish Museum in Berlin – is currently being planned.

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.

Spain and Senegal Enter Migration Deal

Migration from poorer areas to richer areas can either be managed or un-managed. After years of the latter, it looks like Spain and Senegal are going to try the former.

The deal would discourage illegal migration and give Spain the opportunity to recruit a significant number of workers, Mr Moratinos said.

More than half of the 26,000 migrants who have reached the Spanish Canary Islands this year come from Senegal.

[Spanish Foreign Minister] Moratinos also signed a co-operation deal that will give Senegal up to 15m euros (£10.3m) of Spanish aid annually over five years.

Afghanistan: the forgotten war

Just a small reminder (emphasis mine):

Last week, 17 British soldiers, 10 Estonian infantrymen, 100 Afghan army and 100 Afghan police took part in a joint Nato operation to retake the dusty desert town of Garmser in southern Helmand. The town, which sits on the Helmand river, has fallen to the Taliban twice since July and is strategically important because it is the southern-most point of government control.

When the fighting finally finished earlier this week, the event merited a one-and-a-half line press release from the Afghan government: “Garmser retaken by Afghan police after five hours fighting.”

That did little justice to what was actually an unrelenting six-day battle, as British journalists discovered when they accompanied the British Army unit during its assault on Garmser.

Dear Dmitri…

Terrific appreciation of Dmitri Shostakovich in the weekend FT (not this last weekend, of course, I’m a little behind on my reading) on the centenary of his birth:

The Fifth Symphony was a compromise that didn’t compromise. It was a squared circle. It was genius with a welcome mat. It made the Soviet state pigs feel they could wipe their trotters at the entrance and hand you their hats. Yet it was still a work of genius. Today the symphony is just as interpretable as a cry of grief and wrath over Soviet Russia as an endorsement of Stalin.

You carried on, avoiding the gulags, smuggling impertinences into your music (the Sixth Symphony) and writing string quartets as private therapy. Meanwhile friends and fellow artists were being dragged to Siberia, shoved in the Ljubjanka, or otherwise stiffed or silenced. You dreaded the knock on the door.

Read the proverbial whole thing.

When Families Kill

Guilty verdict.

Denmark – Jyllands-Posten

Honour killing trial in Denmark

The newspaper comments on the sentence passed by a court in Denmark in the trial of a so-called “honour killing”. This is the first time in the history of northern Europe that an entire family has been found guilty. The jury considered it proven that the father had ordered the murder of his 18-year-old daughter after she married the man of her own choosing, and that subsequently all nine defendants had together planned and committed the murder. “In this way, the family will be seen not as a family of honour, but as a group of cowards who talk about honour and shame while trying to deny any involvement in the deed that was supposed to save the family’s honour. The sentence is a clear message that we won’t accept parallel societies with their own rules… The case also serves as a warning to a society that ignores people in need because of a misguided political correctness and the fear of dealing with the crazy rules of foreign societies regarding honour and shame.”

From the estimable folks at Eurotopics.