Hungarian passports; or, dumbest Stratfor article ever

This sort of thing is why I have trouble taking Stratfor seriously.

Short version: the new, center-right Hungarian government is reviving the plan to offer Hungarian citizenship and passports to ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. (There are a couple of million of them. Most live in Hungary’s neighbors Romania, Slovakia and Serbia, with smaller numbers in Croatia and Ukraine.) Stratfor sees this as “an insurance policy — a way of broadening [Hungary’s] power and securing itself should its protectors, the European Union and NATO, weaken.”

What the hell? Continue reading

Who’s left from the Class of ’91?

Spun off an earlier post.

Remember the first generation of post-Communist leaders? The guys who took power immediately after Communism collapsed? Well, here’s a question: almost 20 years later, how many of them are still running things?

Not so many. A fair number of them are dead: Croatia’s Tudjman, Bosnia’s Izetbegovic, Hungary’s Jozsef Antall, Russia’s Yeltsin. Some are too old to do much — Romania’s Iliescu, Hungary’s Arpad Goncz. A few have retired from politics — Bulgaria’s Zhelev and Dimitrov. And quite a few are still alive, and active in politics, but will never reach positions of real power again.

— I should clarify my definitions here. I’m looking only at the top guys (they’re all guys). Presidents or other heads of state, Prime Ministers or other heads of government, or those who held equivalent levels of executive power. So, to qualify, you must have been President or PM in the first post-Communist government, and still be President or PM today.

So who qualifies? It’s a short list, but interesting. Continue reading

Pass the parcel

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband provided indication today of the emerging EU strategy for dealing with the Irish No to Lisbon: it’s being left up to the Irish government to sort it out, but with a reminder of the high stakes should they choose to accept the referendum result.  Or, as Miliband colourfully put it

If you like he’s [Irish PM Brian Cowen] got to decide whether or not to apply the last rites. We’ve got to listen to his analysis of what went wrong

Yet Miliband also insisted that UK parliamentary ratification would go ahead next week, which will be hard to defend from Tory attacks that it reflects a presumption that the Irish will be talked out of their rejection, since otherwise ratification is pointless.   One wheeze floated in yesterday’s Telegraph (see also) is that Ireland would be left on the sidelines as the other 26 agreed to implement Lisbon on their own, with the Irish catch-up taking place by attaching the Lisbon provisions to an Irish parliamentary ratification of Croatia’s EU accession, whenever that happens.   But the fact that such schemes are out there is just one indication that the ministers don’t yet really have a well-laid out plan for how to proceed.

Meanwhile, in Montenegro

Montenegro initialed a Stabilization and Association Pact with the EU on March 15. That’s a step on the road to EU candidacy.

Nobody outside the Balkans noticed. Even inside the Balkans, nobody got too excited. Montenegro is a small and rather poor country, and EU membership is still years away. Hell, all they did was “initial” the S&A pact. They won’t actually sign it until (1) Montenegro adopts a new, EU-appropriate Constitution, and (2) all the current 27 members approve.

Still, it’s no small achievement. It shows that the Montenegrins, like the Croats, may be able to launder their recent history. Montenegro isn’t being held up for not cooperating with the Hague Tribunal, nor is their enthusiastic participation in the breakup of Yugoslavia being held against them. They are now formally, officially on the road to EU membership.

This is as good an occasion as any to review the league table in the Western Balkans. Continue reading

Bloodthirsty Slavs vs. Racist, Revisionist Italians

Actually, it’s racist, revisionist, and revanchist Italians. But we’ll get to that.

Short version: Italy and Croatia have just had a brief but bitter diplomatic dispute over statements made by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Croatian President Stipe Mesic. There’s not really a good or bad side here, either; both nations seem to have had a short but violent attack of what my grandmother used to call “the stupids”.

On the plus side, it seems to be over now, and cooler heads have prevailed.

Much more below, if you’re interested.
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Transparency International Strikes Again

So the new Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index came out last week. If you are a development geek — cough, cough — this is like Beaujolais Nouveau Day.

Not that there are any /huge/ surprises. The top ten slots are dominated by the same countries, year after year — Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore. European readers can be cheered by the fact that European countries occupy 13 of the top 20 slots.

The CPI is, of course, a perceptions survey. They poll a lot of investors and NGOs and whatnot and ask what they think. There are some obvious issues with this methodology. Other hand, they try to be rigorous about it, and keep the tests constant from country to country and from year to year. If you’re trying to measure corruption — an inherently difficult task — this is probably about the best broad-guage metric we have.

Meanwhile, a few geeky comments.
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Hoisted from Comments: Not Happening

Remarking on Edward’s post, one commenter writes, “Unlike Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia etc, Croatia is well on its way to the EU.”

Unfortunately for Zagreb, the EU is not on its way to Croatia. At least not with any great speed. I had pegged Croatia to be in by the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. That is not going to happen.
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A squabble

The next anniiverssary guest post is by the funny and clever Michael Manske.

Border disputes between Slovenia and Croatia flare up with the regularity of teenage zits, and they’re about as equally exciting. The latest one to pop was in the swampy little Slovenian hamlet of Hotiza last week, when Croatian police arrested some Slovenian journalists and the tired cycle of outrage and mutual recrimination began again. Slovenia’s foreign minister promptly tattled to the EU, and Slovenian special forces were sent to the area where they and their Croatian counterparts engaged in a brief, but intense, staring match.

The EU has never shown much of an interest in the dispute, and this time was no exception. Commissioner Ollie Rehn, like a teacher in an unruly classroom, admonished the two neighbors to behave as befits an EU member and an EU candidate country. But otherwise the EU’s tried and true doctrine of telling everybody to just get along had very little effect on the Slovenian-Croatian dispute.

So what is the problem exactly? I don’t want to get too much into it (like I said, it’s not the most exciting topic — there’s an overview of it over here at wikipedia if you’re interested) but it goes beyond the ill-defined border to a chronic inability, or perhaps cynical desire, to let the issue fester on indefinitely.

Slovenia and Croatia have been independent now for 15 years, the wars of Yugoslav secession have been finished for more than a decade, and still the border isn’t clear. The closest the two sides came was in 2001 when they almost accepted the so-called Drnov¹ek-Raèan agreement. In the end, the Croats failed to ratify it — a mistake that may come to haunt them in any future negotiations, since next time around Slovenia will bring a nuclear weapon to the table: the EU membership veto. It’s been dangled threateningly in front of Croatia before. Back in 2004, the previous center-left government (during another border incident) explicitly said as much. Now the government is comprised of center-right parties and even includes Janez Podobnik, a man who personally got roughed up at the border a few years ago. (He’s now serving as environment minister.)

Slovenia knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a threatened veto. During Berlusconi’s mid-90s reign, Italy strong-armed concessions out of Slovenia with regard to property rights and the Italian minority. This culminated in the so-called Madrid (or Spanish) Compromise of 1995. The question is whether Slovenia will decide to pay it forward, this time with Croatia. And what effect that may have on already soured relations.

World Cup: Furor Yugoslavica

Yugoslavia used to have a hell of a team. They were regular visitors to the World Cup, advancing to the elimination rounds more often than not. They went to the quarter finals in 1990, and there are plenty of Serbs and Croats who will tell you that they actually came within a whisker of winning it all. They got knocked out by a wildly erratic and penalty-prone Argentine team that went on to lose the final against Germany. If they’d beaten Argentina… well, you have to believe that the Yugoslavs could have gone on to beat both Italy and Germany. This seems unlikely, especially given that Germany had whipped them 4-1 a couple of weeks earlier. But 1990 was a deeply strange year, so who knows.

Yugoslav football was on a rising arc all through the 1980s; rising interest in the sport, plus rigorous state-sponsored training programs, produced a “golden generation” of players starting around 1985. Unfortunately, Yugoslavia imploded just as these guys were reaching their peak. They ended up scattered among half a dozen different countries, with several of the best trapped behind sanction walls and unable to compete in international play. If the country had stayed together, the Yugoslav team would surely have been a serious contender in ’94, ’98, and ’02.

Anyway. Yugoslavia used to be quite something. How are the successor states likely to fare?
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Wow, was I wrong

It’s just three weeks since I wrote this entry about the prospects for EU expansion in the Western Balkans. And in that short time, several of my predictions have been proven wrong.

— Croatia’s has been allowed to start negotiations for candidacy.

— Serbia has been allowed to start negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Pact.

— And, most unexpectedly of all, Bosnia has also been allowed to start SAA negotiations.

I titled that entry “Slowed or Stalled?” It turns out the answer was, “Neither! Damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead!”
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