Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.

Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.

A bit more below the flip.
Continue reading

Berlusgone

Well, this is a little late, but we ought to put on record that the fun-lovin’ minicaudillo’s fingers were eventually pried from the Italian prime ministership. As predicted, he went out with a considerable degree of low comedy, as the Italian senate struggled to elect a speaker largely because the Berlusconi side insisted on making a fuss about whether ballots cast for the eventual winner read “Franco” or “Francesco” Marini. Eventually, though, it was done.

The Senate speakership had been the last real opportunity to cling on, as the Left has a working majority in the lower house and therefore appointed its man without trouble. The deeper play of the Senate vote, by the way, was an effort to cause trouble in the Unione’s ranks – Romano Prodi chose to put forward a Refounded Communist, Faustino Bertinotti, as speaker of the lower house, thus getting the far Left on side, and therefore needed to balance the ticket by putting someone from the ex-Christian Democrat wing of his coalition in the Senate. This being achieved, Berlusconi had no longer any excuse to hang on.

The next problem will be to elect a President. In Italy, the presidency is a nonexecutive position more like that of Germany than that of France, but the president does choose who is asked to form a government, so without a prez there can be no prime minister. Now, the simplest option would just have been to re-elect Ciampi, but he says he’s too old. This is where it gets complicated, because a super-majority is needed to elect a president.

Recalling that the Refounded Communists got the speakership of the lower house, and the ex-democristiani the speakership of the upper house (and in all probability the prime ministership). Which major faction on the left is empty-handed? That’s right, the non-refounded communists, who in fact really did refound themselves to become the Democratic Left, unlike their former comrades in the Refoundation who didn’t refound themselves and remained communist. Their leader, former PM Massimo D’Alema, was therefore put forward as a candidate for the presidency even though the chance of Berlusconi’s side supporting him was exactly nil.

In fact, the Right is threatening a campaign of mass demonstrations in the event of his election, and suggesting that Marini be the President. This, your keen and agile minds will soon perceive, is a transparent device to reopen the speakership issue and thus destabilise the Left. Alternatively, the Right proposes, the secretary of the Presidency, Gianni Letta, might be a candidate.
Continue reading

Troglodytes Making Waves

A couple of weeks ago I posted here about how a senior officer in the Spanish army – Lt. Gen. Jose Mena Aguado – had been placed under house arrest for insinuating that the Spanish military might have a responsibility to intervene in defence of the Spanish Constitution if the new Catalan Statute of Autonomy went forward in its present form. Well yesterday news of this seems to have reached the New York Times. Describing the officers in question as troglodytes, the NYT has especially harsh words for the opposition Partido Popular, whose leaders, it should be remembered, described Aguado’s statement as ‘logical’ in the context of what was being proposed:

The response of the center-left government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has been appropriately firm, including the dismissal and arrest of one of the culprits, a senior army general. Regrettably, the center-right Popular Party, the main opposition group, seems more interested in making excuses for the officers than in defending the democratic order in which it has a vital stake.

“Spanish society, Spanish politicians and, for the most part, Spanish military officers have come a long way from that (the Franco) era, moderating their views and deepening their commitment to democratic give-and-take. But the Popular Party has had a hard time getting over its electoral defeat nearly two years ago, days after the terrorist bombings of commuter trains in Madrid. It has never really accepted the democratic legitimacy of that vote. It is time for the Popular Party to move ahead. Spanish democracy needs and deserves vigorous bipartisan support.”

The NYT does arrive rather late on the scene. The Economist had this piece on the 12th January, and the FT this one on the 10th January. Meanwhile, the New York Times story is itself making waves here. The Basque news agency EITB24 covers it here. And all of which on the day in which the Partido Popular has begun collecting signatures for a referendum (in defence of the constitution and) against the the new Statute, a referendum which would itself be, well, guess what, unconstitutional, and on which Josep Piqué, leader of the PP in Catalonia, had to be given a three hour talking-to to convince him not to resign from the party, since, again guess what, he thinks the latest version of the text isn’t at all bad!

Unfit To Lead The G8?

The question as to whether or not Russia ” truly belongs in the prestigious Group of Eight (G-8) advanced liberal democratic market economies”, and even more to the point, whether it is in a fitting condition to take the helm in that organisation is a question which was asked by Taras Kuzio (Visiting Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University) in yesterday’s issue of Eurasia daily monitor, – a publication which is rapidly becoming a ‘must read’ for those of us who want to follow what is happening along the EU’s eastern frontier.
Continue reading

The EU and the case for a ‘non’ (Updated)

A couple of weeks ago, Versac from the French blog Publius sent me a bunch of questions concerning my views on the EU and the Constitution. They’re interviewing a number of non-French bloggers in this way. I thought I’d publish my answers here. A sample:

The main negative thing is that it’s giving the EU more power, competences, and I think that’s inappropriate before the democratic deficit is addressed. Also, it may lead to more judicial activism, which is bad.

Voting no is a bit of a gamble, since you can’t be sure it will push the governments in the desired direction, and not for example rule out Turkish membership to get it passed, or end up drafting an even worse constitution. But the happy scenarios seem likelier than the bad ones. We need to bloody the politician’s noses. Above all the present situation is unacceptable, and no real reform seems imminent. We need to seize the rare chance to set the EU on a new course, towards democracy and accountability. By rejecting the constitution, all bets are off.

Full interview under the fold.
Continue reading

The Adams Family

I’m crossposting something I originally wrote for my own blog because I realized it’s probably of far more interest to Fistful readers than to my own.

In March I wrote in Slate about Gerry Adams and the IRA, and the theory advanced by Ed Moloney (author of the excellent A Secret History of the IRA) that the Northern Bank bank robbery in December was part of Adams’ covert strategy to force the IRA to accept peace. If that theory is true, and I’m convinced by it more and more every day, then we’re now seeing the plan unfold.
Continue reading

Venice Commission on Bosnia-Herzegovina

Teekay was looking forward to the Venice Commission’s report on Bosnia-Herzegovina last week. (The Venice Commission, for those of you who don’t lie awake at nights in excited anticipation of its next publication, is the constitutional reform advisory body of the Council of Europe, which in turn is not to be condused with the European Council.)

Well, the report’s out – not yet on their website but they’ve sent me a copy. It’s not as radical as some in Bosnia-Herzegovina might have liked, but given the Venice Commission’s normally relatively anodyne pronouncements it’s pretty strong stuff.
Continue reading

Bowling for Cubberley (Free Music Inside!)

Usually, it’s impossible to argue with people who make comparisons between the incumbent US administration and various past totalitarian systems, particularly when the argument turns to a comparison between George W Bush and the Austrian guy with the Charlie Chaplin moustache. Whatever you think of George W Bush and his administration – still a mystery to many people in the US as well as abroad – he’s no Hitler, and the US are still a largely liberal democracy – albeit a deeply divided and angst-ridden one with a progressively eroding system of common values.


A regular guy from Texas.
Though I hope to the contrary, I believe the weeks following the US Presidential election will become a much bigger electoral and legal debacle than most commentators are willing to admit now. In the end, this election might well become a testament of the principal current American weakness – deep social and partisan divisions, if not outright hatred between the camps. American politics now appears to consist predominantly of conceptually empty labels – very soon even rituals of Patriotism may be exposed as nothing more than a band aid for a mentally and spiritually ailing nation.
Continue reading

Interesting Take on Yukos

A very interesting take on the Yukos situation from the Moscow Times. And one which relates directly to some of the privatisation issues we were debating recently. Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, argues basically that given that the Russian economy is dominated by an oligarchic structure of raw materials quasi-monopolies, and given that a majority of the population seem to want these monopolies returning to state ownership, the only ‘democratic’ solution is an authoritarian one. Khodorkovsky had another idea, and hence off he went to prison. Any comparisons with or lessons for Iraq here? Can democracy be introduced like this? Off you go.
Continue reading

Life outside of Europe

So, today I’m blogging from Idaho where I’m visiting the in-laws. This is the first time I’ve been back in the States long enough for the place to feel foreign since decamping off to Belgium a couple years ago. Actually, the strangest part of this trip has been the feeling of being in a foreign country, even though it’s a country that I’ve spent almost half my life in.

Some of that could be Idaho. I’ve lived in California, Colorado, Indiana and New Jersey, and this is a bit like Colorado. Of course, I haven’t lived in Colorado in 20 years. But, considering that I’ve spent most of this trip either working on a white paper for my employer or planted in front of basic cable, I have to at least consider the possibility that Idaho isn’t really the problem.

[Warning: This post is long and will contain extensive references to life in America. The Americans will probably all get it. You may not.]
Continue reading