Tramp the Dirt Down

Somebody is worried that Slobodan Milosevic might escape from death. And so, they dug up his corpse and drove a stake through his heart.

Seriously. They really did it.

One might also want to read this.

Weltverbesserungsmassnahmen

Remember that book by Matthias Matussek we fisked some time ago? Well, a telling quote from it was that Weltverbesserungsmassnahmen – measures to improve the world – were supposedly a very German notion. I’m not sure about this – I suspect they are more a (very broadly) left-wing notion, although one that must include the Whig tradition. Anyway, Matussek might have a point.

Germany took over the EU Presidency on the 1st of January, which puts Angela Merkel in the chair of the Committee of all the Committees, a position I’ve said before she is ideally suited to. And what an agenda she brings with her. Apparently, the European Constitution is coming out of its closet in order to…wait for it…”give Europe a soul”.
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Survey of the Year

The US hard right is constantly telling anyone who’ll listen that France is on the brink of civil war. The latest version of this furphy is the claim that the French government has officially recognised areas of France it “doesn’t control”, that are under “sharia law.” Meant are the so-called zones urbaines sensibles, rough housing projects in the suburbs the Interior Ministry statisticians say have a high crime rate.

So, what happened when Nicolas Sarkozy’s pollsters headed for the frontline? Le Canard Enchainé has the results. Much as it may surprise Daniel Pipes, nobody cut their heads off. In fact, the 2,039 members of their representative sample rather disagreed with the hype. Although 53 per cent wanted to move, 48 per cent of the sample said they wanted to move to another place within their neighbourhood rather than leave. 80 per cent said they were satisfied with public transport, and a similar proportion with schools. A majority thought there were enough shops.

Asked to give their views of the cause of last year’s riots, 52 per cent blamed Sarko, with 44.5 per cent claiming that TV reporting had contributed to escalation. 25 per cent blamed police brutality, and 20 per cent criminals protecting their patch. Despite that, 72 per cent of persons “of metropolitan origin” said they trusted the police, as did 55 per cent of those originating from the Maghreb, Africa, and the overseas territories. This latter group reported being asked for their papers by the police twice as often as the first group.

58 per cent of those who said they would vote, said they would vote for Ségoléne Royal, as against 37 per cent for Nicolas Sarkozy. This trend held across all ethnic groups.

North Sea neuroses

Matthias Matussek, once London correspondent of Der Spiegel and now its culture editor, not to mention brother of top diplomat Thomas Matussek, has a book out. Wir Deutschen: warum die anderen uns gern haben können is meant to be a call for a renewed German patriotism and pride in culture. This would usually suggest a very dull book, but I enjoyed it immensely. Not for the right reasons, though.

Matussek’s approach is idiosyncratic, not that there is anything wrong with that, and the book is really a collection of essays, on topics ranging from Heinrich Heine and Angela Merkel to Britain, Britain, the German economy, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the World Cup, Britain, Danish cartoonists, the East after reunification, and Britain. In fact, an obsession with Britain runs through this book like letters through a stick of rock-hardly a page passes without comparing some German institution, writer, company, statesman or building to one in Britain, and no chapter is complete with a volley of snark directed roughly westward.

Now, it is a truism that Britain and Germany share a mutual obsession. But this would be less interesting if it wasn’t for the sheer wordcount devoted to complaining about the British obsession with Germany. There is a complete chapter on Anglo-German relations, which I looked forward to-the possibilities are immense. Would he dig into the pre-1914 closeness that gave Bradford a Little Germany (and its own Nazi, Ernst-Wilhelm Bohle, born there in 1903 and later Rudolf Hess’s right hand) and Leeds a Dortmund Square, Robert Graves a relative on the Oberste Heeresleitung?

Nah. Instead, most of the chapter is dedicated to the results of a trip to Germany for some schoolteachers his brother’s embassy organised, and a pleasant but uninformative weekend in the country with John Le Carré.
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Who Lost Turkey?

That’s the question on the cover of this week’s European edition of Newsweek, and it’s a good one.

The rift isn’t formal yet, as the EU will likely opt for only a face-saving partial suspension of negotiations after a deadlock on Cyprus failed to be resolved last week. But it takes no special reading between the lines to see that a fundamental tipping point has been reached. Late last week Cyprus threatened to “veto” Turkey’s entire bid. French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, kicking off his campaign, also called for the suspension of further talks. “Turkey’s place is not in the EU,” said he.

Long experience with the EU and its predecessors warns against saying never and assuming that anything is ever completely settled. On the other hand, Turkey first signed an Association Agreement with the European Community before the Beatles had a #1 hit in America. That’s now longer than the entire lifespan of East Germany.

There are reasons why Turkish membership will take time, and why membership will be difficult for all concerned. But frankly, I can’t see how Europe’s interests are served by a definitive rejection. An important opportunity is slipping away.

Russia to Veto Kosovar Independence

According to dpa (as related on page 6 of today’s FAZ), the Russian ambassador in Serbia said that Russia would use its UN Security Council veto to put the kibosh on any UN action to recognize the independence of Kosovo. He couched his argument a tiny bit more diplomatically, in that he said Russia would veto a solution that is not acceptable to both sides, i.e., Serbian and Kosovar. But it’s essentially a foregone conclusion that the Serbian government will not look favorably on independence for its former province.

A status recommendation is expected at the end of January from UN representative Martti Ahtisaari. The dpa report says to expect him to recommend limited independence under the auspices of the EU. That’s confusing, even for diplomatic language, and it might be enough of a fig leaf to avoid a UN confrontation.

If not, it will be interesting to see how EU leaders, particularly German ones, who often praise the UN as a source of legitimacy (see Iraq, for instance), react in this case. (German public and commentator reaction will be interesting too; sometimes it seems that the UN here is regarded as a politics-free and near-holy Instanz.) My bet is that a Russian veto will be roundly ignored and recognition extended in some form on a bilateral basis. Consistency being a hobgoblin and all that.

The secular jihadi two-step

In a previous post, I argued that the extreme Right has rebranded itself as a “secular jihad” against “Eurabia” to appeal to the liberal hawk/”decent left” tendency. Where once the New York Times‘s op-ed pages wrung hands and wagged fingers against the rise of Haider and Le Pen as a renaissance of anti-semitism, now Melanie Phillips flirts with the Vlaams Belang as strugglers for Western civilisation.

Blogistan reports that the BNP is trying to make nice with the Jewish Chronicle over an article, ironically by Melanie Phillips, which accused them of being anti-Semitic and allies of Hezbollah. (One wonders exactly how.) Amusingly, she quotes the Communist Morning Star‘s pointing out that BNP leader Nick Griffin has both supported Israeli military action in Lebanon and crazy Eurabia propagandist Bat Ye’or as evidence that the Left is anti-Semitic and so is the BNP. The only logical route to this proposition is that “the Left criticise the BNP for being pro-Israel, therefore the left is anti-Semitic because all criticism of Israel, or even the Eurabia mythos, is anti-Semitic by definition” – something which a lot of JC readers would have been outraged by had it been made explicit.

The further leap, that the BNP is really anti-Semitic despite its explicit and noisy support for the Israeli hard right, is based on a statement by some BNP “theorist” that the party needs to stop being obsessed by Jews. At some point here, clearly, we have slipped the surly bonds of logic and sailed off into the pure air of propagandist ravings. This is an example of using a point in debate that means the exact opposite of what you wish to say. There is absolutely no doubt that the BNP *is* anti-Semitic, in that many if not most of its members are and much of its past history is. But it is very significant that its leadership and its “theorist” are trying to retarget its hatred onto Muslims.

Phillips’ mental model is founded on the assumption that a) the CPGB is representative of all leftwing opinion, a highly noticeable step, and b) not only is criticism of Israeli policy equivalent to Nazism, but this protection extends to the Eurabia meme, rather as “extended deterrence” was held to protect Western Europe as well as North America.

This kind of ideological acrobatics is usually a signal of a big realignment a-coming. It is reminiscent of the good communist who had to believe in the necessity of war against fascism up to the moment he or she learnt of the Nazi-Soviet pact, then of the essential non-dangerousness of Hitler, and then the exact opposite immediately on hearing the morning news on June 22, 1941. After all, precisely the people in Europe who believe in the Eurabia meme are…the BNP and Co. And if it is now the acid test of fascism, then Melanie Phillips can’t logically avoid lining up with Nick Griffin.

Slight update: I recall that a few years ago, the “Loyalists” in Northern Ireland were reported to have started adopting Israeli iconography, and the Republicans had begun to wave Palestinian flags in response. No doubt part of the reason is that the colours were roughly right for Glasgow Rangers, but still. The BNP, C18, NF and Co are known to have contacts with the “Loyalist” paramilitaries.

More Stages of the Globalisation Process

Who knew Hungary has an entire shopping centre devoted to Chinese-owned businesses? Der Standard reports on the “Asia Centre” in the 16th district of Budapest, home to a community that has made Hungary the biggest entrepot for Chinese goods in central Europe. Last year, $4bn of Chinese exports entered Hungary, of which two-thirds was re-exported. The centre is 90 per cent utilised and is going to expand. Not entirely surprisingly, its owners are the Austrian construction group Strabag and the Austrian mutual banks’ investment arm, Raiffeisen Investment AG.

Apparently, there may be as many as 60,000 Chinese in Hungary, the flourishing legacy of a botched late-communist trade agreement. In order to keep up appearances after the two sides failed to agree anything substantive, they ended visa requirements between China and Hungary. This came into its own a year later, when large numbers of people quit China after the Tiananmen Square massacre and arrived in a Hungary that was about to be the first mover in the wave of revolutions. Originally, their businesses shot out of the ground around the eastern railway station’s freight yards. Later, the Austrian investors built the new centre.

It’s striking that they will be very well placed if this railway project comes to fruition.

On the other hand, there’s a fist. Jörg Haider’s election posters this time around carried photos of two “violent Chechens”, whose access to social services was then cut off. They haven’t been accused of an offence, and neither does the Klagenfurt police know of any case involving a Chechen.

The Right and the Extremists

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, French conservatives are no more united than the Left. In fact, they are much less so, as they are a long way from even choosing a leader yet. Candidates are proliferating: as well as Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé is back, Dominique de Villepin refuses to give in, Michéle Alliot-Marie just entered the fray, and Jacques Chirac is still leaving the option of a third campaign open at the age of 71. The key insight is that the party structure is tenuous, two right-wing traditions exist, and the leading personalities despise each other. It’s like the Borgas with spin-doctors. On the Right, it won’t be anything as simple as an election that decides the issue, because the main party (the UMP, a King’s party set up in 2002 to support Chirac) is really a coalition wrapped around the Gaullist RPR, which has its own leader.

De Villepin, Juppé and the old fella all represent the same thing – the hunt by Jacques Chirac for an alternative to Sarkozy who can be trusted to maintain the social peace and carry on the Gaullist tradition. The problem being, of course, that De Villepin is damaged goods, Juppé is a rush-job and a crook, having just returned from trouble with the law, and Chirac is old, unpopular and has scandals like a dog has fleas. Sarkozy, for his part, represents the heritage of the non-Gaullist “droite classique” and, more importantly, appeals to the cult of America. His argument (everything is terrible and only I, the new young US-style leader, know what to do) and his prescription (free markets and mass surveillance) bear a far closer resemblance to Tony Blair than anything found on Ségolene Royal.

But the Chirac side fears that he will either win, and strike down with great vengeance on them, or scare the public to the Left. Hence the snark hunt for a stop-Ségo-and-Sarko candidate, which is another way of saying Jacques Chirac.
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Noted With Pleasure: Reindeer People

One of the other books that I picked up while in Helsinki was Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia, by Piers Vitebsky. (US paperback coming in December.) He’s an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, and the reindeer people are his research specialty. The book, however, is an engrossing synthesis aimed at a general audience. More than that, though, it’s a personal account of living with nomads, clashes of cultures (ancient, Soviet and post-Soviet) and vivid personalities, all played out in a beautiful and harsh land. I picked up the book in part because I had just missed meeting some reindeer people when I was in northern Mongolia a few years back, and I wanted to learn what their way of life was all about.

I got much more: how reindeer are partially domesticated, what the coming of Soviet power meant to the far North, how people are surviving its ebb, how reindeer migrate, what Arctic cold means in practical terms, to name just a few. Vitebsky writes well, he’s chosen interesting ground to cover, he can sketch people, relate key anecdotes and sustain narratives about their conflicts. Layer upon layer, like the clothing the Eveny wear in winter, Reindeer People envelops the reader, imparting something of those distant lands.