The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
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The French Unrest and the Labour Market

Morgan Stanley’s Eric Chaney has what I consider to be a very sensitive and perceptive analysis of the economic backdrop to the French urban unrest:

Turning to economic causes, many analysts have pointed to mass youth unemployment as the main cause of the political unrest in low-income suburbs. The numbers are striking: the French unemployment rate reached 21.3% in the 15-24 age bracket in 2004, vs. 13.4% for the OECD as a whole. However, the headline unemployment rate is misleading because, at the same time, the participation rate of the 15-24 age group is particularly low in France: 37.5%, vs. 49.9% in the OECD. Practically, this means that 7.8% of the population aged between 15 and 24 is unemployed in France, vs. 6.5% in the OECD. The difference is not that large. What makes France different from other countries is the very low participation rate of young people, not particularly massive unemployment. In other words, the young in France take fewer jobs than their counterparts in other developed countries……”

“That brings us to a more fundamental point: why is it so difficult to create jobs in France? I have discussed this point in a previous note (“Making France Work”, June 21, 2005). In my view, the causes of the job disease fit reasonably well with the “insider-outsider” model developed by labor economists, provided that it is extended to products and services markets. I will elaborate only on labor market issues, starting with the minimum wage, which I believe is the major hurdle to job creation for young and less skilled workers. However, highly regulated product and services markets, which allow various interest groups to keep markets closed to competition and thus reduce employment opportunities, are another important cause of the job disease……….”

“Originally, the minimum wage was introduced as a protection against excessive employers’ bargaining power (“monopsomy” cases). Over the years, it became a protection against competition from cheap labour. Many studies on French data have shown that a rise in the minimum wage is very negative for employment. Although estimates may differ, they converge qualitatively. For instance, Bernard Salanié (Columbia University) and Guy Laroque (CREST) estimated that a 1% rise in the minimum wage could cost 29,000 jobs (“Une décomposition du non-emploi en France”, Economie et Statistique N331, 2000-1). As a consequence, each minimum wage rise, often seen as a “social measure” in French media, would increase the proportion of people living only on social benefits. This point is particularly important for young and low qualified workers, whose parents are often also unqualified: they suffered twice from the generous increases in the minimum wage in terms of fewer job opportunities for them and their parents and, thus, a lower income for their household.

Two on Turkey

With Turkish accession one of the most important issues facing the European Union, people interested in the question could do much worse than read these two recent, and reasonably short, books that focus on the country: Crescent and Star, by Stephen Kinzer, and The Turks Today, by Andrew Mango. Both illustrate and explain contemporary Turkey, and both have accession as a theme throughout their books.
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Enter The People. Why We Are Wearing Orange.

It is getting colder in Kyiv, so it may not be too surprising both camps are busy fueling the flames of their conflict. In a country eagerly awaiting its Supreme Court’s decision about the validity of last week’s Presidential election, the second week of popular protests in Kyiev begins with the incumbent president Kuchma’s threat to enforce martial law, and more secessionist motions passed by Eastern regional assemblies/authorities, which, although likely a consequence of oligarchic pressures and thus questionable true popular support, have caught the attention of the Yushenko campaign – as Scott’s post below indicates. In many ways, things could take an ugly turn soon.

Given the growing awareness that Mr Yushenko is a politician with oligarchic friends of his own, who is making, as the Kyiv Post stated on Saturday, “a multi-faceted attempt to take power”, and not a saint, I think it is appropriate to explain exactly what we want to express by wearing orange these days: orange is, after all, Mr Yushenko’s campaign color. But then, it seems, orange is no longer just his campaign color.

Former US National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated last Thursday, in a roundtable discussion, hastily arranged by the American Enterprise Institute, that we witness “the meeting of Ukrainian nationalism with Ukrainian democracy on a popular basis”. Well, nationalism clearly has its role, and not unexpectedly in a country featuring such a motley collection of salient cleavages. Yet for all I hear, I do not get the impression that the nationalism exhibited by the crowds peacefully demonstrating for Yushenko is of divisive, ethnically exclusive nature – while the Yanukovich camp apparently scared ethnic Russian voters in the East. Arguing that the Kuchma administration has talked up ethnic tensions to be able to act as mediator, Tarik Amar writes in a very informative, long primer at John Quiginn’s

“[c]rucially, even in round one the opposition managed to win all Ukrainian regions in the West as well as the Centre of the country, including ? by a large margin ? the largely Russiophone capital city Kyiv. The government has always liked to pretend that the opposition?s base was restricted to the Ukrainophone West, implying that it was ?nationalist?, even ?separatist.? Some Western observers still cling to these facile stereotypes. It is Yanukovych who has been cornered in a minority of eastern oblasts. If anybody represents an above-regional Ukrainian solidarity, it is clearly Yushchenko. He speaks proper Russian as well as Ukrainian and his being a native of one of Ukraine?s most eastern oblasts and having spent his student and working life in western as well as central Ukraine cannot be matched by Yanukovych, whose biography is strictly mono-regional and whose Ukrainian is not perfect.”

So I think Mr Brzezinski’s statement is by and large correct about the nature of what’s going on. And while most Ukrainians as well as political analysts will probably have agreed even before last week that this election was a crucial event for Ukraine, I think everyone has been surprised by the hundreds of thousands of people who have turned the election into a plebiscite about the kind of society they want to live in. Let me again quote Tarik Amar –

Even if some Western minds jaded by overfeeding on ?Civil Society? rhetoric may find it old hat, for Ukraine things are at stake that were achieved in Poland in 1989: essential respect for the law and the sovereign people, pluralism, and, indeed, freedom from fear. Ukraine is facing a choice not between different policies or regions but between mutually exclusive political cultures. Without undue idealization, the opposition stands for a reasonable understanding of rules, laws, and good faith in observing them.

Wearing orange is – now – essentially about aspiring to a different standard of governance. Yet I am not as certain about the prospects of Ukrainian civil society as Mr Brzezinski, who believes it would survive even a failure of the current stand-off. I am worried by the failed 1953 East-German uprising – it’s (bloody) failure led to widespread decades-long political apathy. Despite all efforts by political activists from inside (and outside) Ukraine, Ukrainian civil society must still be weak. Thus, as every little thing may count, we have decided to display a few additional orange bits to show our support for all those in Kyiv who are aspiring – and freezing.

One more thing. Over the last few days, some reports have led to not unreasonable suspicions about a renewed confrontation between Russia and “the West” about Ukraine, including some about several Western, particularly American, governmental as well as non-governmental organisations having “meddled” with the Ukrainian elections, particularly by funding grassroots protest-organisations like the student movement PORA.

Yet “meddling” is a matter of degree – a week before the second round of the elections, the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow quoted a Russian political consultant with the so-called “Russian club”, Sergei Markov, using the American grassroots support to justify the – far more extensive – Russian involvement in Ukraine –

“[l]ook at what the U.S. is doing here – supporting foundations, analytical centers, round tables. It’s how contemporary foreign policy is pursued. And it’s exactly what we’re doing.”

I would never claim that “the West” or any of its constiuent parts would be above the use of electoral manipulation; particularly, in situations where it had a clear idea where it wants to go and what to expect, how to direct, and what to achieve through any political movement.

Yet, as opposed to Russia, whose motives with respect to Ukraine are clear – if there is one truth about the American and European involvement in Ukraine, I think it would be that there is no strategy, simply because there isn’t a monolithic or even prevailing view of Russia anymore. Absent any real strategy, Western support is likely to have actually achieved what it was supposed to achieve: create process awareness.

It was the latter that brought the people to the streets, not some handbook of popular opposition, pollsters, political consultants, or stickers paid for with money from Washington or Brussels. And that is one more reason to wear the ribbon.
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Blogging as Substitute?

Dr. Bernd Marcus, Prof. Dr. Astrid Sch?tz und Dipl.-Psych. Franz Machilek are psychology scholars at the Technical University Chemnitz and probably know everything you always wanted to know about bloggers yet never dared to ask. Or so. Well, actually, I don’t know if bloggers were a particularly important part of their study given the saddening size of the German blogosphere.

Based on 266 questionnaires which the psychologists gathered online they assessed intentions and personality traits of people who own a homepage to answer the question whether “owners of personal websites” are “self-presenters, or people like you and me”. So the question of what exactly differentiates a “personal website” from a blog – as well as the entire “social software” discussion – might be spiced up a little from a psychological point of view.
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Living in Denial

No this is not (yet) the title of one of my new pages (although we were looking into living in sin, but unfortunately it’s already taken). No the denial I am referring to is much nearer home for most of us, since it is up there in Brussels. “European Union nations are dragging their heels in their ambitious drive to become the world’s most competitive economy by the end of the decade” or so we are lead to believe from the EU annual survey published by the Commission on Wednesday.

This foolish piece of what the Spanish would call ‘chuleria’ (no easy translation but I suppose you could try vain self-important show-off bragging) – the pledge to overtake the US by 2010 – was adopted at the Lisbon 2000 summit. It was madness in its moment, now it looks just plain ridiculous.
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German Is Getting Sexy Again. Again.

The controverse reaction to Edward’s use of a French block quote in a blog that claims to be the place for intelligent English language coverage of European affairs, made me remember my first blogging conversation. It was a discussion about Germans not publishing in English and the stipulation by the Norwegian blogger Bj?rn St?rk that ??nothing beautiful or sensible should ever be written in Norwegian, if it could be written in English.? So after speaking French all evening, and in light of the above mentioned comments as well as my imminent visit to the Frankfurt International Book Fair (link in English) I felt compelled to recycle my defence of linguistic diversity as a virtue of its own right, which was first published in a slightly different version in almost a diary on February 2nd, 2003.

Bj?rn St?rk had a look around the web and was astonished by the fact that he could find relatively few European, particularly German and French, (particularly political) blogs published in English. Contemplating the deeper issue at hand – the relation of national cultures and supra-national languages – in this case English – in an age of global interaction – Bj?rn made an interesting argument concerning cultural imperialism, linguistic protectionism, linguistic economies of scale and scope as well as the advantages of publishing in English instead of one?s native language.

No doubt about it – English has become some sort lingua franca in many respects.

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