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.

Centipedes of the 21st Century

Bruce Sterling gives the canonical definition of a “centipede,” a new approach to political scandalmongering, probably coming soon to a polity near you. Unless you’re in India, Greece, Poland, Indonesia, South Africa, the UK or the USA, in which they’ve already arrived.

Basically, a centipede is an attempt to drive a politician from power by creating a moral panic. “Centipedes are a cheap, highly effective, low-risk, highly-mediated method of political destabilization. Centipedes are new phenomena because the barriers-to-entry in media have crashed. This means that subversive efforts formerly isolated and punished as libel, slander and whispering campaigns can swiftly take on avalanche proportions. While pretending to be about spontaneous indignation and moral values, centipedes are coolly calculated and all about power. … I named them ‘centipedes’ because they are segmented, covert, and poisonous.”

He also details their common characteristics. They’ll probably be increasingly recognizable.

German-American Relations

Given our slightly jaundiced piece on things Anglo-German, it may be just as well that work and other nuisances kept us from joining in, but the good folks at Atlantic Review held a “blog carnival” yesterday on German-American relations.

The introduction in English is here (just ignore the juxtaposition of a tagline featuring the words “truth, honesty and integrity” and a button proclaiming “GOP blogger” because the intro does provide a good summary) and the introduction in German is here.

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.

From Vancouver to Vladivostok

Not unlike the cold old days, the US and Russia have been at odds over the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the recent ministerial meeting in Brussels (Belgium currently has the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship), the Russian ambassador complained about an imbalance in the Organisation’s work, specifically that too much emphasis was being put on the “human dimension.” That’s an OSCE bit of jargon that covers things like free and fair elections, protection of human rights and so forth. (This was all reported in the German newspaper whose web site could be better organized, page 6 of the December 5 edition, but can one find the article on said web site? No. Try here, instead, as long as the link lasts.)

Ambassador Lavrov said that the OSCE should give equal focus to the military and economic aspects of security and cooperation in Europe. This is kind of a nutty thing for a Russian ambassador to be saying.
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On the Polish Right

The scandals seem to keep coming. On the heels of news that an assistant to the former presidential candidate from the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR) party took part in a neo-Nazi festival in the summer of 2005, come reports that parliamentarians from the Self-Defense (Samoobrona, SO) party made sex a condition of employment for some women.
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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.

Limping into the Union

Romania’s government lost its majority over the weekend. I know, it took us a little while to notice, too. In fact, our attention was called to it by the German newspaper whose web site could be better organized (page 6 of today’s edition, not on the web site apparently).

The Conservatives departed the four-party coalition, a move that was not unexpected, given that they had already threatened to walk out this summer. The background is suitably Balkan, a mix of personal clashes, links to Communist-era security services (of which Romania’s was one of the nastiest), and using public office for private gain.

Less than a month before Romania’s accession to the EU, this is not a great sign. On the other hand, no one seems to want to bring the government down before then. So Romania will enter with a minority cabinet, which will fall early next year, with elections to follow. Welcome to Brussels, Bucharest.

Litvinenko, UKIP, Berlusconi

The Litvinenko case just gets weirder, although perhaps a little simpler. Yesterday’s Observer ran a long report based on the testimony of a Russian doctoral student in London who got in touch with him whilst looking for information on Chechnya. Apparently he boasted of having not only a dossier on the Yukos case, but also sources in the FSB who would provide him with documents on command. He also said he planned to blackmail the Russian government and prominent persons with these documents, in order to escape his financial dependence on Berezovsky.

On the other hand, the role of Mario Scaramella becomes a little clearer with this must-read report in the Independent. It seems that essentially everything he has told British reporters is untrue. He is not an investigating magistrate, nor a professor, nor does his “Environmental Crime Protection Project” exist in any signal way. Instead, he appears to be a political operative of some kind.
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