Bosnia’s government collapses

Well, sort of. Bosnia’s government is still run according to the Dayton Plan, which settled the war back in 1995. So it’s really complicated.

Short version: the representative of the Serb entity, the Republika Serbska (RS), has resigned from the Council of Ministers. The Presidency (which is really a council composed of three Presidents, one from each ethnicity) accepted his resignation today. Officially this means the government has fallen, and elections can ensue, but since this is Bosnia they’re going to slip first into a long period of “consultation” in an attempt to make this un-happen.

Why did the Serb reprsentative resign? Well, because the RS leadership isn’t happy with Europe’s new colonial governor — sorry, High Representative — and his ideas for moving forward beyond the Dayton Agreement. There’s some connection here to the ongoing Kosovo wrangle, because the Bosnian Serbs are getting enthused by Russian support for Serbia; some of the wilder commenters are talking about the RS being swapped to Serbia “in exchange for” Kosovo. This is not going to happen, but there’s definitely something in the air.

Since this is Bosnia, the complications are fractal. Here’s the short version: the Bosnians have 30 days to form a new government, which might happen but probably won’t. If they don’t, then at some point they’ll have to hold elections. Which, since this is Bosnia, will probably not change much.

No, I don’t know what the answer is either.

A Crisis is Born in Italy

Well as almost everyone must surely know by now, Romano Prodi’s government resigned earlier in the week. The present situation is still far from clear, with President Giorgio Napolitano holding urgent consultations with the various interested parties even as I write. Since my interest in Italy is largely an economic one (see accompanying post to follow this) and since I do not consider myself to be any sort of expert on the Italian political process, I asked Manuel Alvarez Rivera (who runs the Election Resources on the Internet site) and who is a political scientist with detailed knowledge of Italian politics for an opinion. Below the fold you can find what he sent me.

At the same time anyone inside or outside of Italy with a different take or perspective please feel free to add something in the comments section.
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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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La Febbre

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of seeing Alessandro D’Alatri’s recent film La Febbre (Fever). As the reviewer says (Italian link), this is a ‘normal’ (everyday) film, not a great one, even if it does include one or two memorable moments, like the scenes shot along the river bank, which were (and I imagine this is not entirely unintentional) rather reminiscent of some which are to be found in the unforgettable L’Albero Degli Zoccoli from that giant of Italian cinema Ermanno Olmi.

La Febbre è il classico film italiano, che vuol raccontare una storia normale, di tutti i giorni, e che per farlo non trascende dai canoni della buona creanza del plot, e da quel pizzico di amara critica sociale che lo rende molto politically correct.”

(La Febbre (the fever) is a typical Italian film, the kind of film which tries to tell a simple, ‘normal’ story – an everyday one – and which in order to do this stays well within the bounds of what is normally thought to be an acceptable plot structure, and then, following the recipe, there is added just enough social criticism to make the film a highly politically correct one.)

My point of interest in this post, however, is not really the film itself, but rather the film as a reflection of something else: the disenchantment and frustration that many young Italians seem to feel with contemporary Italian society, and the impact that the evident failure of Italian civil society to adjust to Italy’s contemporary social and demographic reality may have on the future evolution of Italian economy and society.
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Mr Potato Head

Sometime during the group phase of the last World Cup, a lefty German newspaper, the Berlin-based taz, compared Poland’s current president to a potato. I’m sure that there was more to it than that, but the original version has disappeared into pay-per-view is here, and my reading knowledge of Polish isn’t what it was a decade ago. If yours is better, there’s a Polish version is here, do let me know.

Anyway, the satire was part of a series called “Rogues Who Want to Change the World,” and Kaczynski was in there with other figures you’d expect from an alternative daily, including Chancellor Merkel and German President Köhler. Whether the comparison was apt in Kaczynski’s case will be left as an exercise for readers.

I would think that the occasional irritating comparison is part of the price of being president, and you’d probably think the same, but maybe that’s why Mr Kaczynski is president of Poland and we’re not. Plus the matter of being Polish. Because being president means that there’s a law that says insulting you is a crime. Up to two years in the Polski pen, and Warsaw prosecutors are, even as I write this, investigating whether to take out an EU arrest warrant for the Berlin-based satirists. The smart money is on no, but smart has not exactly been the controlling adjective in what has the makings of a good silly-season story. (Quite a number of European states have these “don’t insult the president/state/ruling house/whatever laws,” and they are usually defended with the assertion that they are never used. Well.)

Godwin’s law, of course, has long since been violated, by Poland’s foreign minister no less. The president skipped a meeting with German and French leaders just before they went to the G-8 summit, though he quickly denied any connection with the satire. Said he had stomach trouble. Not due to tubers, surely. And the new prime minister, not coincidentally the president’s twin brother, saw no need to change course. “We haven’t insulted anybody.”

On the other hand, amidst all the foolishness, President Kaczynski did manage a cruel blow. He said, according to the weekly Zeit, “even in the history of this peculiar newspaper” the potato portrait was an unprecedented insult of a foreign head of state and a criminal act. If in thirty-plus years of lefty alternativeness, the taz has never done anything more tasteless than call a jumped-up szlachta a lumpen-potato, they have seriously missed out on one of the perks of being lefty and alternative. I think Kaczynski’s been clever here and cast aspersions on their capabilitieis as caricaturists and satirists. But for all I know, these aspersions will harm their business and professional reputations. Maybe the taz should consider a counter-suit?

American Dreamz: When satire doesn’t go far enough

A few months back, I picked up, on a lark, a short French novel called Allah Superstar authored by the pseudonymous Y.B. (generally known to be Yassir Benmiloud, columnist for the Algerian daily El Watan). I bought it entirely on the basis of the excerpt on the back cover:

Une fatwa, voilà ce qu’il me faut pour devenir à la mode. C’est plus rapide que Star Academy, ça dure plus longtemps, tu voyages dans le monde entier, tu donnes des conférences, tu descends dans des palaces, tu montes sur scène avec U2, tu prends le thé avec le pape, une bière ou deux voire trois avec Chirac, une vodka givrée avec Poutine, un cigare humide avec Clinton, une grosse ligne avec Bush Junior, un masque à gaz avec Saddam Hussein, à chaque fois que tu dis une connerie tout le monde entier il t’écoute vu que tu as une fatwa au cul le pauvre, alors que le monde entier il est autant dans la merde que toi vu que c’est bientôt la fin du monde pour tout le monde.

A fatwa, that what I need to get famous! It’s faster than Star Academy [a French American Idol-type show], it lasts longer, you can travel the world, give speeches, stay in palaces, be up on stage with U2, take tea with the Pope, a beer or two or even three with Chirac, a chilled vodka with Putin, a humid cigar with Clinton, snort up a thick line with Bush Junior, share a gas mask with Saddam Hussein, and no matter what stupid thing you say everybody listens because you have a fatwa on your ass, while everybody else is just as deep in shit as you are seeing how the world’s gonna end real soon.

Allah Superstar, written as a monologue in several chapters, follows a young Frenchman of half Arab, half-European ancestry as he tries to become a famous comedian. Ultimately, he is seduced to, well, the Dark Side of Islam, gets his fatwa as part of a fundamentalist plot to make him famous, and when he is finally asked to perform at the Olympia in Paris (think: the French version of Radio City Music Hall) for a special September 11th performance, he blows himself up on stage, killing most of the audience.

This plot is similar enough to the one in the film American Dreamz (which has already been out for six weeks in the States, but only just came out here, and which I went to see this afternoon because, frankly, the World Cup is not my bag) that I wonder if “Y.B.” has considered suing the film’s producers. It’s far from identical, but weaker claims have led to studios to pay up.

But where Allah Superstar is a satire of French society that brings together the desire for fame at all costs, transgressive comedy and fears of terrorism, American Dreamz, directed by the man responsible for American Pie, is merely a little joke on shows like American Idol and President Bush. As satire, it falls far below the potential implicit in its concept.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so you decide if you want to read it.
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Forget It Jacques, It’s Clearstream

It never stops when your blog has to cover an entire continent. Hardly had the Italian left taken AFOE’s advice to get Giorgio Napolitano elected as president than the Clearstream scandal in France was getting out of hand, and nothing at all on the blog! Fortunately, at the moment the news from that quarter is coming so thick and at such a howling rate of speed that it wasn’t going to be hard to catch up. The latest despatches suggest that, firstly, it was De Villepin and Chirac, and secondly, that the victim-Nicolas Sarkozy-probably has something to hide too, as in any good film noir.

And that’s before you get on to the 300 million francs in the president’s secret Japanese bank account. Allegedly.

So what is a Clearstream and why is it a scandal? Clearstream is a bank clearing house in Luxembourg that permits banks to carry out international payments on a net basis, paying just the balance of their transactions in cash every business day. It has a bad reputation in France because of one Denis Robert, who has written three books alleging that it’s responsible for money laundering on a vast scale. But more relevantly, it’s also the supposed cause of a major political crisis.
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Sarkozy to the rescue?

The prospect of Sarkozy replacing Villepin as French Prime Minister has apparently been given a significant boost today, with a close aide of Sarkozy saying his boss could accept such an offer, provided he is allowed to carry out his (and not Chirac’s) political agenda.

Now, maybe this won’t come to pass (and I’ll argue below that it probably won’t). But it is worth recalling some recent history to show how extraordinary such a move would be.

It is not just that Chirac had considered Sarkozy a traitor since he chose to support the presidential bid of (then Prime minister) Edouard Balladur in the presidential elections of 1995. It is also that Chirac has done everything in his power to impede Sarkozy’s rise to power since 2002. In 2004, Chirac battled behind the scenes to try to foil the takeover of his own UMP party by Sarkozy, then the popular Minister of the Interior. When that didn’t work, he ordered him to leave the government, on the theory that having the head of the main party of the parliamentary majority in the cabinet would sap the authority of the Prime Minister (conveniently forgetting that Alain Juppé, a long-time Chirac protégé, was at the same time president of the RPR and Foreign Minister from November 1994 to May 1995).

That theory did last less than a year, since Sarko was back in the government after the failed referendum on the EU constitution in late May 2005. But Chirac ignored the calls of his parliamentary majority to name Sarko Prime Minister and went for Villepin instead, with the hope of making the latter a rival to the former for the next presidential elections. Asking now Sarko to replace Villepin would then be tantamount to a declaration of surrender on Chirac’s part.
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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.
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Sparkling Spain

Spain’s economy is of course booming, (as it has been for the last ten years). The inflation rate is booming too. Some even go so far as to suggest that Spain should now become a member fo the G8. Spanish people are of course buying a lot more houses, indeed more housing units were built in Spain last year than in Germany, France and Italy combined, and since, as Brad Delong pointed out yesterday, as long as interest rates stay low, the housing sector can keep booming, and since in the short term interest rates in Spain will stay low, then the boom looks set to continue. Plenty of reasons then, at least for now, to break open the bubbly.

Which is what, of course, a lot of people having been doing. In Spain by bubbly people normally mean Cava, a Catalan beveridge which is really remarkably similar to French Champagne. This year, however, things may be a little different, at least in some parts of Spain, since in addition to having a smokeless celebration, many will also be having a cava-free one.

So what is this all about? Well funnily enough rather than being about Eve (whether New Year’s or Xmas), this topic is in fact much more about José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (the Spanish Prime Minister/President).
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