Hungarian passports; or, dumbest Stratfor article ever

This sort of thing is why I have trouble taking Stratfor seriously.

Short version: the new, center-right Hungarian government is reviving the plan to offer Hungarian citizenship and passports to ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. (There are a couple of million of them. Most live in Hungary’s neighbors Romania, Slovakia and Serbia, with smaller numbers in Croatia and Ukraine.) Stratfor sees this as “an insurance policy — a way of broadening [Hungary’s] power and securing itself should its protectors, the European Union and NATO, weaken.”

What the hell? Continue reading

Romania: strength to strength?

So Romania’s economy grew by about 8% in the first quarter of this year.

To put this in context: Romania has been growing at a rate of around 6% per year nonstop since 1999. So — on paper at least — its economy has nearly doubled in size since then.

And you can see it. Bucharest bustles with traffic and new construction. People on the streets are visibly dressed better than just a few years ago. A large and growing middle class is serviced by European hypermarkets and superstores, including several Carrefours and an Ikea.

But… it doesn’t feel like a country that’s seeing Asian-style hothouse growth. Doing well, yes, but not that well.

I started a longish post discussing reasons for this (Geographical and sectoral imbalances, distribution issues) and also whether it’s sustainable (credit issues, balance of trade, of course demographics, corruption) but decided to throw this one to the commenters instead.

So: Romania. Good? Not so good? Sustainable?

Does God love Romania?

It would take a stand-alone blog to track the daily utterances of George Bush but here he is in St Louis today talking about his visits to Romania —

And they had just been accepted into NATO, and the President asked me and Laura to go, and there was 225,000 people, more or less, in the town square to see the American President. And it was raining.

Now, the interesting thing from my perspective was that I was here, and there was a balcony lit in the town square, and I was told this was where the tyrant Ceausescu and his wife had made their last public appearance. And the story has it that he — somebody started chanting, “Liar,” and he realized his power was slipping away, and then he tried to get out of there, and anyway, he was done in by the people. They were tired of him; he was a brutal guy.

And so that was my line of sight. And the President introduced me, and just as I got up to speak, a full rainbow appeared. And it was a startling moment. And I turned back — Laura was like — I went, look, baby, look up there. And so when I pointed up, 225,000 heads flipped around to look at the rainbow. I then ad-libbed, “God is smiling on Bucharest.” And the reason I did is because the rainbow ended right behind the balcony where the tyrant had given his last speech. Liberty is transformative, and it will yield the peace we want.

There’s a lot of Bush’s personality in that little anecdote: a self-serving mysticism, his remembering that he had departed from his script (which must therefore be a rare event) and linking God specifically to political freedom.  One wonders if God left Bucharest the same time he did. 

Totally random historical post: Things to like about Marshal Antonescu

I was going to do a rather obnoxious post about the Macedonian name issue, but decided not to. You can see a draft of it in the comments section over here.

Meanwhile, here’s an idea I’ve sometimes toyed with: a series of posts on the leaders of small European countries during the Second World War. There were some fascinating characters running around then: Admiral Horthy of Hungary, Salazar of Portugal, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and Ante Pavelic of Croatia. (Pavelic not so much fascinating as disgusting, but that’s a story for another time.)

Anyway, I don’t want to commit myself to this — I still have the series on frozen conflicts half-finished — but here’s a random post on one wartime leader: Marshal Antonescu of Romania. Continue reading

Unintended Consequences

We can all probably agree that Italy’s fit of xenophobia towards Romanians is pretty bad, but it has had one positive consequence; ITS, the extreme-right/nationalist grouping in the European Parliament whose membership can be summed up as “if you want to make some minority unwelcome and you’re in the minority yourself, you’re welcome here”, has fallen apart after the Great Romania Party, one of its less hopelessly unsuccessful members, unsurprisingly walked out.

I say unsurprisingly because the leader of Italy’s “post-fascists”, Giancarlo Fini, has been going around calling his Romanian allies in ITS “animals”. There was always something fundamentally absurd about a group of parties dedicated to lionising their own nations and decrying others trying to cooperate internationally; it was just a matter of time.

Frozen conflicts: Transnistria

Spent a weekend in Nagorno-Karabakh last month.

If you don’t know what or where Nagorno-Karabakh is… well, that’s healthy and normal. Most people don’t. But it’s pretty interesting, in a depressing sort of way.

When the Soviet Union broke up, it left a number of unresolved ethnic and territorial conflicts around its old frontiers. Four of these still survive today. In ascending order of nastiness, they are Trans-Dnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Would anyone be interested in an occasional series on these? Here’s one on Trans-Dnistria below the cut.
Continue reading

Transparency International Strikes Again

So the new Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index came out last week. If you are a development geek — cough, cough — this is like Beaujolais Nouveau Day.

Not that there are any /huge/ surprises. The top ten slots are dominated by the same countries, year after year — Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore. European readers can be cheered by the fact that European countries occupy 13 of the top 20 slots.

The CPI is, of course, a perceptions survey. They poll a lot of investors and NGOs and whatnot and ask what they think. There are some obvious issues with this methodology. Other hand, they try to be rigorous about it, and keep the tests constant from country to country and from year to year. If you’re trying to measure corruption — an inherently difficult task — this is probably about the best broad-guage metric we have.

Meanwhile, a few geeky comments.
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Department of Unexpected Consequences (Balkan Division)

I don’t usually cite whole articles, but this recent piece over at birn.eu is too good to miss.

After years of vigorously opposing the eastwards expansion of the European Union, extreme-right-wing parties in the European Parliament, EP, ironically stand to benefit hugely from the Romanian and Bulgarian accession…

[A]agreement with nationalist parties from the two newcomers has opened the way for the first parliamentary group representing the hard right to be formed in the EP.

The new caucus… brings together about 20 members of the parliament, known as MEPs, from seven countries. Five will come from Romania, from the ultra-nationalistic and xenophobic Greater Romania Party. And one from Bulgaria’s Ataka party, which mainly campaigns against Bulgaria’s Roma and Turkish minorities.

Why is this happening now? Because the EU Parliament has a rule that a caucus, to be officially recognized, must have at least 19 members from five different countries. Until recently, the far right could only muster 14 members. But the new MEPS will push them over the line.

The other MEPs? Oh, you know. France’s National Front, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Italy’s National Alliance. Allesandra Mussolini will be in it. The leader will be France’s Bruno Gollnisch, who is currently serving a suspended sentence for Holocaust denial. British readers may recognize Ashley Mote, the noted cricket writer, who was tossed out of UKIP a while back after being indicted for fraud. (Did anything ever come of that?)

The group already has a name: “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty”. Well, who could possibly disagree with that?
Continue reading

27, 491m.

Since I doubt anyone of the afoe crew will be anywhere close to a computer when it will happen later tonight, this little announcement about the latest and probably last EU-enlargement in a while will have to do for the time being.

At midnight, Bulgaria and Romania will become members of the European Union, increasing the Union membership to 27 countries and 491million people – despite numerous remaining doubts about the countries’ ability to cope with the administrational demands of the EU and the imposition of special obligations and limitations, especially regarding the free movement of labour. Thus, as with the big Eastern enlargement in 2004, some commentators have called this enlargement-round a “second class” enlargement.

Still, that the countries’ accession has caused almost no public debate is probaly a consequence of the limited economic impact the two countries can possibly have, despite low labour costs. In 2004, Bulgaria’s and Romania’s GDP was a mere 0.2 resp. 0.6% of the joint EU-27 GDP.

Then again, on New Year’s Eve, all glasses are half-full and figures like the ones just mentioned only indicate a significant growth potential. Happy New Year!