Change in Germany

John Kornblum, former US Ambassador in Berlin, knows a thing or two about Germany from his forty years’ acquaintance with the country.

In a nation traumatized by violent upheavals, voters seem to demand an emotional insurance policy before accepting change. This insurance must promise that new methods will not undermine the social and economic stability, which is so important to their special postwar sense of self.

New ideas must be sold as not really changing anything. Change must be seen as a method of strengthening stability, not as a new way of doing things. German politicians have become adept at making new ideas sound like old ones. In the words of Konrad Adenauer: ?No experiments.?

A current example of this phenomenon is the tone of political and economic writing in Germany. With a few notable exceptions, authors focus on the inevitability of collapse. Germany?s economy is destined to decline, the Chinese will rule the world, and America is finished as a great power.

There are few grand visions for a new future. Instead, readers are warned that if they do not move quickly, their comfortable world will collapse around them. Motivation is negative rather than positive.

However strange this discussion may sound to outsiders, it seems to be serving an important purpose within Germany. Belief in the old stability is wearing away. As 2004 comes to an end, the most important question is not whether there is going to be change, but how it will come and which direction it will take.

The whole essay is here. I think the part about undertaking significant change while maintaining the whole time that nothing is changing is particularly accurate.

When I was doing more transatlantic bridge-building, I used a sports metaphor.
Continue reading

Russia: ‘Managed democracy’ shows its true colors

Well, well. The richest man in Russia got arrested yesterday. Rather unusually brutally too, FSB raid, as demonstartions. What’s going on?

Let’s turn to not mainstream media but rather The Moscow Times who of course are all over this.

First, some kremlinology:

Analysts have said the attack is an attempt to curb Khodorkovsky’s political ambitions. Not only has the nation’s richest man has been openly funding opposition parties ahead of elections, but he also has attempted to push his own policy agenda on key state issues such as pipeline strategy.

The onslaught also comes amid a vicious battle for position between the old elite that came to power and wealth under former President Boris Yeltsin — including Khodorkovsky — and a hard-line faction known as the siloviki that arrived in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin.

Analysts said Tuesday that the new burst of activity from prosecutors came amid signs that the Kremlin faction backing the old elite, known as the Family, might be beginning to cave in. The head of the presidential administration, Alexander Voloshin, has been seen as the main protector of that group.

“Rumors of Voloshin’s upcoming resignation are continuing to come from the Kremlin and, judging by their frequency and their consistency, it seems he will not survive the elections. He is gradually losing real control over the Kremlin apparatus,” said Andrei Ryabov, political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. “What’s happening now is a sign of the shift in the balance of power.”

Ryabov added: “Another reason for the recent burst also appears to be Yukos’ increasing activity in trying to sell a stake to a foreign oil major. If such a deal happened, this would not suit the siloviki as YukosSibneft would then fall completely out of their control.”[*]

What will happen?

Kremlin-connected political analyst Sergei Markov said Khodorkovsky’s arrest could usher in new rules of the game for big business and the state.

“After Khodorkovsky’s loss there could be a change in the rules of the game,” he said. “Khodorkovsky will be made an offer he can’t refuse. He can accept the new rules of the game, or he can stay in prison.

“Those who do not agree with the new rules of the game will lose control over their property. That was what happened with [Vladimir] Gusinsky and [Boris] Berezovsky.”

Markov speculated that Khodorkovsky could be forced to give up his stake in Yukos and step down in favor of other managers more ready to cooperate with the state. He could not say exactly what the new rules for business might involve, apart from plans to raise taxes on extraction of raw materials.[*]