Ukrainian Disappointment..

While everyone is focused on the French elections, the Balkans, or the contreaty relaunch (in increasing order of wonkishness), it’s not going too well in the Ukraine. Back in the winter of 2004, you couldn’t move for bloggers taking sides on the Orange Revolution, but hardly anyone has noticed the progressive disappointment since.

Well, all revolutions end up eating their children, they say. But I think it’s fair to say that this one at least turned the country in a less Putin-like direction, and after all, past revolutions here have actually ended up with people eating *their* children. Recently, though, there’s been a political murder – one of Yanukovich’s backers from last time was assassinated by a sniper – and the Associated Press can no longer tell President Yuschenko from Prime Minister Yanukovich.

So, the crowds are out again, as are the tents…with the same leaders as before. Indispensable as ever, Veronica Khoklova reports, with video.

In a sense, I suppose it’s the aim of the European project these days – to shift away from snipers towards tents and blogs as a means of resolving political conflict, and in the fullness of time, to falling turnout and general apathy. Hooray! Not that there’s very much wrong with that. People who complain about the hegemony of liberal order rarely concede that it’s unlikely to kill you.

But there’s the rub. As Leszek Kolakowski put it:

The trouble with the social democratic idea is that it does not stock and does not sell any of the exciting ideological commodities which various totalitarian movements – Communist, Fascist or Leftist – offer dream-hungry youth. It is no ultimate solution for all human miseries and misfortunes. It has no prescription for the total salvation of mankind, it cannot promise the fireworks of the last revolution to settle definitely all conflicts and struggles. It has invented no miraculous devices to bring about the perfect unity of man and universal brotherhood. It believes in no easy victory over evil.

It requires, in addition to commitment to a number of basic values, hard knowledge and rational calculation, since we need to be aware of and investigate as exactly as possible the historical and economic conditions in which these values are to be implemented. It is an obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy.

You could say much the same about the EU, with the rider that too many people think pretending to be the fireworks, etc, will bring in the dream-hungry youth its grinding seriousness tends to alienate. Which is, I think, what I was drivelling about in this Crooked Timber thread.

Tramp the Dirt Down

Somebody is worried that Slobodan Milosevic might escape from death. And so, they dug up his corpse and drove a stake through his heart.

Seriously. They really did it.

One might also want to read this.

Belgium holds the line

Brief recap: about six months ago, the EU suspended candidacy negotiations with Serbia because Belgrade was refusing to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal.

In particular, the Serbian government had stopped even pretending to look for accused war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. As chief Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte put it, “I’m telling those who still wish to receive me – and fewer and fewer prime ministers and foreign ministers now find the time or interest to do so – that since last October, Belgrade has not been cooperating with the Tribunal at all. Not only has it failed to provide full cooperation – there has been no cooperation whatsoever.”

So the EU shut down candidacy negotiations. Kudos all around, right? Cooperation with the Hague was always a clear prerequisite for negotiations. The EU had made that clear, and the Serbs had agreed. No cooperation, no candidacy.

Then some EU members started getting cold feet.
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Somewhere it’s always still the DDR

Who knew that there is a place that is forever East Germany? The fine Strange Maps posts a satellite image of Playa RDA, or DDR Beach, a 15 kilometre long by 500 metres wide sand spit on the southern coast of Cuba. On the 5th of June, 1972, Fidel Castro gave the sliver of land to the DDR during a state visit, renaming the island Isla Ernst Thälmann and the beach, Playa RDA. You can view it via Google Maps here.

Thälmann was the German Communist leader up to 1933, and was commemorated by a couple of other things, such as a German battalion in the International Brigades during the Spanish civil war. Later, a statue of him was erected on the island after a ceremony at which some hundred guests took part.

According to German Wikipedia, there was a serious point to all this. World trade in sugar was subject to a quota system at the time, and the transfer of the island was theoretically in exchange for an East German sugar refinery’s share of the European export market. No wonder the Cubans were pleased.

The island is in a Cuban military training area near the Bay of Pigs. Which makes me wonder, if during the late 1970s, when East German warships regularly sailed to African and South American ports, they ever visited it? And what is the communist equivalent of “15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho! and a bottle of rum!”?

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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Bosnia: Exit the Doctor

Here’s the short version. Bosnia has this thing called a “High Representative”. The High Rep is not a Bosnian. He’s a European charged with overseeing implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (the 1995 treaty that has kept the various Bosnian groups from each others’ throats), and also with “representing the international community” in Bosnia.

The High Rep is much more than a diplomat. He’s really more like a colonial governor. He can pass laws and fire Bosnian politicians. If he flexes his muscles, he’s really the final authority in the country. You might think this is strange in what’s nominally a sovereign European state, but Bosnia is a strange place.

For four years, 2002-6, the High Rep was a British fellow named Paddy Ashdown. Paddy took his job seriously and did not hesitate to use his powers. He didn’t like nationalist politicians and he wanted Bosnia to act like a real country. So he banged some heads and stepped on a lot of toes.

Many, both in Bosnia and in the international community, did not like this. Paddy was accused of being an old-fashioned imperialist, high-handed, divisive. Furthermore, said many, he was stunting the political growth of the Bosnian state. As long as Paddy was there to twist arms, the Bosnians would never learn to solve their own problems.

So when Paddy left, the job was given to an elderly, mild-mannered German politician, Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling. Dr. Schwarz-Schilling made it clear in advance that he did not plan to use the powers of the High Rep’s office. In fact, he saw his job as overseeing the position’s liquidation. He “didn’t believe in colonialism for Bosnia,” said the good Doctor. The High Rep’s office would gradually ramp down, aiming for a complete shutdown within a year or two. The Bosnians would assume responsibility for their own destiny. Polite clapping all around.

That was a year ago.
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Glowing Georgians and Radioactive Russians

No, this is not a Litvinenko post…or at least not primarily. Recently, the Georgian ex-KGB said it had caught a Russian smuggling highly-enriched uranium into Georgia, who was nailed in a sting operation where Georgian agents posed as representatives of an Islamist terrorist group that wanted to buy fissile material. He handed over a sample, claiming to have several kilos back at home in Vladikavkaz, and they put the handcuffs on him. Good work, fellas, you might say, and you’d be right – both the US National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Atomic Energy Authority analysed the stuff, and it turned out to be 90 per cent enriched.

On the downside, it turns out that this happened in November, 2005, and he’s been sentenced to eight years in a secret trial. One wonders what kind of a trial, and also why the Georgians took so long to mention it. Being a small state next to Russia with ambitions of NATO and EU membership, and an existing counter-terrorist alliance with the US, you’d think they’d trumpet it from the rooftops. They claim it was in order not to compromise continuing inquiries, which may be true or may not.

Siberian Andy asks, in the light of this, if Russia has lost control of its nuclear weapons. He thinks it’s plausible. I disagree, slightly. Russia is clearly far more stable than it was in the Yeltsin years, what with the restoration of the FSB security state, and nuclear custodianship, command, and control is obviously a priority. Perhaps more importantly, surging oil and commodity prices have made a big difference to the state budget – Putin is in a position to hold a dramatically bigger share of the market for corruption than Yeltsin ever could, and it would make sense to direct it at the academic/industrial nuclear community and the roketchiki who actually look after the things.

But there’s obviously a problem.
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Hoisted from Comments: Not Happening

Remarking on Edward’s post, one commenter writes, “Unlike Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia etc, Croatia is well on its way to the EU.”

Unfortunately for Zagreb, the EU is not on its way to Croatia. At least not with any great speed. I had pegged Croatia to be in by the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. That is not going to happen.
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Thomas Barnett joins Shrillaholics Anonymous

Thomas P.M. Barnett, Pentagon thinker and tech entrepreneur, stands up in the centre of the circle and says…I am Thomas Barnett….and I…am shrill! You’ll feel better now you’ve said it, Tom. See his latest column, here, in which he says that:

That’s how we’ll master this allegedly chaotic world: recalling that we’re history’s first and most wildly successful multinational economic and political union. Our greatest source of stability is our vast web of horizontally connecting networks.

Does that sound like a union of states not far from you, anyone? That has been the subject of much criticism, nay, contempt from Tom’s employers recently?

Meanwhile, back at his blog, he asks: Can Israel and Iran grow up, making the good point that everyone else has had to get used to nuclear deterrence. Our octopus-like tentacles of technocratic integration, economic interdependence and international law inch closer to his occiput. Soon he’ll be one with the Borg.. After all, what better example of his “SysAdmin shrinking the Gap” is there but EU enlargement?

Sometimes the stereotypes are right

It’s usually a charmingly naive belief that wars are the fault of leaders, and if the Ordinary People could choose we’d all live in peace. It doesn’t take long, considering some parts of the blogosphere, your local bar, the historical record and such, to realise this is absurdly simplistic. For one thing, there are always plenty of people who, whether they knew it or not beforehand, burst into a dark bloom of hatred at the hat of a drop. For another thing, the structural forces, the permanently-operating factors in Soviet military jargon, that make leaders do these things would work just as well whoever the individuals are.

Call me a determinist and spank me if you like, but I doubt that’s seriously contestable. But the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to defy this, or at least it has done in the last two years or so. Consider the detailed draft agreement on the Golan Heights, but not just that – the Prisoners’ Document agreed between Hamas and Fatah, Khalid Meshaal’s recent statement that Hamas would accept Israel within the 1967 green line as a “reality”, and more, going back to the ceasefire offer set up by MI6 station chief Alistair Crooke back in 2002, and it’s hard not to conclude that some people aren’t trying.

As Simon Hoggard said about Northern Ireland, they’ll do anything for peace but vote for it. More accurately, they would vote for it if it was on offer – majorities of both parties to the conflict express this view in polls. There are probably lessons to be learned about the long-term management of national interests in a small space from Europe – Gordon Brown’s chief economist and now MP, Ed Balls, has apparently been commissioned to study the economic aspects of the question, and he’d be a fool not to look back at the Monnet/Schuman plans. I doubt he’d like it very much – what did happen to the suggested French-Italian-Spanish initiative after all, then?

In conclusion, though, it’s tempting to think that the continuance of the conflict has a lot to do with hierarchy itself, and the vastly enhanced power and status that war gies leaders. If it wasn’t for the frozen war, Belfast politicians would be of similar status to those of Bradford. No US presidential gladhanding there.

Update: You doubt my method? The Globe and Mail reports that Dick Cheney rejected an offer of Iranian help in Iraq and Lebanon in 2003…oh, and another offer: Jalal Talabani says the Iranians offered him and the US talks “from Afghanistan to Lebanon”..