“Bitter” Refugee Experiences

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Today there occurs that climactic EU summit with Turkey PM Davutoğlu devoted to the refugee crisis. It’s safe to say all Europe awaits the outcome of that with bated breath, although perhaps none more so than the many refugees now trapped in Greece, together with those others even further behind in the pipeline (e.g. still in Turkey; or trapped in Syria in front of the closed Turkish border).

Here and there, however, there will be some who are not so interested: they’ve made up their minds to head back where they came from. The following Agence France-Presse piece by Guillaume Decamme, carried on Yahoo! France, examines a couple of their “bitter experiences.”

AmereExp
Let’s take up these examples. Note that they all have to do with men from Afghanistan. (Note as well that there is also a two-minute video heading the article, in case you’d like to hear them make their cases personally – in language translated to French.)

First we have Mohammed Asif Nouri, 26 years old and with a degree in economics: “I thought my dream would come true in Europe,” he laments. Last year he braved the terrible journey which eventually landed him in Frankfurt-am-Main, via the route everyone knows about (once the Hungarians had put up their fence): Turkey-Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia-Austria. Once in Germany, he was shuttled between various refugee centers in Hamburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and then to Frankfurt.

The one constant he encountered? “European nationalism,” he says. “The Europeans think we are going to destroy their culture.” Then there was that time when he wanted to ask directions of some German, who first stood off to put some distance between them and then insisted in answering in German – “whereas 99% of Germans speak English.” (more…)

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A Troubling Failure to Explode

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Was it an April Fools joke? You would hope so; and this report from the official Czech ČTK news agency did come out yesterday:

Granaty
“Ministry of Defence wants 39 million [that’s CZK] back for allegedly faulty grenades.”

But no, it all seems serious. That said, the ČTK piece lags far behind a related one from the premier Czech newspaper Lidové noviny which provides many more vital details.

This all has to do with a 2009 contract to the Czech Army from the domestic firm Zeveta Bojkovice, a.s.*to deliver 3,000 “grenades,” actually meaning the explosive part delivered by an RPG personal anti-tank weapon. Several of these were found to be defective, and Zeveta has not been cooperative in its reaction. The Ministry of Defense started complaining back in 2011, but the firm has kept denying any defects and refusing any financial restitution, so that the affair has finally landed up in court. That Kč 39 million that the government is trying to win back amounts to around €1.4 million.

By itself, this sort of incident is not so surprising. Czech public procurement generally has gained an unsavoury reputation for mainly seeming to function to enrich insider businessmen, who deliver shoddy performance at high prices. The really interesting aspect here is that the Czechs discovered that this ammunition was faulty in Afghanistan, where back in 2010 they had a 700-man contingent under NATO.

That original ČTK piece just said “grenade,” which got me rather indignant; a hand grenade is a close-combat weapon whose failure to explode when expected easily results in serious consequences. But then I found out from Lidové noviny that this rather had to do with the RPGs. That’s a bit better, mainly because these are weapons that are meant to be fired at some range. Furthermore, given that the Taliban generally have no armored vehicles – i.e. the type of target one would expect to have to fire an RPG against in an emergency – these were likely generally fired under rather less urgent circumstances, probably against structures like buildings. One hopes that the defects discovered did not include any tendency for these munitions to actually explode when they were not supposed to. Still, even if we assume that – and even keeping in mind the rock-bottom Czech standard for government procurement – this sort of failure is deplorable.

* If you still are looking for a laughing matter, that link I provided previously was to the English version of the Zeveta Bojkovice website. This is the holding company that owns the ammunition firm, but anyway – what’s this appearing high-up on their homepage?

One can never capture every single moment in life. But it is possible to retain the moments which made it richer in some way, or just belong to the bright bits without which the colourful mosaic of the past years would not be complete…

For real! This is also no April Fool’s prank, I promise!

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Bin Laden Retrospectives

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

“U-S-A! U-S-A!” Europeans woke up to the news, while cheering Americans put off bedtime for a while to go congregate and rejoice. The killing of Osama Bin Laden dominates world news today, while analyses of the consequences and of Bin Laden’s extraordinary life are likely to occupy much print and many pixels in the days to come.

Naturally, such pieces are already forthcoming. One of the best I’ve seen so far comes from an expected source, Prof. Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment, although it does veer at the end to the realm of personal reminiscences. (The September 11, 2001 attacks were after all the inspiration for setting up that blog, as they were for so many other things e.g. US Army/Marines enlistments.)

Plus, as always Prof. Cole’s treatment is in English, which is not really within the remit of the blog you’re reading now. Let’s turn to Der Spiegel instead:

That link leads to an article entitled The Prince of Terror, by Yassin Musharbash. (Despite the name, a born-and-bred German journalist.) The photo-series you’ll find starting at the article’s head – basically a series of Osama TV-stills – is nothing to write home about, but what Musharbash writes about his historical background is quite interesting. For the world’s premier terrorist could very well have become its leading playboy instead; he was born into quite a wealthy Saudi family, which had made its money in the construction business. But no, he chose religion over worldly things, and became known over his lifetime for his qualities of patience, modest living, and friendliness – “friendliness” to a select few, at least, since he never was so enthusiastic about Westerners and his strict religious convictions kept him from shaking any female’s hand from an early age, as well from any music, photography, or television (except for the news).

Nonetheless, from a position as an outsider he soon became one of the leading heroes within the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation. Of course, it was from the (mostly Arab) fighting elements he assembled there for that original purpose that he would go on to build his “Al-Qaeda” network. (The name in Arabic literally means “network,” as well as a number of other things.) But Musharbash helpfully reminds us of another, later instance when the West’s and Bin Laden’s military interests coincided, namely in Bosnia during the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s: A nascent Al-Qaeda then supplied fighters to defend that break-away republic from Serb depredations long before Europe or the US had made up their mind what to do themselves.

The Dutch paper De Volkskrant is also quick off the blocks with its own Profile: This is how Bin Laden became the most-wanted terrorist on Earth. No photo-series this time – but really, by now haven’t we all had to gaze on his face more times than we have really wanted? – just a Bin Laden background, with a couple new and interesting facts. Supposedly he originally started working in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion there just to try to recruit for and supply the resistance, not take up arms himself, but he changed his mind one day when he happened to be attacked by some Russian helicopters. Also, although after his success there he returned to his native Saudi Arabia as a famous hero, he soon fell afoul of the authorities there by shooting his mouth off against them too often, to the point that they confiscated both his passport and much of his property. (Of course, that didn’t stop him from moving to Sudan, by way of Yemen, and thence back to Afghanistan.)

There’s just one strange thing here: the (unnamed) Volkskrant reporter writes about how, even after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Bin Laden still managed to run Al-Qaeda – in a loose way – “with his satellite and computer.” I can easily imagine Bin Laden weilding a laptop (although the power-supply could have been problematic), but not a “satellite” as the world’s authorities keep careful tabs on what’s allowed up into space. Perhaps the author meant “satellite-telephone.”

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Sticking to His Afghan Guns

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

The big story here over the weekend in the Netherlands, for once, is one with ripples that extend out to touch many other countries. It’s namely the fall of our coalition government, called “Balkenende IV,” but more precisely it’s the reason the government fell, which was simple: one part of it (CDA, CU – both of those C’s stand for “Christian,” by the way) wanted to waffle on the plans to withdraw Dutch troops from Afghanistan by next August; the other part (PvdA) insisted that there be no waffling. Result: there will be no waffling, because the plans are going through, the troops will be back home by the end of the summer, and as an added bonus it looks like there will be (premature) national elections in May to determine a new parliament (Tweede Kamer) and a new government.

One way you can tell this is truly a “big story” (if ipso facto is not itself sufficient for your reasoning process) is that the weekend is not even over, yet reports of repercussions are already coming in. Here’s a piece from Trouw reporting how the governor of Uruzgan (the province in southern Afghanistan where most of the Dutch combat troops are), Asadullah Hamdam, is already getting worried and has called upon the Dutch government to change its mind. On the other hand, Afghan General Juma Gul Himat, chief of police there, says he’s willing to live with a Dutch withdrawal – for a price. He wants better training, better air support, faster economic development, and better equipment: mine-detectors, helicopters. (Ah, mon cher général – what part of “We’re outta here!” don’t you understand?) (more…)

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Afghanistan Disillusionment Grows in Germany

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Close observers of the NATO effort in Afghanistan (including EuroSavant) have always been aware that there is something strange about the deployment of German troops there, which now has passed the eight-year mark. For starters there is their exclusive placement in the north of the country, when all the meaningful anti-Taliban action is in the south (or at least used to be!), this deployment also features fairly absurd rules-of-engagement designed to restrict the German Army (or Bundeswehr) there to defensive duties only. Now you can add into this mix a strong and growing skepticism among the public back home whether the Bundeswehr should be there in the first place, if we can credit an article by Hauke Friederichs in the prestigious German opinion newspaper Die Zeit, entitled Germany’s self-delusion in the Hindu Kush.

That caustic title is actually the very same as that of a new book out by Stefan Kornelius, head of the foreign affairs department at Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. The expanded list he provides of “defense-only” rules under which the German troops have to work is truly ridiculous. They may fire at targets only after they have first been attacked, and even then may not pursue those enemy forces if they should then try to flee; no night flights are allowed by either fixed-winged or helicopters – and, in any case, anything German pilots may learn up there in the way of intelligence on the enemy cannot be radioed back directly (i.e. in “real-time”), but must be debriefed only after that aircraft is back on the ground. For the rule that takes the cake I almost chose the one reading “No counter-narcotics activity; you’re not here for that,” which among other things supposedly has resulted in opium poppies for harvesting being grown right next to a German base! But no, that has to yield pride-of-place to Friederichs’ mention that German government lawyers are still filing legal complaints against soldiers who fire their weapons in self-defense when it’s not clear that the Taliban have indeed fired first! (more…)

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Afghan Health Care from the Ground Up

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Now that the question of reforming the US health care system is high on the agenda of the Congress and the President, it is quite appropriate that people are researching the medical establishments in other countries to gain insights and try to determine “best practice.” But there is one such establishment – built entirely from the ground up, in fact, over the past few years – that seems to have fallen between the analytical cracks, despite its quite unique characteristics. For one thing, it’s run entirely by third parties from outside the country; for another, it’s even financed entirely by outside parties as well.

OK, so on second thought maybe the example of Afghanistan has little to teach the US in the realm of health care after all. Indeed, the Americans (along with the Europeans, and the World Bank) are in fact the country’s medical paymasters. Nonetheless, an inspection may still be in order (to the extent hostile conditions within the country allow) of this nascent health structure that some do regard as “a minor miracle” because of the progress it has made. Reporter Rob Vreeken of the Netherlands’ De Volkskrant has taken on the challenge, in an account he entitles Come now, this isn’t Switzerland. (more…)

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Obama Visits Moscow

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

As usual, the Economist provides an excellent cover-story editorial (Welcome to Moscow) discussing President Obama’s tricky task ahead as he pays a visit to Moscow prior to his attendance, starting next Wednesday, at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. One conclusion their writer draws is that nuclear arms control is probably the area where he can expect the most success (or even the only tangible success) out of that visit.

A report out of the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende (Hope for atomic agreement between USA and Russia, sourced to the Ritzau news-agency) largely confirms that assessment and adds further detail. For one thing, this will actually be the second time Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will discuss the subject. When they first met in London, at that G20 summit of early last April, they agreed to begin negotiations during this upcoming visit on strategic nuclear arms – which may have been somewhat of a no-brainer, as the current START-1 treaty that regulates the US-Russia strategic nuclear balance expires on 5 December of this year. In any case, it’s not like things have been quiet on this front (unfortunately); there is still that plan by the US to set up an anti-missile system in Central Europe, ostensibly aimed against Iran, with the control radar in the Czech Republic and the actual missiles in Poland, a topic which Medvedev is guaranteed to bring up into the conversations. Plus, the Russian president’s initial idea for greeting Obama’s election last November was to announce his intention to station short-range, nuclear-tipped “Iskander” missiles to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as a counter-move to that anti-missle system, although he has not followed through yet with the actual deployment.

But there’s another problem that the Economist article did not bring up, and that is NATO’s current difficulties with its supply line to Afghanistan. Routing provisions through Pakistan via the Khyber Pass has been a risky proposition for some time, and a few months ago it also looked like the US would be losing access to a key airbase in Kyrgyzstan, although recently the two governments signed an agreement to open it up again for American military use. Still, it would be handy also to be able to use Russian facilities – as well as Russia’s considerable influence on the Kyrgyz government – so that cooperation here would be very welcome. The BT article says American officials likewise have hopes of being able to settle this during the upcoming Russo-American summit.

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A Dane Doubts Afghanistan Mission

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Iraq is over with now, basically; what with the elections that took place today, in a seemingly peaceful and successful manner, little remains for the US involvement there but a withdrawal of forces. But some of those forces, rather than heading home, will instead be diverted to Afghanistan, about which the Obama administration has made clear its intentions to devote on the order of an additional 30,000 American troops – both for the reinforcing effect they are expected to have there per se and as a gesture of increased commitment that can be used to cajole the NATO allies to increase their own contributions of men and matériel to that front.

But things may not necessarily follow that simple script. There is certainly resistance in Germany, for example, to the idea of sending any more of its soldiers to Afghanistan, or even to allow a redeployment of the ones that are already there to areas of the country where they could be more useful in suppressing the Taliban (and so where, by definition, they would be more exposed to actually taking casualties). As for the Danes, they do already have around 550 troops operating in the more-dangerous south part of the country and have suffered 22 killed-in-action since the Danish military’s initial deployment to Afghanistan in 2002. And now we encounter on the pages of Denmark’s leading commentary newspaper, Information, probably the Obama administration’s worst nightmare in this regard: an opinion-piece from a leading Danish writer asking “Why are we in Afghanistan?” (more…)

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Asif Zardari and the American Anti-Taliban Raids

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

On this seventh anniversary-day of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the top news-story is probably the joint appearance at Ground Zero by the two main US presidential candidates. In addition to whatever they may have to say, the occasion will be worth savoring for the all-too-temporary respite it should provide in the ugly partisanship that has prevailed as of late (e.g. the utterly-contrived “lipstick-on-a-pig” contretemps). I hope to be able to cover foreign observations of and reactions to that Ground Zero ceremony in this space sometime in the coming days.

For today, though, I think that it would be suitable to turn our attention to the supposed ultimate source of that al-Qaeda attack, and also the first target for retribution by US forces in its aftermath. That is of course Afghanistan, or specifically al-Qaeda as embedded within a Taliban host environment. Actually, putting it that way shifts the proper focus a slight bit from Afghani territory per se to the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan lying along the Afghani border. These are hardly “federally administered,” they are in fact a region completely out of the control of the Pakistani government, where various varieties of “neo-Taliban” and Muslim fundamentalist forces are based (including, it is thought, what is left of al-Qaeda), and from which these forces sally forth to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.
(more…)

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Dumping Musharraf

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

As Juan Cole of “Informed Comment” notes, an impeachment process has started against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he has decided he is going to fight it, and “[t]hus the stage is set for a major political crisis in the second most populous Muslim country in the world, the sixth largest country in the world, and the only Muslim nuclear power.” But one crucial aspect of this situation is the dog that isn’t barking: where at this stage is the American support for Musharraf, whom in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was suddenly embraced by the Bush administration and started having billions of dollars in military aid shoveled his way? Could it be that George W. Bush is simply too busy these days at the Olympics, blasting his Chinese hosts for their culinary abuses? (That last bit is but a joke, but I give you the link in the hope you’ll check it out – you’ll be amused!)

Philippe Grangereau, Washington correspondent for the French newspaper Libération, sheds some valuable light on this question in his article The White House Is No Longer Kissy-Kissy with Musharraf, although he relies primarily on analysis coming from Arif Jamal, “an expert on Pakistan at NYU,” who has written a book about Pakistani jihadists. (more…)

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Obama in Berlin: A Serious German Press Review

Friday, July 25th, 2008

It’s all a bit bizarre: Here at EuroSavant we consider the Economist’s on-site blog Certain Ideas of Europe to be something of a watered-down competitor, in that its (anonymous) writers evidently command a few European languages themselves and take advantage of that often to remark upon noteworthy articles in the European press (really only the French and the German). Yet in its own day-after Obama-Berlin coverage, what else does Certain Ideas of Europe choose to highlight out of reaction to Obama’s Berlin speech from the German Fourth Estate than a breathless piece from the Bild Zeitung (Britons: think The Sun; Americans: maybe The New York Post but – as we’ll see – with a bit greater tolerance for female nudity.) The blog entry is entitled Obama and the ‘BILD girl’. Wow – 27-year-old Bild reporter Judith Bonesky (stifle the puns!) finds herself together in the gym of the Ritz Carlton hotel with HIM! Oh, he’s much taller than she had expected! They exchange some “How are you?”s! Then he goes and starts hefting some impressively-big weights, in such a manly fashion, without breaking a sweat! Naturally, when it’s time for him to go (he’s got a speech to deliver), she grabs her chance for a smugshot with the candidate. (more…)

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Cracks in the German Afghanistan Refusal Front?

Monday, February 11th, 2008

NATO these days is undergoing somewhat of a crisis, having to do with the Alliance’s efforts in Afghanistan. Officials from the various NATO lands will deny it, but recent developments in Afghanistan itself have been further shaped and amplified through a serious of previously-planned security conferences to produce some serious tensions.

It seems some NATO alliance partners are rather unimpressed with the level of contribution offered by certain others, and are ratcheting up the pressure on these laggards to get more with the program. This argument dominated the NATO conference of defense ministers held last week in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. As you can expect, the US is the leading country among that first group, but Canada has been complaining as well. That country currently has 2,500 troops stationed in dangerous southern Afghanistan, by Kandahar, and has even threatened to send those troops home once its current commitment comes to an end if there are no new troop commitments to southern Afghanistan from other NATO allies. (more…)

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Meet the New US Foreign Policiy – Same as the Old US Foreign Policy

Friday, February 8th, 2008

“Whomever US citizens may choose: Europeans will wake up next year on a cold January morning – and find before them a government whose foreign policy decisions, although presented in new clothes, will appear almost like those customary to Bush.” That is the conclusion German-language readers of Spiegel Online get to digest today, in an article entitled Bush Leaves – His Foreign Policy Stays.

Crucially, though, take a look at who is the author: it is a certain Peter Ross Range, whose credentials are given in a short sidebar on the article’s first page: long-time Time magazine foreign correspondent, then editor-in-chief of Blueprint, the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council – in short, in all probability an American. That means this article is intended to be a warning from the west side of the Atlantic to the east, not to expect much to change in US policy with the next administration. (more…)

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Moore’s Fahrenheit Catches Fire in France

Saturday, July 10th, 2004

For whatever reason, Michael Moore’s blockbuster documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was first exposed outside the US to French-speaking audiences, opening on 7 July in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. And, as you’d probably expect, it had a Smashing Début, as stated in the title of an article in the Nouvel Observateur. It was seen by 100,000 in France on its first day of showing alone (of which 30,000 in Paris), the best opening of all time for a documentary. Still, the (unnamed) writer does give Moore’s previous work, Bowling for Columbine, greater credit for being fully researched and documented. (more…)

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“Hello? Please Hold for Mullah Omar . . .”

Friday, July 9th, 2004

The French newsmagazine Nouvel Observateur reports that Taliban spiritual chief, Mullah Omar, recently popped into view again, revealing his whereabouts – roughly speaking. These days, of course, the good mullah ranks up in the same league with Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Al Zarqawi as a personality to whom Western governments would dearly love to extend special hospitality: his very own heavily-armed bodyguard, his specially-outfitted cell, even a starring role in a judicial trial. (Hey, there’s no reason why Saddam Hussein deserves an exclusive here.) It turns out that officers from the Afghan government managed to catch him on the telephone. (more…)

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Turkey and Other Bones of Franco-American Contention

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

At the NATO summit in Istanbul, wrapping up its second and final day today, relations between the United States and France have certainly not gotten any better. Bush did not help prepare things very well with an interview he had with RTE (Irish Radio and Television – official transcript here) as he made his way to Istanbul by way of Ireland (and a summit there with top EU officials over the weekend). In the interview he strongly suggested that it was really only France that opposed the Coalition attack on Iraq – “And, really, what you’re talking about is France, isn’t it?” – an assertion which seems to be in contradiction with widely-held facts. Then, once in Istanbul, Bush seemed to think he had the authority to advise the EU to admit Turkey as a member-state, which prompted French President Jacques Chirac to declare that Bush “not only [went] too far, but he went into territory that isn’t his. . . . It is not his purpose and his goal to give any advice to the EU, and in this area it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico.” Undaunted, Bush has since repeated this line today at a speech at an Istanbul university: “America believes that as a European power, Turkey belongs in the European Union.” (This CNN report has all the details of the spat in English.) (more…)

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The Madrid Donor’s Conference for Iraq (German View)

Friday, October 24th, 2003

Yesterday marked the first day of the two-day Iraq donors’ conference in Madrid. I’ve chosen the German press as the prism through which to review events at and surrounding that conference; it usually gives good, comprehensive coverage, and what’s more, in this situation it represents a country which you suspect doesn’t want to be at that Madrid conference in the first place. (Germany’s delegation there is headed not by a political minister – the Minister for Developmental Aid, Heidemarie Wieczoreck-Zeul, might at least have been appropriate – but by her top civil servant, state-secretary Erich Stather.)

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung covers Madrid thoroughly, in two on-line articles, the lead one of which is entitled At the Construction-Site of an Iraqi Marshall Plan. (more…)

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WMD Lies: Something Rotten in DK

Monday, October 6th, 2003

“Weapons of Mass Destruction”: That was the mantra this political leader cited over and over in the run-up to the War in Iraq last spring, and to him Saddam Hussein’s possession of such weapons was the irrefutable fact justifying what was about to happen. This was despite the fact that this leader never really took the time to examine the supplied evidence on its own merits, to arrive at his own independent assessment of it. Now, of course, his government is trying to play down WMD, insisting that that was only one of the rationales given for toppling Hussein’s regime.

George W. Bush? Tony Blair? Of course. But I’m actually referring here specifically to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, prime minster of Denmark, according to the account entitled Denmark at War on a Lie in the Danish commentary newspaper Information. It looks like the Danish electorate is feeling similarly deceived (or, at least, has the right so to feel) as its American and British counterparts. And speaking of deception, you, dear reader, have just been hit once again with the time-honored journalistic trick of the non-specific article lead-in, taking you along what you think is familiar ground before suddenly swerving in a quite unexpected direction when specific details are finally supplied. What a great shtick! (more…)

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The New NATO Secretary-General (For Next Year)

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Open the envelope, and the winner is . . . Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for next Secretary-General of NATO! And so the Netherlands contributes its third Secretary-General in the history of the Atlantic Alliance, the first two (as only NATO trivia-buffs will know) having been Dirk Stikker and Joseph Luns. Me, I’m slightly disappointed since I was looking forward to seeing the Norwegian Defense Minister, Kristin Krohn Devold, named instead as NATO’s first female Secretary-General. The New York Times Magazine, in a hagiographical article about her that it published back on August 24, virtually promised that this would happen. (That article has by now retreated behind the NYT’s paid archives-access gate; if you think you might like to pay to see it, the link is here.)

No, its Jaap de Hoop Scheffer instead – and surely it’s time here for a survey of the Dutch press to find out how the thinking-class in Holland is reacting to one of its own being picked out for such a crucial international position. What sort of a politician is he? What qualities will he bring to NATO? What is Holland losing by having him (temporarily) plucked away from its political scene? After all, he is currently the Dutch Foreign Affairs minister; and he used to be head of the CDA, the right-wing, somewhat Christian-oriented (“Christian lite,” anybody? – as opposed to the more “hard-core” Christian parties EuroSavant has briefly discussed before) political party which is now the Netherlands’ largest and whose current leader, Jan-Peter Balkenende (the man who replaced De Hoop Scheffer), is prime minister. (more…)

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Dutch Are Unimpressed by Bush Speech

Thursday, September 11th, 2003

I’d like to follow up Tuesday’s treatment of the French press’ reaction to President Bush’s speech of last Sunday evening on Iraq and Afghanistan with a look at the Dutch press. Remember that the Dutch were rather more supportive of America’s drive for war with Iraq last spring than were the French/Germans/Belgians. Plus, the Dutch are already there on occupation, with a battalion-plus down south in the British sector, and have been since July. So did Bush’s address fall on more sympathetic ears in Holland? Nah – although at least there were fewer adjectives like “infantile” trotted out.

(For those of you who don’t feel like “going below the fold” to “More…”, tomorrow my ambition is to get reactions to the stabbing of the deceased Swedish foreign minister and euro advocate (that is, the common currency) Anna Lindh from my “Sweden-surrogate” – i.e. the Danish press. There might very well be something there to write about, or there might not: latest reports indicate that her attacker was merely your random lunatic, with no particular axe to grind (unfortunate choice of metaphor?) concerning the referendum on adopting the euro that will (or is supposed to) occur in Sweden on Sunday.) (more…)

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The French Press Responds to Bush

Tuesday, September 9th, 2003

Here we go! (Lost the thread? See the beginning of my previous post, i.e. of “Mon Sep 08, 2003,” as the peculiar pMachine software formatting puts it.) Plenty, plenty of commentary on Bush’s Sunday speech in the French press – let me try to cover as much as I can, in the time I’ve allotted myself (and it’s a generous slice, you can be sure, dear reader!) to write this.

Why not start with Le Figaro? My reflexive instinct is rather to start with Le Monde (“France’s New York Times,” and all that), but Tuesday’s print edition of Le Figaro irresistibly draws me with its big front-page, above-the-fold headline above the standard picture of Bush addressing the nation in the Oval Office: Qui veut aider Bush? – “Who Wants to Help Bush?” (more…)

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French “I Told You So”s?

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2003

Today we progress towards fulfilling yesterday’s mention of current French points-of-view towards the Coalition troubles in Iraq. The on-line dailies are treating the subject hit-or-miss (see a review of a contribution from Libération at bottom). But what’s that over there on Le Monde diplomatique? That’s the sister-publication to Le Monde – of course – but it comes out monthly, and so with longer, “deeper” articles which are mostly opinion-pieces that take a broader look at current affairs. And on the front page of the latest (Sept. 2003) issue we have L’onde du chaos (“The Wave of Chaos”), an examination of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Bush Administration by writer Alain Gresh.

Le Monde diplomatique can be relied upon to lay out a “French” point-of-view carefully fashioned to be about as opposite to what the American administration would want you to believe as possible, short of setting up your own direct feed to Osama bin-Laden’s propaganda department. But stepping out of the confines of Fox News and the various other US media outlets which often are but thinly-disguised cheerleaders for administration policy, to be confronted with a foreigner’s viewpoint, is what this site is supposed to be all about, right? (Or is it instead about foreigners discovering the various innovations that make America great, such as Hooters Air? Or America discovering the innovations that make Europe great, like medically-prescribed marijuana? Just let me know.) (more…)

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Whither Germany in Afghanistan?

Thursday, August 14th, 2003

Reviewing recent EuroSavant coverage, one subject clearly stands out: Iraq. “Democracy in Iraq,” “It’s Hot in Iraq,” “Iraq Through Spanish Eyes,” etc. Maybe I should just change the name of this weblog to something like “IraqSavant” – is the .com domain name still available? (If it was, it isn’t by now!) I do try to avoid excessive concentration on one subject, or on one particular national press. But to a great extent what continues to happen in Iraq remains of great concern and interest, especially in August (the “silly season” or “cucumber time,” etc., when little else that’s truly attention-worthy ever happens, except maybe for travel accidents: crashing airliners, the Russian submarine Kursk, etc.), and especially now that more nations are being drawn into involvement, having generously agreed to assist the Americans and the British in occupation duties.

So here’s a change: How about a fairly in-depth treatment from the recent German press about what’s been going on in . . . um, Afghanistan? No wait, this is truly interesting, especially from the German point of view. You see, the Germans and Dutch last Monday finally came to the end of their six months of joint responsibility for the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), charged with helping Hamid Karzai and his Afghan Transitional Administration with establishing security in the country. So were there sighs of relief all around last Monday from the Deutsch and the Dutch? Not exactly: next to take up the ISAF baton is NATO, and of course both Germany and the Netherlands are long-standing members of NATO. In fact, at last Monday’s handover ceremony German lieutenant general Norbert van Heyst formally handed over ISAF’s green banner . . . to German lieutenant general Goetz Gliemeroth, acting for NATO! (more…)

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German Organized Labor Meets Afghani Working Conditions

Saturday, June 28th, 2003

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan . . . yes, you remember that we also fought a war there, in late 2001 against the Taliban, mainly because they were sheltering Osama bin-Laden and his Al-Qaida organization and refused to give him up. To keep order in that war-torn and fragmented country, and to give its central adminstration headed by “Transitional Chairman” Hamid Karzai a chance to get started with rebuilding, since December, 2001, there has been a so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there, mainly in the capital city Kabul and surroundings. (more…)

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Not to Be Ignored

Sunday, May 11th, 2003

“Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia”: that was US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s formulation last month of Washington’s post-war approach towards those major European powers which had proven so uncooperative to America’s designs in the run-up to the War in Iraq. Germany could well count itself lucky to fall under “ignore” rather than “punish”; at least that leaves the field open for Gerhard Schröder’s government to take initiatives of its own to try to reconstruct the formerly close American-German relationship and have Schröder and President Bush officially speaking to each other again.

It’s true that German Defense Minister Peter Struck’s visit last week to Washington was uncharacteristically low-key – not one photo of a smiling Struck shaking hands with his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld to be seen, for example. And the Germans do not help their case by letting acid comments by their high officials slip out into the light of international press scrutiny, as we discussed here in EuroSavant, although it seems that that one did not slip out very far. (Who knows? Maybe the incident never happened at all – but I tend to grant the Times of London, which reported it, a large share of benefit-of-the-doubt.) But the German press is continuing to report and analyze this effort by its government to get back into the American good graces. (more…)

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