“Not Only the Players”

Monday, May 1st, 2017

The football season in the various European lands is coming to a close, usually meaning that tension mounts over which team will end up at the top of those various leagues,* while at the same time the main cup-competitions proceed to their final stages. Then, since this is an odd year, we can look forward to a peaceful summer devoid of the big football competitions between national teams (and of any Olympics).

Not so fast, though: Had you forgotten about the Confederations Cup? That involves national teams, although not as many, since it’s a somewhat more abbreviated tournament that FIFA puts on only for the champion national teams of the six world regional football confederations, together with the current World Cup champion and the host nation.

And there’s the problem: That host nation is traditionally the same one scheduled to host the World Cup itself the very next year; you could say that the Confederations Cup, in a minor way, serves as a sort of dress-rehearsal to make sure the country can handle the big show coming around after another 12 months’s time. For 2017/2018, then, we are talking about the Russian Federation. And that is a problem.


(more…)

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Volley-Boondoggle

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

This week sees the qualification rounds, to be held in Berlin, for the volleyball competition that will be part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games later this year. The German team coach, Vital Heynen (himself of Belgian nationality, as you can perhaps tell by the name), has a lengthy interview in the leading German newspaper Die Welt.

StolzDeutsch
By all accounts, he’s done a good job, and the German team is confident about its chances. Then again, I’m not so interested in volleyball, German or otherwise. I would have passed this bit of news entirely by had it not been for that text-fragment in the tweet: “You Germans are not proud of Germany!”

Yes, the quote comes from Heynen. What would cause him to say something like that? Here is the wider context from the interview:

The problem of Germany is that it is no sports-country, it has no sports-culture. Hamburg’s decision to not apply for the [Olympic] Games [of 2024] hit me right in the heart. I cannot understand it. The Olympic motto for 2012 was “Proud of Germany”; I’m telling you now, you are not proud of Germany, when you have a country of which one really could be proud.

(That 2012 motto must have been in connection with Leipzig’s application to host those particular summer games. Leipzig got nowhere in the bidding, which of course was won by London, for whose Games the motto was “Inspire a Generation.”)

No “sports-country”; no “sports-culture.” Because the German taxpayer has picked up a new reluctance even to bid for the right to host Olympic games!

Heynen may think that his position gives him a privileged platform to comment on German athletic affairs generally, but he is likely wrong. The citizens of Hamburg voted last September to withdraw their bid, but those of Boston had done the same thing just two months earlier.

Indeed, is staging the Olympic Games – whether summer or winter – something any reasonably democratically run polity is going to want to undertake from here on out? It’s an awful big drain on public monies, all for a bit over a month of concentrated world-attention – and then the long hangover of an expensive collection of white-elephant athletics buildings for which permanent alternative uses are hard to find. The 2004 Games certainly gave Greece a good shove down the path of public insolvency, while there has already been and will certainly continue to be widespread dissatisfaction in Brazil over all the public money spent on this year’s Summer Games, especially given the recent sharp downturn in Brazil’s economic fortunes – and given the strong whiff of public corruption whose revelation has accompanied that downturn.

Clearly, staging the Olympics is a project not for democratic localities but rather for the undemocratic variety, where there is no public accountability for the vast sums of public money required. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – the most expensive in history, by far – clearly had as their main function being a conduit for Putin to divert government money to his friends and supporters. The 2008 Peking Games, for all we know, fulfilled a similar function, as will surely the 2022 Winter Games, also to be held in that world-renowned center for winter sports, Beijing.

Of course, even if the democratic world sensibly starts to leave hosting the Olympics to the autocrats, that still means condemning a series of national populations to misappropriation of their tax monies. Far better to harken back to the Games’ original spirit, to the very name Olympics, and start hosting the Games (at least the Summer version) permanently in their spiritual country of origin, namely Greece, in Athens. There is a good collections of purpose-built buildings still there just dying to be properly used again.

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Supermarket for Human Rights

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

The German government has lately been on a charm offensive towards the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, is today finishing a visit to Berlin which, as is pointed out in this piece in Die Welt by reporters Robin Alexander and Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, marks no less than the fourth time Chancellor Merkel has met with high-level Chinese officials this year.

LiInBerlin
“Merkel, China’s Minister-President and the Supermarket”: the notable bit of this get-together thrown out for appreciation by the public is the joint visit to a local Berlin supermarket made by Chancellor Merkel and her guest Li just yesterday (Friday) afternoon. You can see a photo of both of them at the check-out at the head of the article: Li is pointing at Merkel’s hand as she gathers her purchases there, having paid cash. (Good move: paying with any sort of card would naturally leave readers wondering who it is who provides the stock of money standing behind it.) At first glance, the absence of any sort of Secret Service-like figures is notable, although they must be those suited gentlemen – without sunglasses or earpieces – with their backs to the camera just behind the cigarette rack. And where is Li’s interpreter? I don’t think he is very fluent in English, let alone German.

All in all, a jolly, down-home moment. Meanwhile, you can be sure that other members of the visiting Chinese delegation were hard at work with their German counterparts in near-by government buildings, working out what are said to be no less than forty business/economic agreements that are the true purpose of this summit, including contracts worth billions of euros. What is more, it is sure to be full cabinet members that fill out much of the rest of that Chinese delegation: Merkel has taken a liking to staging cabinet-meets-cabinet get-togethers with neighboring countries (indeed, I recall one such with the Dutch cabinet earlier this year – not in Berlin, but over in northwestern Germany, close to the Dutch border) and clearly decided on the same format for meeting the Asian economic superpower.

Er . . . Human Rights?

That’s fine, but with China you get more baggage into the bargain – particularly now that Hong Kong demonstrators are still flooding the streets there demanding a democracy worthy of the name. Of course, Germany does have a robust free press, so that Premier Li at some point found himself  directly confronted by the question why citizens in Hong Kong should not be able to truly pick their own political representatives. As reported here, he looked impatiently at his watch as the query was translated for him, only to reply that that was a matter of “internal Chinese politics” only.

There was another question in that same vein, about local employees at the Chinese bureau of the renowned German newspaper Die Zeit who were recently arrested. This one Li ignored entirely. Merkel herself had called these Die Zeit incidents “news that really makes you think” (durchaus bedenkliche Nachricht) on an earlier occasion; it’s not clear from the article whether this interrogation of Premier Li happened in her presence. Alexander & Böhmer’s piece does point out that, at the joint news conference, the German authorities resisted Chinese pressure to disallow any questions, such as those above, which might be too awkward for the honored guest to handle. Other countries that top Chinese officials visit, it is said here, often cannot bring themselves to do so.

In the end, German President Joachim Gauck – famous for his past as a prominent East German dissident – was brought in to play “bad cop” to Merkel’s “good cop” and reproach Li for China’s human rights record at a one-on-one meeting. At least that session was scheduled at the very beginning of the two-day conference, and it did last about an hour. But economic times are hard in Europe, including – for an unwelcome change – in Germany; the worry has to arise that German interest in doing business with China will soon trump any influence that country could wield on the human rights situation there, if it has not done so already.

I think we can safely predict that 2014 will not see any fifth meeting between Chancellor Merkel and high Chinese officials, though. For this  year marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the self-liberation of most of Eastern Europe from decades of Communist dictatorship. Meeting the Chinese against that backdrop would just be too awkward, no matter what new profits any such meeting could promise. Better to get the year’s remaining Chinese business done, cabinet-to-cabinet, by early October.

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MEPs Infiltrated by the KGB?

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Boris Kálnoky, a Hungarian foreign correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, has quite a scoop today. So he’s been tweeting up a storm to make sure the world knows about it – also in English:

Kovacs
The Die Welt article in question is of course in German. (As usual, you can feed it through Google Translate for what good that will do.) So what’s this all about?

It’s all about some dogged investigation that has been undertaken, not by Mr. Kálnoky himself, but by another Hungarian journalist called Dezső András. At the center is Béla Kovács, a founder of the rabid anti-foreigner, anti-EU, right-wing Hungarian political party Jobbik and also a Member of the European Parliament. The accusation is that Kovács is a spy working for the Russians, that he has been that for quite some time.

Apparently there were suspicions that Kovács was a spy even in the period leading up to last May’s MEP elections; already there were calls then for the European Parliament to lift his immunity to prosecution as an MEP. But nothing yet was crystal-clear; so Mr. András did some more investigation. Now he has put his findings on-line (although in Hungarian; odds are very good this won’t be allowed to stay on the Net for long), and has even been able to confront Kovács with them.

The substance of those findings are a bit messy, occasionally seamy. What they amount to was that Kovács was a child given away for adoption while an infant, but whose father was likely Russian; that while living in Tokyo as a young man (his step-parents were minor staff there) he met and married a Russian lady who definitely was and continued to be a KGB agent (and who somehow managed to marry at least other two men while never divorcing Kovács); and that, when he started working back in Hungary to help found Jobbik starting in 2006, Kovács never lacked for money to accomplish whatever was needed. In explanation he claimed he had founded and run successful businesses in Japan and while studying in Moscow; no evidence of these exists.

It’s all rather good raw material for someone like John Le Carré to get to work on, and of course Kovács has denied everything. (Who knows? Maybe he really was not aware of some of the deeper secrets of his past, of his ancestry.) But it also has several severe implications arising from the facts that 1) Kovács was instrumental in setting up Jobbik, and 2) He is now trying to become a big cheese at the European Parliament by pushing the “Alliance of European National Movements” of which he is Chairman, which is a would-be faction of right-wing parties (recently abandoned by Marine Le Pen’s FN as too radical!) but which is as yet too small to be formally recognized as such by the European Parliament and thus to receive subsidies from the EU budget.

The clear question: Is Kovács just a Kremlin tool, being used first to up-end Hungarian and now European politics? As Mr. Kálnoky puts it: “Does Russia now use the European Right for its purposes, as it once did the Left?”

The Hungarian authorities are by now interested themselves in looking further into the matter of Kovács’s history and motivations. But he still holds MEP immunity.

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Wikimisery

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Did you know that Wikipedia is in trouble? I wasn’t aware; for example, there has not been an appeal for money appearing there at the top of the Wikipedia page for some time now. And it still seems to get plenty of respect from PR agencies. From today:

WikiPR
Still, it is not the financial front where Wikipedia is encountering problems. Just what is the matter – the “biggest crisis” since its founding – is explained well in a recent piece in Germany’s Die Welt on the occasion of the arrival of a new chief for the Wikimedia Foundation, one Lila Tretikov, a computer scientist who, as her name suggests, comes originally out of Russia. She is said to be particularly motivated to right things at Wikipedia because of the way the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (which occurred when she was just 8) killed so many more people than it should have because of the way information was withheld from those who needed to know it.

Nonetheless, as that Welt article points out in its title, she herself represents what is troubling Wikipedia. As you probably know, the whole institution is set up as a volunteer effort – and the problem is precisely that the number of volunteers (or “authors”) has fallen by a third since 2007. What is more, that author cohort has tended to reduce to a typical, predictable group – namely white, Western, male, and usually expert in technical subjects. (But sometimes in others as well: the article makes its point by noting that the Wikipedia coverage of female pornstars seems to be particularly . . . uh . . . deep and well-organized.) Ms. Tretikov admits to never having written or even edited a Wikipedia article herself – so it is in that sense that she is part of the problem, since it is more participation, particularly on the part of knowledgeable women, that the project so desperately needs.

Unfortunately, that is not the only problem Wikipedia is currently experiencing, as we see here:

Wikiporno
Yes: “Porno!” The linked article is from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt and in fact these troubles only involve the German Wikipedia – for now, at least. There’s a webplatform in Germany for teachers called newsforteachers.de (yes, they use the English); the people there went hunting for pornographic links from Wikipedia and, by George, they found them. Under rubrics like “Piercing”; “Penetration”; and of course much worse than that. Really, if you read the Handelsblatt piece carefully, it does seem that they mainly found this stuff, not in the German Wikipedia itself, but on a related site called Wikimedia Commons. No matter: the president of the German teachers’ professional organization, the Deutscher Lehrverband (DL), is now advising teachers and parents that Wikipedia is to be considered “unsatisfactory” for schoolwork.

Indeed, DL President Josef Kraus is demanding an immediate removal of all pornographic content from Wikipedia and all related sites – which really makes you think that, even to this point, President Kraus has formed for himself but an incomplete picture of what the Internet is all about and how it works. (more…)

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Dispatches from the Front (& Behind)

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Yes, today was the day for that “referendum” in Eastern Ukraine, while towards the evening there was apparently some shooting incident involving a mob and some soldiers at a place called Krasnoarmiisk. No doubt we’ll all hear about that soon, but just as I write this Twitter is still trying to figure out exactly what went on there.

In the meantime a number of other interesting tweets have passed through the timeline. This from Danish Radio:

Lejesoldater
“German media: American mercenaries in Ukraine.”

We saw this at large scale in Iraq, namely US ex-military goons earning many multiples of their former soldier’s pay while basically doing the same thing – but with much looser rules about when they could fire their guns – out of uniform. It was Blackwater that was premier (although not alone) among companies that provided such services; those folks are clearly so ashamed of what they did there that they changed the company’s name to “Xe Services” in 2009 and then again to “Academi” in 2011! Oh yes, they’re in the higher education business now!

Rather, it’s “Academi” men, around 400 of them, who have been sighted now in Ukraine. That’s according to German sources, including Der Spiegel (in German). It’s said they are being paid by Ukrainian oligarchs (really the only ones around there who have the money); it’s further said that they are even now in support of Ukrainian units engaged against the rebellious town of Slovyansk.

Then there is this, from Die Welt:

T160
“Moscow’s vice-premier: Next time I’ll come with a Tu-160.” For your information, the Tupolev Tu-160 is Russia’s top-of-the-line strategic bomber.

What prompted this sort of outburst? It was emitted by Dimitri Rogozin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and therefore clearly one of Vladimir Putin’s right-hand men. His mission last Friday, Great Motherland Victory Day, was to fly to Transnistria, the Russian-speaking break-away region of Moldova which is to the west of Ukraine, in fact to pick up a petition and deliver it back to Moscow. (There’s little doubt that the petition had to do with ethnic Russians there pleading for help from Mother Russia and so seeking to open a Ukrainian Western Front. Ever since the region split away from Moldova in 1990 there have been Russian soldiers in place to protect it, and they currently number 1,500.)

If you look at the map, you have to wonder how Rogozin even managed to fly into Tiraspol, that territory’s capital. It’s not really on the coast; you’d have to fly over Ukraine or Moldova or Romania, none of which would be likely to give permission.

Rogozin did make it, even as Romania explicitly denied overflight authorization. That’s what prompted him to tweet about coming back next time in a modern bomber. Nasty words, but check out the Romanian reaction, according to the reporter (no byline; credited to several news agencies):

The [Romanian] Foreign Ministry issued a reminder that Romania is a member of the EU and of NATO. It demanded from Moscow an explanation whether Rogozin’s statement was the official position of the Russian government[!]

Meanwhile, according to this same Die Welt piece, while Rogozin may have made it to Tiraspol, he was thwarted when it came to the Transnistrian petition – somehow the Moldovan authorities had gotten to it first. But how could they do that, without staging their own mini-invasion of Transnistria? The article doesn’t say.

Ah, here’s the explanation, in English, from Thomson Reuters where they report that Rogozin did wind up returning triumphally with the Transnistrian petition after all.

UPDATE: Conveniently, the NYT has come out with a timely reminder-piece about Blackwater in Iraq and what I meant by “much looser rules about when they could fire their guns” – they perpetrated the “My Lai Massacre of Iraq.”

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If It Ain’t Broke . . .

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

That’s right, repeat after me: If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it! Yet that is what it looks like the EU Commission is ready to do to the apprenticeship system in Germany and Austria known as duale Ausbildung or “double education.” Here are a couple of alarmed tweets arising from the German media.

Ausbildung_Welt

Ausbildung_Newsticker
Duale Ausbildung basically embodies the principles that make this sort of training a much-envied example for the rest of the world. Intended for young people who by temperament or lower test scores do not intend to go on to university, it initiates them into advanced technical skills and the sort of (often high-paying) jobs in industry that those can bring through a dual regime of theoretical instruction in a school classroom combined with on-the-job training at a firm that has taken on that person as an apprentice.

This system is certainly no secret, and has been studied on-the-spot by legions of scholars – and of politicians, including some from America, most of whom have thereafter pined after the prospect of bringing the same sort of regime home to address shortcomings in technical training and in employment prospects there. (more…)

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Stasi Collaborator Without Peer?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

There’s a big election coming up soon, in no less than Germany, where on 22 September all 598 members of the Bundestag will be elected anew, meaning that the exact composition of the national government will be deternined as well. The Germans like to go away for vacation in August just like most of their European brethren, but as public life now straggles back to activity the election campaign is now getting started in earnest.

In a quite clever sneak attack operatives for the main opposition party, the SPD, managed to gain control over the URL of Chancellor Merkel’s own name and put a site stuffed full of their own party propaganda behind it. Undeterred, Chancellor Merkel’s own people merely turned to another, very close URL (sticking a dash between her first and last names) to set up her own site, filled with old family photos to provide a soft-tinged, nostalgic focus to her public image.

All well and good, and deliciously naughty. But it holds no candle to this:

Welt_SteinbruckStasi

Nelke, German for “carnation,” as in the flower. But it was also allegedly the Stasi code-name for Peer Steinbrück – who is merely the SPD’s candidate now running against Chancellor Merkel!

(And the “Stasi,” for those of you who need reminding, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or “Ministry for State Security” (cf. “Department of Homeland Security”) was the monstrous Communist East German secret police and spying organization.) (more…)

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Osama’s Traffic Violation

Friday, July 12th, 2013

One bit of news that mostly slipped under the radar earlier this week was the release of a report by leading Pakistani officials, said to be two years in the making, concerning how it could have been possible for Osama Bin Laden to have lived in Pakistan for so long – for around nine years, in fact – during a period when he was the world’s undisputed Public Enemy #1, with EVERY BIT of the humongous US intelligence establishment searching actively for him along with any number of allied intelligence agencies. Not to include the “allied” Pakistani intelligence agency, however, the ISI, the one that really would have mattered.

No, instead this report cites “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” for the failure of the ISI to realize that, for most of this period, Osama was holed up in a walled compound in Abbottabad, only 110 km north of the capital Islamabad and in fact the city where no less than the Pakistani Officers’ Academy (that is, the Pakistani equivalent of West Point) is situated!

It was a four-man commission that wrote this report, according to the New York Times account, namely a judge on the Pakistani Supreme Court joined by a retired police officer, army general and diplomat. In their report these eminent gentlemen “allowed for the possibility that some security officials had covertly helped Bin Laden,” stating at one point that “[c]onnivance, collaboration and cooperation at some levels cannot be entirely discounted.” The Washington Post account cites their conclusion that “[t]he failure was primarily an intelligence-security failure that was rooted in political irresponsibility.” Indeed, both news pieces state that this report from the so-called Abbottobad Commission was never meant to be made public, that the only reason we are hearing about it now is that al-Jazeera managed to get hold of a copy and publish it on their website.

That is all well and good. But all of us can understand how “secret” reports can ultimately and intentionally find their way to public exposure nonetheless. I’d like to suggest that that is what happened here: this is nothing but a whitewash, yet another distraction which has successfully kept the cruel truth from sinking in among the American public that a leading “ally,” to whom the US Treasury has paid some $18 billion in military and economic aid since the September 11 attacks, deliberately and systematically hid the main perpretator behind those attacks, and continuously lied in response to any and all enquiries. Here, I’ll let Jon Stewart explain, who as you’ll see had somewhat of a personal stake in the matter:

[Sorry, I removed this video – and took WAY too long in doing so, apologies – because it had the tendencey to “auto-play” when readers visited this page. The link is here, if you’re interested; the gist is that Jon Stewart remarks on how he had been lied to re: Osama Bin Laden when interviewing former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on a past show.]

Fine, then, this Abbottabad report is little more than a 336-page steaming pile of misinformation. That doesn’t mean that it can’t have useful bits here and there. Human interest angles, for example – like it seems that Osama Bin Laden himself was stopped in Pakistan for a traffic violation, for speeding, “but the police officer failed to recognize him and let him go.” That last bit is from the NYT piece, but that’s about all there is there about that. And there is nothing about any traffic violation incident in the Washington Post account. (more…)

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Kofi?! Not Kofi!

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

One leading complaint about the ongoing NSA data-collection scandal from those truly in the know is how the press has focused so much on Edward Snowden’s own story (e.g. his views towards his native land, his struggle to find asylum, etc.) to the detriment of setting out and analyzing for the public just what it is that American intelligence agencies have been getting away with and why that matters.

Unfortunately, we can today see a further example of this from no less than Die Welt. The headline to their particular piece reads “Kofi Annan was also spied upon”, and the lede:

The NSA eavesdropping scandal continues to enrage minds. But the past shows us that large-scale spy-actions are nothing new. Even UN General Secretary Kofi Annan was spied upon.

And sure enough, there he is: a head-shot of Annan looking serious and pensive is right there at the top.

It’s really rather bizarre if you go on and read into the article that reporters Ansgar Graw* and Julia Smirnova actually wrote, though. “Kofi”? Who’s that? It’s Snowden, Snowden, and more Snowden. Will he get asylum? Will he just stay in Russia? What has happened to change Ecuador’s mind about accepting him? Did he himself even write the letter which was recently made public in which he complained about how the US government was treating him? (It is riddled with British spellings which he presumably would not use.)

In short, there is this strange, wide cleft between headline and lede (and picture) on the one hand, and the article’s actual body of information. Of course, it is editors who generally provide the former as a piece is whipped into shape for publication. It’s also true that the fact that Kofi Annan (and all other UN Secretaries-General) were spied upon by US authorities is returned to at the article’s very end (under the section-heading “Eavesdropping happened always and everywhere”).

But that attitude of “nothing new here” itself seriously downplays the sheer ignominy of the new surveillance developments that Snowden revealed, e.g. how wide-ranging the survellance abuse was (including its coverage of leading European allies), to what lengths Obama administration officials were willing to go to lie about them, and the like. As does of course the People magazine-style obsession with Snowden’s own personal tale – we are being let down by our journalists, in whichever language.

* Doesn’t his name seem like it got mangled in a spelling-machine somewhere? Or that perhaps it should really be spelled backwards?

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Croatia: Not Even Two Cheers

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Hooray, the Union is now 28! Surely Croatia’s accession should be the occasion for great rejoicing! Well, here at €S we go against the flow whenever possible, and in this case that is rather easy. Here’s TINA, in case you were never introduced to her by Margaret Thatcher:

Croatia_SZ

Right: “there is no alternative.” Not the most cheery attitude to take, is it? Nonetheless, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Balkans correspondent Florian Hassel, that is the prevailing outlook behind all the ceremony – and for both sides.

For the Croats (George W. Bush would call them “Croatians”), polls now show only 45% supporting accession, as they reason that the new freedom to move wherever in the EU they want won’t really help against the much greater incoming economic competition they will face, which henceforth cannot be warded away by tariffs and other restrictions. Hassel: “In contrast to Europe of a decade ago, before the crisis, the EU is no longer a shining guarantee for personal and economic success.”

True, they can now look to pressure from Brussels to help drag the country into the 21st century economically and administratively – for example, there is widespread corruption, Croatian courts routinely take years to settle cases, etc. – but that is not likely to be painless. Similarly for the EU Hassel sees no alternative but to take in Croatia, help make it a success as a member state, and so go on from there to include the rest of the Balkan countries. It is a troubled region that cannot be allowed to fester.

Another German daily, Die Welt is scarcely more enthusiastic to see the Croats as new EU members.

Croatia_Welt

Talk about a party-pooper: what else can you call it when the headline reads “Croatia is already the EU’s next problem-child” and the top of the article is dominated by a chart listing its current 4.0% government budget deficit? (Admittedly, that is placed next to another graph showing that its government debt as percentage of GDP, at 53.7%, compares quite favorably to the current EU average of 92.7%.) (more…)

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Name First, Questions Later

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

It’s “Europe’s greatest pain.” And finally European leaders are going to do something about it.

Arbeitslosigkeit: Der New Deal gegen die größte Pein Europas http://t.co/rSJUTZqbtY

@welt

DIE WELT


The problem at issue here is youth unemployment, the solution something called the “New Deal for Europe.” Sascha Lehnartz’s on-line piece for Die Welt is topped by a self-congratulatory photo of France President Hollande shaking the hand of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (sitting down not out of disrespect, but because he is confined to a wheelchair), with related Euro-dignitaries beaming just behind.

Look closer, though: that august assemblage gathered at the famed Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) merely to start a discussion. Yes, there is some sort of intention on the part of the German and French governments to put forward a policy proposal. This is largely due to President Hollande, who at that meeting – under the motto “Europe – The Next Steps” – called for “urgent action,” considering economic growth throughout the continent averages out at present to quasi Null, i.e. basically zero. Chancellor Merkel herself and Hollande will discuss the youth unemployment issue further tomorrow (Thursday, 30 May), with a view towards presenting proposals to the EU Council meeting scheduled for 27 June, with a follow-up conference of EU labor ministers in Berlin on July 3.

So that’s about the only “substance” there is to this thing now. But no worries, they have the grandiose buzzwords already picked out.

UPDATE: Luckily, maybe all this does not matter. Yes: maybe this “youth unemployment” really just does not matter. Daniel Gros, of the Center for European Policy Studies, makes that rather iconoclastic argument here, in English.

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Driving A Stake Through the DDR

Friday, May 24th, 2013

You would think such a question would be particularly easy for the Germans. They should even be the world’s experts in this sort of thing.

SED-Regime: Warum wir die Symbole der DDR verbieten sollten http://t.co/riAVcFhIGv

@welt

DIE WELT


State_arms_of_German_Democratic_Republic.svgWhat do you do with the legacy of a monstrous political regime? Particularly when you represent the successor regime, which in reaction rather understandably becomes hesitant to tell people what to think? Inevitably, there are going to be some partisan holdovers, even some misguided fans from new generations that never had to live with it. (See Russia: Papa Stalin.)

Do you refrain from banning the former dictatorial party and its symbols, confident that the voting public at large will have too much sense to ever let it get close to power again? That has been the Czech Republic’s approach to its Communist Party, which after the Velvet Revolution was allowed to survive and simply renamed (rebranded?) itself the Communist Party of the Czech Lands and Moravia (KSČM – that link is to their English page). This decision has not quite redounded in an unfortunate way on the Czech political scene – by which I mean, the Communists have never been back in government – but occasionally they have come close, even though all major political parties claim that they will never work with them. (I actually treated this question of the KSČM on this site back in 2003, in a somewhat over-long post.)

Or do you say “Yes, we believe in free speech, but sometime there have to be exceptions and this is one of them”? In particular, this is what Germany – or the Germanies, both of them – did with the Nazi Party once they were allowed to regain some measure of sovereignty after World War II: no swastikas allowed, no Mein Kampf, no organization calling itself National Socialist, all under threat of real legal sanction.

Now the question has arisen with respect to the DDR, that is, the Communist and Soviet-dominated “German Democratic Republic” that was the ruling regime of East Germany from 1949 until almost a year after the Wall fell – until Reunification on 3 October, 1990. That’s what this tweet, and the Die Welt article it links to, by Richard Herzinger, is about, namely a growing consensus (at least among Germany’s ruling coalition parties, the CDU/CSU and FDP) to try to get a law passed that would similarly forbid the display of DDR symbols. (more…)

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Tough Going for Anti-Euro Party

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Zounds! When you finally get a bunch of people willing to stick their heads above the political parapet, why do people become so intent on shooting them down?

Anti-Euro-Partei: Alternative für Deutschland gerät in Turbulenzen http://t.co/ANI6ig97Dd

@welt

DIE WELT


For there’s a new political party in Germany, as of a week ago last Sunday, the Alternative for Germany. Here’s a taste of their homepage, so you can see what they’re about:

Chose the Alternative!
Enough with this Euro!
The Federal Republic of Germany is stuck in the most difficult crisis in its history. The introduction of the Euro has proved itself to be a fatal mistake, that threatens the prosperity of us all.
The old parties are all crusty and worn-out. They persistently refuse to recognize and correct their mistakes.
Therefore we have founded the ALTERNATIVE FOR GERMANY!

logo-afdWhether you welcome this development I suppose depends on what you think of the euro. At least it testifies to the openness of the German political scene, that a new party can be founded so easily. There are drawbacks to that as well, though, as any political scientist could tell you. Anyway, any party has to receive at least 5% of the vote in any German parliamentary election – state or federal – to get its members into that parliament. Lately it had seemed that the only new political parties being formed were from the Nazi fringe. (more…)

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Boston & The German Pseudo-Tabloid

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Hold on a minute, now – what is this I see?

Marathon-Tragödie: Nach Boston ist der alte Bush-Sound wieder da http://t.co/QH9MJEcmDA

@welt

DIE WELT


“Marathon tragedy: After Boston the old Bush Sound is there again”! The point Torsten Krauel of Die Welt means here follows directly in his lede:

When US President Obama publicly pronounced [on yesterday’s Boston Marathon double-bombing], many were reminded of his predecessor Bush twelve years ago.

What he is talking about here, apparently, is Obama’s promise “We will find who did this, and we will find out why they did this. Any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.” You see, it sounds just like Bush with the megaphone, standing atop the World Trade Center rubble: “We will find out who destroyed these buildings . . . and they will hear from us soon.”

This is just a terrible article, really surprising coming from what is probably Germany’s most-respected national daily – not at all a “tabloid-quality” paper in its usual incarnation, despite my headline. Where is the well-deserved contempt for George W. Bush that we were used to hearing across-the-board from the European press (with maybe some Polish exceptions)? Where is the recollection that, in fact, the 9/11 attacks came about just over a month after the CIA and FBI had their “hair on fire” over increasing indications that something big was about to happen domestically – but August, 2001 was W’s vacation month, so he couldn’t be bothered to act? No, the only proper Obama-Bush link here would have to be, if any, the bizarre time-reverse one where Bush’s 2001 performance is said to come up short compared to Obama in 2013!

You want a better assessment of George W. Bush’s legacy in reaction to the 9/11 attacks? Conveniently, that’s also available to you today on the NY Times website, although overshadowed of course by the Boston news reports: U.S. Engaged in Torture After 9/11, Review Concludes.

But wait! There’s more! (more…)

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Radiant Desert Megadeal

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Solar power: Sorry, but the US is not tops here, for one thing Congress is still mired in recriminations about the loan guarantees that went to the bankrupt Solyndra. As for the Chinese, they have made rather more progress, to the point of allegedly “dumping” polysilicon solar panels on the US market.

But it’s the Germans who are really into solar. They claim to be the world’s biggest solar market at present. And they have just scored a major coup, as we hear from Die Welt:

Erneuerbare Energien: Saudi-Arabien unterstützt Umsetzung von Desertec http://t.co/93C3FnEs

@welt

DIE WELT


Yes, there’s still a heck of a lot of oil in Saudi Arabia, but there is also quite a lot of sun constantly beating down on its desert sands. And the Saudi authorities are sensible enough to want to do something to exploit that. Well, that’s understating things somewhat: they want to invest $109 billion through 2032, so that by that time they want to be generating 25 gigawatts of power from solar-thermal plants, and a further 16 gigawatts from photovoltaics.

DesertecIt’s a German “civil society initiative” called the Desertec Foundation (site in English) that is about to sign an agreement with the Saudi governement to be in on the ground floor of this effort, by establishing a Saudi company to be called “Desertec Power” whose mandate will be “above all planning, execution, local value-added [Wertschöpfung] and running the installations,” but also the “closely related themes of education, training and employment.”

Apparently Desertec Power will rely mainly on so-called Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology, which is not photovoltaic but rather uses parabolic mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays in salt-water tanks and thereby store the energy, so that it’s available even when the sun goes down – and also can contribute in some way to providing desalinated water, another thing the Saudis prize highly.

You can click through to peruse the photo at the top of the article if you need some idea of what CSP arrays look like. (It’s a picture of them in Spain; they’re not yet in Saudi Arabia, the contract hasn’t even been formally signed!) Here in this post I’ll give you instead the grip-&-grin photo of the two principals in this deal. And just as with a Saudi official you can expect a name along the lines of Ahmed al-Malik (whom we see to the right, in Arab garb), with Germans I’m afraid you sometimes run the risk of silly-sounding names: that’s Dr. Thiemo Gropp to the left. And Thiemo has got the desert-dollars.

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Dispatches from the Finanzklippe

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Uh-oh. It seems a certain American English expression is spreading overseas, and not one we might prefer:

US-Haushaltsstreit: “Go f… yourself!” – Washingtons Nerven liegen blank http://t.co/XlE06lIu

@welt

DIE WELT


This is of course the Twitter-link to Die Welt’s recent coverage of that ordeal of the “fiscal cliff” (Finanzklippe in German, if you’re interested). And, since it’s a reliable way to let others provide you with grist for your column (just ask the NYT’s Thomas Friedman, for example), journalist Ansgar Graw gives us here, right off-the-bat, a cabbie interview. The driver’s name’s Timothy, he comes from Jersey, and at least he’s capable of keeping a civil tongue as he transports Graw to his DC destination. “If I can’t make ends meet with my money,” he observes, “I can’t simply demand more from you [or “youse guys”?]. I have to start saving. But what does Washington do? They raise taxes, to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’!”

That’s quaint. First rule of Macroeconomics: the family budget is a faulty analogue for the financial issues of a government, particularly one in charge of its own currency. Back to the Congress, Graw attributes all that profanity flying around to the “frayed nerves” left over from the recent brinksmanship. He errs, however, when he tells his readers that John Boehner’s headline “request” to Harry Reid occurred “in the White House lobby” – accounts rather place the incident to just outside the Oval Office, as both Congressional leaders were waiting to confer with President Obama.

Maybe we shouldn’t begrudge Boehner his letting-off of a little steam, though, because (as Graw notes, and everybody knows) an equally fraught confrontation over the US debt ceiling is less than two months away. Speaker Boehner might even be out of a job by then: he was left high-and-dry when his House Republican majority refused to back his “Plan B” budget program of December’s last week, and his immediate deputy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was careful to vote “No” himself on that “fiscal cliff” legislation.

UPDATE: Goodness, goodness. Now this completely uncensored bit from Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza:


Apologies to anyone who needs them, this blog has never claimed to be G-rated. The occasion for this particular tweet, by the way, is a Gazeta twit – just click through to behold his mugshot – who needed an attention-getting title for his time-line editorial recounting the “fiscal cliff” craziness.

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New EU President = “Debtorland”

Monday, July 9th, 2012

You’ve heard about the latest EU member-state to get in line for bailout assistance, right? It’s small, but it’s financial needs are anything but. It’s Cyprus. But it’s also a beggar with a difference, namely a rather too-close relationship to Russia.

Schuldenland: Zyperns Trickserei mit Russen bringt EU in Rage http://t.co/xZO5vzNJ

@weltonline

Welt Online


Germany’s Die Welt has a great run-down of the situation on that Mediterranean isle, so far-flung that it might as well be considered Middle Eastern. But no, as of 1 May 2004 Cyprus has been an EU member-state, as of 1 January 2008 in the Eurozone. And as of a week ago last Sunday it is EU Council president! This despite all the international intrigue swirling around it, as sketched in this Die Welt piece, which reads like something out of a spy novel. (more…)

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Coronation Present

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Ol' Pappy & Son (Reuters)

The Dear Leader is dead (and was buried today, in a “private,” no-outsiders Pyongyang mega-ceremony)! Long live the Great Successor! And after he returns from the mausoleum, just look at what news will be on top of his desk!

Experteneinschätzung: Nordkorea könnte bald eine Atomrakete haben http://t.co/luFw9VFb

@weltonline

Welt Online


Atomrakete – yes! “Atom-rocket”! One that will be in North Korean hands, and thus under the “Great Successor’s” personal control, and rather soon! (more…)

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Enter the Turks

Monday, November 21st, 2011

So now the latest trick Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has up his sleeve is to quibble with the Arab League about terms & conditions for the the 500-person monitoring team they want to send there? He needs to start paying attention to that rumbling sound coming from his borders:

Intervention gefordert: Die kriegerischen Planspiele der Türkei gegen Syrien http://t.co/VbhCTKZ7

@weltonline

Welt Online


This links to an article from the authoritative German national daily Die Welt about how Syria’s neighbor Turkey – whose Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once termed al-Assad his “brother” – is beginning plans to make its own intervention into the Syrian national uprising go beyond mere words. First of all, it’s starting to prepare to impose its own no-fly-zone on the country. Also, according to the authoritative English-language Beirut newspaper The Daily Star, Turkey wants to seize a strip of Syrian land along the common border as a “security zone.”

Don’t get too excited here about the Turks’ zeal to help out their neighbors, though: the main function of such a zone would be as a place for Syrian refugees to be able to stay for a while in safety from their government, rather than have to cross over into Turkey proper. To the south, Jordan is said to be considering this sort of a move too, and both countries are gaining support for it among Western and other Arab countries as al-Assad continues to be intransigent.

By the way, there is an important US airbase in Turkey, at Incirlik, maybe 120km from the Syrian border. The Welt article also mentions US support of Jordanian armed forces, which might get the Americans involved here that way.

Of course, some representatives of the Syrian rebels – in particular the Muslim Brotherhood there – have already called for full-scale military intervention. Turkish, that is; most still will not accept any such explicit help from Western powers. Still, for all the Turkish sabre-rattling, there are also important questions to give its leaders pause. A no-fly-zone – and even just trying to seize enough Syrian territory for the “security zone” – would require disabling Syria’s air force, built around 100 advanced MiG-29 fighters – is the Turkish air force up to the job by itself? Foreign Minister Davutoglu has also made recent statements that Turkey would really rather not go it alone when it comes to any intervention. It would surely require explicit Arab League and UN Security Council approval for any such step, as well as probably co-belligerents (and Jordan alone would likely not be sufficient).

Then again, Syria also currently depends on Turkey for much of its electricity, and for the water coming over the border from Turkish highlands in the form of the Euphrates river. What’s more, the recent attack by a Damascus mob on the Turkish embassy there – complete with burning Turkish flags – was itself not very “brotherly.”

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Beware of Greeks

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Greece prime minister Papandreou announces a referendum over the anti-bankruptcy aid package for his country announced at last week’s EU summit – and all hell breaks loose on world markets!


Yes, every other newspaper is writing about this as well, but this particular Die Welt article, by D. Eckert and H. Zschäpitz, stands out for its headline: Papandreou risks a global financial meltdown, or rather the alarm such a headline evokes in contrast to the serious, mainstream sort of paper we all know Die Welt to be – i.e one that doesn’t usually resort to such headlines. Yes, there are no doubt similar-sounding titles in tabloid papers, and not just in Germany, but all that is mere dog-bites-man.

This piece also stands out for the handy list it provides – you have to scroll down a little, look for Die größten Wertverluste . . . – of the banks which have lost the most market-capitalization, so far, from the plummeting prices of their shares. FYI, BNP Paribas stands at the top, with nearly €4.7 billion lost, followed by Deutsche Bank. (It also stands out for author “H. Zschäpitz”: isn’t that just a howler of a name? But no doubt the fellow has a Google Alert on it and will be reading this blogpost sooner or later – my apologies!)

Otherwise, though, I stand vulnerable to the charge of European tokenism. Because the piece that has really clarified things for me is in English, and written by our old friend Dana Blankenhorn. Greek Latest is Solar Scam is its title, it does spend a few paragraphs dissecting the faulty economics behind a Greek solar-energy investment plan. But then it addresses what Papandreou and the Greek authorities are really trying to do with this referendum. Given that Blankenhorn assumes that the result will be “No,” it’s simple: they are threatening to take the rest of Europe to down with them, unless they get an even-better debt-relief deal than the 50% they got from the EU last week.

You should check it out, and the article from Seeking Alpha that Blankenhorn links to as well. Strangely, his link to it reads “Sink the euro” even though that other article itself argues that there is still a chance for a “Yes” vote!

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Eichengreen: Show Italy Tough Love

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Here’s a bit of bald Twitter self-promotion for you:

If you weren’t alarmed enough yet by the European situation, try this interview on for size (use Google Translate): http://t.co/K6EyrTs

@B_Eichengreen

Barry Eichengreen


Turns out that the interview in question is of UC Berkeley Prof. Barry Eichengreen himself, conducted by Die Welt writer Tobias Kaiser. (That link in his tweet opens a PDF of the interview. Of course it is in German, but no need for Google Translate when you’ve got the EuroSavant!)

Well, who among us who publishes on the Net can ever be immune from such cross-posting temptation? Besides, he has some interesting things to say on the current transatlantic debt crises, and his piece was even retweeted, and so implicitly endorsed, by Doctor Doom himself.

Prof. Eichengreen emphasizes that, whatever else might be going on currently in the Eurozone, Italy and Spain must now be the focus of policy-makers’ attention. That is not so insightful per se – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Paris today to meet with President Sarkozy and presumably the public finances of those two ailing Mediterranean states will be high on their agenda. (Not that top-level officials from either will be present; that’s not always necessary when the EU’s two big powerhouse-states are having discussions.) (more…)

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My Mayor, My Informant

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

On Sunday 3 October the run-off election is scheduled for Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) of Potsdam, that city of around 150,000 inhabitants just to the southwest of Berlin which was Frederick the Great’s capital and garrison-town and now is the capital of the state of Brandenburg. There’s a run-off because in the regular election, last Sunday, no one candidate got a majority of the votes, so the competition has now been narrowed down to the top two. Lying as it does within the former East Germany, Potsdam is not surprisingly a rather left-wing place, so it’s no surprise that those two candidates represent Germany’s main leftist party, the Social Democrats (SPD), in the person of incumbent Oberbürgermeister Jann Jacobs, and the formation even more to the left, namely The Left (Die Linke), represented by one Hans-Jürgen Scharfenberg.

Jacobs has been Potsdam’s mayor for a while now, since March of 1999, and he did come out on top of that initial vote with 41%. But Scharfenberg was not all that far behind at 33%, and the guy does have many useful qualities, such as being a shrewd judge of people’s character, and able both to keep a secret and submit thorough, informative reports. How do I know this? Because Hans-Jürgen Scharfenberg is also unique as the first significant German political candidate known to have been an informer back in the day for the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, better known as the Stasi. (more…)

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Is Obama Serious?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The reviews are streaming in now of President Obama’s Oval Office address to the nation last night about BP and the catastrophic oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico – including those originating over here on the Atlantic’s East side, even though only extreme Obama-junkies or else paid political reporters stayed awake into early Wednesday morning to actually watch it live.

It was apparently a rather long speech, with a panoply of various points within it that one can choose among to emphasize – also, if desired, the sheer fact that it was delivered from the Oval Office, something that is generally supposed to denote an especially serious occasion, as Viktoria Unterreiner points out writing for the German paper Die Welt. Still, the title of her piece is “Obama declares the end of ‘cheap oil’,” and that is one aspect of the President’s address that certainly has attracted particular attention over here. Namely: Can America – the land of the Chevy Corvette and Route 66 – really wean itself from cheap oil, even while spurred on by tarred beaches and dying pelicans? Unterreiner is herself doubtful; she notes that, after Obama made that declaration, “he however became no more concrete” about how to go about it. Perhaps a start would be his CO2/climate bill – but that’s currently in “suspended animation” (im Schwebe-zustand) in the Congress. (more…)

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Unopinionated Pirates

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

One key factor affecting the entire ongoing Eurocrisis was known to cognoscenti as “NRW” – short for Nordrhein-Westfalen, the German state whose local elections on May 9 did much to influence both the nature and timing of Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel’s response to the grave threat to the euro and even the EU arising from the Greek financial problems. That is well and good, but those same NRW elections at the same time had another rather different significance for a separate voting bloc, one not necessarily so interested in the mere potential for collapse of the common European currency. These citizens are overwhelmingly young and male; they usually converse in Java and C++ as easily as in their native German; and they vote for the German Pirate Party, whose disappointing results in that same ballot saw its share of the overall vote drop to 1.5% from the full 2% share it had enjoyed during last Fall’s nationwide election.

You might recall that this political organization, like all the off-shoots of the original Pirate Party in Sweden, takes for its purpose advocacy mainly for Internet-related issues such as copyright reform, digital civil rights, and the prevention of Internet censorship. Philip Kuhn of Die Welt recently sat down with party leader Jens Seipenbusch for a brief interview in the wake of those poor electoral results. (more…)

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Some Numb & Spicy Chinglish

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

"Carefully bang head!"Just like mushrooms popping up after spring rainfall (at least as they do here in Northern European climes) comes a new journalistic phenomenon: some pre-planned world-scale event occurs in China (e.g. the 2008 Olympics, the recent opening of the Shanghai World Expo) and is immediately followed by articles in the American press taking a bemused look at the stumbles of the Chinese as they try to come to grips with the English language, efforts that produce something usually termed “Chinglish.” The latest instance of this is a recent article in the NYT together with the almost-indispensable accompanying slide-show displaying some prime Chinglish examples (e.g. “Slip and fall down carefully”).

It’s often pretty funny stuff. Then again, another thought may come to anyone inclined to think about such things a bit more deeply. (And/or to those quick to take offense – or are these two cohorts actually one-and-the-same?) Could it be that the “paper of record” of one great civilization is, in effect, mocking the citizens of yet another for their well-intentioned struggles in navigating the former’s language? When, in fact, relations between these two great civilizations are of possibly the most crucial importance to world peace as well as progress on most other global-scale problems (e.g. environment, trade, financial regulation)? (more…)

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Beyond Tragedy: The Katyn Reconciliation

Monday, April 12th, 2010

One side-detail of the tragic plane-crash on Saturday that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with much of that country’s political, military, and even financial elite was that the reason all these worthies were headed to a Russian provicincial backwater like Smolensk in the first place was to participate in a very solemn ceremony there. That was to have commemorated the mass-execution, which began exactly seventy years ago, of around 20,000 Polish officers and other prominent citizens by the Soviet secret police, who had had them fall into their hands as a result of the USSR’s invasion of Poland (coordinated with Hitler’s Germany) in September, 1939. This prompted some commentators to write ponderously of a doom-laden Katyn parallel: Poland’s intelligentsia wiped out there in 1940, and then once again in 2010.

Unfortunately, these grim events are now totally obscuring the remarkable progress represented by the very fact that such a delegation of eminent Poles, headed by the President, was being allowed to go there in the first place – and by the no-less remarkable fact that Russian premier Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk had in fact participated in a commemoration ceremony there just last Wednesday. Looking back now at news coverage of these developments – that is, written before this past weekend’s tragedy – produces a very bittersweet feeling, especially from two articles on the Katyn legacy from among the elite of the German press, here the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt. In particular, the latter piece begins with the sentence “Seldom has the Polish public looked at Russia with so much hope as in these days” – on a webpage where, at the very same time, you can click over on the right-hand side (under “Current Videos”) to see a news-film of rescuers searching through the crash-site in the Russian forest!

(By the way, you could be sure that the German coverage of Katyn’s legacy was going to be thorough and high-quality, and not only because Germany’s sheer size of population and cultural inheritance ensures good journalism. Remember that, for decades, it was German soldiers who were alleged to have been at fault here, so you can be sure that German journalists will always be on top of this story to ensure the historic record remains set straight.) (more…)

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Child-Abusers of Another Stripe

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

The tales of mistreated youth at these institutions are continuing to multiply. There was sexual abuse coming from those who were supposed to care for them, to be sure. But far more pervasive was the intimidating atmosphere, often accompanied by violence: heads shoved down toilets; beatings; even confinement for extended periods in cells, like common criminals.

I’m not making any of this up, as I will shortly document, at least for those of you who read German. Yet long-time readers of this weblog – Hi Mom! – will remember my fondness for the “false lead,” where impressions about what a given blogpost is about gained from its opening lines turn out to be wildly off-the-mark. Surely I am describing here the Roman Catholic institutions, run by paedophile priests, whose reputations are now being blackened by accusations leveled against their administrators by former inhabitants? Actually, no; taking as my cue a new article by Alan Posener in Die Welt (Brutal daily life in DDR youth institutions), I am referring to the establishments for problem youths set up and run by the former Communist East Germany. (more…)

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Greeks Out! Drachma Back!

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I have to assume that my Euro-savvy readers will be quite aware of the growing financial crisis involving the euro and the so-called “PIIGS” countries that are in fiscal trouble (“Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain,” though these days Italy is usually left out). Greece is at the center of attention now, and the main issue when it comes to its fiscal problems – combined with its government’s dishonesty in reporting these in the past – seems to be the conflict between the emotional impulses to bail it out from EU or European Central Bank funds or punish its sins instead by simply letting the country suffer. The EU summit in Brussels on Thursday (11 February) is shaping up to be decisive in deciding which way things will go – assuming that the assembled EU heads of government discuss the problem in the first place, as I understand that that is not really on their formal agenda!

The dominant EU country within the governing structures of the EU and the European Central Bank is of course Germany, which is also the main economy in an opposite fiscal situation to that of the PIIGS states and so theoretically able financially to provide much of the aid that Greece needs. That is why it has been interesting to read coverage of this problem in Die Welt, the mainstream German paper not quite as authoritative as Die Zeit (and the latter is more of a pure opinion-publication anyway), but still with a respected reputation as a daily that is distributed nationwide. (more…)

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Germans’ English Estrangement

Monday, February 1st, 2010

As of a couple months ago there has been a new German government in power – CDU/CSU in coalition with the liberal-economic FDP, rather than in a “grand coalition” with the SPD socialist party. Those circumstances happened to give rise to a new running concern (or running gag – take your choice) about the very tenuous relationship some of Germany’s top politicians have with the English language. Chancellor Angela Merkel herself by all accounts acquits herself quite well in English – and in Russian, too, they say, but then again she was an academic researcher before she got into politics (and she delivered a small part of her address before a joint session of the US Congress last year in English). On the other hand, her top partner in the new coalition, namely Guido Westerwelle who heads the FDP, tried in a half-hearted way to speak some English in his first appearances after the new government was formed, only to become widely mocked for how bad that was going and to finally decide “the hell with it!” (or rather, I would imagine, something like Schluß damit!) and just going with German, to include insisting that questions asked of him during press conferences be phrased only in German. (I’m sorry to have to remind you here, if you didn’t know it already, that Westerwelle’s formal position in the new German government is as Foreign Minister!)

Now it’s time for a new European Commission, which will be sworn in next week and in which the German representative naturally always gets an important portfolio. This time that is to be Günther Oettinger, President of the state of Baden-Württemberg and now Commissioner-designate of the EU’s Energy Directorate (not so important in the past, as it was held by a Lithuanian for the last five years; but clearly to be of major importance henceforth). And yes, Oettinger has a problem with English, a big problem. (But what can you really expect from someone with, in effect, two umlauts in his name, including the “Oe”?) Apparently he is only barely able to pronounce in public the English words on a paper before him that his staff have written for him to say. (more…)

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