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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Next in the Intimidation Line

Friday, September 26th, 2014

New bad news for the Ukraine:

Hunguk
“Hungary stops gas deliveries to Ukraine.” Would that have something to do with the visit by Gazprom chief Alexei Miller to Budapest on Monday of this week to speak with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán?

Not if you ask the Hungarians. From the lede:

According to the government in Budapest and the State company responsible for the pipelines, FGSZ, the step was taken due to the rise in domestic demand for gas. Satisfying Hungarian demand has priority.

Yeah, right. Like the rest of us Europeans, Hungary has been enjoying the usual global warming-induced prolonged summer September weather, with temperatures dipping below 15ºC (59ºF) only at night. Demand for gas there – for heating – is due to rise maybe end November, beginning December, and not particularly now.

The real story here can be clearly seen from a couple weeks ago, when Gazprom similarly forced Poland to stop the “reverse supplies” of natural gas it was providing to the Ukraine by threatening to cut off the Poles’ supply they were diverting from. It’s just that the latter were willing to be rather more straightforward about what was happening than the Hungarians. Indeed, this Telegraaf piece speaks of a €10 billion Russian loan Orbán’s government is hoping to gain. How is such a thing even possible after the EU has collectively imposed repeated waves of sanctions – including of the financial kind – on Russia?

I’d like to derive two remarks from this data-point, which we can call “Major” and “Minor”:

  • Major: Putin really likes throwing Russia’s geopolitical weight around using the threat of energy cut-offs. I believe I read somewhere that the dissertation he wrote for whatever higher academic degree it was that he earned back in his KGB schooldays had precisely to do with that subject.The prevailing wisdom seems to be that, while the Ukraine has of course already been shoved out into the cold (literally) for the coming winter when it comes to Russian natural gas, Putin would not dare to do that to the rest of the EU because of the revenue loss that would entail. Then again, he seemed indifferent enough to the food-price inflation the Russian people have had to suffer resulting from his embargo on EU agricultural imports. Make no mistake: this coming winter is when the EU will be confronted in the bleakest and most direct way possible with the problem of how to do without Russian energy supplies.
  • Minor: Notice here as well the common thread of the involvement of Gazprom, which is supposed to be a private company. Well, at least it is a private company to the likes of FIFA, which allows it to pay the mega-price to be one of the commercial sponsors of the Champions League. (It is also the shirt-sponsor of the famous German football club Schalke 04.) Inevitably, those watching Champions League games at home have to put up with repeated commercials extolling Gazprom as a reliable energy-provider; if you watch closely, you’ll even notice how the characteristic Champions League graphic used when heading into and out of commercial breaks, in which spotlights come on in turn around a circular stadium, precisely recalls the pattern of gas-jets lighting up on a stove! How many of those looking on for the football actually realize that Gazprom will be glad to let them freeze next winter, if only Putin gives the order?
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Thoughts on Team Juncker

Friday, September 12th, 2014

It happens only once every five years, so I’m willing to describe as a pleasure yesterday’s eye-squinting, fast-research exercise in tweeting out the announced composition of the new EU Commission under President Jean-Claude Juncker. A couple of conclusions did come to my mind as a result – conclusions which I think you might find as outside the mainstream.

But first the one proviso that should always be kept in mind on this subject. The US and EU government are of course very different in their structure and their powers, but perhaps it would be useful nonetheless to remind ourselves of the nearest analog in Washington DC to the Commission. It is of course the President’s Cabinet, a collection of administrators appointed (and confirmed) to head executive-branch departments in widely different fields of expertise (Foreign Policy; Agriculture; etc.).

Naturally, it is strongly assumed that those Cabinet secretaries will operate solely with the national interest in mind, and not any interests of the particular state or region that they come from. That is the going assumption for EU Commissioners, as well – yet, incongruously, there a system persists whereby each EU member-state gets one of its own on the Commission! The US counterpart to that – just to show how ridiculous the practice is – would be an insistence that each of the 50 states (and Washington DC, Puerto Rico, etc.) have a representative taking up some function in the President’s cabinet.

It’s supposed to be about expertise and administrative ability, not about where one comes from. Truth be told, it is unlikely that the number of jobs there are to do can really be stretched to equal the number of all member-states: there has to be some degree of duplication and/or “make-work” assignments to artificially inflate the quantity of posts available. (For example, Andrus Ansip, Digital Single Market; Günther Oettinger, Digital Economy). I understand the Brussels powers-that-be are well aware of this consideration, and that they made an effort in connection with the Lisbon Treaty to address it to some degree by introducing a cut-back regime in which it was NOT true that every member-state would be guaranteed a Commissioner. However, I also recall that squelching that was one price Ireland demanded for finally voting the “correct” way in its umpteenth referendum on Lisbon.

1) Right, with that out of the way . . . consider the following, typical of the general tenor of tweets in reaction to yesterday’s announcements:

henhouses
It’s snarky, it’s maybe a bit superficial – but it’s also a clever point. And I would simply like to add to it the name of Tibor Navracsics, the former Hungarian Foreign Minister who has been assigned the portfolio for “Education, Culture, Youth & Citizenship.”

How Hungary gets a Commissioner at all is something beyond my understanding; more to the point, how it is getting €22 billion euros in economic assistance from the EU is really beyond my understanding. For make no mistake, with its almost-total government control over the press and now its assault on NGOS, Hungary currently resembles no other polity so much as Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and is heading even beyond that to a final destination which is that of Alexandr Lukashenko’s Belarus. (more…)

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Slovaks On the Move

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Geography buffs find particularly interesting places in the world where major urban centers come close together but under different jurisdictions: the greater New York City metropolis, say, or the Liège-Maastricht-Aachen area in NW Europe. But there is one other that is more interesting even than these, featuring major urban centers once divided by the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and that is the Vienna-Bratislava area along the Danube. (Which, if you enlarge it even further, also includes the Hungarian city of Mosonmagyaróvár – OK, we’ll forget about that one for now . . .)

Indeed, a major Bratislava residential area known as Petržalka (to the south, and infamous for its very many drab panelák Communist pre-fab high-rise apartment buildings, still there today) has for years crowded right up to the line beyond which no one was allowed to be seen, lest they be shot. Ever since that regime fell in 1989, travelers heading to Bratislava on the bus from Vienna’s Schwechat airport (e.g. your humble blogger) have still found it remarkable the way the villages and fields lying to that city’s east abruptly give way to crowds of buildings once you cross the border.

But now there is no more “border” – that part of the world is now in the EU’s Schengen Area. Slovaks are no longer constrained, and so now they’re breaking out::

Novinky: Bratislavané se stěhují do Maďarska a Rakouska: http://t.co/8XyLzZ69

@Zpravy

Zpravy


“Bratislavans are moving to Hungary and Austria,” it reads. Yes: “moving,” as in “house.” This article – and note, it’s on a Czech news website – mainly discusses Slovak settlement in two neighboring places, namely the Austrian village of Wolfsthal – which you ride through on that airport bus – and the Hungarian town of Rajka, in the other direction but still only about 20km from Bratislava.

Hasicom
As recently as 2007, there were only three Slovaks in Wolfsthal, out of a population of around 720; now it’s 230 Slovaks making up a population of 900. The mayor, Gerhard Schödinger, certainly speaks Slovak – he has a Slovak wife! (And he used to be an Austrian customs official, back when there was a border.) As we can see, he also makes sure that the public signs dotting this Austrian town are bilingual German/Slovak. The Slovaks living there like it mainly because, well, everything is so German – “It’s peaceful here,” says one, “with beautiful Nature, order and safety in the streets” – but also because the Austrian government offers great social welfare benefits, topped off by easily-attainable and cheap loans of up to €50,000 for home improvement. (more…)

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Holy Constitution, Batman!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

It has been a busy first half-year for Hungary. In January that country rather bumblingly stained its first-ever assumption of the European Presidency with a controversial new media law. Now, since Easter, it has a new constitution. But is it any good? One Hungarian, the writer Péter Zilahy, declares in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that it surely heralds “magical times” – but not in any positive sense (cue the tweet!):

Ungarns neue Verfassung: Vom Leben in magischen Zeiten (von Péter Zilahy) http://www.faz.net/-01TNXKless than a minute ago via FAZ.NET Favorite Retweet Reply


Here’s his lede:

A thousand years and no wiser: The new “basic law” of the Hungarians bases itself on Christianity and the Holy Crown. Minister-President Orbán nonetheless speaks of Europe’s most modern constitution. A Budapest farce.

The whole reason for this new constitution was the electoral landslide enjoyed last year by Victor Orbán’s right-wing FIDESZ party, brought about by popular disgust with the moral laxity and economic incompetence displayed by the Socialist government in power since 2002 – back when the Socialists in turn electorally deposed an Orbán government! Actually, that Socialist-led regime even managed to get itself re-elected in 2006, but only through what was revealed after-the-fact as basically a campaign of lies.

In any event, in 2010 FIDESZ was back and with a 2/3 control of the Hungarian parliament that enabled it even to amend the constitution, up to then a legal hodge-podge in fact consisting largely of the Communist-era’s basic law. Now the Hungarians have a new one, with strong rhetorical as well as practical emphasis on Christianity and the family.

Except that for many – even most – post-Communist Hungarians outright Christianity holds little appeal. This certainly includes Zilahy, and that provides the motivation behind his anti-constitution polemic here. “Now then, it can’t do any harm to have God on our side, especially considering we are a secular nation and a secular state,” he snidely observes, and also delves deeper behind that contradiction first mentioned in his lede between a new basic law that is supposed to be so forward-looking yet which invokes Christianity and especially the Holy Crown of Hungary’s first Christian king, St. Stephen I (Szent István; reigned 1000 – 1038 AD).

Of course, if you’re going to invoke St. Stephen, you probably also will prefer to talk about the lands in his kingdom, Zilahy notes, which unfortunately include much more than merely those contained within the post-World War I Hungarian state – and so the arguments with the neighbors start up once again! Oh well, if that’s going to lead to a fight, at least we have Olympic-champion fencer Pal Schmitt (Hungary’s current president) on our side – shades of Lancelot and King Arthur!

(You want further “magical times”? Apparently the “National Creed” which is the preamble to that new constitution declares that the entire 46+ years between the Nazi occupation of Hungary (March 1944) and the first post-Communist elections (May 1990) as legally non-existent! Zihaly doesn’t get around to bringing this up here.)

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EuroDemocracy Failing?

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Talk about ending the year on a sour note! Der Tagesspiegel journalist Caroline Fetscher starts her post-Christmas opinion column (Project Europe is only beginning) with Belarus, which is certainly depressing enough. Through the vicious wave of police-repression following his recent presidential election “victory,” Aleksandr Lukashenko has cemented his title as “Europe’s last remaining dictator.” That much is clear, but Fetscher has a rather different point to make: Europeans should not assume that Belarus is the only problem when it comes to democracy, i.e. that there are no other stains elsewhere.

That would be a complacent thing to do; and after all, Die Zeit republished Fetscher’s piece under the new title Complacency is the enemy of Democracy. So where are there problems elsewhere in Europe? Well, there’s the Vatican, with its pedophilia scandals; Italy itself where “there rules an operetta-premier, who systematically subjugates the media, laws, and several submissive girls”; the Netherlands, where eurosceptic and anti-Islam ideologies thrive (and where Jews live uncomfortably – allegedly); and then Hungary, where antisemitism and anti-Gypsy feelings prevail.

This is mostly incoherent. First of all, Fetscher’s subject is supposed to be threats to democracy; the Roman Catholic scandals have little to do with that, while one would think that at least some of the opinions she condemns (at least euroscepticism) are precisely what free, democratic peoples are supposed to be allowed to hold if that suits them. She also strangely misses one recent phenomenon that would seem to have constituted a datapoint strongly supporting her thesis, namely the new media-supervision law in Hungary (which I recently covered here) that some see as paving the way for the return of something resembling a dictatorship.

But does the new law really make up such a threat? Why not go ask someone actually on the ground there, which is what Hanno Mussler of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung does in an interview with Jan Mainka, publisher in Budapest of a German-language weekly.

This is a remarkable piece, mainly because of the calm lack of concern Mainka displays for the new media law:

The Budapester Zeitung [his paper] reports in a fair and balanced manner. In our editorials we support no party. At most you could describe our line as pro-Hungary. I don’t see that we will get in conflict with the new law. I’m not so sure about other Hungarian media outlets. Many are anything but fair and balanced. The interregional dailies stand on the side of either the opposition or the government.

To him, concern elsewhere in Europe over the media law (even as expressed by German Chancellor Merkel, or by the EU Commission) is “hysteria.” The new Hungarian premier, Viktor Orbán, was after all one of the leaders of the opposition that brought Communism down in Hungary twenty years ago. Of much more concern for the country’s media business are its economic troubles, for which the Orbán administration is just the set of personnel you would want to look to for solutions. Yes, recent taxation measures (bank tax, tax on foreign companies) have been drastic, but drastic solutions are what is needed; only their somewhat unpredictable nature is to be regretted.

So there you have it. If we are to believe Herr Mainka – again, responsible for putting out and making money with a publication in Hungary’s capital – neither the new media law nor Orbán’s ruthless revenue-raising measures are anything to worry about. But I don’t know: in particular, his dismissal of the Hungarian dailies – implying that it’s no problem if the government comes down hard on them, after all, they’re partisan – for me strikes the wrong note: newspapers are supposed to be allowed to be partisan! I’m getting too much here of the syndrome “OK, they’re going after the Jews; but I’m an upstanding and decent citizen, and they’ll never come after me!”

Still, this is a “don’t worry” viewpoint from an expert who is right there where the things are happening. Maybe all of us who were viewing developments in Hungary with alarm should stop and reconsider. Mainka also makes the point that few if any have likely taken the trouble to read the new media-law act to see what it actually says – maybe that would be a good first step for everyone!

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Disreputable Presidency

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

It’s around this time of year (as well as at the end of June) that Euronerds’ thoughts turn to the EU member-state about to take over the six-month rotating EU Council Presidency. By most accounts I have seen, the presidency about to end – that of Belgium – has gone rather well, despite being the first one ever to be conducted entirely by a caretaker national government. Next up is Hungary, which has already publicized its intended agenda emphasizing topics such as treatment of the EU’s Roma population, Croatia’s membership application, and something called the “Danube Initiative.”

However, as we can see from a good summary in Der Spiegel, it looks like the rest of the EU might well insist on another item, namely Hungary’s new structure of state media supervision. That country’s right-wing ruling party, FIDESZ (the Young Democrats), gained a more than two-thirds majority in the national parliament in elections last April as the country threw out a detested, incompetent, and mendacious Socialist Party government. That enabled FIDESZ to alter the state constitution how it likes, and the new set of media laws are part of a series of sweeping changes the new government has introduced.

The problem is, it plainly looks like the new legal regime for media is designed to impose firm government control, of a sort strange to most free societies that more resembles the sort of Communist regime from which Hungary managed a peaceful transition more than twenty years ago. There is to be a Media Council, inevitably staffed by FIDESZ politicians, with the power to fine TV, radio, magazine and newspaper organizations as it pleases, presumably for any trumped-up charge it can come up with, with no possibility for appeal. Further, journalists from now on will be required to disclose their sources, whenever the matter at issue can be fit by the authorities within the flexible category of “national security.”

Already, even before Hungary has had a chance to assume the Presidency, there have been outcries against these new media laws from within the EU, such as from European Parliament members and even the foreign minister of Luxembourg, who publicly stated that Hungary risks putting itself in the same authoritarian category as Belarus. The Der Spiegel lede states the question baldly: “Can something like this be – in the middle of Europe?”

Unfortunately, this won’t be that easy to address. First, is it really true that the country’s FIDESZ government has in mind the creation of an authoritarian state? Even if so, what can be done? – especially in view of the awkward fact that Hungarian officials will be charged over the next six months with an important leadership role in guiding the EU’s business? The denunciations made public so far are fine, but in the institutional realm EU member-states are rather loathe to chide each other for their internal behavior. (As opposed to candidate states: both the EU itself and its more-powerful member-states see no problem in bossing them around.) I suppose the test-case here could be the shunning of Austria within the EU back in 2000 after Jörg Haider’s right-wing party entered the governing coalition there; I don’t recall that was very effective.

It’s an ugly situation, which I doubt will really ever be addressed in any substantive way. It’s potentially made even worse when you consider the financial dimension: Hungarian premier Victor Orban has been notably hostile to outside pressure to tighten state finances. Yet his country still has its own currency, the forint, and the amazing proportion of native debtors who have obligations denominated in some foreign currency instead (often the Swiss franc) makes them (and those who loaned them money) very vulnerable to any forint loss of value. Watch this space – that is, if you have the sort of morbid curiosity always looking for the next highway pile-up. This could turn out to be another Ireland, but an authoritarian one; that is, it could get very ugly.

UPDATE: Now what was I sayin’? Here’s Josept Cotterill of FT Alphaville on the Fitch rating agency’s downgrade today of Hungarian sovereign debt to BBB-, just one step above “junk” status.

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Blowback For Hungarian Financial Misstatements

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

You might have become aware late last week of a brief kerfluffle involving the new Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It didn’t involve Orbán directly, however, only some figures closely associated with him, such as another top figure in his FIDESZ political party, Lajos Kósa (mayor of Hungary’s second city, Debrecen), and Péter Szijjártó, his government spokesman, who together spread the word to the world at large that the Hungarian budget deficit was actually rather higher than previously reported and that their country could soon find itself in a simlar fix as Greece. This quickly led to a mini-financial panic breaking out the world over – including in Far Eastern markets, which suffered price-losses – at the thought that the EU suddenly had another fiscal basket-case member-state to deal with, one that moreover had already had a joint EU/IMF bail-out back in 2008.

“Sorry – did we say that? We weren’t really serious” was roughly the reaction from that same Hungarian government once they realized the wide-ranging storm their comments had unleashed. Clearly, the amateurs were now in charge within that government’s highest reaches, and you can get a quite informative treatment of the incident – with pictures of the major protagonists – from the realdeal.hu weblog. There writer Erik d’Amato makes a convincing case that all this was simply an attempt by the new government to position itself politically to impose some austerity measures in its upcoming budget, albeit one that went spectacularly awry.

But such incompetence cannot go unremarked upon for long, and as the Danish daily Politiken reports (Hungarians go off on top politicians’ mysterious pronouncements) feedback has now started to arrive. For one, the economics editor of one of the major national dailies, Zoltán Baka of Népszabadság, called last week’s pronouncements “completely idiotic.” The IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, also told the Associated Press that, in his view, there is “no basis to be worried” about Hungary’s fiscal situation. Other European finance ministers, however, couldn’t be bothered to offer an opinion: they are busy these days trying to find a solution to the ever-weakening euro, whose recent downward course last week’s Hungarian mini-fiasco only served to accelerate.

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Self-Portrait (in Dutch): Hungary

Saturday, July 24th, 2004

In the EuroSavant coverage of the Danish/Dutch Europa XL/Zelfportret Europa series we recently did the Czechs, and then we did the Slovaks: up until 1993 their fellow countrymen. Now we proceed from the Slovaks to the Hungarians, under inverse logic: these are long-time enemies, in the fundamental sense of two different ethnic nations laying claim to much the same bits of land. (From the Hungarians we could use that same “adversary” logic to proceed on to the Romanians, with whom the Hungarians have historically had even worse relations – except that the Romanians are not yet EU members.) (more…)

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The Freeze Came from Within

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

Yesterday, 21 August, was the 35th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that put an end to the “Prague Spring,” and here in Prague that story is getting big play in the media. This is even though it’s all about the past, specifically a quite unpleasant incident from the past which presumably nearly every Czech knows about (whether s/he experienced it directly or not) and which perhaps s/he would just rather forget. Respekt is probably the leading Czech journal of commentary, with a quite impressive battle-record of offending (and being threatened by) post-1989 governments, and in its current issue it approaches the event from a different angle. It was not the case that the Red Army invaded the country (accompanied by symbolic contingents from Warsaw Pact “allies”) and that was that: end of the “Prague Spring.” Rather, the Communist tightening-down of the country back to the pre-1968 level of repression (or, in some respects, an even worse state) actually proceeded over the course of a year-and-a-half, into 1970. In other words, not that much changed in Czech society right after the invasion; the oppressive changes came later, gradually, in the face of a Czechoslovak populace which could see what was happening but did little about it. It was this same populace which had been enthusiastic for its new freedoms in the first part of 1968, prior to the invasion, introduced by the then-government led by Aleksander Dubcek. So how could the re-introduction of a Communist dictatorship happen? What are the lessons for today? These sorts of questions are intelligently explored by Tomas Nemecek in his article entitled Mráz prišel zevnitr, or “The Freeze Came from Within.” (more…)

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Poles In Iraq III

Thursday, August 7th, 2003

Back to Poland, and on the news front there’s still little to report concerning the current deployment of Polish troops to the Middle East for eventual duty in the Polish security sector in Iraq. What I find today I find in Gazeta Wyborcza (and I confess that not everything cited here is dated 7 August). There’s this news item about further troops flying out: About 250 soldiers this time, of the Tenth Mechanized Battalion, flying out of Wroclaw, their commander proudly mentions that they’ve been well-trained for their mission, starting from the end of last year, peace-keeping, building-searching, convoy-running, yada yada. Much better is this: Been wondering exactly where the Polish sector in Iraq is going to be? Then check out this dynamite map on Gazeta Wyborcza‘s site (in .jpg format, and of course with accompanying Polish text). Looks like they drew the short straw: Their area straddles the Tigris and Euphrates just south of Baghdad, and includes such past trouble-spots as Karbala, Najaf, and al-Hilla. Well wait a second, this is in the mostly Shiite region, and I do believe that the Shiites have become more cooperative with the occupation lately, at least to some extent. (See my recent reporting from the German press about the plum cabinet jobs Shiite politicians are being assigned by the Governing Council.) Most violent trouble these days – or at least most reported trouble – seems to come from Baghdad and the “Sunni triangle” further north, places like Tikrit and around al-Fallujah.

If the news side is still sparse, on the commentary side we’ve hit the mother lode with Maciej Letowski’s piece for Gazeta Wyborcza entitled Nikt nie rodzi sie zolnierzem, or “Nobody Is Born a Soldier.” (more…)

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Would the Hungarians Cut & Run Under Fire?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

As the 2,500 Polish troops deploy this week into Kuwait, preliminary to their taking over responsibility for their security sector in Iraq at the beginning of next month, they can at least be thankful that not too many of them read Hungarian. (Indeed, as we know well, few people outside Hungary and the Hungarian populations in the regions of the immediate vicinity enjoy that privilege.) You remember that mortaring last Thursday of the Iraqi base in the future Polish sector? It may have not caused any sort of casualties, it may not even have caused any material damage other than some clods of earth being transferred from here to there, but that base will be for the use of not only the Poles but their allied troops as well, including Romanians and Hungarians, thank you very much. If there were incoming mortar rounds then, there surely could easily be more where those came from, and the Hungarians are already starting to get nervous, if recent comments to the (Hungarian) press by defense minister Ferenc Juhász (in English: Frank Shepherd) are any indication. (more…)

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A Glowing “Hello” Out of Hungary!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2003

Greetings from Budapest! Which immediately gives rise to the question, in our EuroSavant context, of “What’s going on in the Hungarian press?” Which immediately gives rise to my answer of “Well, remember that mere momentary location really need have nothing to do with what appears on these pages, since EuroSavant itself is predicated on the wondrous power of the Internet to make much of the world’s press available to the curious web-surfer no matter where s/he might be, as long as there’s Internet access. Besides, hyperlinks to the articles I discuss, allowing readers also able to read the language in question to see for themselves what is actually written in a discussed article, are an important element of my entries – as links in general are for most weblogs – so that local availability of the paper editions is less than completely useful.”

To which you might respond “Point taken.” Or you might reply instead “Don’t give me any of your windy pontification, you pompous on-line $&*&^%#$$! To my understanding your function is not supposed to be standing up on a cyber-soapbox to cyber-nit-pick, but rather to give us some idea of what the European media is writing in languages we don’t understand – and you’re awfully late in getting to that here!” Right then – let’s take a look . . . (more…)

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Slovakia Votes “Yes” to EU Accession

Sunday, May 18th, 2003

One of EuroSavant’s reader services, as regular visitors to this site will have noticed from past entries, is tracking the series of referenda by which EU candidate countries will (presumably) approve their entry into EU membership on 1 May 2004. Earlier this month Lithuanians voted in favor. This weekend it was the turn of Slovakia, and according to most press reports the important question was not whether “Yes” votes would prevail, but whether there would be enough votes cast, whether “Yes” or “No,” to attain at least the level of 50% participation which would make the referendum valid. It seems that that did indeed come to pass: according to the president of the Slovak electoral commission, Julius Fodor, 52.15% of eligible votes were cast, of which 92.46% were in favor of EU accession. (more…)

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“Hungary Chooses Europe”

Monday, April 14th, 2003

Away from events around the Persian Gulf, for now, for just as coalition forces inexorably advance across Iraq, so too does the European Union’s expansion process proceed towards its anticipated destination of adding 10 new members sometime around May, 2004. After the populations of Malta and Slovenia had previously given their assent to EU membership for their countries (sorry, I don’t cover them), this past Saturday it was the turn of Hungary. (more…)

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