Star-Crossed Hungarian Beer

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

You surely know that one cannot simply draw or display a swastika (or, indeed, a handful of other Nazi-associated symbols) these days within Germany or Austria – the police will soon want to discuss the criminal offense you have just perpetrated. Others of Germany’s neighbors have enacted similar legislation. In fact, in legislation during the early nineties Hungary added to that list of forbidden Nazi-symbols the Arrow Cross, a similar-looking symbol which represented the fascist Arrow Cross Party (Nyilaskeresztes Párt) which took over Hungary late in World War II, with the help of the Germans, and was responsible for the greater part of victims sent from Hungary to the Nazi annihilation camps.

Gregor Martin Papucsek, Budapest correspondent for the Czech business-news site E15.cz, in his recent piece “Totalitarian Beer,” notes the curious exception to this ban, and it’s the one I show here: the red five-pointed star. That is still OK, even as we all know that it stands for Soviet Communism in general, and perhaps the Red Army in particular. God knows the Hungarians suffered for decades under the Soviet yoke, starting from 1944 when that Red Army first invaded from the East the territory of Nazi Germany’s firm ally, and thus were not inclined to moderate the destruction they caused, nor the reparations they exacted – nor the damage and casualties they inflicted during the ultra-violent 1956 Hungarian Uprising.

Wait, though: Others use the Red Star, too, including the giant Dutch brewer Heineken. They were apparently quick enough to seize the commercial opportunities opening up in Eastern Europe during those early nineties to grab a large foothold in Hungary, and in fact Heineken is still a major player in that market, selling a handful of local brands as well as importing beers from the outside. Papucsek’s piece even speaks of what has been known colloquially as the lex Heineken (Latin: Heineken Law), leaving the Red Star alone for the Dutch firm’s convenience.

Not any more, though, not as of a law the Hungarian parliament passed on Monday which added the Red Star to the prohibited list. So what happened?

According to Papucsek, Heineken overplayed their hand – in Romania. Romania?! Yes, but specifically in Székely-land, part of what is known in English as Transylvania, what amounts to mostly Hungarian ethnic land which just happens to belong to Romania (via various accidents of history we cannot go into here). For yet another beer liked to use the Red Star in its insignia, and that was the Transylvanian brand Igazi Csíki Sör (name translates to “True Beer from Csík,” which is one of the counties there). Last year Heineken filed suit in a Romanian court to forbid that brewer from using the Red Star in its insignia.

Given the strange way things work in this part of the world, when the Transylvanians need legal/political help they are more inclined to turn to Budapest – i.e. their fellow Hungarians – than to Bucharest. What’s more – and as we see here – Budapest politicians are generally inclined to respond.

How will Heineken react? Will Heineken react? I rather doubt it.

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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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EU: Stop the Generosity!

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

On Twitter, it’s always possible – if you’re obsessed enough to keep a close eye, or are at least blessed with serendipity – to pick up the occasional golden nugget that passes everyone else by. Like this one, for example:

Reding
Viviane Reding is one of the EU Commission’s Vice Persidents, but her specific remit is Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. It would therefore appear that she is doing a bit of freelancing beyond that portfolio, not that that phenomenon is unknown among EU Commissioners.

What’s remarkable here instead is her message, as appeared a few days ago in the relatively obscure business paper Deutsche Mittelstands Nachrichten (or “News for German Medium-Sized Firms”). Are you worried about poor people from elsewhere in the EU (read: Romania and Bulgaria) coming to your countries to “steal” jobs and freeload on your social welfare provisions? Reding asks. Well, the real problem here, she says, is those “generous welfare systems” themselves: cut them back, she says, and problem solved! Moreover, the problem would be solved by the member-states doing what they should do – i.e. cutting back – and not by the EU, whose problem it isn’t anyway.

Now, this is something new. Indeed – although Ms. Reding would undoubtedly deny any connection – it’s something that philosophically is straight out of the contemporary American Republican Party, whose partisans in Congress have done rather well lately to reduce food stamps (i.e. food assistance) and cut off extended unemployment benefits for US citizens. But, back in our European context, those Western European social welfare edifices, built up over the decades since the Second World War, are usually immune to criticism – at least from those outside the national borders. (more…)

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Trembling in Moldova

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Much ink has been spilled lately – or, if you like, billions of computer-screen pixels have been illuminated – in the wake of the Russian military incursion into Georgia over the new aggressiveness this signals in Russia’s outlook towards the outside world, particularly in situations enabling that country’s leaders to manufacture a pretext to invade based around “protecting” Russian nationals residing in some neighboring country. Which one of those neighbors is likely as the next candidate for Moscow’s attentions? You can bet that any remaining summer leave has been revoked as officials in both the ministries of foreign affairs and defense scramble to update their position statements and contingency plans in Kiev, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Baku, Yerevan – and in Chisinau.

Chisinau? You might recall that as the capital of the Republic of Moldova. It may not share any border with Russia, but in fact it is one country that has more to worry about in the face of the new Russian assertiveness than most, as André Tibold of the Nederlands Dagblad reminds us today (Moldova is also worried about provocations). (more…)

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