Cracks in the German Afghanistan Refusal Front?

Monday, February 11th, 2008

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

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

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Deep Purple Funk

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Next Monday, 11 February, is promising to be quite an eventful day on the Gazprom front – that’s of course the gigantic Russan natural gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, of which the Russian government owns a majority stake. On the one hand, it’s the same-old same-old, what we’ve all seen before, for Monday is the day that Russia, speaking for Gazprom, will cut off all natural gas supplies to the Ukraine due to alleged non-payment by the latter of $1.5 billion. Curiously, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been scheduled for some time to arrive in Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. At least he’ll be glad to be away from his native country and someplace instead where it’s actually warm inside the buildings, though one can imagine that the diplomatic talks he will engage in might still be rather frosty.

But that is all par for the course for a European winter; I can remember recently thinking to myself “Hmm, it’s already February – shouldn’t we have had the regularly-scheduled Russian energy cut-off crisis by now?” More interesting is that next Monday is also the evening of the going-away concert in honor of Dimitri Medvedev – Gazprom chairman now, but Vladimir Putin’s “recommended” candidate for president of the Russian Federation at the upcoming March 2 elections, and therefore also a shoo-in as the next Russian president. The concert will be headlined by the legendary English rock-n-roll band Deep Purple, and this was recently commented upon in the New York Time’s weblog “The Lede: Notes on the News,” by Mike Nizza, who notes that Putin himself will surely be present as well. (more…)

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The Other Holocaust?

Monday, April 11th, 2005

Germany is an interesting country (among other reasons) because, although it is a liberal democracy, there are still certain things you’re not allowed to be or say. You’re not allowed to be a Communist or Nazi, for example; both these parties are outlawed. You’re not allowed to publish Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

However, there is an important exception where you can at least say whatever you like – if you happen to be a member of parliament (either the houses of the federal parliamant – the Bundestag or Bundesrat or of any of the state parliaments), and you’re speaking either on the floor of that parliament or in one of its committees. In those places, it seems about the worst that can happen in response to something impolitic you might say is that part (or, I guess, all) of your audience may decide to walk out on you.

This happened recently in the parliament of Saxony – a German federal state, or Bundesstaat, in what used to be Communist East Germany, whose capital is Dresden. That is, a number of Saxon lawmakers left the parliamentary assembly last January, in response to some remarks on the floor by Holger Apfel, fraction-leader there for the NPD. The Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany – sorry, you’ll have to find the link to their website yourself if interested) carries the “right-extremist” label, at least from one credible source, and that is Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. That paper recently reported on this incident, which was touched off by Apfel’s characterization of the destruction of Dresden in February, 1945, by allied bombers as a “bomb-holocaust,” and of the Allies as “mass murderers” (No Charges Against NPD-Chief Due to “Bomb-Holocaust”). (more…)

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No Rumsfeld to Munich

Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

It has already been well-publicized that President Bush’s first foreign trip of his second term in office will be at the end of next month, an excursion to Europe. He’ll be starting off in Brussels, to try to start mending fences with those of America’s NATO allies who became somewhat estranged over the disagreement concerning the United States’ determination in spring of 2003 to Iraq with its “Coalition of the Willing.” That “Coalition,” you’ll recall, included nations (most notably Britain) which some think should have shown rather more solidarity on the question with their other EU brethren.

But the President’s engagement was supposed to have been preceded by an appearance by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the yearly Munich Security Conference (this year on 12-13 February). Now Rumsfeld has sent word that he won’t be coming, reports Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung (Rumsfeld Cancels Participation at Security Conference). (more…)

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Freedom of Bathroom Information in the UK

Wednesday, January 5th, 2005

The UK has a new Freedom of Information Act. It used to be that you had to wait 30 years to get access to public documents, but now (or as of the beginning of the new year), in the words of Lady Ashton, the UK minister responsible for public records, “you will be able to request information and be given it as long as exemptions do not apply.” Those exemptions involve things you would expect, like national security or commercial secrets.

Now that access to public information in the UK has supposedly greatly widened, how are people taking advantage of that? The Guardian newspaper itself is pushing to get the legal advice given Tony Blair about whether Britain could join the United States in its attack on Iraq, according to international law, but indications are that request that will be blocked. And over Christmas, operatives of an opposition party, the Conservatives (these days it’s controversial whether they merit the label “the leading opposition party”), had great fun coming up with 120 “embarrassing questions” they want to pose to Tony Blair’s Labour government, i.e. to get information shedding further light on various awkward episodes in that government’s seven-year term in power such as its change-of-mind allowing a referendum on the EU Constitution when previously it had refused. (more…)

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Munich’s Mad Magazine

Friday, October 15th, 2004

The fourth and last of the debates of the 2004 presidential campaign has now come and gone. For the most part European newspapers have successfully dealt with the fact that, just like the other three, this debate actually took place from 2:00 AM to 3:30 AM their time, so that newspaper reports are popping up together with even the occasional analytical treatment already.

The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung is among those already featuring some of that analysis, or Kommentar, and I think it is worthwhile to turn to that. (more…)

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Expanding the Olympic Games – German Style

Sunday, August 22nd, 2004

After the unblinking look at the quality of American education (and the supposed American intellectual-level generally) on this site of a few days ago, it’s refreshing to see an article in which a German newspaper turns its focus back on the qualities of the Germans themselves, if in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

That’s what we see on-line today at the Süddeutsche Zeitung with the article The Games Must Be Expanded! (more…)

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Barroso Faces the German Press

Saturday, August 21st, 2004

Things are moving along rapidly with José Manuel Barroso and his new European Commission, scheduled to come into office next November 1. As I noted a week ago, Barroso came up with his set of twenty-four portfolio-name pairs two weeks before the deadline he had promised, and yesterday these twenty-four met together in Brussels for a first “getting-to-know-you” session. At the same time, Barroso gave his first interview to the press since being named Commission President last month, which turned out to be a collective interview to reporters from five German newspapers. (Among which Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. Note that this SZ article is not in interview form per se, but instead reports the points Barroso made.) That they happened to be German newspapers was not just a tribute to that country’s position as the Union’s leading population and greatest economic power. (more…)

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Prospective Israeli Disasters

Monday, July 26th, 2004

Mordechai Vanunu was the Israeli “atomic spy,” the nuclear technician who in 1986 revealed secret information about Israel’s covert weapons program at the nuclear reactor at Dimona, in the Negev desert of southern Israel, in an interview with the London Sunday Times. For his troubles he was lured to Rome later that year and kidnapped there by Mossad agents, who brought him back to Israel and so to Israeli legal jurisdiction. In a secret trial, he was sentenced to eighteen years in prison for treason, which he finished serving last April.

Out of jail, it seems Vanunu still just can’t hold his tongue. (This profile in the Guardian mentions that, among other restrictions, he is obliged not to talk to the foreign press; at the same time, he is appealing to Israel’s supreme court for permission to leave the country again. Yet he recently gave an interview to the London-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat.) This strangely-stubborn behavior is probably something the rest of the world should be grateful for, at least for those who would prefer to be a little better aware of Israeli nuclear activities than the Israeli government would prefer, and the German newspaper Die Welt has picked up on his latest (Atom Expert Warns of a “Second Chernobyl” in Israel). (more…)

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Bush Speech Leaves Germans, Iraqis Unimpressed

Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

President Bush kicked off on Monday night his five-speech offensive to demonstrate to American voters (primarily) and also to the rest of the world that he has a plan for effectively handing off “sovereignty” to some native Iraqi administration at the end of June. That same day Britain and the US had tabled a proposed UN Security Council resolution which, if adopted in the proposed form, would leave occupation troops able to remain in Iraq indefinitely even as that native administration would supposedly be granted the “responsibility and authority to lead a sovereign Iraq.”

Coverage of the President’s speech in the German press generally found it less than fully convincing. (more…)

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“Let Everything Remain Inside – That’s the Main Thing”

Saturday, February 7th, 2004

Egad, the German press again! You know I don’t like to concentrate overmuch on one country; even two-in-a-row from the same national press is usually too much, unless the two are related and there was a clear necessity for follow-up. But today’s entry, brought to you by some happy serendipity, is to me the deserved dessert to yesterday’s main course about the Abdelghani Mzoudi acquittal in Hamburg.

You might have heard about an incident at the end of the Super Bowl half-time show last Sunday in which Janet Jackson revealed rather more of herself than is generally deemed proper by American public broadcasting standards. Whether the same incident would have been too racy for European public broadcasting standards is another question; Wolfgang Koydl of the Süddeutsche Zeitung takes the incident as his point-of-departure on a riff about American attitudes towards certain body parts in American Prudery: Let Everything Remain Inside – That’s the Main Thing. (more…)

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Guantanamo in Hamburg? The Mzoudi Terrorism Case

Friday, February 6th, 2004

Yesterday a court in Hamburg, Germany, found a 31-year-old native Moroccan, Abdelghani Mzoudi, innocent of charges that he had been involved in the Hamburg-based terrorist cell behind the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington. Naturally, American officials are hardly pleased by this verdict. Turning first to the account you’ve all probably already seen in the New York Times establishes the basic facts here: presiding judge Klaus Rühle ordered Mzoudi acquitted not because he thought him innocent, but because not enough evidence had been presented to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And that was partly due to the refusal by American authorities to make intelligence information available to the German prosecutors working for Mzoudi’s conviction.

What does the German press say? (more…)

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Achtung, Baby! No Contracts!

Saturday, December 13th, 2003

A collective Aber was ist denn los?! issued from the German government last Wednesday, the day after the Pentagon’s new policy excluding as primary bidders on Iraqi reconstruction contracts companies from “peace camp” countries was disclosed – not by any formal notification to the countries thus excluded, mind you, but simply by a posting on the Internet, to the “Rebuilding-Iraq.net” site, of the “Determination and Findings” text, signed by Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. That’s why government spokesman Béla Anda (a very Hungarian name, by the way) qualified his qualification of the American action as “not acceptable” with the proviso that what he had been hearing from the press would turn out in fact to be true. We can make our first plunge into the facts of this case with the authoritative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Wednesday article, Berlin Criticizes Washington: Decision Unacceptable. That’s also why German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was only willing to say that he had heard the news “with amazement” (“mit Erstaunen zur Kenntnis genommen“), and that he was going to get with his American contacts to find out what the hell was going on. (more…)

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German Angst Before Group D

Thursday, December 4th, 2003

Today we finish up our look at the Euro 2004 Group D (“Group of Death”) reactions, this time out of the German press. And there’s certainly plenty there – aided by the fact that the German on-line newspapers, helpfully, don’t follow the practice of enclosing their articles behind for-pay barriers once they get the least bit old.

Die Welt probably has the most complete coverage, headed by an article eloquently entitled Ausgerechnet Holland, or “Of All Teams – Holland!”, complete with a photo at the top of German national team coach Rudi Völler looking very anxious. (more…)

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Poland Wins at Naples?

Monday, December 1st, 2003

Now that the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Naples of last weekend – part of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) for ratifying the draft Constitutional Treaty – is in the past, we transition to after-the-fact assessments. For this, why not go to Poland, one country that had a clear issue at stake at Naples, namely the retention it desires (together with Spain) of the voting-weights for the European Council set down in the 2000 Nice Treaty? Yes, this was one of the two big, knotty issues that was to be deferred for handling at the Brussels summit coming up on the 12th and 13th of December – but, to hear the Polish press tell it, there were plenty of developments at Naples on the “Nice question” nonetheless.

For once let’s start out with a contribution from Zycie Warszawy, entitled Lucky Thirteen. (more…)

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The Jackson Affair in German Eyes

Saturday, November 22nd, 2003

Time to go back to the €S bread-and-butter: the media survey. Of the recent spate of bombings in Istanbul, perhaps? Much too serious (e.g. Turkey’s September 11 – from the NRC Handelsblad); maybe later.

Instead, now that popstar Michael Jackson has run afoul of California’s “Three-Tykes-You’re-Out” law (not my line, alas; it’s Jay’s), it should be interesting to see what the press has to say about that in one country where his fans are probably even thicker-on-the-ground than they are in the US, namely Germany. There is indeed plenty of coverage to choose from the German mainstream (on-line) press; we’re not going to be able to get to it all.

But wait: One of the many articles is from the Süddeutsche Zeitung describing the American media as “Obsessed” with Michael Jackson. (more…)

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Chirac for Schröder? German Views

Thursday, October 16th, 2003

Yes, it’s true: Chirac wird Bundeskanzler, Chirac becomes the German Chancellor. For Friday’s session of the EU summit of heads of state/government in Brussels, neither Gerhard Schröder nor his foreign minister Joschka Fischer plan to be present. In their stead, French President Jacques Chirac will represent both French and German interests. The two German leaders feel that they’re rather more urgently needed back in Berlin in the Bundestag that day, where it seems every single SPD/Green coalition vote will be needed to pass a raft of labor-reform laws which some call “Hartz IV” (after the Hartz Commission, chaired by Peter Hartz, a Volkswagen executive, which called for such reforms).

I got the “heads-up” about this from Tobias Schwarz’ mention in “Fistful of Euros.” But what are the Germans themselves writing about this? (more…)

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Polish-German Relations Dampened by Expellee Dispute

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Meetings, meetings, meetings! But maybe that’s a foretaste of the soon-to-be EU of twenty-five members. As we noted, Tony Blair met on Saturday (20 Sept.) with Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac in Berlin. Then on Sunday he met back at Chequers (the British Prime Minister’s country residence) with Spanish premier José Maria Aznar. (Those were surely discussions most suited to Blair’s day of rest, as he and Aznar see much more eye-to-eye on international issues these days than do his interlocutors in Berlin.) As for Gerhard Schröder, he met yesterday with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller – just before flying yesterday evening to New York, for that all-important opening of the UN General Assembly and tête-à-tête with President Bush.

The German papers hardly gave front-page coverage to this meeting between Schröder and Miller (which took place at the conference center attached to the Schalke stadium in Gelsenkirchen, in the Ruhr area – Schalke are a famous German first-division football team, by the way). By and large that treatment was devoted to the overwhelming victory in the Bavarian state elections over the weekend for Edmund Stoiber’s Christian Socialist Union party – something that, unfortunately, EuroSavant isn’t all that interested in, although it has given rise to speculation that Stoiber is now rarin’ to take on Gerhard Schröder again in an electoral fight for the Chancellorship, when the time for that comes ’round again, of course.

That lack of press coverage was unfortunate, because Schröder and Miller had a lot to talk about in Gelsenkirchen. For one, they seem to have some hard-to-bridge differences over the draft EU Constitution, and this just a little over a week before the big EU Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) opens on October 4. Interestingly, according to an article previewing the Schröder/Miller summit in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung entitled No Unbundling of the EU Constitution-Package, it looks like Germany is considering deploying its big financial guns to try to get its way here. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is quoted by the FAZ as saying as early as the beginning of September that, in his view, EU expansion, the adoption of the draft Constitution, and negotiations over EU finances – which have much to do with how much financial help of various kinds Poland gets upon entering the EU – all constitute an interrelated package. Subtext: If you want to get the money you expect, you better show some give on the Constitution. But let’s leave any further discussion of those negotiations to the near future. With the start of the IGC coming up soon, it’s guaranteed that we’ll get back to this subject soon, and in considerably more detail.

At their meeting, the German and Polish heads of government also devoted considerable time to a controversy that arose over the summer – but is still simmering – about a proposal to erect a memorial called the Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen or “Center Against Expulsions,” in Berlin. This has considerably strained relations with Germany’s neighbors to the east, not just Poland; and it’s a dispute that gives me the opportunity to display a neat picture on these pages – a magazine cover, sorta kinky! – for the first time. (But you’ll have to click on “More…” to see it – ha ha!) (more…)

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Whither Germany in Afghanistan?

Thursday, August 14th, 2003

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

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

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Berlusconi Takes It da Kapo at the European Parliament

Thursday, July 3rd, 2003

I was hoping to move on to other subjects than the fitness of Silvio Berlusconi for the European Union presidency, but his insulting outburst yesterday while in the EU Parliament to present his president’s agenda naturally keeps me on this subject. And I was hoping to move on from reporting on the German press, which I’ve covered a bit disproportionally in the past several weeks, but it only seems logical and fair to report on reactions from the country whose MEP (Member of the European Parliament) was the target of Berlusconi’s insult, a defamation that touched on Germany’s sensitive Nazi past.

The incident took place in the debate after Berlusconi had made his “inaugural” address to Parliament. (more…)

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Is Germany the “Faule Republik”?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003

Non-German speakers, it’s not what you think: faul not as in the English “foul” (so that you might envision “environmentally polluted,” or “cheaters at football,” or even “morally decrepit”), but as in “lazy.” This issue has been raised lately by no less than the Federal German Labor and Economy “super” Minister Wolfgang Clement – “super,” because Clement has been put in charge of what were formerly two separate ministries and granted extra authority within Gerhard Schröder’s cabinet, and extra say over economic policy, in exchange for coming up with something ingenious – anything! please! – to ease the rampant unemployment and general economic stagnation that has afflicted Europe’s economic “powerhouse” for several years now. (more…)

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The Meaning of 17 June in Germany

Tuesday, June 17th, 2003

Enough – enough already! – of the Czech Republic and its EU accession referendum. They voted “Yes” – “massively,” some would say, at 77,33% – so congratulations to them. Now it’s time to move on, beyond the Czech future to . . . the German past because, after all, it’s the 17th of June. (more…)

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Germany on the Lifting of Iraqi Sanctions

Sunday, May 25th, 2003

Today we treat the German view of the recent 14-0 vote of the UN Security Council (on which Germany now serves as a non-permanent member) to lift most sanctions against Iraq. (more…)

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German Imperial Reminiscences

Saturday, April 26th, 2003

It comes perhaps a bit too late – a reminder to the German public of Germany’s past great-power involvement in the Persian Gulf region would have been useful in the diplomatic wrangles preceding the War in Iraq – but the Süddeutsche Zeitung recently had a entertaining article about project for the Berlin-to-Basra “Baghdad Railway” (in German only). I guess they had to be true to the anniversary aspect: it was one hundred years ago, on 13 April 1903, that the Bagdadeisenbahngesellschaft (i.e. the business company set up to build it) was established at a lavish ceremony in Constantinople attended by Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was more than just a planned railway; even unbuilt, it carried tons of geopolitical implications for relations between Germany on the one hand and Russia and Great Britain, in particular, on the other. Then World War I intervened, and it never was finished.

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France vs. US: The German View

Friday, April 25th, 2003

In the run-up to the War in Iraq Germany joined Russia and France in what the Economist has termed the salon des refusés in opposition to the US hard line. Now, as yesterday’s entry showed, a deep split between the US and France has arisen on lifting economic sanctions and the legal basis for proceeding with Iraq’s reconstruction generally, while Germany has downplayed its differences with the Bush administration. What is the German judgment on the Franco-American tiff? (more…)

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