The Legacy of Olof Palme

26 februari 2006

 

These days it is 20 years since Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered a dark night on the streets of Stockholm.

He was a person of controversy, and his policies were not universally admired. But he was a man of immense talents, intense energy and an international outlook that has to be admired to this day.

His murder was a national trauma that to some extent continues to this day.

His legacy in domestic politics remains somewhat doubtful. He become leader of the Social Democratic Party in 1969, and was convinced that he had to ride the leftist wave that dominated those years.

This lead not only to a loss of voters in the 1970, 1973 and 1976 elections, when he had to hand over to the centre-right coalition government under Thorbjörn Fälldin. Economic policy also started to stray seriously, with a substantial rise in the tax burden, new regulations and a catastrophic loss of competitiveness for industry.

It was in the mid-70’s that Palme – as part of a scheme to take what he said was the third and final step in the building of a democratic socialist society – launched the scheme of the so-called wage-earners fund.

In essence, business should pay for their ownership being transferred to the trade unions. It was certainly socialist, and threatened the very foundations of society.

It wasn’t the first time in its history that the Social Democrats, under the influence of the mood of the times, had tried more radical socialist measures. But in much the same way as with the previous attempts in 1928 and 1948 it backfired.

Although the issue was with Palme in the subsequent elections he fought in 1979, 1982 and 1985, the last remnant of the funds were abolished as one of the very first steps of the now centre-right government in 1991, and they have not been heard of since then.

It’s an issue no modern Social Democrat dares to revive. It had lead them into a blind alley.

But those were the days when half of Europe claimed to be socialist, and Palme used to say that he pursued a policy of a third way between capitalism and communism.

The problem is that this policy – apart from its economic mistakes – also had a tendency to devolve into a policy of third way between democracy and dictatorship.

He hailed friendship and solidarity with Fidel Castro and other revolutionary regimes in the Third World. These were the years of a certain romanticism concerning the revolutions in the developing countries, and Palme wanted to be in the forefront of that movement.

The Vietnam war is an integral part of that story. It radicalised a generation at the least in Europe. And Palme was right in saying that it wasn’t a question of a Sinosoviet conspiracy trying to conquer the world, and that the national element in Vietnam was strong.

But he was certainly wrong in portraying it as a war for liberation and democracy in Saigon – we now know it ended with a communist dictatorship imposed from Hanoi. And he outraged also many Americans critical of the war by comparing aspects of US policy with the worst atrocities of Hitler. There were many who had not forgotten – perhaps not even forgiven – that in the fight against Hitler Sweden had been neutral.

But it was in his attitude towards the socialist systems of the Soviet empire that he in the end ran into the gravest difficulties.

He could occasionally be harshly critical of manifestations of repressive policies in Eastern Europe, but he was adamant that the Soviet system as such must not be called into question. And he fought fierce political battles against those in Sweden – me included – that dared to say that freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe was a precondition for true peace in all of Europe.

At his last party congress in 1985, he firmly said that there was no room for being anti-Soviet in his or his party’s policies. And already in 1970, he had denied Alexander Solsjenitsyn access to the Swedish Embassy in Moscow after Solsjenitsyn – to the immense displeasure of the Kremlin – had been awarded the Nobel Price in Literature.

This is where he and I most clearly parted ways. The picture is from a well-known parliamentary encounter centered exactly on those issues.

One could not claim to be a “moral superpower” if that morality was only applied to one part of the world, but descended into silence on what was happening just across the Baltic Sea. It was a one-eyed policy, and as such it was neither credible nor moral.

His brutal murder on that dark February night in 1986 changed the politics of Sweden. In spite of everything, there is no doubt that he left a void. For all of the verbal excesses, all of the mistakes and all of the perverted perspective – there was a luster over his days.

Today, we live in a profoundly different world.

Much of what he fought against on the Swedish domestic scene has happened. Parents are free to choose their own day-care center – this was an idea he fought with the full force of his rhetoric.

The revolutionary regimes in the Third World brought mainly misery to their peoples. It’s those abandoning socialist policies that are doing best today. And the Soviet Union is gone. There is no longer any wall in Berlin.

His world was a different one. We have moved on.

 Posted by Picasa


Where is Russia Heading?

26 februari 2006

 
In any discussion on the efforts to build a common European foreign and security policy, the failure to agree on a common stand towards Russia is always pointed out. Rightly so, by the way.

In itself this is hardly surprising. Relations to Russia often goes to the hearth of the historical policies of the different nations. And the geostrategic position of Poland and Portugal are undoubtedly different.

But Europe does not seem to be alone.

The linked article describes some of the policy debates on Russia now evidently taking place in Washington. It is described in rather simplistic terms as a debate between the Putin-lovers and the democracy-lovers.

I believe there is agreement on the need to engage Russia constructively on major global issues, the most important of which at the moment is the Iranian nuclear ambitions, but where those of North Korea don’t follow much behind. And Russia has as clear an interest in these issues as has the United States. Cooperation has accordingly been good.

On other issues the situation is somewhat more ambivalent.

After initially supporting the US after 9/11, including in getting access to military facilities in Central Asia, Russia is now discreetly supporting efforts to evict the US from these. It’s role in Ukraine and Belarus is hardly of the nature that it earns much applause. And on an issue like Kosovo it is keeping its cards close to its chest.

Of concern has to be the direction of the internal development of the country.

The political system is increasingly – although not totally – authoritarian. The rule of the law is often the rule of the Kremlin. And in the economy the money-grabbing ambitions of the present holders of power is all to evident.

But Russia remains a large and complex place, and there are also trends and forces that are less negative.

Any constructive policy by the United States or the European Union must be to encourage these.

It’s an important policy debate taking place in Washington.

I expect more of a similar debate in the councils of the European Union as well. Posted by Picasa


A German Key to Europe?

25 februari 2006

 
Is Germany key to unlocking a Europe that seems to have got stuck after the French and Dutch referendum defeats last year?

That was the question hanging over all the discussions at this years version of the Aspec Italia European Dialogue. And this year the meeting left the more pleasant surroundings of Italy and moved to the immediate vicinity of Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.

Next weekend it is 100 days since the big coalition under Angela Merkel took power in Germany. It was essentially a coalition of losers – SPD had lost the election, and CDU/CSU had lost the election campaign. It was driven more by necessity than by desire.

Since then Angela Merkel has soared to heights of popularity never seen in the history of modern Germany. Not only is she towering over the German political scene in ways few could have foreseen – she has also emerged as something very close to an uncrowned Empress of Europe.

It’s been a success of her style and it’s been a success of returning to a more classical German foreign policy.

That’s not bad.

But soon the hard issues of domestic reforms will have to be tackled. And there might well be some strains as a CDU soaring in public opinion and an SPD very much in the shadows face important elections in Baden-Wuertenberg, Rheinland-Pfalz and Sachsen-Anhalt in March.

In the discussions, the jury was still very much out on where the German economy is really heading.

Nearly all indicators are now very positive. The business confidence indicators haven’t been so positive since the reunification of the country. Growth is likely to double between 2005 and 2006. There is no doubt that there is a significant upswing.

But is this merely cyclical, with the risk that it will all turn sourn a couple of years down the road? Or are there also structural factors at work. The economist were leaning towards the first conclusion. Some businessmen thought there were also element of the second.

With 5 million unemployed, the country certainly needs economic growth. But it will probably require growth substantially above 2 percent to start making a dent in the unemployment figures. And it will require sustain growth of that order to bring that figure down substantially.

Is that possible without substantial further reforms?

The Minister of Finance Steinbruecker naturally pointed at what is being done. The fiscal deficit might be down within the Maastricht criteria already this year and most certainly in 2007.

And the public expenditure share of the economy is now projected to decline to levels it hasn’t seen since the early 1970′s – it was around 48 % last year, and the aim is 43,5 % by 2009. Reforms have also made the labour market somewhat more flexible.

All agreed that the grand coalition is likely to stay the course. There was praise even from the SPD for the way in which Merkel runs the cabinet and its discussions.

But whether Germany can really unlock Europe remains to be seen.

The German presidency during the first half of 2007 – coinciding with the presidential election in France – will certainly be of key importande.

But with all other capitals more or less weakened, there is in fact little alternative but to lock towards Berlin.

And with the initial success of Angela Merkel that could well turn out to be a good alternative. Posted by Picasa


Passage to India

24 februari 2006

 
On Tuesday President Bush sets out of what is likely to be his most significant foreign trip of this year.He’s heading to India – and then to Pakistan.

In every single sense, India today is an emerging power.

It’s very clearly a rapidly emerging economy with its impressive high-tech sector primarily in software. It’s the rapidly growing service provider superpower of the third wave of globalisation.

But it is also a rapidly growing political power.

New Delhi today has good relations with almost everyone. To have a good relationship with both Iran and Israel at the same time is remarkable by any standards. And the relationship with China is developing rapidly. Tensions with Pakistan has diminished.

The United States is now investing heavily in a deeper strategic relationship with India.

To some extent it’s a question of balancing China, but it’s also a recognition that if America should truly be part of shaping the future it must be done also in dialogue with the emerging Asian powers of India and China.

More concrete, the visit will be about nuclear power. And it will not necessarily be easy.

India is investing heavily in both its civilian and military nuclear programs with evident links between the two. It has chosen a technological road that is unique, aiming at eventually being able to use its vast resources of thorium to produce electric power.

Today it has 15 nuclear reactors operating and a further 7 under construction.

But for the United States to enter into closer cooperation that includes the transfer of nuclear technologies, there has to be a clear separation between the military and the civilian programs.

That might not be that easy. Washington wants as large parts as possible classified as civilian and subject also to international monitoring. New Delhi wants limit to this, and there is significant pressure from within the community that in clandestine developed its nuclear weapons to keep the Americans and other foreigners at distance.

It will be a delicate balancing act for President Bush. There is opposition in Congress, and there is the issue of Iran hovering in the background all the time.

But the visit nevertheless is a contribution to the opening up of a new chapter in the development of new strategic relationships.

Europe should take note. Posted by Picasa


Valley of the Wolves

24 februari 2006

 
It’s evidently a smash hit here in Berlin – where I am at the moment – with its very large Turkish community.

The film ”Valley of the Wolves” is already attracting full houses in Turkey, but now it is evidently catching on here as well.

And unfortunately it fits into the picture of a dangereously increasing gap between the United States and Europe on the one side and some key countries of the Muslim world on the other. Turkey is obviously a very important country in this respect – hanging between the West and the Muslim world with its secular democracy and its European ambitions.

The film takes it start in a real even in northern Iraq when Turkish special soldiers there were arrested by American forces. And then it descend into story of evil Americans and brave Turks fighting for their interests. Anti-Semitic overtones are certainly there as well.

When the Americans marched into Iraq without waiting for Turkey to work through the difficult issue of whether they wanted to be part of it or not a very major strategic mistake was undoubtedly made. The confrontation between the US and Turkish strategic interests in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq was unavoidable – and when it happened mishandled primarily from the American side.

We are now beginning to see the consequences.

Large segments of Turkish public opinion is getting increasingly critical of – perhaps even hostile to – the United States. The risk that this will accelerate even further is obvious.

And to this should be added a perceived reluctance by parts of European public opinion to accept Turkey as a European country and future member of the European Union. Here in Germany the CDU/CSU is on the record as being against Turkish membership.

If Turkey then feels betrayed by the Americans and rejected by the Europeans it is bound to have an effect on its development. A descent into a more Muslim orientation looks significantly less likely, but a rapid increase in more hard-line nationalist sentiments will in such a situation become almost unavoidable.

That would significantly add to all the others worries we are likely to face in the Southeastern direction in the years to come.

The Valley of the Wolves is a fiction that warns us of were a more nationalistic Turkey might be heading.

We have a deep strategic interest in a more European Turkey.

But then we must shape our policies accordingly.

An important message – not the least here in Berlin where the film is attracting audience night after night. Posted by Picasa


Something Rotten in the State of Sweden (2)

23 februari 2006

 
It going from bad to worse when it comes to what persons in the Swedish Social Democratic Party are doing to preserve power in the September elections.

It’s not enough with State Secretary Danielsson blatantly lying to the official inquiry into the tsuami tragedy, and the Prime Minister de facto protecting him from ant consequences.

Now The Secretary General of the Social Democrats Ms Marita Ulvskog – after initially denying everything- has been forced to admit that persons at the Social Democratic Party Headquarters have been organizing a nasty and anonymous campaign of slander and misinformation via email against the Moderate Party Chairman Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Using false names and false sender they have been sending false and slandereous email to journalists accusing Mr Reinfeldt and his family also of illegalities of different sorts.

It’s nasty. Very nasty. And unheard of in our political system. It’s a modern Watergate.

But that’s the way it is.

Liers in the Prime Minister’s Office. And falsifiers and spreaders of slander in the Partÿ Hq.

One can only hope that they will all be thrown out. Posted by Picasa


Samara Civil War Starting?

23 februari 2006

 
It wasn’t a small bomb that destroyed the Golden Mosque in Samara in Iraq. The destruction was the result of a very major operation in terms of explosives, planning, execution – and intention.

It could well be that this in retrospect will be seen as a watershed event in the history of post-invasion Iraq.

There is little doubt that the purpose of the attack was to inflame tension between the Sunni and the Shia communities of Iraq. It wasn’t an attack by insurgents against the coalition forces or against the new Iraqi authoroties – it was solely and obviously aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions.

As such, it was an attack well in line with the intensions of the extreme al-Qaeda aligned parts of the insurgence.

And it come at a particularly critical time in the political process of the country.

It’s two months since the elections that were supposed to bring order and stability in the country, but there is no new government in sight, with what the Washington Post calls ”the deeply flawed administration established last year”, under the ”the weak and unpopular” Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari still in place.

The problem is that the same Jafari has now been nominated by the dominating Shiite coalition to form a new government. The Americans have been doing everything they can to stop it, but evidently without success. They don’t see him as capable of forming the strong coalition with Sunni and Kurdish parties that is necessary in order to start to calm down the more nationalist – as distinct from the fundamentalist – part of the insurgence.

And this was before the horrible attack on the Golden Mosque and the outburst of sectarian violence that has followed.

Washington and London has rushed out with statements condemning the attack and promising help with the reconstruction of the Golden Mosque. Fine. But key will now be whether it will be possible to get Mr Jafari to really speed up the formation of a genuinely representative and effective government.

The signs – at the least from the perspective of London, where I am at the moment – are not encouraging. There is a new gloom in the discussions about the future of the country.

It all adds to all of the other worries in the emerging new crisis zone from Jerusalem to Jalalabad.

Are we ready for a rough future? Posted by Picasa


Something Rotten in the State of Sweden (1)

22 februari 2006

 
There is something rotten in the state of Sweden. Suddenly, thruth is not seen as important, and lying is seen as semi-acceptable.

It’s all a question of the State Secretary in the Prime Ministers Office Mr Lars Danielsson. Most probably a competent servant of his master – that’s what the Prime Minister is saying – but a man who has overstepped the boundary between thruth and lie.

After the tsunami tragedy of December 2004, an official commission of inquiry, chaired by one of the highest judges of Sweden and including prominent individuals known for their integrity, was set up to investigate the perceived lack of effective response by the Swedish authorities.

The Tsunami Commission had closed hearings with all those involved in that response – or lack thereof. And the results of these hearings formed part of its final report. That report was – by the way – highly critical of the government and pointed explicitly at the responsibility of the Prime Minister.

A key part of the report concerned what happened as the news of the disaster started to reach official Sweden.

Here, Mr Danielsson told the commission repeatedly that he had had been in his office and from there called and talked to the State Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Mr Hans Dahlgren and his cellphone and got assurances that a proper response was forthcoming.

This, Mr Danielsson said to the commission, was ”important” to him, to the Prime Minister and to the entire account from their point of view of what happened during that first day. And he was very clear and firm in his information on this point, alsp after the commission went back to him and asked whether he was certain of it.

But the problem was that Mr Dahlgren said to the commission that he had not received any such call from either Mr Danielsson or anyone else at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Simply speaking, Mr Dahlgren decided to call the bluff. He did not want to take the blame – since that was obviously what Mr Danielsson and the Prime Minister’s Office tried to engineer.

And while the Tsunami Commission in its report could only state that words stood against word on this important point, it suddenly turned out that Mr Dahlgren was willing and able to back up his version with records of incoming calls on his cellphone from the cellphone operator.

Faced with this, Mr Danielsson had to beat some sort of muddled retreat. The bluff had beeb called, the bluff could be proved and the bluff had failed.

In effect, Mr Danielsson was exposed as a simple lier.

But for the highest political appointee in the government officies to lie on an important issue in front of a most important commission of inquiry on a most important issue is not a trivial matter.

Had it been in the United States, Mr Danielsson would now in all probability been on his way to prison, possible facing years behind bars.

But in Sweden there wasn’t much of a reaction initially. And when I launched a fairly hard attack on Mr Danielsson on the subject, asking which would be the consequences of him being exposed as a blatant lier, the Prime Minister effectively said that he didn’t really care and that nothing will happen.

This is serious.

If Mr Danielsson can lie to a commission of inquiry today, everyone can do the same thing tomorrow, and we face a severe moral crisis in our entire political system. The lie has suddenly been accepted as something normal, perhaps even legitimate.

There is, truly, something rotten in the state of Sweden. Posted by Picasa


The Fate of Radko Mladic

21 februari 2006

 
 Posted by Picasa
There is no doubt that intensified efforts are underway in Serbia to arrest Radko Mladic – shown here walking the streets of Srebrenica, probably on July 11th 1995 – and bring him to ICTY in The Hague.

If it doesn’t happen today, I would be surprised if we don’t see some sort of resolution of the issue within the next few weeks.

The net around him is clearly closing.

The Serb security authorities have recently been picking up a number of people who are likely to have been key in the Mladic support system during the last few years. They now also have a clear view of most of the facilities that he has been using, at the least in the past.

But I don’t expect an arrest operation – which in some form and at some stage is most probably under way – will be easy one.

I’m not concerned with public opinion in Serbia. In the latest opinion polls, 57 % say that they want to see Mladic in The Hague as soon as possible. That’s the highest figure ever and a significant change.

And when I was recently talking with decision-makers in Belgrade there was no doubting the determination. The fact that the indicted Croat general Gotovina was, after all, arrested has clearly focused the minds, as has renewed pressure from the European Union.

But I am concerned with the possibilities of bringing him alive to The Hague. And that should be a prime objective. We need to hear from him in order to know what really happened at key junctures primarily in the Bosnian war. It’s not only Srebrenica – where he is clearly the key man responsible for what happened – but well beyond that.

Mladic is not a coward as a person. He’s a rugged soldier and a not incompetent military man. His mindset when it comes to warfare and the situation in the Balkans is however medieval – I have spent some hours listening to him.

There are reports that negotiations on Mladic’s voluntary surrender have definitely fallen through, which doesn’t really surprise me. But this only reinforces the conclusion that some sort of arrest operation is under way.

Speculations in Belgrade point at three possibilities in play: the first and most serious one is that Mladic should commit suicide in the crucial moment. The second is that he should be liquidated during the arrest, and the third, and least probable, is that he should be arrested.

And I essentially agree with this.

He is likely to still have a small group of loyal security men with him, and it would surprise me if they would give in without putting up a fight. It can not be excluded that he has given them order to shoot him in the event of an attempt at capturing him. He does not feel that he has anything more to lose.

But this would – as I wrote – be highly regrettable. We need his information. We need to know in detail what happened.

Srebrenica is perhaps the most important issue. That there was an attack against the enclave was not surprising. That the enclave feel when it wasn’t really defended even less so. That women and children were bused to safety neither. That men were separated and treated as prisoners of war wasn’t out of line either.

But the deliberate and systematic murder of thousands of prisoners was a unique event even by the gruesome standards of war in the Balkans.

And the information that has been produced by the trials at ICTY on Srebrenica so far has very clearly, and to the surprise of no one, pointed at the critical role of Mladic in that decision.

We need to know why…


Kosovo Talks Starting

20 februari 2006

 
Today was the official start of the talks in Vienna on the future status of Kosovo. I don’t know anything of what happened, but it is likely to be a very careful start, dominated by positioning on both sides.

And the talks will take time. In my opinion, they should.

If you listen to what’s said by the two sides, there is virtually no common ground whatsoever. And neither sides sees any room for compromise.

But some sort of compromise there will have to be. If not all of the way, then at the least most of the way. Anything else would mean that the conflict will continue in the one form or the other.

The Albanians of Kosovo claim that they have a right of self-determination and the setting up of an independent state.

This is nothing new.

There was fairly heavy fighting in Kosovo in 1945-46 when the Yugoslav Communist insisted on Kosovo continuing as part of their Yugoslavia. During the German/Italian brief time, there was established a Greater Albanian that included most of present Kosovo.

When Socialist Yugoslavia started to fall apart, the Albanians of Kosovo again asked for independence, and the demand was given overwhelming support in an informal referendum. But the international community, based on the report of the so called Badinter Commission, did not acknowledge that the area of Kosovo had a right of self-determination. That right was only with the constituent republics of Yugoslavia.

The war in 1999 changed everything.

Its origins was in an armed rebellion by more nationalist elements in Kosovo. This started very limited in late 1997, gathered pace in 1998 and threathen to develop into large-scale fighting in early 1999. It took the form of attacks against Serb officials as well as Albanians deemed to be cooperating with them – as well as severe Serb counterattacks and reprisals of different sorts.

It was an ugly thing. The US administration in the beginning of the conflict did not hesitate to describe UCK – the Kosovo Albanian armed organisation – as a terrorist organisation. But soon the Serb armed forces of different sorts outperformed them in atrocities.

The attenmpt to broker a peace at Rambouillet outside Paris in early 1999 failed. In retrospect one can ask whether primarily the US side was ever interested in a deal. Madeleine Albright believed that it would be enough to threathen Milosevic with bombing for him to give in to everything. She had profoundly misread the lessons of Bosnia. Posted by Picasa


Caution from Carter

20 februari 2006

 
In an article in today’s Washington Post, former US President Jimmy Carter joins those urging caution when it comes to trying to destabilize the new Palestinian government.

In his opinion, such a policy risks being seriously counterproductive:

This common commitment to eviscerate the government of elected Hamas officials by punishing private citizens may accomplish this narrow purpose, but the likely results will be to alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas. It will certainly not be an inducement to Hamas or other militants to moderate their policies.

Jimmy Carter certainly isn’t anyone on these issues.

Apart from his more recent role in the different Palestinian elections – where I had the honour of working with him – he negotiated the Camp David agreement, which remains the so far most significant diplomatic contribution to the stability of Israel and peace in the region.

He knows all the actors there better than most – perhaps Henry Kissinger would be his only rival on the American scene.

He’s certainly worth reading – perhaps in parallel with the piece by Henry Kissinger that I have previously linked to. Posted by Picasa


Is This A Strategy?

20 februari 2006

 
Although a new government of the Palestinian Authority is not yet in place, both Israel and the United States looks like doing whatever they can to deprive it of any financial means.

Israel is withholding the taxes and customs it is collecting – but which legally belong to the Palestinian Authority – while the US is campaigning in the Arab world against anyone giving any sort of financial support.

Although it has been denied, this certainly looks like a deliberate destabilisation strategy.

But where is it heading?

I assume that the aim must be to bring about a collapse of the Palestinian Authority. If it can’t pay wages and other running costs, it risks collapsing sooner or later. There is likely to be serious social and economic hardship as well as political turmoil in the West Bank and Gaza.

That’s certainly achievable. The question is what is supposed to be the next step.

Perhaps the idea is to force a new election to be called at that point. But one must ask whether it is more likely that a more moderate or a more radical view would emerge victorious in such a situation? My bet would be that in such a scenario of escalating confrontation you would have the radicals – Hamas or worse – doing even better.

If this should be avoided, I guess the only alternative would be for the Israeli occupation authority to ban new elections, obviously with the support of the United States. But such a move would be seen as the end of all the talk about bringing democracy and freedom to the Muslim world.

It would be truly disastrous. For all its problems, the strategy of opening up the Arab world for more of democracy has to be the right one. To shoot it down would be to invite explosions in the one country after the other in the years to come.

And if new elections are banned in Palestine at the same time as radicals are gathering strength and the economic and social situation deterioates – what good is supposed to come out of that?

Isn’t there also a possibility that we will see a solidarity movement with Hamas exploding on the streets of Baghdad, Cairo and Amman under such a scenario?

To me, what we now see looks like an ill-thought through reaction dictated more by the mood prior to the March elections in Israel than a serious long-term strategy to deal with a genuinely very difficult issue.

But if this strategy – unwise aws it is – prevails, I would argue that one should carry it through logically.

Under this strategy, purely humanitarian aid would still be allowed. That includes all of what the United Nations is doing in the area.

But this aid is in reality an aid to the Israeli occupation authorities. It relieves them of the burden that they have under international law. If also all humanitarian aid was stopped, you would in all probability see a very rapid deterioation of the situation in the area, which would very fast go over into serious armed action and fighting.

But perhaps this would force Israel to face the real choice that is there: either it accepts its full responsibilities as an occupation authority, or it accepts to withdraw and help in the building of a Palestine state.

The former option would risk destroying Israel. The later one is marginally less difficult, but long term the only one that is viable. Posted by Picasa


The Speech that Shook the World

19 februari 2006

 
These days 50 years ago thousands of delegates assembled in the Kremlin in Moscow to attend the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

It was the first such major event after the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953.

After the formal end of the congress a special secret session was convened at which the General Secretary Nikita Chrushchev delivered the famous Secret Speech.

It didn’t take long for the text of the speech to be available all over the world, and its effect on the Communist regimes everywhere was profound. The man who until recently had been their guiding light, hero and father was suddenly exposed as a dictator of unparalleled brutality.

And since the verdict came from the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party itself, it could not de denounced as propaganda of the class enemy. In fact, what Chrushchev exposed was even worse that what many of the ”class enemies” had claimed.

The effects were soon felt throughout the Communist world.

Riots in Poznan in Poland were just the beginning. In October of 1956 Hungary exploded and literally threw the Communists out – only to be brutally surpressed by the Soviet invasion some weeks later. In China, Mao Zedong refused to accept the verdict on Stalin, and quietly the beginning of the rift between the Soviet Union and China began.

The text of the speech – linked here – is still well worth reading. It’s undoubtedly one of the most important political speeches of the past century. One can readily understand the effect it had on the delegates. Subsequently, it was read out at closed meetings for party members throughout the Soviet Union.

Still, the speech is very incomplete as a describtion of the communist system. It concentrates on the crimes committed by Stalin during the 1930′s against the members of the Soviet Communist party, although some other issues are also dealt with, as his unpreparedness for Hitler’s invasion.

But essentially it was meant to create the impression that had everything just stayed with Lenin most things would have been OK.

Now everyone knows better. Brutality and killing was an integral part of the system from the very beginning.

Stalin did not distort the Leninist system – he just developed it further. Posted by Picasa


London and Berlin

18 februari 2006

 
Another busy week soon starting to take shape. But it is still a most enjoyable weekend in a lovely snowy Stockholm. Snow slowly falling – but not too cold.

On Tuesday I’m off to London for a few days. Always enjoyable.

It’s mainly due to a meeting of the Advisory Board of the Centre for European Reform, and in addition I will be moderating and speaking at a seminar discussing what contribution a European industrial policy can make to the competitiveness of the European economy.

The CER meetings are devoted both to the business of running the think-thank and to discussing political issues of importance.

This time we will devote ourselves to what’s likely to happen in France in the years ahead. With both presidential and parliamentary elections coming up in 2007 that is a question of profound European importance.

And in addition to the CER engagements, I will take the opportunity of a number of meetings with the UK government. Their thinking is also of importance – and there is much on the European and global agenda at the moment.

From London I’m heading to Berlin. It wasn’t long since I was there, but the city is rapidly gaining in European importance. J

Just a few days ago Nicolas Sarkozy – likely French presidential candidate in 2007 – was there and delivered a policy speech on his views of Europe. And just a few days ago UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was there as well.

Also here I will have some talks with German government representatives on different issues.

But the main reason for me being there is a major conference by Aspen Institute Italia, bringing some of the most interesting people of Germany and Italy – and a few others – together for two days of intense exchange of views on mainly European topics.

It’s highly topical. Italy is heading for elections on April 9 and 10. It’s Romano Prodi versus Silvio Berlusconi – but it’s also two parliamentary alternatives of different types. Both camps will be amply represented in our discussions in the shadow of the Brandenburger gate – it will be interesting. Posted by Picasa


Egypt of Escalation

18 februari 2006

 
Latest reports tell about ten people being killed in connection with riots against the Italian consulate in Benghazi in Libya.

The trigger for these was evidently a minister in the Italian government representing the Lega Nord party saying that time for dialogue was over and dressing himself in a T-short with Mohammed cartoons.

His days in the Italian government will now obviously come to an end.

But meanwhile there has been published in Denmark interesting information on how the entire thing started to escalate.

Previously, it has been assumed that it was the journey undertaken by a group of Muslim firebrands from Denmark in December that escalated the conflict to its present level.

But now it turns out that it might have been the government of Egypt that has played a crucial role.

Early on, it made its views known to the government in Copenhagen. And only four days after Denmark’s Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen in October refused the request for a meeting by 11 Ambassadors from the Muslim countries, Copenhagen received a stern warnin delivered by the Egyptian government to the Danish ambassador in Cairo. There was the explicit warning of a ”possible escalation” of the situation.

It was after these warnings were ignored by Copenhagen that Cairo seems to have started to circulate both the cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten and other material to both international organisations like the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic States and to other governments.

It was then in all probability this action that transformed the nature of the entire affair and paved the ground for the outbursts we have been living with since then.

Extremists on both sides as well as the regimes in Damascus and Teheran have certainly played their role.

But if the information published in Politiken is to be believed – and there is no reason why it should not – it was really the government in Cairo that started the true escalation – and the government in Copenhagen that failed to see it coming.

We will probably learn more about what really happened as the conflict started to get out of hand. Posted by Picasa


Back and Forth to Brussels

17 februari 2006

 
A day back and forth to Brussels. Off from small Bromma airport near the Stockholm city centre early in the morning with Malmö Aviation – back to the same place early evening on a crowded Friday flight.

And a rainy and wet day in Brussels.

The Members of the European Parliament have left Strasbourg and gone home after the session where they endorsed the big compromise on the service directive. It will be a session talked about for a long time to come.

Within the EPP-ED group, most of the Central Europeans voted against the big compromise and issued a statement accusing the others for being interested in competition in principle but more of protectionism in practice. But many others are trying to put as good a face as possible on it, saying that at the least it was a step forward.

Perhaps. Now we’ll see what the Council of Ministers have to say. Perhaps the Central European and Baltic states can move things slightly in a better direction. There would be less gloating on the American side – the vote on the service directive confirmed all their views about the Europeans.

Others have also left Brussels.

Commission President Barroso and Commissioner Rehn are touring the Balkan states on an important visit. I don’t expect it to change too much, but it’s still an important expression of the importance the Union attaches to the region. It comes in the run-up to the meeting in Salzburg in early March that will discuss, among other thing, a regional free trade area.

The challenges ahead are certainly substantial.

The danger of a mess in Montenegro is still there. For all that I understand, talks at the moment are going nowhere.

And next week will see the formal beginning of Kosovo talks in Vienna. Here the potential for things going wrong are even larger. If worst, we will end with a deeply frustrated and destabilized Serbia and a mono-ethnic and failing Kosovo. At best, it will be better…and the European Union is the one force that can really make a difference.

Meanwhile Javier Solana is continuing his tour of the countries of the Middle East in the wake of the Hamas election victory in Palestine and the enduring cartoon controversy – but also the latest batch of horrible pictures coming out of the Abu Greib prison in Baghdad.

Things are not looking good. The cartoons become the spark that ignited a fire. It’s certainly been used by the regimes in places like Damascus and Teheran, but there is no denying the general indignation that is there throughout the Muslim world. It remains to be seen which long-lasting political consequences this might have.

Israel is discussing all sorts of punitive measures against a Hamas-lead government in Palestine, but Javier Solana is evidently trying to put at the least some brakes on the process.

An economic and social collapse there is not likely to be in Israel’s interest. And now the Israelis themselves are saying that there are signs that Hamas is turning to Iran for help with funding – which was an easily predictable development if there was a cut-off of money from Western sources.

For me, it was back to Stockholm after the board meeting of the European Policy Center. Posted by Picasa


Montenegro Mess?

16 februari 2006

 
Montenegro is hardly a big place. Somewhat more than 600 000 people living on the Adriatic coast as well as in the mountaneous hinterland between Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Albania.

It undoubtedly has a distinct history. The coastline is one thing – the Venetians were the most important – but the mountaineous land of the Black Mountain was never really conquered by the Ottoman Empire – there wasn’t really a need for that either – and can accordingly claim a long history of independence.

Montenegro has always been torn between those seeing it as an independent nation and those seeing it essentially as aligned with Serbia. The dispute is hardly a new one.

And the demographics is complex. There are almost certainly more people claiming some sort of Montenegrian heritage in today’s Serbia than there are people describing themselves as Montenegrian in Montenegro. In the last census, Montenegrians were a minority in their own country.

Nevertheless, living together with the more than ten times larger Serbia has been difficult. Getting such a profoundly assumtric federation to work is not an easy thing, and so far it has been more of a failure than anything else. It’s not difficult to find people in Belgrade who would gladly dump Montenegro.

But Montenegro is profoundly divided on the question of independence or not. A referendum has been promised for this spring, and the European Union is now busy trying to engineer an agreement on the conditions for such a referendum. As one of the constituent replublics of old Yugoslavia, international law gives them the right of independence if they so decide.

But the critical decision is how such a decision is made. In view of the sharply divided – and fairly balanced – opinion on the issue that is a dramatically important decision.

The EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak has now brought a compromise proposal to the Montenegrian capital Podgorica trying to bring the pro-independence government and the pro-union opposition to agree on the rules of the game.

I won’t go into the details of the proposal – it looks fair and balanced to me – but it aims at assuring that a decision on the critical question of independence or not is taken with solid support. It’s not any decision – it’s a critically important one.

The initial reports is that the EU proposal has been rejected by the government while the opposition is not yet declaring its hand. But we’ll see what happens during the next few days. A session of the Montenegrian parliament next week might take the decision to hold the referendum early May.

This might all sounds simple – but there are all sorts of problemds down the road.

If a referendum is not organized according to the EU criteria now decided it is highly likely that it will be boycotted by a substantial segment of the Montenegrian electorate.

The independence option will then win – but the result will almost certainly not be recognized by Serbia. What will the European Union do then? To recognize such a Montenegro as independent will hardly be possible. But where are we then?

In such a scenario there is also the possibility of the northern parts of Montenegro organizing their own referendums on whether they want to be part of Serbia or part of Montenegro. They will certainly vote for Serbia. The occasional city down by the coast – Herzog-Novy in particular – might also go for the Serbia option.

And it should not be forgotten that there is a substantial Albanian minority centered on the southern coastal city of Ulcine. If things start to fall to pieces, they are unlikely to say nothing.

It could all get rather messy rather fast if not handled properly.

And since this happens in the year of Kosovo and vast other challenges for Serbia one can not exclude that a mess here will have wider and more serious repercussions in the region.

I do hope that Miroslav Lajcak will succeed in his mission during the next few days. He’s a knowledgable and balanced man who should enjoy the thrust of both sides. His words on the outcome of the efforts will certainly carry great weight in Brussels.

Those that tries to break away and take unilateral decisions on unilateral roads are unlikely to create more than a very major mess for their country and for the region.

But this is no guarantee – we have seen numerous examples of political leaders in the Balkans doing just that.

So we better keep our eyes on small Montenegro – and give firm support to the European Union efforts there. Posted by Picasa


Living Together – In Spite of Everything

16 februari 2006

 
As the world struggles with how to deal with the Hamas-dominated government that will emerge in Ramallah in Palestine shortly, Henry Kissinger has added his experience and voice to the debate.

It’s hardly surprising that his recommendations takes some indirekt distance from much of what seems to be dominating the international discourse over the issue. While there are speculations that the US and Israel would work together to destabilize any Hamas-dominated government – reports subsequently denied – he focuses on the need for some sort of regulated living together during a long period ahead.

That is in all probability a more realistic approach.

And he does not rule out that Hamas over time will undergo the same political evolution that Ariel Sharon has done – in his case from Greater Israel to a two-state solution, in their case from One Palestine to a two-state solution.

He focuses on the need for an agreed interim framework between the two. They would simply agree informally to put aside their ultimate demands for the time being, and Israel would have to withdraw from most of the West Bank. Kissinger also recommends that the issue of East Jerusalem – perhaps the most difficult of them all – is also put aside for the foreseeable futute.

A possible outcome of such an effort could be an interim agreement of indefinite duration. Both sides would suspend some of their most intractable claims on permanent borders, on refugees, and perhaps on the final status of the Arab part of Jerusalem.”

”Israel would withdraw to lines based on the various formulas evolved since Camp David and endorsed by American presidents. It would dismantle settlements beyond the established dividing line.”

”The Hamas-controlled government would be obliged to a renunciation of violence. It would also need to agree to adhere to agreements previously reached by the PLO. A security system limiting military forces on the soil of the emerging Palestinian state would be established.”

It’s an approach that is constructive, although the devil on issues like these always stick in the details.

But as the starting point of a debate on a more realistic approach in the present situation it is certainly worth more than considering. Posted by Picasa


Great Firewall of China Under Debate

15 februari 2006

 

Suddenly the debate about the so called Great Firewall of China is starting to gather significant momentum.

It’s the dilemma faced by the Yahoo’s, Microsoft’s, Cisco’s, Skype’s and Google’s of this world as they try to enter the Chinese market and are confronted with the stiff demands of its authorities that have triggered the debate.

By far worst to handle the situation has been Yahoo. They handed over the identity of a dissident who had been using their email system to the Chinese authorities. Awful.

But today the entire issue will be the subject of an open hearing in the US House of Representatives.

All the affected companies, representatives of the US Government as well as different NGO’s concerned over the state of human rights in China as well as elsewhere will be there. You can be certain that it will be an event that will be followed intensely and world-wide.

It will be live on the blog at 16:00 Central European Time and it will also be live on the web at the same time. You can get it through the linked page.

No firewalls allowed… Posted by Picasa


Profound Confusion in EPP-ED

15 februari 2006

 

There is bound to be controversy inside the big EPP-ED centre-right group in the European Parliament over the decision to seek a compromise with the Socialists over the service directive.

News reports speak about a minor rebellion by members both from Central Europe as well as from Sweden and Finland. They simply fear that the compromise will legitimize a hidden protectionism under which trade union interests will try to limit competition and openness in the important service sector.

Socialists of all sorts have been campaigning against the service directive with all means for months by now.

They – in particular the French version of the breed – have been presenting it as some sort of evil neo-liberal attempt to rob everyone of everything in terms of their social rights. For them, everything that is liberal is wrong – although for most people it’s the other way around.

But this is highly bizarre.

It should not be forgotten that the directive was proposed by the European Commission under Romano Prodi. He’s now the candidate of the united centre-left for Prime Minister in the Italian parliamentary elections April 9 and 10. And there was no dissent in the entire Commission – including not a few prominent Socialists – when the original proposal was presented.

Since then we have seen the neo-protectionist wave that made the fear of the Polish plumber a symbol of the French referendum campaign on the constitutional treaty and that lead Swedish trade-unions into their disgraceful anti-foreigner behavious against Latvian construction workers in Vaxholm.

But we have also seen the success of those countries that fully opened up their labour markets to persons coming from the new member states. After the very positive assessment published last week I understand that at the least Finland will lift its remaining restrictions.

What we are seeing is a neo-protectionists offensive that evidently wants to roll back what’s been achieved in Europe – and that want to build new barriers inside our new and larger Union.

Why this neo-protectionist offensive by the illiberal forces has lead the EPP-ED to go into a dubious compromise is beyond me.

But there is unhappiness. Both inside the EPP-ED and from business representatives of different sorts.

They are deeply unhappy about the watering down of the directive, and especially a plan to scrap the country-of-origin principle. This provision – which formed the core of the proposal by the Commission two years ago – would have allowed service providers to operate across the 25 EU member states according to the rules of their home country.

But under the deal the EPP-ED has now done it seems to disappear, to be replaced by a vague clause that guarantees the “freedom to provide services” but offers governments wide scope to place curbs on foreign service providers.

The big question that is there after this maneuvers is obvious:

What’s the purpose of a centre-right majority in the European Parliament, coming out of the European-wide elections, if their is a fear of using it? Posted by Picasa


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