Nationalism and Militaristic Anti-Westernism?

23 augusti 2005

Hitting Political Turbulence

There is no doubt that the Putin regime in Russia is rapidly losing in both respect and popularity. The later is reported by those polling agencies able to do so, and the former is obvious in any conversation with any Russian citizen about anthing these days.

According to the constitution, Russia will have elections for a new Duma in 2007 and new presidential elections in 2008. Having then already served two terms, Vladimir Putin will have to step down and leave room for someone else, much like what is the case in the United States.

There are few that believe that this is what will actually happen. For some time, it’s been standard on the Moscow rumour circuit to speculate about different ways in which Putin and his entourage could remain in some sort of control.

But all those speculations have centered on 2008.

Now, things are changing. There are Western observers who don’t really see that the regime, on present trends, can last that long. The signs of decline, division and decay are simply too many, they argue. And there are certainly Russian observers that tend to agree.

So it’s hardly surprusing that one encounters speculations about possible Kremlin plans to engineer some sort of transition to a Putin 3 regime much earlier.

The linked article from Moscow Times notes some of the signs that can possibly be detected of such plans being prepared. And it notes that the political platform that then seems to be emerging is one of intense nationalism and discreetly anti-Western militarism.

These, one should note, are not speculations or comments originating in circles far away that could be expected to say something along these lines.

These are speculations from well inside the inner ringroad in Moscow.

And accordingly worth reading and contemplating.

The Polish August of 1980

22 augusti 2005

Welcome to NSZZ Solidarnosc Web Site!

History passes by very fast in our fast-changing world.

This month it is a quarter of a century since the wave of strikes on the Baltic coast of Poland that rocked that Communist country and played a key role in initiating the sequence of events that lead to the collapse of communism in Europe and the reunification of our continent.

These very days – a quarter of a century ago – representatives of 50 000 to 90 000 striking workers in some 260 enterprises along the entire Baltic coast come together to set up a committe that issued a 21-point manifesto with demands that challenged the very foundation of the regime.

Based also on the experience of the suppresed weave of strikes a decade earlier, the strikers this time decided to put forward demands that were also of an obvious political nature.

Apart from de facto demanding that free trades unions should be established, they asked for censorship to be abolished and political prisoners to be released.

Some of the demands made in August 1980 in Gdansk were very pragmatic and of an economic and social nature. Communism was characterized by constant shortages of consumer goods and bad management and as a result, workers’ protests in different countries of the communist bloc erupted. Previously, they had often been suppressed by a combination of force and promises of pay rises.

In Gdañsk in August 1980, the regime initially followed this pattern and agreed to significant pay increases for workers. But that wasn’t enough. The strike went on and grew in size and impact – and at the end the regime had little alternative than to agree to the 21 demands.

The immediate result of the acceptance of the demands was the foundation of the independent free trades union NSZZ Solidarnosc, which had more than 10 million members and became a massive social and political movement.

The political confrontation that followed between a retreating and desperate regime and the new aspirations of freedom brought Poland to the brink of Soviet military invasion and eventually the imposition of martial law, a brutal crackdown and the outlawing of Solidarnosz in December 1981.

But Solidarnosz survived as an underground organization and formed a team of negotiators, who held talks with the government at the so-called round table in 1989. The communist party was forced to make new concessions, which led to the first democratic elections in the communist bloc. Subsequently, the elections became an impetus for other countries of the Soviet bloc to fight for freedom and fostered the collapse of the Soviet empire from 1989 and onwards.

When the striking workers at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk challenged the authorities, they paved the way for the development that would not only lead to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Europe, but also to their country Poland today being a proud and important member of both the European Union and NATO.

It is certainly an event both remembering and celebrating.

Sharon The Right Man

21 augusti 2005

Israel Policy Forum

The Israeli disengagement from Gaza has been completed. All in all, the complex process worked out better than expected.

In the linked letter, the chief analysts at the Israel Policy Forum in the US applauds the statesmanship of Ariel Sharon in carrying out this fundamental shift in his and in Israels policy.

The continuation of disengagement will of course be far more difficult, but that there has to be a continuation is beyond doubt. Israel must change course in order to be able to make peace and survive as a democracy.

Maneuvering Against Turkey

21 augusti 2005

EU Enlargement: Cyprus Is a Poor Excuse for Turning Away Turkey

As the politics of Europe is starting to come back from vacation, Turkey is one of the issues looming large on its agenda.

On the one hand there is the decision to start accession negotiations with Turkey on October 3rd. On the other, there are the different maneuvers by those not really wishing this to happen.

At the moment it seems as it is France that is intent on throwing sand in the machinery. President Chirac has certainly been in favour of opening up for Turkish membership of the European Union, but suddenly they seem to be having cold feet in Paris.

Prime Minister de Villepin has been making different noices, putting up new conditions relating to Cyprus that are both unfair and impossible for Turkey to meet. There are rumours of Paris trying to encourage Athens to take as hard a line as possible. And Athens has been lining up with Nicosia to produce a list of different new demands they want to insert into the process.

Phil Gordon of the Brookings Institution in Washington is a knowledgable observer of the European scene, and commented on these different maneuvers in the linked piece in the International Herald Tribune.

We’ll see what happens. A critical meeting of COREPER – the powerful Committee of Permanent Representatives – that was supposed to have been held in Brussels August 24 has now been postponed for a week to make room for more bilateral diplomacy.

The UK Presidency is firm to secure an opening of the accession talks on October 3rd. And the European Commission seems to be of the opinion that all the relevant criteria for that has now been met.

So we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime it is important to notice how the European urge continues to change Turkey, now clearly manifested in Prime Minister Erdogans ground-breaking visit to the Kurdish-dominated Southeastern provinces of the country.

Flat Tax in Germany?

20 augusti 2005

Steuerreform Deutschland Politik FOCUS Online in Kooperation mit MSN

It will certainly not happen in the immediate future, but the fact that the man that’s been assigned the portofolio of economy and finance in opposition challenger Angela Merkel’s team has spoken out in favour of a flat tax is significant in itself.

Professor Paul Kirchhof is a recognized expert in his field. His appointment to the team has been widely applauded.

And then suddenly he has said that his vision is a flat income tax of 25 %. That’s a fairly radical departure, also fron the more modest ambitions of the common CDU/CSU platform. Accodingly, Angela Merkel has said that it is the platform that applies and nothing else.

But the genie of a more radical reform is out of the bottle, and it can’t be brought back into it again.

It’s as sure a sign as you can ask for that times are really changing.

Base Camp Transfer

17 augusti 2005

Don’t count on me posting comments here during the next two or three days, since I will be busy transferring ”base camp” from the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic in Croatia back to Stockholm up by the Baltic Sea.

But after that I’ll certainly be back. Europe is slowly returning to business after the summer of 2005.

The Asian Age Coming

17 augusti 2005

Chart: Reshaping The Global Economy

Although I belong to those that believe that we will see a revival of the larger European economy in the years and decades ahead due to the restructuring now going on, there is no doubt that it is the Asian age that we are entering.

The linked graph from the latest issue of Business Week illustrates the conventional wisdom on how the global economy will change during the first half of this century. It’s dramatic.

Things might develop differently, of course. China faces major challenges, and the weaknesses in its system are often overlooked. India, with its enormous potential, could face ethnic strife and political paralysis if things get really bad.

But overall the trends that we see in the graph are likely to endure over the coming decades.

After the first phase of globalisation with a European face, and the second phase with an American facee, we will surely enter a third phase of globalisation with an Asian face.