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

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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