Archive for November, 2004

A slap in the face of Turkey

30 November 2004

[updated] In his (Swedish language) blog, the always well-informed Bengt Karlsson points to a Presidency document outlining proposals on the start of accession negotiations with Turkey. It was leaked to the press yesterday, possibly in order to test the water. Its most remarkable contents:

  • Turkey has to recognise Cyprus;
  • The accession negotiations could be suspended if requested by at least one third of the Member States;
  • No Turkish membership before 2014;
  • No talks on membership before there is agreement on the 2014-2020 financial perspectives;
  • The EU should consider “permanent safeguard clauses, notably in the area of the free movement of persons”;

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Getting worried…

29 November 2004

This fantastic photo (more here) sums it up pretty well: tensions are growing in Ukraine now part of the country is threatening to split off if Yushchenko becomes President. I am getting a bit worried now.

Many Ukrainians, in blogs or elsewhere, point to the fact that this is not about geopolitics, about East vs. West or Russia vs. America. The conflict is about Ukrainians, they say, fighting for their democratic right for free and honest elections.

Well, yes, I agree with them that this is what it should be about. But I am less convinced that this is what will determine the outcome. When Putin decided to support the Yanukovych election campaign, he, at least, seemed to be well aware of the risk of spill-over to his own sphere of influence would a western-european style government take over from the current autocratic cronies in Ukraine. So the fact that the outcome was almost even for both candidates was largely of his making. As for the EU, it is clear that it feels safer with a solid democratic state at its borders, especially if that state ultimately wants to join the EU. The same goes for the US, which has an interest in both strong democracy in an EU-aspiring Ukraine, and the weakening of Russian as well as EU foreign power following Ukraine accession to the EU. Therefore both the US and the EU are encouraging Yushchenko to stand firm.

Other worrying factors: the fact that state security personnel in the Ukraine comes mainly from the Yanukovich east whereas demonstrators are from the Yushchenko west, and the fact that Putin may not accept a solution involving a split-up of Ukraine. On the other hand: the EU is unlikely to impose strong sanctions on a country through which much-needed energy supplies are transported, and Ukrainian demonstrators from both camps are still treating each other with admirable respect and cheerfulness.

So let us just say the situation is hard to predict and very interesting.

More French influence in Europe – but it is liberal and federalist

25 November 2004

With the Buttiglione crisis behind us and the fight over the ratification of the European constitution before us, Le Monde notices an increased French influence in the European Parliament:

Cette crise aura en tout cas confirm̩ la nouvelle et paradoxale image que renvoient les Fran̤ais si̩geant au Parlement europ̩en Рmoins nombreux, mais plus identifiables -, cinq mois apr̬s les ̩lections du 13 juin.

It is true, and I had noticed it myself, that French politicians seem to have improved their visibility on the European scene recently, whereas only six months ago, the general opinion seemed to be that Enlargement had put a definitive end to France’s leading role in the European Union. This was then typically illustrated by noting that, whereas most of the Commissioners, MEPs and civil servants from the new Member States could speak the language of Shakespeare, only a small minority of them had mastered the language of Molière.
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Values that shake the world: II – Tolerance in the Netherlands

22 November 2004

When Pim Fortuyn rose to (posthumous) power on an anti-immigrant agenda in 2001, and now again with the assaults on Muslim schools and mosques after the murder of Theo van Gogh, foreign commentators expressed surprise. That this could happen in the Netherlands, of all places – that cool little country where they legalised prostitution, pot and gay marriage – how could they hate foreigners?

The misunderstanding here is that Dutch people have a long tradition of tolerance. This is not true. The way I would put it, is that over the ages, Dutch people have not so much learned to tolerate, as well as to ignore differences.

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Greatest kook ever

16 November 2004

After the UK elected Winston Churchill and Germany elected Konrad Adenauer, the country of Erasmus, Spinoza, Rembrandt, Van Oldenbarneveldt and De Witt elected Pim Fortuyn as “The Greatest Dutchman Ever”.

Something is truly rotten in the state of the Netherlands…

A word of advice from Germany

12 November 2004

Gerhart Baum was the German (FDP) Minister of the Interior from 1978 to 1982. He was closely involved in combating the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) which terrorised German society in those years. As a minister, he oversaw a considerable restriction of the rights of RAF suspects and their lawyers, and a widening of the powers of the secret service and the police. Not a sissy, in other words, and someone who knows what he is talking about.

Mr Baum spoke interesting words on Dutch television today. “Do not undermine the state of law in order to catch terrorists”, he said, “we tried in Germany, and it did not work.” Because it widened the number of suspects so much, that the police lost track of the real terrorists. The RAF murders, some of them particularly gruesome, held Germany in a state of fear for many years.

Of course, police and intelligence work was necessary to combat the fifty or so unrepenting terrorists, killers, that were active in Germany at the time. Those fifty were hopeless cases anyway. But they could not do what they did without the help of thousands of sympathisers providing them with shelter, information, and other help – people whose sympathy for the RAF only increased because of the harsh measures. “The number of attacks”, said Baum, “went down only when we started doing something we had not been doing before: to look at the causes of terrorism. Only when we began to address the causes, the number of sympathisers decreased, and with it the number of attacks.”

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updated update:
Nosemonkey of Europhobia adds eloquently to the case Baum is making with his account of life in Britain under the IRA threat at the time. He is very right to point out that, unlike the USA, Europe has dealt with terrorism before. Some of the more overheated reactions from the US, even if they come from fellow Europeans, might want to take that experience a bit more seriously.

I also forgot to mention another programme shown on Dutch TV yesterday whose message somehow underpinned Mr Baum’s by explaining that many of the security measures taken to protect ports, airports and other major targets are largely symbolic and will never suffice to “seal off” society from terrorist attacks. They may give the impression that the government does what is necessary to protect us, but seen in this light, their practical effect is that of being a nuisance keeping us in a state of fear.

We may have to start getting used to living with the threat of terrorism for a while. There’s another reason to take Mr Baum’s advice seriously.

Values that shake the world: I – Introduction

11 November 2004

Values, values, values – it is the talk of the day. It is the one thing which the political murders of controversial film maker Theo van Gogh and of populist politician Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, the unease in European societies with the consequences of immigration, but also the controversy surrounding Rocco Buttiglione and the re-election of George W Bush have in common. Our values, say the protagonists, are “under threat”, and the upsetting events show this is true.

An increasingly frightened and insecure population yearns for solutions. And on both sides of the Atlantic, an increasingly confident political right provides them. But which values are under threat? And, most of all, where are the socially progressives in this debate?

Most of the analysis I see does not do justice to the complexity of the situation. I miss things. For instance, I do not think the Netherlands is or ever was a tolerant country. Indifferent: yes, but tolerant: no.

Secondly, I think we should distinguish between the muslim extremism that originated in the dictatorships in the Middle-East (like Bin Laden’s or Palestinian extremism), and the “new” muslim extremism motivating disgruntled youths who grew up in the West (like the murderer of Van Gogh). Their anger seems to be directed not at western policies in the East, but at western policies at home. If that is true, we are dealing with different problems, requiring different solutions.

Thirdly, “values”, in my view, is a dangerous catch-all term obfuscating our view of what they entail. Modern society, in particular its socially progressive part, have lost track of which values really underpin modern society, and have difficulty formulating them. The modern right has fewer inhibitions refering both to ‘values’ in general and to actual values like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, or ‘respect for the individual’ – but, it seems, not always in their modern meaning. This confuses the debate, and risks taking it in a direction most people would not agree with.

I have been trying to combine all the elements I just mentioned in one big, comprehensive, analytical essay. Due to time and other constraints, however, I find it difficult to complete that analysis in the foreseeable future, or at least before the whole debate is over. Therefore I have decided to split up the essay into smaller parts which are easier to handle for me and allow me to develop my thoughts over time. It has the additional advantage that the smaller composite parts fit better into the ordinary ‘blog’ format. I may or may not revise or combine the individual parts later. Keep watching this space.

This is part I in a series on values. Next: Part II, Tolerance in the Netherlands.