Archive for the 'World Politics' Category

Radio Netherlands grabbing chance Danes ignored?

23 March 2008

When the Danish cartoon row began around the end of 2005, it took several months before the Danish government embarked on a counter propaganda offensive. It was not until February 2006 that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared on Al Arabiya in order to explain the position of his government to a worldwide Arab-speaking audience.

Although it was a good thing that he did this in the end (and initially no one, except for the Arab regimes that instigated the rows, could have foreseen that it would become such a big thing), I was rather critical at the time because Fogh Rasmussen did not take the opportunity to explain what free speech was really about:

What Fogh should have done instead of saying that free speech is important, was explain why it is important. Instead of appearing as a weak leader not worthy of much respect, by saying that as a Danish PM he is used to being criticised and that he accepts that, he would have come across as a good leader by explaining that the constant criticism actually helps him to do a better job. He could have said that because people in Denmark have been allowed to say what they think about their leaders for a long time, and can even get rid of them if the leaders don’t listen, Denmark is such a wealthy country with so little inequality and suffering. The hint would not have been missed on a region still predominantly ruled by dictators.

Today, the Netherlands is holding its breath for a similar row to erupt, this time about a Quran-critical film that has been made by a Dutch MP and which should come out before the end of this month. Over at A Fistful of Euros, Guy described how the issue is being hyped in Dutch media before the film is even published. Hype or not however, the Danish case shows how easy it is to turn the positive reputation of a country into one of evil anti-muslim crusaders (that is, if you are an Arab regime with a motive and complete control over what appears in your own media). So it is only right that, in an attempt to avoid the Danish mistakes, the Dutch government has been working for months through its embassies in the muslim world to at least try to get its own message across to government and media in the predominant muslim parts of the world.

As part of the pre-emptive strike, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the world service of the Dutch public radio, has now produced its own documentary (and a website ‘about Fitna, the movie’) in which it tries to explain the Dutch position on the MP’s film and its relation to free speech:

Has it succeeded better than Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Al Arabiya interview? Well, yes, a little. What is good in the RNW film, is that it underlines that even the Dutch government is bound to obey the law, just like any ordinary citizen. It is not government, but the majority of the population through its representatives which makes the law. This is an important point to make. What the film also seems to be doing better than the Danish PM, is to make clear the importance of free speech for an open public debate. Even though a large majority of the population does not agree with the MP’s film, they still accept it is published because they realise that if they would ban opinions like these, next time it is one of their own opinions that is banned from being published. The giving and taking of free speech becomes a little clearer, and even more so because of most of the people explaining this in the documentary are Dutch muslims.

If the RNW film turns out to be convincing enough for a critical audience remains to be seen. What I am still missing, for instance, is a clear(-er) explanation of the connection between free speech, the state of law and democracy on the one hand, and having a government that is not corrupt, does not torture its citizens and governs effectively on the other. But it is an attempt, and anyway, if people turn to the streets over this film in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Egypt, we know that this is because their governments wanted them to, not because they have watched some film on the internet.

** update 27 March 2008: ** The film was published today. What an anticlimax! I mean, it is still the modern equivalent of Der ewige Jude, but not a lot of Dutch flags are going to be burnt over this. And it is badly made at that…

** update 28 March 2008: ** More on A Fistful of Euros.

Link of the day: EU should support Turkish democracy and membership

19 March 2008
True words from the FT’s Tony Barber about the foolishness of EU Member States’ lukewarm (if any) support for Turkish EU membership.

Link of the day: Parti Québécois abandons separatism

17 March 2008
Interesting developments in the wider Europeosphere: News just came in that the members of the Parti Québécois yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favour of dropping the obligation to hold a referendum on Québec independence from the party manifesto.

The PQ had a majority of the seats in the Québec parliament a number of times in the 80s and 90s of last century. Referendums on independence have been organised in 1980 and 1995 but failed to get majorities in favour (60% and 51% voted non, respectively). The vote is a victory for new party leader Pauline Marois who favours a more centrist course.

EU presidency: the quiet candidates (II)

14 March 2008

Philip Stephens of the Financial Times writes in so many words that the new president of the EU (Council) should be Tony Blair after all, instead of one of the lesser known candidates. This is not a time for “faceless competence”, he says, for Europe needs someone who is taken seriously by McCain/Obama/Clinton, Medvedev/Putin and Hu Jintao.

This leaves one wondering when was the last time Tony Blair was taken seriously by the American president – the “Yo, Blair” incident perhaps?

Unbearably Blairite in its arrogance is also the following passage:

[Juncker, Fogh Rasmussen and Ahern] are bright people. Small countries can produce brilliant politicians. Putting aside a personal prejudice against EU institutions being forever run by Luxembourgers, I am not quarrelling with these candidates’ competence. But it is no disrespect to say that none is exactly a household name. Their candidacies seem to speak instead to a deliberate paucity of ambition about Europe’s global role. How seriously would they be taken by John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Imagine the reception from Dmitry Medvedev when Mr Juncker turned up in Moscow to protest against his decision to turn off the gas. How much weight would these candidates carry even in Europe?

First of all, being unknown now is not exactly a problem that cannot be overcome: Hands up who (outside Illinois) knew Barack Obama before he decided to run for the US presidency.

Secondly, any future president meeting fellow world leaders will be speaking on behalf of the EU, not his home country. The size of the latter will not make much of a difference at this stage. Maybe it does during the appointment process or while EU countries are trying to forge a common position (which requires unanimity), but the precise point Stephens makes about Luxemburgers indicates that being from a small country may actually be an advantage then.

Of course Europe needs someone with stature, but what Stephens seems to forget is that it has to be the right kind of stature. Blair’s is tarnished not only by his handling of the Iraq war, but – more importantly – by his reputation of being all spin and no results for most except the first few of his ten years as Prime Minister. The British EU presidency in 2005 was, if not a failure (there was an agreement on the Financial Perspectives after all), at least a disappointment.

What matters in the end is that Europe’s future president has the personality, vision and above all the diplomatic skills to make a success of the job. I am afraid Tony Blair has proved to have none of these.

Link of the day

13 March 2008

I just invented a new posting category which will hopefully help me to post more frequently: the Link of the Day. These postings will be extremely short, basically 1-5 lines of commentary on a website, posting, or newspaper article I just found and thought was interesting – maybe not even more than just the link and title.

Actually something similar existed already here: the Noteworthy News in the right hand corner, but it was not visible enough. Also, because it basically consists of my links on del.icio.us, it did not have enough space to leave commentary. The Link of the Day should solve both problems.

US elections today: Forget red and blue states, the US is a patchwork nation of eleven different types of communities. The site shows this patchwork on the map of the US, and follows how they are (or will be) voting during the coming presidential elections.

Remembrance Day

11 November 2007

verdun-fr.jpg oosterbeek-us.jpg
fricourt-de.jpg tyne-cot-passchendale-uk.jpg

From left to right, top to bottom:
French war graves, Verdun
American war graves, Oosterbeek (near Arnhem)
German war graves, Fricourt (Somme)
British Tyne Cot cemetery, Passchendale

This year is the Rome Treaty’s 50th anniversary – still wondering why it was a good idea?

Korea test fake?

10 October 2006

Just a thought that occurred to me, because:

  • Apparently, the test was low power;
  • North-Korea is not that advanced technologically, handicapped as it is by its international isolation, the dire state of its economy, and its stifling political system;
  • North-Korea is desperate to get the bomb – but even more to make it known that it has the bomb. For Axis of Evil dictators these days, having the bomb is their only guarantee against an American invasion;
  • Propaganda is Kim Il’s middle name.

Update 17 Oct: Still no proof despite what the US government says; check out the comments at ArmsControlWonk (via).