Friday, October 28, 2005

European Left - The First Congress

/ manifestos / left /
Athens is hosting the first Congress of the European Left Party, a recently created trans-European Left party alliance. The necessity of such a united left on a European scale can hardly be contested, and following the "No" votes on the European Constitution referenda one could argue that an opportunity has opened for such a continent-wide, coordinated, left political coalition to be effective in fighting the good fight versus the trimumphant neoliberal advance in European societies. Yet reading the, above linked, political theses of the congress one is left underwhelmed (and wishing for a english language editor). There are the obvious general positions, an assortment of wishes, and some general directions, yet there seems to be a vagueness about the positions stated (never mind the rhetorical blandness - the Communist Manifesto, this ain't), that's rather frustrating. For example take this paragraph:

We consider social protection a central element for the cohesion of the 25 EU member countries and a true productive element. In effect, the European social model is the one able to defeat the dramatic and growing unemployment and precariousness. European Left Party's opposition is not so much to the declared objectives of the Lisbon strategy but to their subordination to the capitalistic competition politics and to their liberalizing logic. We have to think about a political economy able to stop the social decline, not only by defending social, tax and environmental standards in the global competition, but also by implementing them as true development boosters.

Yes, we must refuse to pay the price of the continent's economic decline. Our alternative economic concepts for the European union must rather focus on possibilities to stave off the economic crisis by re-launching a tangible proposal to prevent the uncertainty and precarious employment and poor living conditions of the European populations. Therefore we work towards the perfectly possible aim of full and decent employment for all of those that live and work here.

What? Which "European Social Model" are we referring to? everyone from Barroso to Chirac is paying lip service to this chameleon of a concept. Shouldn't it be somehow described? Why is the ELP's objection "not so much to the declared objectives of the Lisbon strategy" and how are these objectives conceptually separate from their "liberalizing logic". And shouldn't there be a bit more about that "tangible proposal to prevent the uncertainty and precarious employment and poor living conditions of the European populations"?

Or take this bit:

...We have supported the enlargement and integration of Europe.

We have positively agreed to and greeted the entry of 8 new Eastern and Central-European countries, Cyprus and Malta since we think that the European political space that doesn't stop on the borders of the former East/West blocks. We also notice that the accession process was not used for reviewing the hitherto practiced political, economic and social logic of EU integration. No decisive steps to guarantee the working and production conditions in all member states are recognisable. The European Union remains the big single market for the circulation of capitals and commodities and increasingly services while – against the proclamations the “labour” forces are not able and - even more - migrant men and women are not allowed to move freely.

Never mind the near-incomprehensible english here (I hope other versions are more coherent), is the EL seriously saying that the EU expansion such as it was, with seriously reduced cohesion funds for most Eastern European new members, should have been "positively greeted"? How can one separate the general "ideal" from the way it is implemented? Isn't it obvious that this hasty and incomplete expansion makes the prospect of a more democratic union, that is more than a free-trade zone, quite impossible - and that this was why it was greeted by American neocons and among European anti-integrationists wholeheartedly?

Anyway, despite the fact that the Left remains annoyingly vague and murky about what it wants, I hope the result of the congress offers something better than the initial documents and that the EL parties continue to cooperate and gain support across Europe.

Note that theoretically the congress should be broacast through this link, though it hasn't been working for me today....

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rotting Oranges

/ revolutions / mock /
Remember the Orange revolution? The exile's Kyrill Pankratov, very cynically gives a brief account of its apparent decay in the provocatory article linked above:

"...Revolutions do eat their children -- it is a fairly common fate. But few expected such a rapid, incredible unraveling as what happened after the Orange Revolution. In the first months of the Yushchenko-Timoshenko government the economy nosedived. Instead of attracting foreign investments, both from Russia and Europe, investors were scared away en masse by Timoshenko's militant re-privatization talk. During the spring and summer the government managed to stumble into the 'gasoline crisis,' the 'flour crisis,' the 'sugar crisis' and so on -- all of them completely unnecessary -- without producing even a fraction of promised and advertised reforms. From the rapid 12% growth of last year, and around 10% average for the Kuchma's second term in office, growth slowed down to some 5% in the first half of this year and came to a halt in recent months (in August there was even an economic contraction). The first corruption scandals of the new government already exploded, and utter incompetence in many areas became too painfully visible..."

You might recall that the revolution was heralded to be about bringing Ukraine "into the free market age", as Time magazine put it back then. Well a month ago, after firing Yulia Tymoshenko, last year's icon of the revolt, in an anti-corruption move, he was supported by the same Victor Yanukovich who (as Time and many more Western publications described) was described as "a throwback to the Soviet era". It now seems that Ukraine is repositioning itself vis-a-vis Russia [free reg. - this might help], to which it is still tied by business and geopolitical considerations (energy being prominent among them). There seems to be disappointment regarding the way the Orange Revolutionaries handled government, evident in public perceptions as well as,

"...a poll of Kyivites found that 73.1% did not believe that corruption had declined with only 20.4% agreeing (Zerkalo Tyzhnia/Nedeli, September 10-16, 2005). Another poll found that only 31% of Ukrainians believed that the government had successfully battled corruption, with 59% disagreeing (UNIAN, September 9)..."

One of the problems - evident even before the latest euroconstitution referendum, was that re-orienting towards the EU, can only be achieved if the EU is interested in expanding your way. It isn't. The Turkish accession drive, whatever its final outcome, has surely made any further addition to the accession lists quite difficult, not to mention that it is becoming more and more evident to many in the EU, that any further hasty expansion would indeed reduce the European Union to just a free trade zone. The EU isn't seriously interested in the Ukraine - but Russia is, and it's quite evident that Russian and Ukrainian economic well-being will go hand-in-hand. Joining NATO, will similarly, have to confront the unwillingness of many countries in NATO to challenge Russia - not to mention the fact that a majority in Ukraine is far from eager to join the Alliance, as public support for joining NATO is possibly less than 20%. (Α sign of rationality from the Ukrainian citizens, no doubt, as joining NATO will have exactly two immediate effects: joining a cold-war relic which nowadays serves the purpose of a fig-leaf for American unilateralism, and seriously expanding their defense budgets so as to purchase NATO-compatible weapons and equipment - from the proper manufacturers, of course). BTW the same enlightened western powers who supported Yushchenko last year, supported Kuchma a few years back - if that says something about the wisdom and idealism of western policy.

While I'm always in favour of people on the streets demanding better government, I have four points to make: a. I do think that placing one's hopes of improving democracy on a set of political actors with known oligarch/mob connections (trying to displace another mob), not taking into account that the oligarchs expect from your democrats of choice quite different things from your average protestor, and are vastly more likely to get them, is a sure sign of wishful thinking - slightly less childish than the belief in Santa Claus. b.Geography and history are to a large extent destiny, which can only be overcome by vast societal/geopolitical changes. c. If one is really determined to change things for the better, one has to persist in the original tactics: massive and repeated demonstrations and assorted hellraising demanding more democracy - and trying to be as inclusive as possible. Lastly this: Russia is a behemoth of a country surrounding much of Ukraine; the idea of a policy based on mostly snubbing Russia (even worse, with no realistic alternative on offer) is as realistic as, say, Mexico deciding to avoid any contact with the US in favour or preferential economic ties with the EU: one could propose such a policy - but it would have few prospects of success. Actually the Ukraine/Russia relationship is even more compulsive than the Mexico/US case, as a large part of Ukraine is Russian/pro-Russian - and until 15 years ago they were parts of the same country.

On a more philosophical note, this seems like a sanguine review of the myths of the Orange revolution.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Srebrenica Revisited

/ massacres / examined /
Diana Johnstone revisits and re-examines the facts and the circumstances regarding the Srebrenica massacre. She also examines the modern political uses of the massacre - and the rather skewed, perpetrator-dependant sensibilities regarding large scale murder.

I post this article, because it is argued rather convincingly and makes some important points regarding, not only Srebrenica and the Bosnian war, but also the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, that are both true and forgotten - frighteningly so, for someone who followed the events as they were reported at the time - for example that:

...Whatever happened in Srebrenica could have best been prevented, not by U.S. or NATO bombing, but by preventing civil war from breaking out in Bosnia Herzegovina to begin with. This prevention was possible if the "international community", meaning the NATO powers, Europe and the United States, had firmly insisted that the Yugoslav crisis of 1990 should be settled by negotiations. But first of all, Germany opposed this, by bullying the European Union into immediate recognition of the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia, without negotiation. All informed persons knew that this threatened the existence of Bosnia Herzegovina. The European Union proposed a cantonization plan for Bosnia Herzegovina, not very different from the present arrangement, which was accepted by leaders of the Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat communities. But shortly thereafter, Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic reneged, after the U.S. ambassador encouraged him to hold out for more. Throughout the subsequent fighting, the U.S. put obstacles in the way of every European peace plan. These years of obstruction enabled the United States to take control of the eventual peace settlement in Dayton, in November 1995...

I'm usually loathe to post much that might be considered exculpatory of Serb crimes in Bosnia, because of the sort of people that advance pro-Serb apologetics in Greece - in defense of Serbian nationalism in any form and shape. These are the sort of arguments that are patent nationalist nonsense, invoking past crimes to justify recent atrocities, but they are argued seriously and passionately over here - indeed there were Greek ultranationalist volunteers that were involved in Serb atrocities in Bosnia. In fact there is no doubt that the attitudes of the average Greek on the issue are certainly pro-Serb in a rather instictive and ill-reasoned way. Yet it's equally obvious that reading the disaster of the Yugoslav civil war as a "morality pantomime between pure good and pure evil", in Johnstone's words, is so patently unsatisfactory a version of events, that I can't help but be amazed at the ubiquity of such a view among intelligent and erudite people in the West. It is still useful therefore, to discuss the events surrounding the whole Yugoslav war, not only as a matter of history, not only to identify the culprits of horrendous crimes, but to understand the way in which versions of historical reality are honed as tools in modern propaganda wars - and real victims become alibis for even worse atrocities.

I'm eager to hear opinions on Johnstone's piece - and the issues she tackles.

A related side note: it seems to me that any version of Balkan history, from Ottoman times onward, that tries to explain events based mainly on local events and local societal and political dynamics, without emphasizing the dominant role that all sorts of "Great Powers" have played in the region, is a naive version of history. Balkan states were marginally more than protectorates throughout their history, the only exception being - for better or for worse - Tito's Yugoslavia.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Barroso: Bureaucracy slayer or deregulator?

/ regulating / regulation /
Barroso is attacking red-tape and bureaucratic inefficiency, is he? By himself with no input from the European Parliament at all?

"Mr Barroso will next month attempt to put the EU legislative machine into reverse, with a programme to codify or abolish existing laws, thus cutting the EU's 80,000-page lawbook down to 50,000 pages.

But the plan was criticised by some members of the European parliament, who claimed the purge could reduce European protection of workers, the environment or consumers."

Yet one would not be paranoid if they suggested that along with any reasonable red-tape-cutting measures, other things are eliminated as well, indeed that might be part of the real reason of this initiative:

The initial legislative purge will remove 68 pending measures, many of them trivial or trapped in the EU's legislative machine and long-forgotten.

Some of the hit-list, however, including a review of a law to give temporary workers the same rights as full-time staff, would have a big impact on business.

Other measures to be withdrawn include ones on food labelling, safety laws relating to sunlight exposure, and the regulation of sales promotions.

Others are also skeptical, including the President of the Party
of European Socialists, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen...Left Euro-MP Kartika Liotard has written a letter to Barroso to remind him that, now that he has found a way to withdraw legislation even while it is before EU parliament, he can finally do away with the "despised Services Directive".

Monday, October 3, 2005

Setting the record straight about Bill Clinton

/ lesser evil / idealized /
Having lived in the US under most of the Clinton years, I'm continuously surprised by the rosy picture painted regarding his administration's economic policies - especially from the left. Bill Clinton himself is aggressively pushing a rather idealized version of his administration's record regarding the poor (among other things). Thankfully Paul Street does a good job of reminding the memory-challenged among the left what that was about:
"...What emerges from a careful reading of these and numerous other texts and sources is a Clinton administration that defied mainstream public support for socially democratic policies by conducting the public business in regressive accord with the interrelated neoliberal and racially disparate imperatives of empire and inequality..."

Going back to my seemingly ancient bookmarks on the subject, I find that, yes, at the time, this wasn't really an issue - since then of course Hurricane Dubya has made even Ronald Reagan's seem like a benevolent and sensible presidency. Yet Mark Weisbrot was challenging almost five years ago the received wisdom of a triumphant economic policy, noting among other things that:
The economic policies for which the President can honestly claim responsibility-- e.g., NAFTA, the creation and expansion of the World Trade Organization-- served primarily to prevent the majority of Americans from sharing in the gains from economic growth. And then there was welfare reform, which threw millions of poor single mothers at the mercy of one of the lowest-wage labor markets in the industrialized world.

In short, Clinton's policies continued the upward redistribution of income and wealth, and punishment for the poor, that were the hallmarks of the Reagan era. It was not until 1999 that the median real wage reached its pre-1990 level, and it remains anchored today at about where it was 27 years ago.

...going on to highlight the Clinton administration's deep involvement in aiding and abetting the Mafia Economy that oversaw the Russian collapse.

Similar issues were highlighted at the time by the International Socialist Review, and many others among which I'll just point to a Chomsky article from 1994.