Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday mood in Africa

This period of year is very very busy in Africa, as many plots and coups and turmoils are at the order of the day in:



resignations and expected turmoil in Somalia

continuing conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia

Aloha spirit and yellow journalism

Where and how the presidents are spending their holidays is, we all know, a matter of public concern. What they do in their spare time and how they are coping with the challenges of Aloha beaches, as well. Media should be free to report about what they want to, to publish the news and to reach their readers. But yellow journalism is not including the whole category of journalism. When politicians are playing this "yellow" card they should be aware that, in fact, once open the door of their houses, they will not be able to stop them anymore looking in any intimate corners of their mansions.

The contact "Jesus"

It is considered one of the most sounding case of spying, post-Cold War (Aldrich Ames was another case, but before the NATO Eastern expansion) : an Estonian educated in Moscow, chief over the NATO secrets offered information about the Alliance - or at least some information - to Russia. It is not yet very clear the way the Estonian worked and how many people were included in his net, as long as according to Der Spiegel he was also a client of the German external intelligence - BND.

According to the law, he could go in prison for a period between 3 and 15 years. The damages aren't yet evaluated, but it could take much longer to redesign the intelligence net for getting a higher security for deterring such attempts.

The list of the lessons learned is still waiting, because by now everything is quite unclear.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Condoleezza Rice hopes in a "vindication" for W. Bush

Condoleezza Rice said in an interview for AFP that "history will vindicate Bush" in his major foreign policy choices. She's planning to write two books: one on his Afro-American heritage and another on the foreign policy, but before she needs a break to think about everything.

The leaders from the Middle East tried, by very expensive gifts, to win the hearts and minds of the Bush administration, the top diplomat being the top target of their attention.

In FT, Condoleezza considered that Obama's stance on diplomacy is likely to mirror Bush's. Thinking on the long term, the chief of the US diplomacy agreed it is a high wave of disapproval of US stance in the Arab world, who haven't start and will not stop with the Bush administration.

Rice is continuously working until the new team is installed, being waited the first days of January in China, for the anniversary of 30 years of diplomatic relations.

The next Secretary of State, Hilary R. Clinton, is preparing to take the new position by reshaping the State Department for a stronger role, reintroducing the practice of the special envoys - used during the Clinton times - and looking forward to get bigger financial support.

Mentally ill in Eastern Europe

In many of the former Eastern European countries, the situation of the mentally ills is still a matter of concern from the point of view of the human rights. In general, the medical system in some of these countries is facing difficulties in coping the basic needs for people with normal medical needs. We also have to have in mind that, during communism, being mentally ill was considered unacceptable from the point of view of the multilaterally developed societies - run mostly by individuals with obvious psychological disorders. As the orphans, those with mental disabilities were hidden and the funds for this category were almost non-existent.

In our times, at the end of 2008, in the Republic of Moldova, almost all the public institutions are having their own "anthem". Like in the old Soviet times. One of the most interesting "creation" of this kind is the anthem of the Hospital of Psychiatry. The poetry is associating this hospital with "wisdom", mentioning that the "people wants all of us healthier". The most powerful words used are "we", "people", "common destiny", "future".


In France, the announcement, by president Nicolas Sarkozy, of a new policy of "securisation" of the psychiatric hospitals is facing the protest of the trade unions of psychiatrists.

No more crawls

CNN decided to stop asking our attention for a multitude of information. The practice of the crawl, inaugurated seven years ago, on September 11 was stopped. More time to ruminate the news and not only to read them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

US and Ukraine, strategic partners

The US and Ukraine signed recently the Charter on Strategic Partnership.
Not yet reactions.
Russia wants a strategic partnership with US too, at least declaratively.
Timothy Garton Ash suggested the need for an agreement with the similar weight with China.
What, in general, a strategic partnership could bring is the institutionalization of the bilateral relations of not-neighboring countries. United States sign several such documents with countries from around the world, encompassing different degrees of democratization and socio-economic development. EU and NATO are also having a "strategic partnership".
This kind of documents are tailored on the needs of the bilateral cooperation between the two signatories entities. In fact, they are not disadvantages, but only opportunities for advantages. Of course, if they are not only dead letters of documents and both parts equally have to get involved in rising the stakes of the exchange.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

China: Access blocked to NY Times

Chinese authorities blocked the access to New York Times website from the mainland.

The last four years of a Secretary of State

The legacy of Condoleezza Rice

See also the American Enterprise Institute, on the visit of George W. Bush at the AEI headquarters, December 18 - A conversation with president Bush

Turkey, Croatia and EU

The European Union agreed to open talks on two policy areas of Turkey's 35-chapter accession package at the end of the last week, bringing the overall number of chapters open to ten. Turkey, for its part, urged the 27-nation bloc to pressure Greece over the divided island of Cyprus. Also, the EU and Croatia opened negotiations on an additional chapter in the country's accession package, with Enlargement commissioner Rehn indicating Zagreb could wrap up the talks as soon as next year.

See also:

Turkey-EU relations file

Croatia-EU relations file

Financial crisis: political consequences in Belgium

Third time in a year, Belgium is looking for a new government. Prime Minister Yves Leterme tendered his government's resignation on Friday after a damning report by the Supreme Court found signs of political meddling to sway a court ruling on the future of the bank Fortis, a victim of the credit crunch. King Albert have to decide whether to decide the resignation.


The King accepted the resignation on Monday, December 22. The Belgian parties are to decide who could take the top governmental job.

A commentary from the Dutch Handelsblad

ANALYSIS / Has the Gaza ceasefire really breathed its last?

By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff


The way things looked yesterday afternoon, the cease-fire hadn't breathed its last. According to Hamas, the official expiration date falls today, December 19. But in fact, resuscitation efforts - by the Israelis, mostly - continue. Paradoxically, it's defense officials regularly accused of warmongering who are trying to prevent renewed fighting.

True, rockets have been hitting communities around Gaza in recent weeks, but senior security officials still feel the time is not yet ripe for a broad ground operation. This is the view not only of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's political bureau, but also of Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, who isn't pressing for action either.

There are myriad arguments against a war in Gaza, but the strongest is the one defense officials can't utter aloud because it has to do with the politicians above them. It would be hard to go into Gaza at the height of an election campaign. When one considers how political battles are already affecting decision making and public statements, it's not difficult to imagine what it would be like to try to run a war in the period leading up to the vote.

So for the time being we can expect turbulent times along the Gaza border, but in the slightly longer run, Israel (and more importantly, perhaps, Hamas) does not have an interest in an all-out confrontation. Even when the pronouncements sound more insistent than ever, it's worth recalling how many times in recent years Israel has found itself in a similar situation - and ultimately decided not to take action. It's quite possible that a major operation will eventually take place, but the decision to go ahead will only be made when there's a genuine sense that there is no other choice.

The Israel Defense Forces recently updated its operational plans for various potential escalation scenarios. It has also formulated different levels of response that fall short of an all-out war. But the chief of staff knows that there's no such thing as a half-war, and that even a limited entry into part of the territory (the logical targets would be the rocket-launching areas in northern Gaza and the smuggling zone in the south) could evolve into something bigger.

And while the military plan is relatively clear, there is still a gaping hole in the political sphere: Just what will Israel do after the IDF occupies the Gaza Strip? The ministers currently pushing for action are liable to find themselves in the position of former U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had to admit that the Bush administration did not adequately prepare itself for what would happen after the occupation of Iraq. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld explained with a shrug when confronted with images of the widespread mayhem in Baghdad.

Amos Gilad has made it clear in media interviews that we saw what happened when we went into Lebanon in 1982 to expel Fatah and ended up creating Hezbollah. We need to take into account that an occupation of the Gaza Strip would require us to feed 1.5 million people, endanger relations with Egypt and Jordan and potentially ignite a firestorm in the Muslim world.

It's hard to say that Israel made the most of the months of the cease-fire. The government approved the budget for upgrading the protection of communities near Gaza only two weeks ago, after six months of pleading from Barak and Ashkenazi. Introduction of the Iron Dome system for rocket interception is not likely to meet the ambitious timetable set by the defense establishment.

A rocket expert familiar with the program says that "Rafael [Advanced Defense Systems] is doing excellent work, but there are still some problems in integrating all the parts. One reason is that Barak did not a appoint someone as a 'czar' holding all the authority, as was done in the past with projects like the Arrow missile." The saga of the flawed handling of the Qassam interception program will soon receive a scathing assessment in a report by the state comptroller.

Early electioneering

The Israeli reporters invited to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday evening asked him a raft of questions about the upcoming Israeli election. Abbas, with Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al) in attendance, was evasive. "It's an internal Israeli matter. We'll work with any government that is elected in Israel," he said.

When asked about continuing his tenure, he explained almost casually that there will be elections for the Palestinian presidency and parliament next year. Even though Hamas opposes early parliamentary elections, which are currently scheduled for January 2010, Abbas said that if the attempts to renew the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas are not fruitful, he will unilaterally declare early elections. "And what will happen if Hamas refuses to go along? How will you hold elections in Gaza?" he was asked. He didn't have an answer.

Although the likelihood of elections in the territories soon is low, the two organizations were going at it this week as if they were in the throes of a heated campaign. Last Saturday, Hamas held a rally in Gaza marking the 21st anniversary of its founding, and the crowd numbered around 200,000. It was a tremendous show of power, not only because of the event's magnitude (about every seventh Gazan took part), but also because of the exemplary order. A Gazan journalist says the money Hamas spent on the rally could have easily helped several thousand people survive the difficult siege conditions for another month.

Meanwhile, on Monday at the Muqata in Ramallah, there was a reception for the 227 prisoners Israel released as a gesture to Abbas. The crowd here was only in the hundreds, but they waved Fatah and Palestinian flags and cheered loud and long for Abbas when he began to speak. Ironically, while Abbas and Fatah are succeeding where Hamas has so far failed - prisoner releases and improving the economy - Fatah had trouble recruiting a big crowd for its event.

But Hamas has other problems to contend with. The consensus that once prevailed in the organization is cracking. At the beginning of the week, the rifts were hard to obscure, as Khaled Meshal, head of the political bureau in Damascus, announced that the truce was ending, while Hamas spokesmen in Gaza were saying that everything was still open. Within 24 hours, everybody in Damascus and Gaza was touting the new official line: The cease-fire is over, but Hamas will respond only if attacked by Israel.

Like the frog in the pot

The repulsive spectacle about Gilad Shalit staged by Hamas at its Gaza rally once again reflects the deep cultural chasm between the two sides. While the organization follows the Israeli media and many of its leaders are alumni of Israeli prisons, they still don't get us and we don't get them. The show in Gaza was a modern incarnation of an old Islamic practice of publicly scorning an enemy before going out to battle. It's also Hezbollah-type thinking, aimed at the soft underbelly - public consciousness. However, if the hope in Gaza was that such a spectacle would hurt Israeli morale, it mainly evoked disgust at Hamas' disdain for human life. At the same time, it's very possible that the numerous ways Israeli is putting pressure on the people in Gaza is only boosting support for Hamas.

The Shalit affair has become a pretext for political mudslinging, which isn't doing a thing to help secure his release. The organizations calling for his release have become a national movement, headed by a retired brigadier general and with the soldier's picture printed on T-shirts. It's hard to know if any of this is bringing results or only reinforcing Hamas' assessment that it can break Israel's fortitude.

The handling of the Shalit affair will certainly be pored over in the future. The foul-ups, particularly at the start, could well deserve the state comptroller's scrutiny. There were plenty of steps that Israel could have taken early on: declaring the Palestinian prisoners and Shalit prisoners of war, forbidding Red Cross visits to the prisoners, or abducting Hamas members from Gaza to serve as bargaining chips. Each of these ideas has its potential benefits and risks. But any move like this would also have necessitated negotiations that would last even more months, during which the risk of Shalit being harmed or disappearing would increase.

It's unlikely that Shalit will return home during the tenure of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under whom the abduction occurred. Ofer Dekel, the coordinator of the negotiations who has already considered resigning several times, will probably step down around the time Olmert leaves office. The exhausting negotiations before the prisoner swap with Hezbollah placed him in a harsh confrontation with the heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet security service.

The argument between Dekel and Shin Bet chief Diskin has not abated and is particularly charged. It is still going on for two basic reasons: The IDF messed up when it did not thwart the abduction and the Shin Bet messed up when it couldn't locate Shalit.

Throughout the time that has passed since, various operational plans for rescuing Shalit from Gaza have been considered. But they never went ahead because the intelligence wasn't precise enough and the army couldn't come up with a plan with a good chance of rescuing Shalit while getting the rescue force out of Gaza with minimal casualties. The IDF is presuming that Hamas has learned the lessons of the failed Nachshon Wachsman rescue operation, which ended with the soldier being killed by his captors when the Sayeret Matkal burst in to where he was being held. Arab media reports that Shalit is being held somewhere booby-trapped with explosives are being taken as credible.

There are plenty of logical explanations on why Shalit has still not been rescued, more than 900 days since he was abducted, just as there are plenty of excellent reasons not to re-occupy the Gaza Strip. But Israel's dilemma is reminiscent of the fable about the frog that's put into a pot of hot water where the temperature rises one degree at a time. The creature becomes accustomed to the steadily worsening situation without fully appreciating its implications.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Egyptian intellectuals pay price for curiosity

LA Times

Rapprochement with Israel is a fraught issue. Most want to wait until Palestinians have a state, others support limited peace, and those who have done the unthinkable and visited Israel face ostracism
By Jeffrey Fleishman
December 16, 2008
Reporting from Cairo -- It has been a tough peace for Ali Salem. His plays don't have a stage. Intellectuals shun him; the writers union refuses to pay his pension. He sits in a cafe window, typing on his laptop and defending his choice long ago to cross the border into Israel and make friends.

Egypt and Israel made peace in 1979, but that treaty remains as agitating to Egyptian artists and intellectuals as a sliver of glass beneath the skin. Most of them don't accept it, and those who do are often vilified, their artistic voices muffled by condemnation.

"Producers are afraid to come near me," said Salem, who in 1994 drove his car across Israel and wrote what critics considered a sympathetic book about the journey. "I anticipated there would be a strong reaction, but I didn't expect it would be so mean. It's hard and this is the wound."

Salem, a columnist for Al Hayat newspaper and a co-founder of the Cairo Peace Movement, added: "Peace is the right idea. But Egyptian intellectuals are afraid and can't get rid of their ancient fears. They still think Israel and the U.S. will inflict something bad upon us."

There are degrees of resistance among intellectuals toward rapprochement. Many oppose improving relations until Palestinians have their own state; others support limited peace but are guarded when discussing the passions around the Arab-Israeli conflict; a few have visited Israel to interact with their Jewish counterparts.

And, occasionally, an artist unwittingly becomes the target of screeds and opinion page vitriol. Filmmaker Nadia Kamel’s recent documentary about her mother's Jewish roots was attacked as a call to "normalize" relations with Israel. Opera singer Gaber Beltagui had his membership in the musicians union suspended in 2007 when he sang at the 100th anniversary of a Cairo synagogue.

"How can he go sing at a synagogue while they [Israelis] are killing our sons?" Mounir Wasseemy, the head of the Musical Artists' Syndicate, said, denouncing Beltagui. "What glory was he seeking?"

The Cairo synagogue is "officially recorded as an Egyptian monument," said Beltagui, who has filed suit against the union. "I did not expect this reaction. I did nothing wrong. I had even asked permission from the state security services before I sang."

Similar furor has engulfed Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al Azhar Mosque, the leading Sunni institution in the Islamic world. Writers and newspapers have called for Tantawi’s resignation after he was photographed shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres at a recent international conference on religious understanding sponsored by the United Nations.

The sheik said he had not recognized Peres, and has called his detractors "lunatics."

Gamal Ghitani is one of Egypt's best novelists. He covered the 1973 war as a correspondent and is curious to see the land of his enemy. That is not likely to happen soon; Ghitani's refusal to travel to Israel has not wavered in more than three decades.

"Cultural exchange can't be fruitful unless Israel achieves peace on the ground," he said. "How can I be at peace with this peace if Israel relies on its military superiority, builds fences and settlements and keeps kicking Palestinians out? Politics can follow the path it wants, but we as intellectuals must follow our conscience."

A chat with him on a recent morning rolled through history and present-day dangers. Ghitani, a polished man in a blue blazer, equates radical Zionists with Palestinian mujahedin, and he draws a distinction between individual Jews and the actions of a Jewish state. His conversation was laced with nuance and shifting politics; he said he opposed the criticism directed at opera singer Beltagui as "a form of extremism."

Yet he promised not to budge on making his own peace with Israel.

"This will take time," said Ghitani, editor of the literary journal Akhbar Al-Adab. "We can't go to Israel while they are killing Palestinians."

Salem was as rumpled as Ghitani was meticulous. Sitting in a cafe in a flannel shirt, Salem, a big man with rounded shoulders, leaned forward, his voice rattling like the growl of a loose muffler.

He was an established playwright when Cairo was ostracized by the Arab world after President Anwar Sadat traveled to Washington to sign the Camp David peace accords with Israel's Menachem Begin.

His open support of that peace, and his befriending of Jewish intellectuals, has cost him. The Egyptian Writers' Union stopped paying his pension in 2001 and he hasn't had a play produced here in years. So he has turned his newspaper column into a kind of one-man theatrical show. It's not the same as a production, but it allows him to vent.

"Peace will not come to you; you have to make it, you have to sculpt it," he said. "The intellectuals here always pull Israel from the bottom of the drawer and set it on the table. They can't move beyond it.

"But you know, business deals lead to peace, not 'enlightenment' from writers and intellectuals. . . . If you ask any Egyptian businessman, he will tell you there is peace with Israel. There's real cooperation on security, commerce and politics."

In November, Salem was awarded the $50,000 Civil Courage Prize from the Train Foundation, a New York-based trust that promotes tolerance and resistance to extremism, which recognized his commitment to peace with Israel and opposition to Islamic radicalism. When Salem discussed the prize, there was a shine in his eyes, the kind a man has when he gets one over on his critics.

He made his 1994 trip to Israel -- his first -- after the Oslo accords. His book about the journey, "My Drive to Israel," reportedly sold 60,000 copies and angered Egyptian intellectuals, as did his honorary doctorate from Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

"When I went to Israel, I just wanted to see who are these people and what are they doing," he said. "The writers union still wants me to repent. But they will never forgive me if I retreat. That's when the real attacks would come, because deep down they know I speak the truth."

Fleishman is a Times staff writer.

Noha El-Hennawy of The Times' Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.

Youth protests escalating in southern Sweden

Police say youths in southern Sweden set fires and hurled rocks at police in unrest sparked by the closure of an Islamic cultural center.

Police spokesman Charley Nilsson says no injuries have been reported, but several trailers, containers, garbage bins and at least two cars were set ablaze in Malmo, Sweden's third largest city. One person was arrested.

The violence has escalated every night since Monday, when police removed squatters protesting the eviction of an Islamic group from their basement premises in an immigrant neighborhood. Nilsson says leftist activists from other parts of the city have joined the protests.

Police say there are no immediate signs of a link to the violent protests in Greece.

Who donated for Clinton's foundation

After Hillary Clinton's nomination for the position of US top diplomat, the funds received and used by the Clintons, after Bill ended his mandate at the White House, come under scrutiny. An extensive list of the donors for his Foundation was released, summing up the last ten years of activity. Among the contributors: individuals from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Ukraine, Nigeria, as well as Barbra Streisand, Freddie Mac company, Indian politician Amar Singh, Bloomberg L.P..

Clinton Foundation:

Ingrid Betancourt is talking for BBC

BBC's Alan Johnston interviewed Ingrid Betancourt, former six years hostage of guerillas in the Columbian jungle and Columbian presidential candidate. Alan Johnston was himself kidnapped, last year, in Gaza.


And for Der Spiegel too.

The key-source in Watergate scandal died

Mark Felt, the man known as Deep Throat, the secret informant in the Watergate scandal that led to the downfall of president Richard Nixon in 1974, has died. He was 95. The news was brought in the Washington Post by Bob Woodward, one of the two Post journalists who exposed the Watergate affair. He kept his role secret for 33 years, not even telling his family. It was with Felt's crucial input that Woodward and Carl Bernstein could write a series of investigative scoops about the Nixon administration's involvement in the June 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in the US capital.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global Public Opinion in the Bush Years

- Pew Global Attitudes Project Release -

When Barack Obama is sworn in as America's new president in January, he will inherit two wars in distant lands, one highly unpopular and the other going badly, along with a worldwide financial crisis that is being measured against the Great Depression.

He will confront the prospect of destructive global climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states.

The president-elect has indicated that he will focus on international cooperation in addressing global problems, but he will have to navigate a world that has grown highly critical of the United States.

America's image gap is the central, unmistakable finding from surveys conducted over the course of this decade by the Pew Research Center's Pew Global Attitudes Project. Since 2002, interviewers have polled over 175,000 people in 54 nations and the Palestinian territories to compare and contrast public opinion around the world on a large variety of subjects.

This report reviews many of the project's key findings on America's image during the Bush presidency, as well as other major global trends, such as tensions between Western and Muslim nations, changes in the global economy, and the rise of China.

Read the full report:

Sakharov prize for jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia

Hu Jia jailed dissident received on Wednesday the Andrei Sakharov prize of the European Parliament. Hu Jia protested against the human rights abuses in China. Among the recipients of the prize they were also Nelson Mandela (1988) and Alexander Dubcek (1989).
In Beijing, president Hu Jintao praised the 30 years of reforms, in a ceremony held on the occasion of anniversary of the changes launched by Deng Xiaoping.

UPDATE: The visits to the awarded Chinese dissident have been curbed by Chinese authorities.

The European Parliament expressed its concern about the recent wave of arrests, by whom was included one of the initiators of the Charter 08 movement, Liu Xiaobo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bangladesh, between the military rule and the return to democracy

December 29, in Bangladesh they will be hold elections, after almost two years of military rule. The retirement of the Army back into the barracks is depending also of the capacity of the politicians to fully assume their duties. A Reuters analysis of the present and possible post-electoral evolutions, here.

Inquiry of UK operations in Iraq

The pressure is mounting in UK for an inquiry of the war in Iraq. According to the prime-minister Gordon Brown, the pull-out of British troops is scheduled by July.
One day ago, the last 155 Bulgarian troops returned home from Iraq, after five years in mission. Pn Wednesday, Estonian Parliament approved a one year extension of the mandate of the 37 troops and 3 officers dislocated in Iraq.

The present situation of the foreign troops currently deployed on the ground is the following, according to Reuters:

United States 143,000

Britain 4,100

Romania 600

Australia 300

El Salvador 200

Denmark 55

Lithuania 53

Estonia 38

The journalist and the sho(e)ws

The last headline about the "famous" journalist and his "famous" shoes: "The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad has received offers of a job and $10 million for one of the shoes". (AllHeadlinesNews-AHN)
Maybe he had reasons to do so, as George W. Bush had his owns to enter Iraq. At this level, everything could find a justification - WMD, anger, nostalgia. Deserve this journalist so much fame? He is having the right to write or report. It's not too much, but during Saddam is was quite impossible - as well as to imagine such an unique form of protest; you could imagine how many prizes for the defense of human rights and freedom of speech he would get, even unable to enjoy it, because shortly executed, without trial, following his boldness.
Of course, they were many abuses and bad planning from the American side - Abu Ghraib, the impossibility to cope with an increasing tribal violence and the lack of human resources. As the Iraqi side was not prepared in political terms to assume the government of a country. But, what's in fact the advantage of the last years: no more dictatorship. What these people wanted? To bring a ready made US government especially for Iraq? Or to continue holding hands with Saddam and his clan?
Muntadhar al-Zeidi is calling himself a journalist. He could make an infinite number of news, breaking news all over the news channels, by daily reporting about his country. But his choice was obviously the show-biz.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Public apology of Turkish intellectuals for mass killing of Armenians

A first step, indeed, after 100 years of dissent. Turkish intellectuals who raised this question were killed or sued or threatened. Turkish diplomats were assassinated in various corners of the world by Armenian patriots. The public campaign to be launched by intellectuals could open the door to a process of getting the history out of the present, not by ignoring it, but by assuming the past.

ANKARA (Reuters) -- A group of Turkish intellectuals and academics are planning to issue a public apology on the Internet for the mass killings of ethnic Armenians in World War I.
The campaign, which has drawn the ire of nationalists who regard it as an act of national betrayal, coincides with a diplomatic rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia to end almost 100 years of hostility.
Turks, including Nobel Literature Laureate Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted in the European Union candidate country for affirming that the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 amount to genocide.
Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University and one of the campaign's organizers, said the group plans to issue the apology on December 15 along with a non-binding Internet petition to gather signatures.
It will read: "My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to, and the denial of, the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathies with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers. I apologies to them."
Turkey accepts that many Armenians were killed during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, but strongly denies Armenian claims it was genocide, saying that Muslim Turks also died in inter-ethnic conflicts. Western historians have backed Armenian claims that the killings amounted to genocide.
The apology, which has been leaked to the media, threatens to reignite a controversy that challenges one of the ideological foundations of modern Turkey. It also comes at a time of heightened nationalism in Turkey.
Aktar said the initiative was meant to allow Turks to offer a personal apology and to end an official silence. "We are not targeting anyone. It's an apology of individual nature. We want to tell our Armenian brothers and sisters we apologies for not being able to discuss this issue for almost 100 years," he said.
He said the group included 200 writers, intellectuals, and academics. The European Union has repeatedly criticized Turkey for restrictions on free speech, in particular over punishments writers have received for comments on the Armenian issue.
President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia in September as Turkey has sought to improve ties. Several meetings between Turkish and Armenian officials have followed and the two countries have expressed hopes of restoring full diplomatic relations soon.



Turkish nationalists have criticized the online apology and on Monday a group of some 60 retired Turkish diplomats described the move "as unfair, wrong and unfavorable to national interests."
"Such an incorrect and one-sided attempt would mean disrespecting our history," the diplomats said. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party said: "No one has the right to insult our ancestors, to present them as criminals and to ask for an apology."

By late Monday, there were no public threats of legal action over the petition.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wind of Change

After the Solidarity movement created in Moscow at the end of this week by opposition representatives (sharing at least the name with the Polish anti-communist movement), in China, a Charter 08 - after the Czechoslovak Charter 77 is publishing its platform in the 2009 first issue of The New York Review of Books.

Charter 08

The following text of Charter 08, signed by hundreds of Chinese intellectuals and translated and introduced by Perry Link, Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of California, Riverside, will be published in the issue of The New York Review dated January 15, which goes on sale on January 2.

The document below, signed by over three hundred prominent Chinese citizens, was conceived and written in conscious admiration of the founding of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, where, in January 1977, more than two hundred Czech and Slovak intellectuals formed a loose, informal, and open association of people... united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world.

The Chinese document calls not for ameliorative reform of the current political system but for an end to some of its essential features, including one-party rule, and their replacement with a system based on human rights and democracy.

The prominent citizens who have signed the document are from both outside and inside the government, and include not only well-known dissidents and intellectuals, but also middle-level officials and rural leaders. They have chosen December 10, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the day on which to express their political ideas and to outline their vision of a constitutional, democratic China. They intend “Charter 08” to serve as a blueprint for fundamental political change in China in the years to come. The signers of the document will form an informal group, open-ended in size but united by a determination to promote democratization and protection of human rights in China and beyond.

On December 8 two prominent signers of the Charter, Zhang Zuhua and Liu Xiaobo, were detained by the police. Zhang Zuhua has since been released; as of December 9, Liu Xiabo remains in custody.

—Perry Link

Chrysalids Holiday

I. Foreword

A hundred years have passed since the writing of China’s first constitution. 2008 also marks the sixtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the thirtieth anniversary of the appearance of Democracy Wall in Beijing, and the tenth of China’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre of pro-democracy student protesters. The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

By departing from these values, the Chinese government’s approach to “modernization” has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse. So we ask: Where is China headed in the twenty-first century? Will it continue with “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system? There can be no avoiding these questions.

The shock of the Western impact upon China in the nineteenth century laid bare a decadent authoritarian system and marked the beginning of what is often called “the greatest changes in thousands of years” for China. A “self-strengthening movement” followed, but this aimed simply at appropriating the technology to build gunboats and other Western material objects. China’s humiliating naval defeat at the hands of Japan in 1895 only confirmed the obsolescence of China’s system of government. The first attempts at modern political change came with the ill-fated summer of reforms in 1898, but these were cruelly crushed by ultraconservatives at China’s imperial court. With the revolution of 1911, which inaugurated Asia’s first republic, the authoritarian imperial system that had lasted for centuries was finally supposed to have been laid to rest. But social conflict inside our country and external pressures were to prevent it; China fell into a patchwork of warlord fiefdoms and the new republic became a fleeting dream.

The failure of both “self-strengthening” and political renovation caused many of our forebears to reflect deeply on whether a “cultural illness” was afflicting our country. This mood gave rise, during the May Fourth Movement of the late 1910s, to the championing of “science and democracy.” Yet that effort, too, foundered as warlord chaos persisted and the Japanese invasion [beginning in Manchuria in 1931] brought national crisis.

Victory over Japan in 1945 offered one more chance for China to move toward modern government, but the Communist defeat of the Nationalists in the civil war thrust the nation into the abyss of totalitarianism. The “new China” that emerged in 1949 proclaimed that “the people are sovereign” but in fact set up a system in which “the Party is all-powerful.” The Communist Party of China seized control of all organs of the state and all political, economic, and social resources, and, using these, has produced a long trail of human rights disasters, including, among many others, the Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960), the Cultural Revolution (1966–1969), the June Fourth (Tiananmen Square) Massacre (1989), and the current repression of all unauthorized religions and the suppression of the weiquan rights movement [a movement that aims to defend citizens’ rights promulgated in the Chinese Constitution and to fight for human rights recognized by international conventions that the Chinese government has signed]. During all this, the Chinese people have paid a gargantuan price. Tens of millions have lost their lives, and several generations have seen their freedom, their happiness, and their human dignity cruelly trampled.

During the last two decades of the twentieth century the government policy of “Reform and Opening” gave the Chinese people relief from the pervasive poverty and totalitarianism of the Mao Zedong era and brought substantial increases in the wealth and living standards of many Chinese as well as a partial restoration of economic freedom and economic rights. Civil society began to grow, and popular calls for more rights and more political freedom have grown apace. As the ruling elite itself moved toward private ownership and the market economy, it began to shift from an outright rejection of “rights” to a partial acknowledgment of them.

In 1998 the Chinese government signed two important international human rights conventions; in 2004 it amended its constitution to include the phrase “respect and protect human rights”; and this year, 2008, it has promised to promote a “national human rights action plan.” Unfortunately most of this political progress has extended no further than the paper on which it is written. The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change.

The stultifying results are endemic official corruption, an undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, crony capitalism, growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor, pillage of the natural environment as well as of the human and historical environments, and the exacerbation of a long list of social conflicts, especially, in recent times, a sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people.

As these conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society—the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas—becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.

II. Our Fundamental Principles

This is a historic moment for China, and our future hangs in the balance. In reviewing the political modernization process of the past hundred years or more, we reiterate and endorse basic universal values as follows:

Freedom. Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights. Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person—regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief—are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism. Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule. Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

III. What We Advocate

Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the world; in China, too, the era of emperors and overlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states. For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an “enlightened overlord” or an “honest official” and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy, and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty. Accordingly, and in a spirit of this duty as responsible and constructive citizens, we offer the following recommendations on national governance, citizens’ rights, and social development:

1. A New Constitution. We should recast our present constitution, rescinding its provisions that contradict the principle that sovereignty resides with the people and turning it into a document that genuinely guarantees human rights, authorizes the exercise of public power, and serves as the legal underpinning of China’s democratization. The constitution must be the highest law in the land, beyond violation by any individual, group, or political party.

2. Separation of powers. We should construct a modern government in which the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive power is guaranteed. We need an Administrative Law that defines the scope of government responsibility and prevents abuse of administrative power. Government should be responsible to taxpayers. Division of power between provincial governments and the central government should adhere to the principle that central powers are only those specifically granted by the constitution and all other powers belong to the local governments.

3. Legislative democracy. Members of legislative bodies at all levels should be chosen by direct election, and legislative democracy should observe just and impartial principles.

4. An Independent Judiciary. The rule of law must be above the interests of any particular political party and judges must be independent. We need to establish a constitutional supreme court and institute procedures for constitutional review. As soon as possible, we should abolish all of the Committees on Political and Legal Affairs that now allow Communist Party officials at every level to decide politically-sensitive cases in advance and out of court. We should strictly forbid the use of public offices for private purposes.

5. Public Control of Public Servants. The military should be made answerable to the national government, not to a political party, and should be made more professional. Military personnel should swear allegiance to the constitution and remain nonpartisan. Political party organizations shall be prohibited in the military. All public officials including police should serve as nonpartisans, and the current practice of favoring one political party in the hiring of public servants must end.

6. Guarantee of Human Rights. There shall be strict guarantees of human rights and respect for human dignity. There should be a Human Rights Committee, responsible to the highest legislative body, that will prevent the government from abusing public power in violation of human rights. A democratic and constitutional China especially must guarantee the personal freedom of citizens. No one shall suffer illegal arrest, detention, arraignment, interrogation, or punishment. The system of “Reeducation through Labor” must be abolished.

7. Election of Public Officials. There shall be a comprehensive system of democratic elections based on “one person, one vote.” The direct election of administrative heads at the levels of county, city, province, and nation should be systematically implemented. The rights to hold periodic free elections and to participate in them as a citizen are inalienable.

8. Rural–Urban Equality. The two-tier household registry system must be abolished. This system favors urban residents and harms rural residents. We should establish instead a system that gives every citizen the same constitutional rights and the same freedom to choose where to live.

9. Freedom to Form Groups. The right of citizens to form groups must be guaranteed. The current system for registering nongovernment groups, which requires a group to be “approved,” should be replaced by a system in which a group simply registers itself. The formation of political parties should be governed by the constitution and the laws, which means that we must abolish the special privilege of one party to monopolize power and must guarantee principles of free and fair competition among political parties.

10. Freedom to Assemble. The constitution provides that peaceful assembly, demonstration, protest, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights of a citizen. The ruling party and the government must not be permitted to subject these to illegal interference or unconstitutional obstruction.

11. Freedom of Expression. We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision. These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press. The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to “the crime of incitement to subvert state power” must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.

12. Freedom of Religion. We must guarantee freedom of religion and belief and institute a separation of religion and state. There must be no governmental interference in peaceful religious activities. We should abolish any laws, regulations, or local rules that limit or suppress the religious freedom of citizens. We should abolish the current system that requires religious groups (and their places of worship) to get official approval in advance and substitute for it a system in which registry is optional and, for those who choose to register, automatic.

13. Civic Education. In our schools we should abolish political curriculums and examinations that are designed to indoctrinate students in state ideology and to instill support for the rule of one party. We should replace them with civic education that advances universal values and citizens’ rights, fosters civic consciousness, and promotes civic virtues that serve society.

14. Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

15. Financial and Tax Reform. We should establish a democratically regulated and accountable system of public finance that ensures the protection of taxpayer rights and that operates through legal procedures. We need a system by which public revenues that belong to a certain level of government—central, provincial, county or local—are controlled at that level. We need major tax reform that will abolish any unfair taxes, simplify the tax system, and spread the tax burden fairly. Government officials should not be able to raise taxes, or institute new ones, without public deliberation and the approval of a democratic assembly. We should reform the ownership system in order to encourage competition among a wider variety of market participants.

16. Social Security. We should establish a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, health care, retirement security, and employment.

17. Protection of the Environment. We need to protect the natural environment and to promote development in a way that is sustainable and responsible to our descendents and to the rest of humanity. This means insisting that the state and its officials at all levels not only do what they must do to achieve these goals, but also accept the supervision and participation of non-governmental organizations.

18. A Federated Republic. A democratic China should seek to act as a responsible major power contributing toward peace and development in the Asian Pacific region by approaching others in a spirit of equality and fairness. In Hong Kong and Macao, we should support the freedoms that already exist. With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals, and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification. We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish. We should aim ultimately at a federation of democratic communities of China.

19. Truth in Reconciliation. We should restore the reputations of all people, including their family members, who suffered political stigma in the political campaigns of the past or who have been labeled as criminals because of their thought, speech, or faith. The state should pay reparations to these people. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience must be released. There should be a Truth Investigation Commission charged with finding the facts about past injustices and atrocities, determining responsibility for them, upholding justice, and, on these bases, seeking social reconciliation.

China, as a major nation of the world, as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and as a member of the UN Council on Human Rights, should be contributing to peace for humankind and progress toward human rights. Unfortunately, we stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics. Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby not only constricting China’s own development but also limiting the progress of all of human civilization. This must change, truly it must. The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer.

Accordingly, we dare to put civic spirit into practice by announcing Charter 08. We hope that our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, will set aside small differences to embrace the broad goals of this citizens’ movement. Together we can work for major changes in Chinese society and for the rapid establishment of a free, democratic, and constitutional country. We can bring to reality the goals and ideals that our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years, and can bring a brilliant new chapter to Chinese civilization.

—translated from the Chinese by Perry Link

Steps to peace

Dec. 13, 2008

I didn't waltz while I was in Vienna a week ago. The toes I stepped on were metaphorical. They say it takes two to tango. Or to do a waltz. They also say it takes two to make peace. They (whoever they are) have never attended a peace conference.

Some 200 people sat in a splendid conference room at Vienna's Hofburg Congress Center, the former imperial palace, for the 16th International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, organized by the UN's Department of Public Information and the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs in Austria on December 2 and 3.

The city, smothered with Christmas decorations, seemed to be gift wrapped to welcome the participants. Since the theme of the conference was "The role of the international community," it is hardly surprising that the seminar was attended by more than just those directly affected by the Israeli-Palestinian situation. An Obama-supporting Native American by the name of Silverbird, for example, handed out business cards listing him as "ambassador, historian, entrepreneur."

Seeing as it was a media conference, I unapologetically spent time interviewing other journalists. Indeed, it was the discussions during coffee breaks or while seeking the nightlife in a city that goes to bed early which proved most interesting. A journalist from Jerusalem doesn't often get the chance to talk to a colleague from Algeria, even off the record.

A chat with the Cairo bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel, Randa Abul-Azm, was also illuminating. When I mentioned the Sunni-Shi'ite split, she countered: "That's an American invention. It didn't exist before the Iraqi invasion." I suggested that Egypt take some responsibility for Gaza, eliciting the response: "You can't expect Egypt to absorb the refugees. We're overcrowded as it is."

Fritz Froehlich, coordinator for "UNRWA at 60," pointed out that the problems have only just begun. In his assessment, the issue isn't the number of residents currently in Gaza, but the exponentially growing number in the future.

Many participants expressed concern about the Hamas hold on Gaza, cutting it off from the West Bank more effectively than any Israeli-imposed sanctions ever could.

Clearly we have a long way to go to reach solutions. The opening panel demonstrated just how far.

UN UNDER-SECRETARY General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka stressed that "the process under way has kindled new hopes that peace can be attained" and read a message from Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging: "If people are to have faith in the political process, there is a need for tangible improvements in living conditions and security."

Throughout, the UN struggled to preserve an image of impartiality. But the feeling of hope and goodwill dissipated as the PA's deputy foreign minister, Almutawakel Taha, took to the floor with a speech that strung together every cliché in the book, starting with: "The crucifixion continues in Palestine, not only of human beings but of birds, children, trees and houses..."

I wondered if the "so on and so forth" I heard through my headphones was the literal translation of Taha's speech or a sign the simultaneous interpreter couldn't keep up. This wasn't a peace dialogue; it was a Palestinian narrative. A very distorted version of the truth.

I sat there, far from home, wondering about the ramifications of walking out of the conference in its first session. I decided to stick around, if only to counter some of the arguments in my own speech in the afternoon panel. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait that long.

ELI DAYAN, a former deputy foreign minister in Israel, who spoke immediately after Taha, put aside his planned address and responded directly to Taha's attack. The Moroccan-born Dayan, kippa on head, recalled good neighborly relations with Arabs. He also noted that when he served as mayor of Ashkelon, the city where he still lives - under almost daily rocket fire - his first step was to create a working relationship with the mayor of Gaza. Such speeches don't help promote peace in any way, Dayan berated Taha.

Dayan said there is a consensus in Israel for the two-state solution and much of the Arab world is no longer taking the stance of non-recognition of Israel. "We should be looking ahead," Dayan said. He also took the co-hosts to task, stating: "The UN should lay off its ritual annual decisions condemning Israel, which have no effect."

His sentiments were echoed by two other Ashkelon residents: Benny Vaknin, who has just been reelected mayor after a period out of office, and a Mekorot water company official, Sion Cohen.

Vaknin, Cohen and others were in Vienna to discuss the Israel-Palestinian Civil Society Initiative, chaired by Prof. Ilan Juran. The initiative, which got off the ground following the Moscow seminar two years ago, furthers peacemaking through inter-community cooperation at a local level. Juran noted the joint wastewater program between Hadera and Beit Sahur. Hadera Mayor Haim Avitan explained the triple advantage: saving water, preventing pollution and building trust. Beit Sahur Mayor Hani al-Hayek also urged the use of joint projects for peace.

WHEN IT was my turn to speak, I felt like a party pooper. A string of panelists had warned Israel and the Palestinians that "time is running out." But how can you make real peace while holding a stopwatch? Peace is more than a signed document and photo opportunity. The aim should be to stop people from suffering or being killed. It seems more important to use the coming year to develop environmental, health and educational projects than to chase an elusive agreement, especially when the world's ability to fund even these projects is limited. Sitting comfortably in the old imperial palace, it was as if participants were deliberately avoiding the topic of the Iranian threat and evidence of global jihad.

I was also ignoring Austria's own past, although a German participant suggested I visit Vienna's Jewish Museum, and I wondered if I could find the building where my late aunt used to live - and, perhaps, a clue to the exact fate of her parents in the Holocaust.

One issue I was not prepared to overlook at a conference addressing human rights: captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and the several MIAs. A member of Women in Black heckled me about the Palestinian prisoners, but, I pointed out, she knew exactly where they are, how they spend their time, and when they can have visitors.

WHILE WE were away, Kassams continued to fall and terrorists were arrested on their way to carry out an attack in Tel Aviv. As I returned, Israeli police evacuated Hebron's House of Peace, and hotheads attacked local Palestinians. I was pleased I didn't have to face questions on that, inexcusable, behavior.

At Ben-Gurion Airport, I overheard a discussion about Hanukka presents. I collected my suitcase, put aside emotional baggage, and headed for home in Jerusalem, far from Vienna's Christmas lights.

We might not have made peace, or even danced together, but perhaps we had taken a step - or two - in the right direction.

Inside Guantanamo

Reuters published at the beginning of this week a series of photos made during 2007/2008 at Guantanamo. The closing of the camp is considered a high priority for the new US executive, as a first step to restore the image of the United States abroad. Quite easy: people are transferred, the camp is shut down, everybody is happy. The ways in which the transfer would be made, as well as the juridical fate of the detainees is still unclear.

Solidarity, the new name of the Russian opposition

A new try to unite the Russian opposition. The former chess great Gary Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov, a former favorite of Boris Yeltsin and adviser of Ukrainian president Viktor Yuschenko after the orange revolution, launched on Saturday the movement Solidarity - a tribute to the Polish opposition movement with the same name created during the communism. The manifesto is called "The 300 steps to Freedom". An unauthorized protest organized by the movement on Sunday, in central Moscow, was welcomed by hundreds of policemen and several surrenders were made. It gonna be a long long journey ahead for the opposition in Russia.

Race-hate crimes, on rise in Russia

The Tajikistan Foreign Ministry handed a Russian diplomat a protest note on Friday following the decapitation of a Tajik national last week near Moscow in what is believed to be a race-hate murder, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Salokhiddin Azizov, a 20-year-old migrant worker from Tajikistan was murdered and decapitated in a forest near Moscow on December 6. Azizov's head was later found in a rubbish dumpster. A group calling themselves the Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists has allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack. "Such incidents often take place against the background of xenophobia, race hatred and nationalism," Davlat Nazriyev, a spokesman for the Tajik ministry, said citing the protest note. The ministry urged Russia to take all possible measures to prevent further crimes against Tajik nationals temporarily living in Russia.

Investigators said earlier that the two Tajiks, aged 20 and 22, were returning from work through a local wood last Friday night when they were attacked by unknown assailants. One of the men, who was hit in the head, somehow managed to escape his attackers, who were described by eyewitnesses as being of "Slavic appearance." The decapitated body was later discovered by the brother of the murdered man, who was informed about the attack by the surviving victim.

According to the Russian non-governmental organization SOVA, 68 people died and 262 were injured in racially motivated attacks in the country in the first eight months of this year. Eighty-five people died in race-hate murders in 2007 in Russia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kouchner, remarks on human rights

Humans rights can rule foreign policy. A question, a statement. "There's a permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy of a country, even of France," Bernard Kouchner, former president of human rights organization "Medecins sans frontieres" and current minister of Foreign Affairs of France told French daily Le Parisien. His colleagues from the government introduced some nuances.
« Diriger un pays éloigne évidemment d’un certain angélisme » said Kouchner, in the context of celebration of 60 years of Human Rights Declaration.
This is available not only for foreign policy, but for politics in general. In the last 60 years, human rights were an issue rarely addresses and the direct interest of a state in dealing on various reasons with another state were at stake, more than the human rights concerns. Just remember Kissinger playing ping-pong with Chinese leaders in Beijing. On the other side, foreign policy have to deal almost daily with an international structure based on treaties and international documents focusing on human rights. So, even we are not and cannot be angels, at least we have to play them. And, well, I don't think that the daily contradiction between human rights and foreign policy is so huge, for a Western European country. But, for sure, too much philosophy is for real incompatible with foreign policy, as any policy is dealing with daily practical decisions. If not, we can remember Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, or Rwanda.

The economic crisis - opportunities for cooperation

The current economic crisis is opening the doors for cooperation and dialog, going beyond divisions at the political level. China, Japan and South Korea summit could be an example of how the international agenda will look like in the next year, at least. In the same time, by not discussing the problems with a tensioned potential doesn't mean these problems disappeared or will be solved by themselves.

Joint Statement of the Summit

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Faces of a possible new coming anarchy

Six days after the police shooting of a teenager, the anti-government protests widespread in ten Greek cities. In the last days, Greeks also protested in Paris, Berlin, New York, the Hague, Moscow and the opposition socialist party is calling for elections. Also under the influence of the global economic crisis, the Greek economy is likely to continue its decline. On Wednesday, the trade unions were on a 24-hours general strike opposing pensions reform and privatizations. As a movement of solidarity with the Greek youth, Spanish youngsters from Barcelona and Madrid attacked on Wednesday a police station and a bank. The current economic crisis haven't arose just out of the blue; it is the consequence of a long time mix between uncoordinated policies - social, political and economic levels. Bad handled and not explained, these policies lead to protests, by people with an unsecure future. It is too early to consider that we experience now the death of liberal or socialist policies, as long as the crisis is producing effects at the global level, whatever the political orientations of the central governments. Was Argentina's crisis from the beginning of 2000 a warning?

Diplomacy without diplomats?

In a 1997 Foreign Affairs article, George F. Kennan is rising a question continuing to represent a matter of concern today: how/it is possible to diminish, if not to fully eliminate, political pressure against the diplomatic service?