Monthly Archives: April 2007

Generation Web 0.0

Slightly off-topic and unfortunately only in German. Here is a very interesting article on the attitudes of the German elite regarding Internet, new technologies and web 2.0. One example is the German Minster for Economics and Technology (!) Michael Glos who is not too keen about the fuzz on lifelong learning:

Using a mobile phone is already complicated. Thank god I have staff that use the Internet for me.

(He actually made this statement during his visit at the CeBIT, the biggest computer expo in the world…)

Conclusion: The digital divide is not only a problem in the Global south, lifelong learning is unknown to its promoters and we found an explanation for all these controversial policies regarding intellectual property and other Internet related issues.

I am also wondering if similar attitudes exist in the EU institutions….?

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Romania’s political mess – A mini roundup

Last week the political crisis in Romania truly escalated. A few weeks ago I posted a general introduction on the nature of politics in Romania and the fight between President Basescu and PM Tariceanu.

Now, President Basescu is suspended from office and there will be a referendum on May 19 (unusual for elections: a Saturday AND the day of Saint Patriciu …), the political elite is deeply split, demonstrations in favour of Basescu took place, a parliamentary coalition without any mandate is in power and politicians already want to change the Romanian constitution to prevent Basescu from becoming president again, leaving the country with a interim president and interim MEPs (due to the indefinetly postponed EP elections) …. So what happened in Romanian politics? Everything is quite messy (as usual), so let’s make some sense out of it. Here is a little blog/commentary roundup:

Vladimir Tismaneu and Paul Dragos Aligica call it a Parliamentary Putsch:

The frivolous impeachment procedure is payback for Mr. Basescu’s unremitting fight against corruption and his support for transparency in dealing with the secret police archives from Romania’s dark, totalitarian times. When the president last year called the former communist regime “illegitimate and criminal,” he made himself many enemies among the old nomenklatura.

Andrei Plesu, a former Romanian foreign minister and well known writer and former Basescu advisor also lashes out at the parliament:

One can say without exaggeration that in all the years of its fragile democracy our country has been led by faceless voting robots who wave their hands between naps while the demagogues keep talking.

Valentina Pop comments on Romania’s backlash to kleptocracy:

The new political configuration around liberal prime minister Calin Tariceanu is using and abusing every possible democratic tool for its undemocratic goals: delaying the European elections for fear of facing the voters, an impeachment procedure against president Traian Basescu based on no constitutional grounds and a cabinet reshuffle to get rid of performing ministers thought to be “too close to the President”.

(…)

For the newly installed “Black Coalition” – the one Romanian voters never approved – the stakes are great. The four “Black Coalition” parties – Liberals, Socialists, the ethnic Hungarian UDMR party and the small Conservative Party of former communist secret police agent and media owner Dan Voiculescu – are trying to defend the very privileges and impunity they have been used to so far.

The European Commission seems to have predicted something like this when it constantly called for “continued reforms that are irreversible.”Four months after Romanian accession, it is clear that not even the post-accession monitoring mechanisms imposed by Brussels and the threat of safeguard clauses are real means of pressure for the Romanian politicians.

And she comes to a rather worrying conclusion:

Romania’s return to kleptocracy will be devastating for its citizens and business environment. But ultimately, Romania’s backlash will prove that EU’s “soft powers” are sometimes too soft. This is particularly so when facing old guard communists with decades of experience in cooking the books, corruption and promises that are never fulfilled.

Jon Worth also thinks about the role of the EU:

In the meantime the EU looks on quite helplessly. Barroso and others have stated that Romania needs to get the crisis sorted out using its own methods, but the European Parliament elections in Romania have been postponed in order to achieve a national solution. Plus with pressure being increasingly applied to Basescu, and government ministers talking a much more anti-EU rhetoric, the situation for Brussels is not easy. If the EU was to trigger the safeguard clauses that accompanied Romanian accession, would that actually help? On the other hand, with equally shaky politics in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, would a tough message to Romania from the EU not just look like hypocrisy?

The nEUrosis has an excellent overview focusing on the legitimacy of the whole suspension procedure:

A democracy is based on a clear separation of powers, all of whom bear the same degree of independence. When any of these over-rules the decision taken by another, the premises of democracy are severely affected. When a Parliament dominated by anti-presidential forces decides to over-rule a constitutional advice provided by the highest constitutional authority in the country and assumes constitutional powers the most immediate question is: in which sort of democracy are we living?

Gérard Delaloye, a historian and journalist, thinks that the Romanian constitution should be changed:

The Romanian political class … cannot be spared a drastic revision of the Constitution without plunging the country into anarchy or dictatorship. Furthermore, the current crisis also rests on the exorbitant power of members of parliament, deputies and senators. The electoral system, directly inspired by the communist regime is based on a list ballot of proportional representation where the elected representatives are chosen by the parties, not the voters. Thus, over fifteen years, a parliamentary autocracy has been created which serves its own interests when it is not obsequiously pandering to those of the oligarchs, its backers.

Cristina Viehmann looks at the underlying reasons of the crisis that do not only stem from the personal fight between Tariceanu and Basescu:

But there may be other reasons as well. The president’s reforms were undeniably aimed against the interests of many politicians, many of them belonging to the Social Democrat Party (PSD), which ruled Romania from 1990 until 1996 and again from 2000 to 2004. (…) For many, the PSD symbolizes what Romania was unable to deal with after 1989 – its communist past.

Regarding the anticipated outcome of the referendum she is rather sceptical:

According to opinion polls, Basescu is backed by 50 percent of the electorate and is therefore very likely to win and return to office. But once in power, he will find himself immobilized by the parliament.

However, EurActiv speculates about new parliamentary elections later this year while The nEUrosis sees a light at the end of the tunnel:

The entire political scene might not settle after the referendum in May, but at least one issue could become clearer: president Basescu and the strong reforms advocated by him and his supporters show the right way for Romania, not the economic interests or behind-the-scene political games of those for whom the reform of the Romanian institutions and society exists in theory, but not in practice.

But even new presidential elections would be difficult to win for Basescu according to Catalin Dimofte who sees a certain mood of apathy among voters:

In the end, the assumption of many political analysts that Basescu will easily win early presidential elections may turn out to be false. It relies on a single risky belief, which is that his opponents will not be able to come up with a credible candidate of their own.

….. to be continued…..

Breakthrough in Transnistria?

Apparently a solution for the conflict around the breakaway region of Transnistria has been found. Vladimir Socor reports in the Eurasia Daily Monitor about the deal between Russia and Moldova and he highlights the anticipated consequences for the Moldovan constitution. The proposed settlement plan consists of three interrelated documents:

The first document paves the way for a joint declaration by Voronin and Transnistria “president” Igor Smirnov regarding parallel self-dissolution of the Moldovan parliament and Transnistria Supreme Soviet and the calling of new elections. The two chambers would vote to adopt this document.

Under a second document, right-bank Moldova and Transnistria (on left bank of the Nistru River) would hold parallel but separate new elections by November 2007 (Moldova’s elections are not due until March 2009). The Moldovan Parliament would set aside 18 to 19 seats (out of 101) for deputies from Transnistria, proportionately to the latter’s population. Transnistria would also be represented in Moldova’s central government by a first deputy prime minister and deputy ministers in each ministry, to be delegated by Tiraspol.

In accordance with the third document, Moldova would “guarantee” to maintain its existing status of permanent neutrality, not join NATO, and rule out the stationing of troops other than Russian ones on Moldova’s territory. For its part, Russia would withdraw its troops within two years, provided that the political elements of this “settlement” are implemented.

I have my doubts about this”settlement”. Of course “democratisation” sounds attractive but without an agreement on a truly free and fair electoral procedure (including international/non-Russian election observers) it will not work. Moreover, the plan does not seem to touch the problem of the Transnistrian security services/ military structures. The plan also gives the impression that the Transnistrian elite would just be ‘transferred’ to the Moldovan parliament/government (where they would enjoy immunity?). Another important issue for further negotiations are the numerous constitutional problems of this plan.

Also, the planned withdrawal of the Russian army in two years sounds familiar: Russia announced in 1993 to withdraw its troops by 1996 and again in 1999 to end the presence by 2002. Since this plan has been developed outside the official 5+2 negotiation format, it remains to be seen if it will be more successful than the ‘Kozak-Memorandum‘ that was also negotiated bilaterally.

All in all, a very “Russian” settlement plan…

Update: Edward Lucas also thinks that this settlement in Transdniestria is bad news for Moldova—and the West (from The Economist print edition)

Brussels at night

After bashing Brussels earlier this year, things seem to improve. Finally, night buses will be operating in Brussels…of course only on Fridays and Saturdays. But still, a great step forward! And you should have a look at the unusual campaign artwork announcing the service:

noctis1noctis2noctis3

Another common history book?

History has always been (mis-) used in political debates. Basically, every social group constructs a set of historical ‘facts’ which then are used to justify any kind of ‘political action’. The constant repetition of these ‘facts’ create history. Usually different “versions” of history exist and most of the times these versions seem incompatible even though they might be two sides of the same coin.

A few weeks ago the German EU presidency proposed a common history book to be used in schools across the EU. Obviously the reactions were rather mixed. But, given the problem with (nationalized) history in general, such a book could truly help building a common identity and make people aware of different viewpoints. Moreover, it would reveal the different constructions of history .

Clearly, the existing Franco-German history textbook (that proved to be rather successful in practice) served as an example for this initiative. It might be still too optimistic to think of a common EU history book but why is it not possible to develop regional history books for a start? Or at least another book for two countries (preferably neighbors or “arch enemies”)…?

Certainly Eastern Europe would be an ideal choice for the next project, so I hope some education ministers in Eastern Europe read this article via eurotopics (btw a page I highly recommend!):

The hostilities between the countries of central Europe have arisen because the people there don’t understand the history and culture of their neighbours, writes Emese John, an MP for Hungary’s Liberals: “Our culture of remembrance is based exclusively on national history books. They bear the marks of the battles of the past thousand years and describe wars and conflicts solely from a national perspective. We live on such a tiny fragment of the world that our roots have become entwined and our branches touch each other, yet we still fail to see the common interests in our joint history – because we haven’t sought them… To discuss only matters pertaining to Hungary’s fate is narrow-minded and leads nowhere. One of the great matters of national interest today is how we can profit from this growing and increasingly fast world. It’s very important to confront the past, but to do this we need to borrow our neighbours’ glasses so we can see better.”

One cannot not communicate

Paul Watzlawick has died at the age of 85. I must say Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? was one of the books that really influenced my scientific (constructivist) thinking. The book basically examines how individual, social, scientific, and ideological “realities” are constructed and suggests that reality is invented rather than discovered.

Naturally this topic is too complex to explain in one blog post…But in case you are wondering what the whole thing is about, here the 5 axioms of Watzlawick’s thinking:

  1. One Cannot Not Communicate
  2. Every communication has a content and relationship aspect such that the latter classifies the former and is therefore a metacommunication.
  3. The nature of a relationship is dependent on the punctuation of the partners communication procedures.
  4. Human communication involves both digital and analog modalities.
  5. Inter-human communication procedures are either symmetric or complementary, depending on whether the relationship of the partners is based on differences or parity.

Here is a more comprehensive overview.