Ugly thinking at Brussels and elsewhere 

The EU negotiators apparently want to impose permanent restrictions on the freedom of work of Turkish citizens in other EU countries after accession, right from the outset of negotiations. I'm disgusted by such an essentially racist alteration to the spirit of the EU treaties. Needless to say, Austrian politicians are pleased - DerStandard [DE]:

In this context [Austrian chancellor] Schüssel emphasised that Austria wanted to "maintain its own control" over the labour market. "I cannot imagine that one could define a process of negotiations without permanent exceptions in the labour market", Schüssel said.


[meta] Two types of Ukraine observers 

This is not about the events, but about the attitude of the outside observers to the events.

There are those who, because they support the revolutionary cause in its ideological substance, express wholehearted support. This is noble. It is also, so to say, 'Western interference', which will not tilt the balance, but which provides a source of support for the revolutionaries - as well as for the conspiracy theorists of the incumbent camp. For example, the support of figures such as Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa (or Instapundit, once I'm at it) may be meaningful for the Ukrainian opposition.

And then there are those (I'd like to count me among them) who support the revolutionary cause but who more or less abstain from direct participation in the struggle between the two camps. Apart from personal timidity or indecisiveness, the reason could be a perceived imbalance between how little these observers know about the real situation on the ground, and how coarse-grained any long-distance declarations would have to be because of this. When information is scarce, they don't hasten to interfere unless called upon. These observers can help by weighing the available information from a detached perspective, and they should attempt to stimulate a pervasive political dialogue. This in itself can be a useful contribution I believe.


Ukraine - analysis and an attempt on implications 

Useful analysis:

Le Sabot Post-Moderne, an American expatriate in Kyiv, "Behind the Scenes -- How and Why the Ukrainian Election was Stolen, Part I"

The Yorkshire Ranter, "Ukraine - A Slow Rot or Speedy End?"

The Economist on "Europe's new divisions"


My own impression of today is that it can still go either way. But what I'm starting to realize is that this is going to remain a defining event for an extended period, because the losing side is most probably not going to pack up and fall silent. Due to the size and importance of Ukraine, this will affect the whole regional balance of power.

If the pro-Russia camp of Yanukovich wins, the opposition with its once-mobilised masses will continue to press for revolution, similar maybe to the situation in Serbia before Milosevic's final downfall. Tensions between the EU and Ukraine's rulers, as well as Russia, will be high, and EU-Russia relations will be yet more confrontational.

If the pro-Western camp of Yushchenko wins, it will have a hard time winning over the pro-Russian parts of the population, and re-occuring corruption under the new leaders might lead to a polarised political climate that might even halt the progress which the opposition is now promising. Yet I hope that Putin, in the event of a Yushchenko-victory, would try not to be seen on the losing end, and take an initiative to intensify relations with the EU himself. So while this is still maybe less than 50% likelihood, and Ukraine itself might experience continued turmoil, it could have very positive repercussions for the rest of Europe. This is why the Ukrainian opposition deserves measured Western support now, never mind those ballot boxes whose exact contents will maybe never be determined.


Why Putin matters for Ukraine 

"Putin is not going to invade" - David Weman questions the importance of Russia's role in the Ukrainian standoff in a comment at Fistful of Euros. But Putin doesn't even have to make such a military threat. The importance of Moscow's support in propping up undemocratic rulers in the region is a matter of economics, as an article in Die Presse [DE] points out, but even more, I believe, it is one of providing a credible perspective: Even if the West shuns an undemocratic leader, having the support of Moscow signals integration into a viable global power bloc, albeit one that will often have a mixed record even in the eyes of the local ruler's most ardent supporters. Yet, if Moscow really were to succeed in rebuilding its empire based on the fear of democratic revolutions felt by various corrupt regional leaders, then such an empire would stand, once again, on the weakest possible foundations. For Putin, this poisonous chalice must present a difficult dilemma.


Revolution observer in action 

I should mention, regarding the situation in Ukraine, that the string of revolutions in 1989 were a defining moment for my own political worldview. When I see the pattern reoccur, I'm politically excited and enthusiastic like many. I'm also aware that not every revolution is as straightforward as the velvet one was in Prague. Even in 1989 there was the shady case of Romania, and later events such as in 1997 in Albania and in 2003 in Georgia looked simple only in retrospect, when history was written with the voice of the new power. In all three cases, the revolutions turned out to be beneficial inspite of their possibly murky interior workings. The revolutionary fog is all the thicker when information levels are low. And so, concerning Ukraine, I'm saying - now - that although my sympathies are clearly with the pro-Western camp, I'm not ready to reach any conclusions. This has the added benefit that once this is over, my position will look foolish no matter which side will have won.

Meanwhile, I continue to follow the exciting coverage on Neeka's Backlog.


Sites to visit for Ukraine news 

As my outsider's viewpoint leaves me completely clueless about who actually won the presidential election in Ukraine, here are some local links to improve on that state of affairs.

Byrne of obdymok reports on the fast-changing situation and has his fun with the low levels of insight in reporting in the global media.

Veronica Khokhlova of Neeka's Backlog has attended some of the rallies in Kyiv and will surely comment as events unfold further.

Ukraine News is an aggregator of mainly Western news sources.

Interfax-Ukraine is also online in English, although their server seems to be struggling.

UPDATE: The OSCE has put its rather negative 'Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions' online [.pdf].

At the moment it seems plausible that the real vote was close to evenly split. That in a way is a worst-case outcome, as it pitches the power-preservation instincts of the government and the desperate hopes of an opposition that is oh-so-close to its goal against each other, and it seems likely that the final outcome will be decided outside of the ballot box.


End of year predictions 

As an autumn storm is clearing out some of the collected dust in this place, I'm once again in the mood for some political predictions.
I'll come back to this post in 2008. And your predictions?


Public responsibilities 

Forgive me for still being behind the news. The murder of Theo van Gogh; I read Eamonn Fitzgerald's compensation for an earlier silence about the topic due to travels, as well as sauseschritt's suggestion to take a closer look at the situation of muslim women in our own neighbourhoods.

"There's no fear here", writes Eamonn Fitzgerald, and condemns "all those who have embraced the Islamist death cult." I do believe though that fear is a legitimate reaction, not every civilian is always obliged to 'stay on the message' in public communication under the eyes of the totality of international terrorists. On the other hand, I'm opposed to creating a big media hype around every terrorist offense.

So let's follow sauseschritt's advice and be sensitive to our environment. Mechanisms of social exclusion--based not just on religion and gender and race, but also on social background, accent, education, age, looks--are everywhere, buying a lunch-time sandwich fifty meters away from your office is enough to encounter several moments that should be different, and where attentive real-life communication could possibly do a little trick here or there.


Oh so simple 

"Clinton went back and executed that retarded guy. That said, 'I share your values.'" (a Kerry-staffer quoted by Ryan Lizza in The New Republic, via Andrew Sullivan).

"'God, Gays & Guns', with these values President Bush secured his re-election. ... Property, Home, Family [Eigentum, Heimat, Familie], the ÖVP [Austrian conservative party] calls its moral pillars." Barbara Toth in DerStandard [DE].

ÖVP-spokesman Reinhold Lopatka agrees [DE]: "The rule 'Keep it simple and stupid' always applies".

SPÖ-spokesman Norbert Darabos [socialdemocrats] sees it the same way [DE]: "Stay on the message"

The Green university professor Alexander Van der Bellen [DE]: "Learn: Keep it short and simple - Kiss."

In the reader forum to Barbara Toth's article, reader 'F*** the ÖVP' has specific advice for the opposition parties[DE untranslated]:
FURCHT & ANGST (elementarere Emotionen gibt's nicht!)
ANGST ums eigene Leben. FURCHT um Hab und Gut.

Das WÄRE* die Erfolgsformel für die SPÖ im kommenden Wahlkampf. Die zentrale Botschaft müsste lauten:



Vorteil: Bei dem Thema hätte man auch die "Krone" auf seiner Seite.

* WÄRE deshalb, weil die Loser in der Löwelstraße im Wahlkampf auf andere "Erfolgs"themen setzen werden, wie zB:

- Bildungsoffensive - "Österreich muss Finnland werden!"
- Anhebung der Pensionen um 0,02%! (evtl. nach Kassasturz)
And yet, I believe most politicians must be terrified of these simplicity mantras (and that's why they repeat them over and over, as their coaches told them to), because they are so uncapable of delivering.


Kosovo, blogs, Realpolitik 

Sodazitron links [DE] to the summary [DE .pdf] of a discussion among returnees from various missions in Kosovo about the situation there after the March unrests. The tone of the summary is interesting, there is a lot of (self-)criticism, but one also feels the stubborn unwillingness of the participants of the discussion to give up. Improvement or solutions are not in sight, but a high level of commitment must be sustained.

It seems like a motto for the situation faced by political observers who have to digest the perspective of four more years wherever you look. It also strikes me how most of the blogs I have monitored more or less regularly over the last few months keep getting better, keep sharpening their focus and messages. Even if the situation cannot be changed at the macro level, at least many people are succeeding in analysing ever more accurately and articulating ever more eloquently. That's a lot.

9/11 triggered a wave of 'war bloggers'. Will the Bush-reelection trigger a wave of 'realpolitik bloggers'?


Labour of love 

I must have been one of the last people to hear that George W. Bush won the election. Our common task now: Show him our love.

My individual new subtask, easier: Show my love to Meidling, the Viennese district number 12.

The Austrian Greens march ahead, with a complex new defense doctrine [DE] that aims at a European army and the abolishment of Austrian neutrality. Is this the right way to love the USA? ;-) And will they be able to communicate such a policy that explicates a mix of short-term and long-term objectives on five-word campaign posters?

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