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2004-09-30

I dreamt of John Kerry 

Last night I had a dream about the upcoming first debate between the presidential candidates in the US. The candidates were giving speeches, one after the other, with some moderation in between. John Kerry came first and did very poorly. He knew that he would have to be brilliant in order to keep his campaign alive, but he was dull and unconvincing, and as he finished, applause from the audience was only polite. He immediately recognised he had just lost his bid for the most important office in the world, and tears shot into his eyes as he walked to his seat among the audience where he would follow the rest of the event. He was sitting there crying, and George Bush, the compassionate conservative who sat next to him, patted his arm to console him.

Don't know whether I'll be awake at 3am to watch.

2004-09-28

Slowly, slowly leaning towards Turkey 

Is having an opinion on a political issue really as difficult as the Austrian political parties are trying to make me believe? Here is the latest update on their views regarding the desireability of negotiations between the EU and Turkey on accession, provided the commission report is positive:

ÖVP, SPÖ, and Grüne have all shifted their positions towards negotiations over the last few days only. SPÖ was firmly against until Sunday. FPÖ remains against but as long as Haider is in favour they hardly mean it. As a conclusion, they all like their populism, but not to be left behind as the sour-faced loser.

2004-09-27

Turning Swiss - wait a minute (or somewhat longer) 

The Swiss population has rejected two proposals that would have made it easier for immigrants to obtain a Swiss passport. The government was in favour of both proposals, but the right-populist SVP was against. Swissblog [DE] has the details on the rejected proposals.

As the NZZ reports [DE], the balance between foreign population and the speed of naturalisations is rather different in Switzerland from other Western European countries. In Switzerland, c.20% of the population are non-Swiss, which compares to c.10% in other Western European countries like Austria, Belgium, Germany, or Sweden. One statistic says that at 0.5% of the population, Switzerland already naturalises a larger share of its population every year than the other countries (Belgium, Austria, Sweden 0.4%, whereas Norway and Germany 0.2%). However, this represents a much lower share of the foreigner population in Switzerland--and Germany--, at 2%, than in the other countries, which are between 4% and 7%. Under the current law, along with other requirements prospective new citizens must have lived for at least 12 years in Switzerland before they can apply for naturalisation.

On the other hand, even the restrictive Swiss allow double citizenships, since 1992 namely. In Austria, this is one of those things which are not exactly impossible, but which you can only hope for only if you have a lot of 'vitamin B' or 'Beziehungen', which is Austrian German for 'you are part of a corrupt and nepotistic network that reaches all the way into the ministry'.

2004-09-24

Tools for hobby politicians 

10% of Austrians describe their interest in Austrian politics as 'very strong' (count me among them). 28% say their interest is 'rather strong', 40% say 'not very strong', and 22% have 'no interest at all' (do they vote?). My social status must be high (told you so) because "the higher somebody's social status, the better educated and the older, the higher is the likelihood that the person is very interested in politics". All this according to a study by IMAS, reports DerStandard [DE].

So we 10% then slog it out via our blogs. Or more often elsewhere, let's face it. Some options:
How hobby politicians could ever survive without computers, that I don't know any longer. And how do you deal with your addiction?

2004-09-23

Haider on Turkey 

Jörg Haider, icon of the far right FPÖ and incidentally not my favourite politician, is in favour of allowing Turkey to enter the EU. For some people this fact is just beyond belief, given that most of Austria's political establishment, including the formal leadership of FPÖ, is against.

The Guardian thus incorrectly reports from Vienna (via Eursoc):
In Austria, the far-right leader and chief mischief maker, Jörg Haider, is threatening to bring down the centre-right government if it gives a green light to Turkish entry talks.
For the sake of truth, here's a translation of Haider's latest remarks on the subject [DE] (in weekly Format):
"Apparently we are led by horned cattle [Hornochsen] in this republic", opined Haider ... Haider criticised the negative position of EU-commissioner Franz Fischler and "of others in the Austrian government, who were in favour of [Turkey's] entry initially and are now warning against it" as "opportunism" and a "cynical ploy". ... "Also [Viennese socialdemocrat] mayor Häupl is in favour of negotiations, because there are very many Turkish-born voters in Vienna." They, said Haider, represent a voter market for the FPÖ - because "Turks are in reality rather conservative people and no leftists."

Being {insert name of your favourite politician} 

I have always had a strange fascination for the role of the professional politician, viewed as a somewhat abstract concept. I’m most intrigued by the aspect of the 'martyr for society', a rather naive idealisation no doubt, but given that the democratic politician has been handed legitimate power over millions--or only thousands--of other people, clearly that individual should be expected to negate all his petty personal interests, because in balance with the personal interests of so many, they would not matter. (For a laugh, that’s why for me Clinton was a villain over the Lewinsky story back then). There is a stark difference to the business manager, NGO-director etc. here, who can plausibly claim that what they do in their spare time is nobody's business. The 'martyr of society' role is invoked in extremis when the politician is killed by the mafia or by a madman.

Yet I'd also admit that in a specialised society professional politics is a job like any other, where what matters is the performance on the job details rather than the purity of the soul. However in the real world, most of the time voters know too little to judge performance like that, and so they must rely on personality features that are transported by the media to arrive at an opinion. Ultimately, this is the politician as 'entertainer', where physical attractiveness, eloquence and personal charm decide over success or failure.

Of course there are other qualities that matter, such as alliance building skills within a party, handling of journalists and others, but for the average voter, they are observable only after the fact, when one name rather than another ends up on the ballot paper before them.

Martyr - professional - entertainer. And how do politicians themselves see it? Professional first, then entertainer, but what about the martyr role? Dear politicians, let me know what you think in the comments ;-).

2004-09-22

Call to optimism 

Not all is bad in politics. The thing is, when you have little time at your hands it's entirely feasible to be upset, shocked, or annoyed about some event of the day, but it is much more difficult to come up with that entirely new idea that will make everybody's life better and save your own day.

It's also easier to be eaten up by millions of words than to be their master yourself, but if you don't even try, what can you gain?

Let me write just this, as an attempt: I am optimistic about pension reform in Austria. The demographics are nasty and the young generation will get less than the current one, but finally, things have started to move. More will be done in the future. For the young there is also some time left to prepare.

2004-09-20

Imagine 

Imagine you're unemployed in Sachsen, Eastern Germany, and inspite of your decent job qualifications your prospects to regain employment are slim. Do you deserve all that scorn and criticism directed at you, only because you have voted for the right extremist NPD in the state election, a party in the direct tradition of the nazis? Yes, absolutely, you deserve it, dear voter, shame on you!
According to an analysis by ZDF television, the NPD scored mainly among unemployed voters. 18% of this group had voted for the right extremist NPD. Also 13% of blue-collar workers had voted for NPD.

Nach einer ZDF-Wahlanalyse konnte die NPD vor allem bei den arbeitslosen Wählern punkten. Von ihnen hätten 18 Prozent die rechtsextreme Partei gewählt. Auch Arbeiter hätten mit 13 Prozent für die NPD gestimmt. (DerStandard [DE])
Let there be no competition to accommodate the political views of these voters (9% overall in Sachsen) in the democratic spectrum at the next election. Just ignore them - and continue the work to improve the economy.

2004-09-14

Risks in the Kurdish areas of Iraq 

Edward Hughes has an interesting post at Fistful of Euros about the complicated situation in the Kurdish controlled regions of Iraq, and the associated political risks involving Turkey and the EU. He ends with an important reminder:
In conclusion I would like to point out that it is not my purpose here to single out for condemnation the long-suffering Kurds. What I think we should by now be well able to see, whether it be from evidence in Bosnia, Chechenya, Kosovo or Afghanistan, is that being the victim of oppression doesn’t turn you into a Saint. More likely it precipitates desires for revenge and retaliatory action which, in an exploding circle of violence, have the potential to get seriously out of hand. This much at least we should have been able to learn.

2004-09-13

One of the things I hate about Austrian media 

..is that they seem to be naively unaware of that basic modern-day political concept of framing, which is the craft of finding psychologically effective terms to express--often ambivalent--political concepts. "War on terror", "pro-life"/"pro-choice", "lay off" etc.

Today it's again my long-term favourite, "tax dumping", which is spilling out of a politician's mouth and then immediately all over two articles in Der Standard. The first articles is about the provocative remarks of French finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy at the EU-budget meeting [DE]. Sarkozy wants that only countries whose taxation level is at or above the EU average can get access to EU-funds for structural cohesion. The Standard online reader forum is ecstatic, by the way (I'm tempted to jump in).

OK, Sarkozy may or may not have used the d-word (what is the French equivalent?), but what really annoys me is that even the newspaper's
critical analysis of the Sarkozy-statement [DE] by Eva Linsinger unquestioningly uses the "tax dumping" terminology, which is so obviously a populist, ill-meaning construct describing no more but a budget policy of country X that works on lower taxation levels than the one of country Y. The "dumping" term implies that the tax revenue of country X is set a level that is hurting even country X itself, with the political intention of hurting country Y as well. Bollocks. Why not simply use the term "fiscal competition", as Tax-News.com suggests? (See also the EU Referendum blog for discussion about Sarkozy's proposal)

2004-09-10

Austrian commissioner opposes Turkish EU-membership 

EU-commissioner Franz Fischler has cautioned the European Commission over possible membership negotiations with Turkey, the FT reports. See also discussion and comments at the Fistful of Euros group blog. Fischler talks about a "plan B" based on the danger of a resurgence of religious fundamentalism and anti-democratic tendencies in Turkey. These are of course phenomena that would not occur between now and December, when the decision to start membership negotiations is expected, so effectively Fischler's remarks represent a statement against opening membership negotiations, full-stop.

Fischler also said, according to Die Presse [DE], that public opinion could not be ignored any longer.

The third argument advanced by Fischler, according to the FT:
In his letter, he estimates that according to current rules, Turkey would receive about €11.3bn ($13.2bn) in agricultural subsidies every year. "The annual cost to the EU budget of such an accession in the agricultural sector alone would therefore be larger than for all the [10] new member states" that joined this year.

Other officials argue such statistics are meaningless, because the EU will have a new budget by the time Turkey joins.

Supporters of Turkish membership say that it would send a clear message to the Islamic world, strengthen the EU's defence capacity and improve security of energy supply.
While I accept that there is a legitimate political opposition to Turkish EU-membership, although I do not subscribe to it, the quote above is another example of the annoyingly low quality of arguments used by both its opponents and supporters. Of course Fischler knows that Turkish entry can only take place after suitable new budget rules have been drafted, so that his estimates are indeed vacuous as an argument. On the other hand, the FT's portrayal of the pro-membership case is also weak - such grandiose geopolitical talk is absurdly detached from well-understood democratic policy making.

Turkish EU-membership, while difficult to establish, will contribute to the export of peace, prosperity, and improved human rights to a region that has traditionally been at the European periphery. This will benefit the prospects for peace and prosperity of the existing members. Synchronised with enlargement in the Balkans, it is a project that the European leaders should approach with constructive optimism. Pro-active preemption of possible populist criticism is not what I expect of an EU-commissioner such as Mr Fischler.

2004-09-08

Günter Eich, Inventur (1945) 

Dies ist meine Mütze,
dies ist mein Mantel,
hier mein Rasierzeug
im Beutel aus Leinen.

Konservenbüchse:
Mein Teller, mein Becher,
ich hab in das Weißblech
den Namen geritzt.

Geritzt hier mit diesem
kostbaren Nagel,
den vor begehrlichen
Augen ich berge.

Im Brotbeutel sind
ein Paar wollene Socken
und einiges, was ich
niemand verrate,

so dient es als Kissen
nachts meinem Kopf.
Die Pappe hier liegt
zwischen mir und der Erde.

Die Bleistiftmine
lieb ich am meisten:
Tags schreibt sie mir Verse,
die nachts ich erdacht.

Dies ist mein Notizbuch,
dies meine Zeltbahn,
dies ist mein Handtuch,
dies ist mein Zwirn.
One thing that has always struck me about this wonderful poem, written from the perspective of a German prisoner of war after WWII, is the fragile consolation it finds in those primitive material things - "this cardboard here lies between me and the soil". If one looks back and considers the economic boom years and industrial expansion that were soon to follow, the purity of those simple objects seems to be inaccessible from today. Our possible refuge is even less clear.

2004-09-06

The ugly face 

(from Kathimerini, 'Greece's International English Language Newspaper'):
Murder, riots follow Greek soccer defeat
Albanian killed on Zakynthos

Albanian soccer fans wave flags in Omonia Square after Saturday night’s defeat of the Greek national squad by Albania in Tirana. Shortly afterward, groups of belligerent Greeks arrived at the central Athens square where huge crowds had gathered in June and July to celebrate Greece’s victories in the Euro 2004 championship. Riot police were called in, and used tear gas to disperse both parties. An Albanian man was stabbed to death and several more were injured during ugly after-dark brawls in Greece after Albania’s national soccer squad defeated the Greek side on Saturday during a World Cup qualifying match in Tirana.

In Athens, the government and opposition parties issued strongly worded condemnations of the violence yesterday. “Such acts run against the sporting spirit... which we honored when the Olympics were held in Greece,” government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said. Albanians represent the vast majority of the estimated 1 million immigrants living in Greece.

The worst incident was in the village of Tsilivi on the Ionian Sea island of Zakynthos, where a 20-year-old Albanian immigrant was killed and another two suffered non-life-threatening stab wounds during an attack early yesterday by a Greek man who objected to their celebrating Albania’s 2-1 upset of the reigning European champions. Police arrested 22-year-old Greek-American Panayiotis Kladis for the attack. Four Albanians and one Greek were treated for knife wounds in Athens after the match, although no arrests were made, and in Thessaloniki an 18-year-old Albanian was held for allegedly injuring two Greeks with a broken bottle. In Omonia Square, the central Athens landmark where Greek soccer fans traditionally flock to celebrate national or club-level victories, roles were reversed on Saturday night when a few hundred Albanians gathered to jubilate. A crowd of Greeks soon assembled with ugly intentions, and riot police stepped in, using tear gas to disperse both groups. In other incidents, Albanian supporters damaged seven cars near the Peloponnese railway station in Athens, while two cars with Albanian number plates were wrecked by Greeks in Thessaloniki.


(translated from Albanian daily Shekulli [AL]):
Six Albanians wounded and dozens of others hospitalized with fractures caused by the police
Greece, celebrations of the emigrants turn bloody

by Alin Metaj

Athens – Greece in chaos after the loss against Albania. Many Greek citizens, very upset after the game, took to the streets of the capital and attacked Albanian residents who were celebrating peacefully. The result of the attack on the Greek island of Zakinthos was one dead Albanian emigrant and six others wounded. At the same time two Greeks were lightly wounded by an Albanian citizen. Gramoz Palushi of Bushtrica in Kukes is the Albanian who was killed as a consequence of the violent knife-attack perpetrated by Greek-American Panaiotis Kladis. In a report of Greek media the Albanians also accused the paramedics who allegedly provided medical aid to the victim only with delay, and the victim then died. Violent confrontations also occurred in other towns such as Athens and Thessaloniki. In all cases, the police favoured the barbarities of the Greek population and even themselves injured Albanian residents who were celebrating peacefully. Almost all cars of Albanians were attacked by Greek citizens and were destroyed or damaged. Yesterday the situation calmed down. There is still no official statement regarding the tragic event of Zakinthos, but deputies of both large Greek parties condemned it on Greek television, as well as other incidents, emphasising that they have no relation to the friendship and good relations between the two peoples and the two communities, which need to be cultivated with patience and in a constant manner. On the island of Zakinthos, in the village of Tsivili the Greek citizen Panaoitis Kladis killed the Albanian emigrant Gramoz Palushi and injured the brother of the victim and another Albanian. Upset about the result of the match and about the voices of the Albanian emigrants who were celebrating the victory, Kladis came out of his house with a knife in his hand and attacked the three Albanians. ... Also in Athens the Albanians were not allowed to celebrate on Saturday evening. The events came as a shock to the Greek public opinion, as it was seen how the human rights of people who were celebrating were stopped in a brutal manner by the police and by residents. The Greek police used rubber sticks and tear gas to keep the Albanians who wanted to celebrate peacefully away from Omonia square. The MAT special Greek forces were used … With unseen violence they dispersed the Albanian emigrants and didn’t allow them to celebrate. Under the pretext that there could be clashes between Greek and Albanian fans, the special forces all over Greece prevented in brutal manner that groups of emigrants assemble in the squares of the towns. For hours, Omonia square was turned into a battle-field between the emigrants, who approached the square with Albanian flags, and the police forces.

Meanwhile, one British fan was hospitalised after clashes in Vienna following the match between Austria and England, which ended in a draw.

2004-09-03

Sorrow 

This is only an attempt to express something. New forms of communication are tying people who are at distance closer together. It is possible to abstain from this pull, but for those who participate, the effects are clear. What was once too distant to be noticed now sometimes becomes an emotionally consuming process in real time as events unfold.

Sometimes this challenges distant participants to the limits of their ability, such as in the case when we are drawn into the most horrible events as powerless observers.

No! I want to shout at the hostage takers, you cannot hurt children for political aims, it is a massive category mistake, you are plain wrong, don’t you see? Then, as you feared would happen, the pictures start trickling in, bloodied bodies, rising casualty numbers.

You believe that by expressing yourself, you are dealing with the situation. You refuse to accept that all the audiences you are capable of reaching are not relevant for the issue at hand. Then again you try to be aware of that fact. You hesitate, you try to reflect, to moderate your raw feelings. Just to reach any audience would console you now, wouldn’t it. Share your sorrow and grief. That’s all.

Russian forces storm the school that was the scene of a hostage crisis

2004-09-02

SPÖ is hurting 

The SPÖ, inspite of everything the main opposition in this country, and the strongest party nationwide according to opinion polls, is in an unbelievably bad shape. Let's recap the events:

  1. Literally for years, the impending new economic program was hyped and promised to reflect the new beginning of the party after its ejection from government in 2000

  2. Economic spokesman Matznetter was built up as one of the key figures of the party, and given the task to oversee the development of the new economic program

  3. Over the last days, Matznetter disclosed the key elements of the new program in several interviews and press conferences

  4. This was orchestrated by opinion pieces by senior figures of the party outlining the new economic ideology (cf. yesterday's post)

  5. However, the initial political and public reaction to the program was largely negative, the program was seen as a tax-raising program

  6. Within a day, Gusenbauer, the head of the party, relativizes the contents of the program, and effectively cancels it by saying that major tax changes are taboo

  7. Today (another day later), even Matznetter dissociates himself from the key elements [DE] of the program - it is now apparently to be considered dead in the water

What next? Exit Matznetter, and start the preparation of a new economic program from scratch? Exit Gusenbauer, and the second tier represented by Matznetter and Erich Haider takes over? These were supposed to be Gusenbauer's men! Once again, the economic policy of SPÖ is reduced to dust. Yesterday I exaggerated when I wrote that 'few voters' will accept such a deal - plenty will (there's enough reason to be fed up with the current government), but is a party that does not manage to formulate its view on how to run the economy ready to take over the stewardship of the country?

2004-09-01

SPÖ and the economy 

Apparently the SPÖ has a lot of guts (though its leader Alfred Gusenbauer may have a bit less: 'Gusenbauer fürchtet sich' [DE], Der Standard). As the former SP-finance minister (turned industrialist) Hannes Androsch rightly remarks [DE], the ideology underlying the proposed new economic program of the party is reminiscent of Oskar Lafontaine, the German scourge of the SPD: this new brand of a socialdemocrat credo advocates net salary increases financed by substantially higher taxation of capitals and high incomes to get the economy going again. The most explicit Austrian defense of this new ideology I've found so far is a piece by SP-regional governor (and federal vice-party chairman) Erich Haider in DerStandard. His title: 'The antidote to neoliberal poison' [DE].

Since the early 1990s, Haider writes, net salaries in Austria have fallen, because neoliberal ideology dictated budget austerity and increasing cutbacks of social welfare. In this climate of economic anxiety, consumers have stopped spending, and this is the reason why economic growth has stalled. The solution: Cut labor taxation for small salaries so that consumer confidence will rise. Finance this by various new taxes on capitals and higher incomes - 'tax increases across the board!' the right-wing parties are screaming, exuberant about having found such an easy target for the next election campaign.

Unfortunately, the SPÖ/Lafontaine narrative about the reasons of the economic malaise in continental Europe is not very plausible, because it blissfully ignores the external reasons for the economic changes of the last fifteen years, in one word: globalisation. Economies like Austria have become even more open than they were earlier, due to the increasing ease of physical and immaterial transactions on the global scale, where new competition to the traditional European production models is springing up everywhere, from Bratislava through Shanghai to Silicon Valley. Why does the SPÖ not consider it a danger that increasing capital taxation will drive capital and jobs out of the country? The SPÖ has a track record of simplifications and denial in this respect, that ranges from its xenophobic immigration policies of the nineties to its recent campaigning against 'tax dumping' by Eastern European countries. As long as the party does not convincingly address this blind spot in its world view, it will find few voters who are willing to accept new taxation for the sake of an ideology that is not willing to even admit the really tough challenges.

Reading tip 

Lilek watched Arnold Schwarzenegger at 'Medicine Square Godden'.

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