Month: October 2006

Bildt Sells Russian Shares

Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt has yielded to pressure from his critics and has sold the controversial shares he owned in the Russian Vostok Nafta concern, Dagens Nyheter reports. As soon as he redeems his options, which cannot happen before December, he will also sell those. The paper says that Bildt owns securities worth 20m kronor (USD 2,760,181) which makes him the richest member of Sweden’s government.

Sveriges Radio International has a report here (hat tip: Marius)

See also: Conflict of Interest

Poetry International

This weekend’s programme of readings at the London South Bank’s Poetry International Festival includes two appearances by Nordic poets.

This evening Tomas Tranströmer, whose 75th birthday it is today, will attend a reading of his work by Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, with translations by Robin Robertson.

And tomorrow evening Finland-Swedish poet Tua Forsström will read from her poems in Swedish, with translations by myself and Stina Katchadourian.

BBC Bias – the Facts

In the Telegraph, Tom Leonard writes that the BBC’s commitment to bias is no laughing matter, and comments that

As it wrestles with the inevitable decline of its audience in the digital age, impartiality is that rare problem for the BBC – it’s one that it can actually do something about.

Melanie Phillips has more, including a reader’s comment from Biased BBC, which I can certainly endorse, having watched the TV series (“Spooks”) in question:

Anti-Zionism may be unremarkable on the Beeb, but this skidded well over into antisemitism. The take-home message was that Al Qaeda are a bunch of amateurs and can be managed as a law-enforcement problem but the real danger are those devious, murderous, all-too-clever Jews. The main plot involves a group of ruthless Mid-East hijackers who take over a London embassy and shoot people every hour. They turn out (of course) to be Jews in disguise. We have a Jewish traitor in high places with dialogue invoking the classic ‘can’t serve two masters’ accusation: ‘I asked which side he would fight on in a war between Britain and Israel. He just gave me his answer.’ The plot also relies on the same argument as the 9/11 conspiracy theory that Mossad blew up the twin towers because Muslims aren’t smart enough: MI5 realise the baddies must be Jewish because they’re too clever for their own good (and merciless and self-serving, naturally). The Jews in this episode may not be drinking the blood of Christian children but they are certainly bloodthirsty. There is even a fat, heavy-featured Mossad officer looking evil and inscrutable as he mouths ’shalom’. Plus the ringleader gets a cathartic booting at the end from the hero which had me in mind of Kristallnacht.

Irony of Appeasement

The Jerusalem Post has an item on remarks made by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana after talks with Tzipi Livni in Tel Aviv to the effect that “Hamas wants to ‘liberate the Palestinians,’ not to destroy Israel”. LGF comments that “This is the European sickness, encapsulated in one incredibly stupid man.”

Yet the sickness has probably spread far beyond Europe. Addressing a gathering of the USIA Alumni Association in Washington D.C. on October 4, former U.S. Ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia Chas. W. Freeman told the assembled audience that

the threat the United States now faces is vastly less grave but much more ill-defined than that we faced during the Cold War. That era, which most here lived through, was one in which decisions by our president and his Soviet counterpart could result in the death, within hours, of over a hundred million Americans and a comparable number of Soviet citizens. That threat was existential. The threat we now face is not. Muslim extremists seek to drive us from their lands by hurting us. They neither seek to destroy nor to convert nor to conquer us. They can in fact do none of these things. The threat we now face does not in any way justify the sacrifice of the civil liberties and related values we defended against the far greater threats posed by fascism or Soviet communism. Terrorists win if they terrorize; to defeat them, we must reject inordinate fear and the self-destructive things it may make us do.

The irony here is that during the Cold War it was often retired U.S. diplomats of the Freeman type who made precisely such remarks in relation to the Soviet threat.

Déjà Vu

Mart Laar was Estonia’s prime minister in the immediate post-Soviet period, from 1992-1994 (he also held the premiership later on, from 1999 to 2002). A member of the right-of-centre Isamaaliit (Pro Patria Union), he wrote several books on Estonian and Russian history, and his perspective on the recent crisis between Georgia and Russia is tempered and informed not only by his personal experience, but also by his scholarship and knowledge. In TOL, Laar’s views on the crisis are quoted in an article which looks at the possible outcomes. Excerpt:

“The more time I spend in Georgia, the more I’m overcome by a feeling of deja vu,” Laar told Radio Free Europe in June. “A lot of what I see reminds me powerfully of the situation in Estonia round about 1993–1994,” he added.

When Estonia was faced with an aggressive campaign from Moscow in the early 1990s to prevent it from embracing the West, Laar and his colleagues in government apparently decided that the best defense was a good offense.

Estonia didn’t give an inch, even as Moscow egged on its Russian-speaking minority to stir up trouble. The country’s leaders vigorously asserted their sovereignty, continuously demanded that Russian troops leave, and firmly oriented their foreign and economic policy on Europe and the United States.

They also undertook bold economic reforms that raised living standards for the whole society – which took much of the steam out of the grievances Russian speakers initially had.

The approach, which appeared risky at the time, worked better than anybody dared expect. And now Georgia is trying to use the same playbook. Whether or not they can pull it off will help determine what the geopolitical map of the South Caucasus will look like for decades to come.

The Greater Threat

Shmuel Rosner has a post on a new survey of attitudes to world affairs among U.S. university and academic staff. As he says, the results are either funny or sad. They certainly make for reflection. Excerpt:

Faculty see the United States as a greater threat to world stability than Russia by a ratio of 7-to-1. Nearly half of humanities faculty, 46%, see the United States as a threat to international stability, as do 34% of social science faculty. Faculty attitudes toward America look very similar to the attitudes of Europeans. A recent poll for the Financial Times reported that 36% of Europeans identify the United States as the greatest threat to international stability.

About 12% of faculty see Israel as a great threat to international stability. Looked at another way, 41% of faculty see the United States and Israel combined as the greatest threats, compared to China and Russia combined, with 23%. For humanities faculty, 56% list the United States and Israel, compared to 20% who name China and Russia combined, or 41% who list China, Russia, and Iran combined.

Criticism and Caution

Via RFE/RL Newsline (October 26):

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT SLAMS RUSSIA…

EU parliamentarians passed a nonbinding resolution in Strasbourg on October 25 calling for member states to give “serious thought” to their relations with Russia, which should not be based on economic criteria alone, international media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 23, 2006). In a strongly worded resolution, the parliament called for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression to be placed at the core of any future agreement between the EU and Russia. The parliamentarians voiced their concerns over what they called the increasing intimidation, harassment, and killing of journalists, and other people critical of the Russian government. The resolution drew attention to the recent slaying of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya and called on the EU and Council of Europe, to which Russia belongs, to monitor the investigation of the apparent contract killing. The legislators argued that “the only way to truly honor…Politkovskaya’s passionate commitment to truth, justice, and human dignity is to make common efforts to realize [her] dream of a democratic Russia that fully respects the rights and liberties of its citizens.” PM

…BUT FINLAND IS CAUTIOUS.

The debate over the European Parliament’s October 25 resolution on Russia and democracy recalled the recent exchange in Lahti, Finland, between French President Jacques Chirac, who called for separating morality and economics in dealing with Moscow, and Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who said that “it is totally wrong to pay attention only to [economic] interests,” international media reported (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” October 23, 2006). Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country holds the EU presidency and has traditionally tread very lightly in dealing with Moscow, warned EU lawmakers that “one shouldn’t go too far. We shouldn’t caricature Russia as some monstrous dictatorship. They want to cooperate, they want to raise their living standards, they want to work with us.” In the run-up to the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007, the German Foreign Ministry, which is run by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats, seeks to promote German and EU ties to Russia on the basis of an expanding network of  interrelationships (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” August 24 and October 19 and 20, 2006). Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats were not involved in preparing the ministry’s recent position paper and are drafting one of their own, which places more emphasis on trans-Atlantic ties. PM