Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is independence referendum legitimate?

The results of the Montenegrin referendum were confirmed today and became official, thus, the republic became independent and the process of separation of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro became official.

Independence of Montenegro, inevitable nourishes independence aspirations of other territorial entities across Europe and the World. The representatives of the Basque and Catalan territorial autonomies closely followed the Montenegrin referendum and the political climate evolving around this important event. Kosovo Albanians are hopeful that the independence of Montenegro will facilitate their speedy separation from Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs claim that they have right to vote on the future of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

International law has very little to say on the legitimacy of a particular independence referendum, while constitutional orders of only few countries of the world consider secession a constitutional option.

The international community considers the independence of Kosovo a legitimate option while it has a diverse opinion in the case of the Serbian entity in Bosnia-Republic of Srpska. Looking at the legal arguments strictly speaking none of the two have the right to secede. Kosovo was an autonomous province of Serbia in the constitutional order of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, and as such it did not have the right to secede. Such right belonged only to the Republics. The arguments that Kosovo was de facto granted a status of the republic with the right of veto in the executive body of the ex-Yugoslavia, remains weak in this context. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the legal argument is similar. However, why is the constitutional order of a undemocratic communist state as the ex-Yugoslavia was, considered as a legal precedent in this case? Could the after Dayton territorial delimitation of Bosnia become legitimate over the passage of time in such a way as to allow the independence referendum for the Bosnian Serbs and Croats? Not now, but in 20 years time, when the current constitutional order of Bosnia becomes not only a legal but also a social and political fact. All these are questions that will be on the top of the political agenda in these countries for the years to come. Independence of Montenegro, whether one wants to admit it or not, will certainly have implications on the case of Kosovo and possibly Bosnia. Montenegro’s independence still found grounds in the legal system of the state of ex-Yugoslavia. In Kosovo, this is clearly not the case. Granting Kosovo independence without the consent of Serbia will be crossing of the Rubicon, and no one could stop the Bosnian Serbs (and Croats) to dissolve the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The independence of Montenegro, finally completed the series of legal sucessions of the ex-Yugoslav republics. Going beyond it would mean creating a precedentand a wholy novel legal practice, appealing to many independence movements around the world.

Italian politics: I can't stand it anymore

As many times said before, Berlusconism (Mr B. philosophy) is coming to an end.
On sunday, his party lost the administrative elections by far. He thought he would come back immediately, but the truth is that he's burnt for ever.

Italy is slowly putting itself together after a very distressful period, even if a major constitutional referendum is coming up on June 13. Tha will be the last event of an electoral saga that has shown to the entire world how frustrating can be italian politics.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Fallaci's Fallacious Ideas

Oriana Fallaci, an italian journalist living in New York, gave yet another aggressive interview published on the New Yorker.

Originally from Florence, she claims that she'll explode the mosque being built in Colle val d'Elsa, a small town beside Florence. Here's the relevant part:

"She spoke of a new mosque and Islamic center planned for Colle di Val d’Elsa, near Siena. She vowed that it would not remain standing. “If I’m alive, I will go to my friends in Carrara—you know, where there is the marble. They are all anarchists. With them, I take the explosives. I make you juuump in the air. I blow it up! With the anarchists of Carrara. I do not want to see this mosque—it’s very near my house in Tuscany. I do not want to see a twenty-four-metre minaret in the landscape of Giotto. When I cannot even wear a cross or carry a Bible in their country! So I BLOW IT UP!"

I think that it is a very distasteful choice on the part of the New Yorker to let Fallaci speaks as she does. After all, her opinion is not well informed and she is nothing more than a very opinionated journalist. Arguably, she is a famous and courageous journalist, but this does not make her opinion valuable. Also, she was admired in the past as she dreaded power and in particular the personification of power. Noble concern. But yet again, when you demolish power, you still have to put in place something that fills the gaps. A more illuminated authority, or something else. Fallaci fills the gap with unreasoned hatred.

The only reason why it is worth to publish an interview with Fallaci is that her outrageous opinions always increase the number of sells. So, well done New Yorker, you have indeed increased your popularity by selling crap.

Unfortunately, her thin arguments, based on thin air and pure gut (as she says herself), show precisely the lack of ability to communicate deeper and more articulate concerns on the place of religions within our public spheres.

But more importantly, building a mosque is about liberty (religious liberty in this case). Fallaci enjoys the liberty to speak freely, but she would like to restrain the liberty of some other people to practice their own religion. Arguably, she want to restrain only Muslim's freedom.

Why? Just because of hatred and nothing more... or so it seems. Just read the following citation from the New Yorker:

"The magnificently rebellious Oriana Fallaci now cultivates, it seems, the prejudices of the petite bourgeoisie. She is opposed to abortion, unless she “were raped and made pregnant by a bin Laden or a Zarqawi.” She is fiercely opposed to gay marriage (“In the same way that the Muslims would like us all to become Muslims, they would like us all to become homosexuals”), and suspicious of immigration in general. The demonstrations by immigrants in the United States these past few months “disgust” her, especially when protesters displayed the Mexican flag. “I don’t love the Mexicans,” Fallaci said, invoking her nasty treatment at the hands of Mexican police in 1968. “If you hold a gun and say, ‘Choose who is worse between the Muslims and the Mexicans,’ I have a moment of hesitation. Then I choose the Muslims, because they have broken my balls.” "

Is it worth to read the whole interview? I REALLY DO NOT THINK SO! It would simply increase the number of visitors of the New Yorker website. But you would not learn anything in particular, if not that it is possible to hate on a grand scale. My first gut reaction to her interview was to hope that someone blow her up, just as she would like to do with the mosque in Colle Val d'Elsa. After all, we all have gut reactions, and that is good. What is horrendous is to pretend that gut reactions are the way forward, a sort of illuminating solution to all the evils in the world.

Hatred, whatever its source, is only a source of evil. Let us simply hope that by airing it publicly it will be dispersed as any bad seed. If it were to germoliate, that would be sad, as sad as Oriana Fallaci

The US as "Failed State"

A quick link to an interesting article by Chomsky in todays Independent, an excerpt from (yet another) new book. In many ways, it is fairly standard Chomsky polemic, provocative and one-sided, and covering such a wide array of topics and incidents to make it practically impossible to summarise, or, indeed, engage with in any sustained critical manner. This is emphatically not to say, however, that Chomsky's writings in this regard are worthless; on the contrary, they perform an essential balancing role. It is, however, to my mind important to recall that things are rarely as black and white as he presents them (or that, even if they are in the final instance, his manner of presentation is unlikely to do more than preach to the converted).

Several interesting passages, however, including on the surprising reulsts of the US attempts to introduce democratic elections in Iraq and in Palestine, and also in terms of the Cuban role in the aftermath of the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, and the role of Venezuela in rejuvenating the economies and politics of Latin America. Also noteworthy is his main claim, that the US displays the three basic characteristics of a 'failed state': unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence; a tendency to regard itself as 'above the law'; and a lack of democracy, either in terms of the basic institutional forms, or of a deficit between the output of those forms and the will of the general public. It is in the last point that Chomsky makes his most forceful argument of a striking incongruity between public opinion and public policy in the US, with many crucially important Government actions apparently standing in stark contradiction to what the majority of citizens actually want.

Like I said, pretty standard Chomsky; and this alone means that it's very much worth a read...

More Fragmentation of International Law? ECJ rules out Irish claim before ITLOS

The ECJ has today ruled that an attempt by the Irish Government to bring the UK before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) over the Sellafield nuclear plant is in breach of EU law, on the grounds that only the Union institutions have jurisdiction of such claims between its Members. The Court has apparently held that, as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has been incorporated into EU law, the Irish action before ITLOS - which focuses on the Mox plant, designed to import and reprocess foreign waste - is illegal, as it fails to respect the its own exclusive jurisdiction over the case.

This was not unexpected. The Arbitral Tribunal set up to hear the Mox case noted as early as 2003 (see its Order No. 3 here) that it could not proceed with an examination of the merits until the question of exclusive EU competence had been decided; and it seemed entirely prepared to leave this decision to the ECJ (see para. 26). Even though neither the UK nor Ireland had argued before it that all interpretation of the Convention falls entirely under the exclusive jurisdiction of the ECJ, the Tribunal found that "it cannot be held with certainty that this view would be rejected by the European Court of Justice" (para. 21); and both parties were in agreement that, should this happen, then the Arbitral Tribunal set up under the UNCLOS would have no jurisdiction to hear the case.

The judgment is not yet available online, and it will certainly be necessary to read it closely before drawing any hard conclusions from it. It does, however, seem significant in more general terms, for those (such as, for example, the International Law Commission) concerned with the fragmentation of international law, and in particular with the fragmentation of those judicial bodies competent to rule on it. It is clear that this ECJ judgment paves the way for the possibility that the same Convention may well be subjected to final and binding interpretations by two different bodies, with potentially differing views, depending on which states are parties to any given dispute. It is thus easily conceivable that the same words of a legal instrument could give rise to two substantively different sets of obligations, depending on not what, but who is at issue. It is difficult to see, in these terms, how this decision of the ECJ can do anything but undermine the push towards the creation and enforcement of coherent and consistent global standards; and this in perhaps one of the most important areas of this endeavour, the responsibility for transboundary nuclear pollution.

Monday, May 29, 2006

29 May: the failure of the European Constitution

Today 29th of May is the anniversary of the failure of the European Constitution. One year ago, France voted No to the referendum and triggered a European crisis of 'consitutional' dimensions.

The real patient is not Europe as a supranational entity. Nation States are the ones in the worst state of health. Starting from France and ending with Britain.

France is the most obvious example. The referendum merely catalysed the downfall. Chirac and the right wing have gone through a very troubled period (suburbs, students, clearstream etc..). What is surprising is the fact that the left wing is unable to profit out of that failure. The reason is that the left wing who voted No to the European Constitution committed suicide.

They thought they were smart. The reality is that they do not have a clue of what to put in place of what they criticised. This is a gigantic sin. By giving up a hope of institutional improvement (not massive, though improvement), they legitimazed the status quo.

They probably did not know how horrible is the status quo. France as a nation state is dying and it prepares itself to die in the most spectacular way. Just as it did in 1789.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Rhetorical Steps to War (3)

Proposition 1: Blair and Bush acknwoledge mistakes in Iraq
Translation: Blair and Bush are now experienced war-mongers and they will prove so in Iran

Proposition 2: Tony Blair signal need for stronger UN!
Translation: Tony Blair wants the power to act pre-emptively

Friday, May 26, 2006

Neverending tension in Italy

Elections are bad for a country. This is the superficial message that one could gather by observing Italy at this very moment. On Sunday, 20 millions people will vote for the administrative elections. The cities of Milan and Naples are the most prestigious posts on offer.

But the problem is that the nasty climate of the political elections has been extended thus far, making it unbearable. A very good illustration of the less-than-civilized climate is given by the Bindi's case.

A (fascist) senator thought it appropriate to label a new minister as 'a lesbian.' His party members had to apologize on his behalf; his party leader called him 'imbecile.'

Where are we going?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Iran seeks US talks: The Rhetorical Steps to War? (2)

It seems that I may have underestimated the significance of the Iranian President's recent open letter to the Whitehouse. Until very recently, any contact at all with the US was viewed as taboo by the hardliners in the government, and the provocative, even at times offensive tone and content of the letter is perhaps best understood as an attempt to soften the blow domestically rather than increase it internationally. It seems to have worked: a number of leading conservative figures in Iran have publically endorsed the letter.

Now it has been followed, according to the Washington Post, by a request by the Iranian government for direct talks with their US counterparts over their nuclear programme; one European diplomat is even quoted as saying the Iranians are "desperate" to get around the negotiating table with "the Great Satan". This is clearly a significant ratcheting down of the level of rhetoric that we have seen before, and makes it appear that those analysts who insisted that the content of the letter was less significant than its return address were, in fact, correct: it now seems like it was an opening invitation to treat, regardless of how it was phrased.

So what has caused this volte-face? The Post suggests that it is fear of sanctions, coupled with strong Iranian public support for re-establishing some form of contact with the US. However, given the public stances of both Russia and China on the issue, official Security Council action seems some way off. Indeed, this move comes shortly after the Russian President Putin made his remarkable attack on the US, likening it to a "wolf" that simply "eats and listens to no-one"; and the Independent is today reporting Russia's increasing displeasure at US plans to build a range of bases in Europe to protect the West against any Iranian nuclear attack. Developments such as these seem to make concerted UN Security Council action much less likely; so why is Iran choosing now to make such, if not actaully conciliatory then at least potentially so, moves.

An unpleasant thought, certainly from the perspective of an international rule of law: is it less the immediate threat of sanctions, and more the knowledge of what the US is prepared to do if it can't bend the Security Council to its will? The Iranians may well come to feel that the checks and balances of the UN, however imperfect, are infinitely preferable to what the US has already shown it feels to be the only alternative to a paralysed Security Council.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Literary Suggestion

Just bought Philip Roth's last book 'Everyman', and quite excited about it.
Roth is the best writer alive, and captures as nobody else can the tragedy of life and death in our contemporary world (America in his case).

Sophocles and Shakespear are two other examples of that ability to grasp sublime tragic moments.

For a very recent review, please have a look at the New York review of Books, here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Committee Against Torture on US Report

The UN Committee Against Torture has released its response to the US report filed under Art. 19 of the Torture Convention. It can be read in full here or see the BBC's summary here. A couple of interesting points:

- At para. 7, under the heading of "positive aspects", the Committee "notes with satisfaction the State party's statement that the United States does not transfer persons to countries where it believes it is 'more likely than not' that they will be tortured". This does not seem to set the evidential threshold for the non-refoulement clause of Art. 3 particularly high, and certainly lower than the "substantial grounds for believing"that there is a danger of torture if returned, which is the actual wording of the text. (On this point further, see the Committee's General Comment 1, in which it notes that the risk must go beyond the level of theory or mere suspicion, but that it "does not have to meet the test of being highly probable").

- At para. 13 - the Committee reiterates the need for a federal statute outlawing torture, despite the US's claims that all of its obligations to criminalise conduct under the Convention are already met by existing federal and state statutes. It also regrets that "despite the occurence of cases of extraterritorial torture of detainees" no prosecutions have been initiated under the extraterritorial criminal torture statute.

- At para. 14 - the Committee rejects the assertion by the US that the Torture Convention is not applicable in times of war, and that the "law of armed conflict" exclusively prevails. Only really surprising thing here is that this was even suggested.

- At para. 15 - the phrase "territory under the State party's jurisdiction" includes those areas over which they exercise de facto control; again, not particularly surprising, and the US Courts seem to be moving in this direction in terms of Guantanamo.

- At para. 17 - the Committee "regrets" the US response of "no comment" to the allegations of secret detention facilities in which detainees are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. All acts acts of intelligence gathering also engage the full international responsibility of the state.

- At paras. 20 and 21 - concern is expressed here about the fact that the US does not view the prohibition of refoulement as applying to detainees outside of its territory; perhaps most interesting here, however, is the recommendation on diplomatic assurances: "the State party should only rely on "diplomatic assurances" in regard to states which do not systematically violate the Convention's provisions, and after a thorough examination of the merits of each individual case". This may well be important in the context of the upcoming case in the UK, which I discussed here.

- At para. 22 - The Committee calls explicitly for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

- At para. 24 - clarification (for those who needed it) that "water-boarding", "short shackling", sexual humiliation and the like are indeed forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, and hence outlawed under the Convention.

- At para. 40 - The Committee here invites the US to reconsider its decision not to become a party to the ICC.

These are, to my eye, the interesting international law-related passages. There are of course, many others, such as condemning the use of torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling for proper education and training of military and law-enforcement personnel, treatment of women and children, and calls to reconsider the certain devices and methods of execution. In terms of the last of these, what is perhaps most striking is that the Committee calls only for a reconsideration of the methods, and not the fact itself, of execution.

EU Parliament on "Human Rights in the World 2005"

Interesting just to note that the European Parliament's recent annual report on human rights, authored by the British Labour MEP Richard Howitt, has criticised the UK government for its failure to sign up to certain basic international human rights instruments; including the Migrant Workers' Convention and, perhaps more surprisingly, the Council of Europe's anti-trafficking convention and the Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of Children in armed conflict. There is some praise to, however, for the UK's stance on the death penalty during the period of its Presidency.

The report suggests "EU activities in the UN with respect to human rights are too introverted" (para. 27), regretting in particular the Union's failure to sponsor resolutions condemning human rights violations in China, Chechnya and Zimbabwe; further, in a section (para. 23) that seems particularly loaded in the light of the Mohammed cartoon controversy, the Parliament

Specifically reminds the Council and the Commission that most human rights abuses would be impossible in countries with stronger traditions of freedom of speech and press freedom; therefore calls on the Council and the Commission to emphasise this key point as strongly as possible in all political dialogues, as in the case of development and trade policy.

On the subject of the ICC (para. 32), the Parliament has some reasonably strong words for the US: it

Calls on the US Administration and the Congress to end the delay and ratify the Rome Statute establishing the ICC; considers that no legal exception can be made for the United States on this point; condemns the fact that certain countries, including a number of EU Member States, have entered into "bilateral agreements" with the United States granting de facto impunity to US soldiers.

Another interesting element is the relatively tame level of rhetoric reserved for Iran (para. 37), despite the dismissal by the latter of the EU's latest compromise proposals as like offering "walnuts and chocolates" to a four-year-old child. The Parliament responds by condemning

... the Iranian President's call for Israel to be wiped off the map; expresses its concerns about the human rights situation in Iran and... expresses its regret at Iran's poor human rights record during the first six months of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's term of office...

Also noteworthy is their concern that current migration measures within the EU do not in practice allow for its international obligations in terms of refugee law to be met (para. 98). That's my impression of the most interesting bits, after, admittedly, a very quick skim. There's probably other stuff in there, but it is, after all, only the Parliament speaking; they do, at least, have the good grace to concede that their own interventions in terms of human rights "could be rendered more effective in a number of ways"...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Journal of Philosophy of International Law

For all those interested in Law and Politics in International law and beyond,
here's a new journal published online: The Journal of Philosophy of International Law.

The editor in chief is my colleague at Aberdeen Law School, Prof. Tony Carty. . This is an electronic journal, only accessible on the web. I particularly welcome the growth of e-journals as they allow a more speedy diffusion of ideas and spare the costs of printing. After all, all we should care about is the quality of scholarship. The quicklier it gets circulated, the better.

On the eve of the Montenegrin Referendum: explaining the ambiguities

1. The grey zone: The European Union imposed a condition on the Montenegrin referendum procedure. Namely, in order for the independence vote to be successful 55% of those who vote will have to support this option. If the independence vote ends up being between 50% and 55%, Montenegro could legally not become independent but the factual situation will be such that more people voted for independence than for the joint state. Montenegrin government was not happy about this condition but was forced to accept it. The argument for imposing such qualified majority requirement was partially based on comparative legislature, partially on the conviction that deciding on the independence of a certain territory or administrative unit will have to be based on the support of the largest possible portion of the population in order to assure a stable and united future for the country, in both cases. Such condition, imposed by the EU, proved to be the right one, also because it managed to make all political options participate in the referendum procedure. Why is then the Djukanovic’s government insisting on the political construction of the grey zone? In this way Djukanovic is creating himself more space for political manoeuvring. He is threatening to severe Montenegro’s relations with Serbia and withdraw all Montenegrin political appointments and administrative staff from federal institutions. Simply, the Montenegrin government could continue to behave as if Montenegro were independent and ignore EU’s demands for the construction of a more functional federal state. This is, however, less likely. The grey zone is an escape goat for Djukanovic, in this way he has some chance of presenting himself as a winner in the referendum, at least until the September parliamentary elections. Winning less than 50% would mean an end of the political career of Milo Djukanovic, last of the old ex-Yugoslav, ex-Communist nomenclature.

2. High voter turnout: The higher the voter turnout, the more difficult will it be for Montenegro to go independent. Paradoxically, strong campaigning for independence will cause more people to vote regardless of their preference in terms of the future of the Montenegrin state. On the other hand, Djukanovic could not allow himself not to campaign. There were rumours (and some vide footage) that the government is temporarily buying off the identity cards from the members of the unionist block in order to prevent them from voting and in order to decrease the voter turnout, but it is rather uncertain that this illegal practices could have an important impact on the final exit of the vote. This time, there is a greatest number of registered voters in the democratic history of Montenegro. This is not a good sign for Djukanovic. Few will decide to do something else on the day of the elections, if the voter turnout reaches what now seems the impossible 90%, everything can happen. In this case even the impossible scenario in which the independence vote would remain below 50% remains an option.

3. We love you but we want to leave and be the masters of our own destiny: This is the winning formula for the Montenegrin independence and the Djukanovic’s political block is strongly using this political rhetoric. Namely, the vast majority of the Montenegrin population feels strongly related to Serbia and their common Serbian culture. Many Montenegrin citizens live and work in Serbia or have close business ties with Serbia. On the other hand, the bad memory of Milosevic’s years, the impression that the union with Serbia carried in itself a heavy price of the years of isolation, bad economic situation etc., makes many more prone to vote for independence. Yet, the fear of the severing of the relations between the two states in the case of Montenegrin independence might just make them opt for the joint state. It is for this reason that the tones in the independence campaign lately became more moderate, “we will go independence but everything will remain the same”, “when Montenegro becomes independent first foreign capital that I would visit would be Belgrade, said a Montenegrin foreign affairs minister”. Will everything remain the same? Probably yes, but people wonder. The fact that Djukanovic often used radical political rhetoric to support the independence option certainly did not help his cause.

4. Bosniak voters: Seemingly, the Bosniak Muslim population living in Montenegro will vote for independence. Djukanovic’s regime was always more tolerant towards minorities than Milosevic’s. While the Albanian minority in Montenegro will surely vote for independence, this is not so certain in the case of the Bosniaks. Bosniak political parties participating in the government at the national and local level in Serbia were actively involved in the campaign for the joint state and this can have an important political impact on the result of the Montenegrin referendum. Namely, the area in which the Bosniaks live, Sandzak, lies in the south-west of Serbia and in the north of Montenegro, splitting this region in two in the case of Montenegrin independence would certainly not favour the local business and personal relations (this is especially true in the case of initial cold inter-state relations between Serbia and Montenegro.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Prodi presents his team today

The italian executive does not start very well.
The number of ministers has increased, which means a lowered accountability.
The number of women is not very significative (only 25%)
The nature of the executive is highly political and biased toward radical left
rather than a more reformist left.

Reforms are the daily bread Italy is craving at the moment, so let's hope that this team will be able todeliver on so many crucial political points.

Montenegro: The myth of ethnic differences

Reading the European and North American Press these days one gets the impression that there is a Montenegrin majority and Serbian minority in Montenegro. For example, Nicholas Wood from International Herald Tribune Tuesday 16th May 2006 argues, “Diplomats worry that any attempt by Montenegro to declare independence unilaterally could provoke the region's Serbian minority, about 30 percent of Montenegro's population of 650,000.”

In this way foreign correspondents fall into the trap of perceiving the political division in Montenegro as ethnic division. Historically, Montenegro existed as a State independent from Serbia but the population of this geographical area always perceived itself belonging to the greater core of the Serbian nation. Prince Danilo Petrovic Njegos (1852-1860), Montenegrin XIX century ruler, proscribed in the Code of Prince Danilo, article 92, “Although there is no other nationality in this land except Serb nationality and no other religion except Eastern Orthodoxy, each foreigner and each person of different faith can live here and enjoy the same freedom and the same domestic right as Montenegrin or Highlander.” Thus, belonging to the Serb cultural space and nation did not exclude regional identification of these people as Montenegrins. The course of history from XIX century onwards created a situation in which political in fights and divisions led to the gradual creation of a Montenegrin identity, considered by many separate from the Serbian identity. Communist dictatorship after 1945 through the formalization of the status of Montenegro as a Republic contributed to the creation of the mirage of ethnic difference.

It is by all means true that political differences today, contribute to the slow but gradual reification of ethnic differences. Today, many hard line supporters of Montenegro’s independence consider themselves Montenegrin, not Serbian. Nevertheless, this process is by all means not irreversible and could, if and when the political tensions die out, turn back to a more or less calm setting. Political identification with the independence agenda is one thing, family relations are other. There are numerous families in Montenegro divided along the disagreement of the future status of Montenegro.

The latest census is indicative of a change in the declaration of ethnic affiliation of the inhabitants of Montenegro, compared with that made at the 1991 census. This applies particularly to Montenegrins and Serbs. The number of those declaring themselves as Montenegrins decreased from 380,000 in 1991 to 273,000 in 2003, while the number of declared Serbs from 57,000 to 202,000. The declared composition of the total population is as follows: Montenegrins 40.6%, Serbs 30%, Bosniacs and Muslims 13.7%, Albanians 7.1%, Croats 1% and Romanies 1.2%. Ethnic affiliation was not declared by 4.3% of inhabitants and that of 1.6% of inhabitants is not known. The increased number of citizens declaring themselves as Serbs does not reflect their sudden relinquishing of the Montenegrin identity. Rather, these people, 30% of Montenegro, understood that identification as Montenegrins amounts to the support of the independence agenda, and decided to underline the Serbian part of Montenegrin identity. On the other hand, many of the 40.6% of citizens declaring themselves as ethnic Montenegrins belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church and most of them do not negate the Serbian component of the Montenegrin national identity.

True, the present referendum campaign, on both sides has done much to increase the false impression of strong ethnic differences that are surely confusing to the average foreign reader.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Slovenia will soon join the EURO zone

This is a very welcome news. It is a sign of growing economic integration and the recognition of the great efforts and successes of Slovenia, one of Italy's neighbours.

In a period where political integration is trying to find a direction, economic integration may bear more fruits than expected. Of course, there is no ground for being overly optimistic, but it is still an important development.

I only hope that Slovenia can learn from the mistakes of other countries (e.g. Italy) when shifting to Euros. The local government must make sure that the transitional period is as transparent as possible and that no sudden inflation of prices takes place because of that.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Washington and Tripoli - An Old Relationship Rekindled

The United States recalled Libya from its diplomatic doghouse today, restoring full diplomatic relations and removing it from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. In explaining the move, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, “We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya's continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.” This seems to be in line with the strain of the Bush administration’s realist philosophy that advocates a foreign policy of punishing intractability but rewarding responsiveness. Indeed, Libya has become something of a reformed sinner by U.S. reckoning, swearing off nuclear weapons and providing information on its former terrorism activities. However, Moammar Gadhafi’s government is anything but a model international citizen, having, in recent years, been implicated in an assassination plot against then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, (almost certainly) falsely imprisoning Bulgarian and Palestinian health workers to cover the government's own gross incompetence that led to the infection of hundreds of Libyans with the AIDS virus, and other inexcusable conduct. Critics of the U.S. move are already howling about oil-driven diplomacy. No doubt, this is a consideration for U.S. policymakers, who are eager to see American companies take advantage of Libya’s largely untapped energy resources and are under pressure from American consumers to lower energy prices. They are also increasingly worried about competition for ever scarcer energy from China. Another source of oil, especially in a relatively accessible locale like Libya, is a boon. However, it seems likely they resumed relations with Libya on the basis of a more complex cost-benefit analysis. First, American conservatives sincerely believe in a realist diplomacy that rewards good behavior by reforming countries as an incentive for other delinquents to do the same. Second, the Bush administration, and the American policy community at large, is, not unreasonably, obsessed with the Muslim world. They constitute, after all, roughly a quarter of the world’s population. Adding a Muslim ally, even a stinker like Libya (especially one with lots of oil), is good policy in their calculation. Finally, surely the Bushies tire of being angry with so many governments all the time. Iran, Syria, North Korea, France, Spain, Bolivia, Cuba....Even they, it would seem, feel the need to kiss and make up every now and then.

CALCIO under arrest

After the bitter-(sweet) elections, after the elections of the President of the Republic, after the capture of Provenzano (Mafia Boss par excellence), I thought that we had enough troubles and tensions in Italy to fill any possible emotional hole.

Wrong! Even football, the beloved national sport, is under fire and this time it promises to be a scandal of dynosaur proportions. Read here.

What next? You can start from anywhere you want... Perhaps, Universities? Corruption is endemic and pervades everywhere.

Prodi, not yet the official Prime Minister, will have to deal with a very tricky situation. Nearly everything has to be constructed from scratch. This may be good, but it will take an effort of Herculean proportions!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Iran Crisis: The Rhetorical Steps to War? (1)

Russian diplomats to the UN have recently criticised attempts by the UK and the US to pass a resolution that would resolution that would classify the current crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme as a "threat to international peace and security", which would mean that the Security Council could take action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter - the Chapter that allows for, amongst other things, the potential use of force. Interestingly, it seems that the US may be paying the price for past practices in this regard, with one diplomat noting that the main argument, that it was necessary to send a "robust message" to the Iranians, had been used before - and had resulted in the sending of much more than a message, robust or otherwise: "In the case of Yugoslavia, for example, we were told at the beginning that references to Chapter VII were necessary to send political signals, and it finally ended up with NATO bombardments". The attempts at legal justifications for the war in Iraq, based mainly upon the reactivation of old Chapter VII resolutions when faced with the inability to pass new ones, will also be giving Russia and China, the main opponents to the proposed resolution, pause for thought; and who can blame them.

Given this, and leading on from Jack's post below on recent allegations in the US that a decision to take military action against Iran has essentially already been taken, and my own contribution suggesting slightly conflicting messages from within the UK Government, we thought that it might be useful to run a series of posts, detailing what is being said, and how it is being said, by the major players in this crisis, most notably the five permanent members of the Security Council and Iran itself; and also analysing the interests driving such statements and their international law implications. The parallels with the rhetorical build-up to war in Iraq are certainly striking; and, if the current stand-off does end in military action, a record detailing how the justifications for such a course were offered to the public, and how they developed over time, could be an important resource.. Even if, as is to be fervently hoped, the current war of words does not descend into one of weapons, it will still be an interesting look at an issue that has huge implications, whatever its outcome, for both international law and international relations.

The most public, recent development is, of course, the recent letter from Iranian president Ahmadinejad, which Lorenzo has flagged in his post below. Significant, certainly, being the first of its kind for a lengthy period of time (since 1979), and for its timing in the current international standoff; but probably not, in fact, all that important. Ahmadinejad's letter is not really, as he suggests at the outset, about "discussing contradictions and questions" in the "hope that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them"; instead, he spends most of his time rehashing old grievances against the US in a rambling, badly-written and badly-punctuated manner (indeed, one of the most surprising things is that the Iranian President does not seem to have employed an editor for the first letter from an Iranian to a US President in over 25 years). It is certainly the case that some of the points he makes are valid in terms of US foreign relations policy, but there is absolutely nothing startling or new in what he says; and Condoleeza Rice was quite correct in her assertion that "This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort".

Roger Alford over at Opinio Juris has an interesting breakdown and analysis of the claims made in the letter, but a brief perusal is sufficient to convince the reader that Ahmadinejad is not attempting to initate a conversation; rather, he is seeking to goad. Take, for example, his comments of September 11. After noting that it was "a horrendous incident" which Iran condemned unreservedly, he immediately follows up with "September eleven was not a simple operation. Could it be planned and executed without coordination with intelligence and security services – or their extensive infiltration? Of course this is just an educated guess". The supposedly concilatory tone of parts of the letter, in which the Iranian President invites Bush to join him in solving the problems of the world, must be seen in this light: America, for Ahmadinejad, is the problems of the world. Given this, the US response, which has basically been to ignore the letter, was only to be expected - however much some may long to hear substantive justifications of some of the foreign policies targeted in the letter. If the latter was indeed its main goal, it is very badly framed and written indeed.

There is, however, one decidedly startling feature of the letter: its frequent references to religion and religious figures in making its claims and proposing its solutions. Not all that surprising, perhaps, coming from the President of Iran, a Muslim state, but the fact that it is going to the President of the fiercely secular US is certainly noteworthy. It is, perhaps, an attempt by Ahmadinejad to appeal to - or more likely, to goad - Bush's well-known religiosity; however, that the US President is being exhorted to "a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets?" is in itself striking. In any event, it seems unlikely that this letter will prove to be a signifcant document in the developing crisis over Iranian nuclear ambitions; indeed, rather than a serious invitation to treat, it is probably best viewed as some very public mischief-making by Ahmadinejad.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad writes to George W. Bush

Have a look at it for yourself, if you don't believe it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Goldsmith urges Guantanamo closure...

In a sense, a quick update to my post below: not only the judiciary, it seems, but also the UK Government is growing increasingly tired of US actions in Guantanamo. Lord Goldsmith, the Government's chief legal advisor, has today called for the closure of the detention centre, stating that its existence "remains unacceptable". In terms at once conciliatory and critical of the US, he noted that the prison had "rightly or wrongly" become a symbol of injustice, and went on to state that "The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty and of justice deserves the removal of this symbol".

Thus, while the judiciary in the UK has become more and more vocal in its criticism of Guantanamo, the nearest the executive had come to that position until today was to refer to it as an "anomoly". It is interesting to speculate the extent to which growing judicial unrest has contributed to both the content and the timing of this statement by the Government. One thing seems certain, however: the Attorney General's intervention will make it much easier for the UK Courts to admit evidence obtained from detainees in Guantanamo in cases involving terrorists, such as the ongoing Abu Qatada case that I refer to below.

Italy has a new President of the Republic

Italy has a new President of the Republic: Giorgio Napolitano.

Napolitano is a very rispected institutional figure. He comes from the Italian communist party, where he has always been in the reformist minority.

It is the very first time that Italy elects a president who has such background. In this way, we are witnessing an historical moment.

The most important thing, from now on, is to quickly form a government capable of implementing tough reforms for the well-being of the country.

Test case for torture memoranda

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in London has begun hearing a case that could have significant repercussions for the UK Government's as yet untested policy of signing "memoranda of understanding" with certain states that any deported individuals will not be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on their return. Lawyers for the suspected terrorist Abu Qatada have argued that the ECHR prevents his deportation to Jordan, and that the memorandum of understanding between the Governments of Jordan and the UK provides an insufficient guarantee of safety to override the human rights protections.

I have already suggested that these memoranda also raise siginficant questions of international law - the Torture Convention, in its Article 3, is quite clear in its prohibition of non-refoulement, whilst the Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment 31, has found that the ICCPR also places on states "an obligation not to extradite, deport, expel or otherwise remove a person from their territory, where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm..."(para. 12). It remains to be seen whether international legal considerations will play a role in the case in question; perhaps not, as the ECHR seems to cover the same ground, and is capable of providing more immediate "hard" justification in domestic courts.

The European Court of Human Rights has dealt with the sufficiency of diplomatic assurances (which is essentially what memoranda of understanding are) for overcoming the human rights protections against non-refoulement. In the case of Chahal v. UK in 1996, the Court held, at paras 104-105, that diplomatic assurances from India that a deportee would not be subject to torture on his return were insufficient to allow the UK Government to deport him. It would, however, be a mistake to draw too general conclusions from this alone; the Court's reasoning is formulated in terms of the particular situation prevailing in India at the time, and not in those of a general or abstract ruling on diplomatic assurances. Moreover, the decision is based not on the bona fides of the Indian Government (which the Court does not doubt), but rather on the degree of control it could exercise over the treatment of the deportee upon his return. There are obviously significant differences between this and the Qatada case, in which it is the Jordanian Government itself that stands suspected of torture. Any finding that the memorandum of understanding is insufficient in this case must either be based upon a generalised rule relating to diplomatic assurances, or call the bona fides of the Jordanian Government directly into question.

Talking of which, the case is interesting for another reason: Abu Qatada alleges that the evidence being used against him was obtained through the torture of one of his associates by the United States. The UK Courts have already ruled, much to the chagrin of the Government, that such evidence is, in principle, inadmissible - in a judgment that contained a detailed analysis, not only of the European Convention of Human Rights, but also the relevant public international law, and, in particular, the Torture Convention. Of particular interest here is not merely the finding that such evidence was inadmissable, but also what was said in terms of the burden of proof of such an allegation. Noting that the "conventional approach" was not appropriate given that, inter alia, the appellant may not know the author of any statements against him, or, indeed, what such statements alleged (para. 55), the Court concluded that it "would place on the detainee a burden of proof which, for reasons beyond his control, he can seldom discharge" (para. 80), thus nullifying the principle, "vigorously supported on all sides" that evidence obtained from torture was inadmissable. The Court went on to state, at para. 56, that

The appellant must ordinarily, by himself or his special advocate, advance some plausible reason why evidence may have been procured by torture. This will often be done by showing that evidence has, or is likely to have, come from one of those countries widely known or believed to practise torture (although they may well be parties to the Torture Convention and will, no doubt, disavow the practice publicly). Where such a plausible reason is given, or where SIAC with its knowledge and expertise in this field knows or suspects that evidence may have come from such a country, it is for SIAC to initiate or direct such inquiry as is necessary to enable it to form a fair judgment whether the evidence has... obtained by torture or not.

The Court agreed on this general point - that all the accused had to do was raise the possibility of torture by some plausible reason - but disagreed over whether the burden of proof on the issue should then be positive or negative. The minority argued that, where there was a real risk that evidence had been gained from torture, then the burden of proof fell on the state to show that it had not. The majority, however, felt that this threshold was too high, and did not represent a fair balance between the right to be free from torture and the right to life of terrorist victims, as it would often present an insuperable barrier to securing terrorism convictions (para. 119).

Much, then, will depend upon the judgment of the SIAC as to whether the practices of the US in dealing with its terror suspects, in Guantanamo and elsewhere. Of course, rightly or wrongly, they will also be influenced by their impression of Qatada in general - and the same Court has already, in a separate judgment, called him "a dangerous individual" who "was heavily involved, indeed at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activites associated with Al Qaeda". If, however, there is any suspicion that the US will automatically be regarded as a state in which torture is not practiced, it must be dispelled immediately. Consider the following passage from Lord Hope of Craighead, one of the majority judges in the case (para. 126):

Views as to where the line is to be drawn may differ sharply from state to state. This can be seen from the list of practices authorised for use in Guantanamo Bay by the US authorities, some of which would shock the conscience if they were ever to be authorised for use in our own country. SIAC must exercise its own judgment in addressing this issue, which is ultimately one of fact. It should not be deterred from treating conduct as torture by the fact that other states do not attach the same label to it. The standard that it should apply is that which we would wish to apply in our own time to our own citizens.

This clearly states that practices that the US views as acceptable need not, indeed will not, be regarded in the same light in the UK. Perhaps even more striking in this regard, however, are the recent comments from Mr. Justice Collins, a High Court Judge, who, in startlingly strong language, noted that "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations". A direct finding from the UK courts that the US is guilty of torture, as seems a distinct possibility in this case, would certainly introduce an interesting dynamic into UK-US relations. And it is increasingly difficult to shake off the impression that the British judiciary has been simply itching to flex its muscles and make its voice heard on this issue by rendering a formal judgment to that effect.

Whatever the outcome, this case is undoubtedly one to watch...

9 May: European Day?

Yesterday, May 9, was the European day.
The draft Constitution for Europe mentions it as one of the symbol of the European Union. For American friends, it is a sort of July 4, only for Europeans.

What is the point? Not a single mention of this fact in any of the European Countries I know. Not a single effort in the media or in the public sphere at large.
It is only a symbol, one may say. But a symbol is already quite a lot in these time of Eurocrisis.

The European commission marked this event by switching to the '.eu' internet domain. Read here.

So, if you don't find the website of the European Commission anymore, don't be afraid. It is only because they are celebrating too hard.

Monday, May 08, 2006

NYRB on Berlusconi

The New York Review of Books has a brilliant piece on Berlusconi entitled 'The Berlusconi show.' Have a look here.

It should be read by everyone, it is balanced and well argued. In particular, conservative and right wing italians should read this essay as it shows that Berlusconi is damaging the right on top of damaging the whole country.

Here's the tragic conclusion:

"One of the many tragedies of the Berlusconi era is that Italy genuinely needed a serious conservative movement to challenge some of the orthodoxies and rigidities of Italian life and to try to end the incestuous relationship between business and politics. This would have forced the center-left to come up with ways to make Italy's welfare state more affordable, efficient, and less of a drag on the economy. Berlusconi, the country's biggest monopolist, was the last person in Italy to undertake such a task. The tragedy of Berlusconi is greatest in fact for Italy's right wing, which remains in a state of arrested development, utterly dependent on one man, his company, and its interests—a situation that seems likely to continue indefinitely. After Italy's high court confirmed the election result, Berlusconi announced he had no intention of congratulating Prodi or recognizing the new government's legitimacy. He vowed to stymie it in every way possible. "They won't," he said, "be able to govern; we will make them ineffective.... Without our consent in the Senate they won't be able to pass a single bill.""

Berlusconi has a new job!

Berlusconi has found a new job already. He picked up one of his oldest passion (singing), and he is now performing in milanese dialect. See a picture here

He's lovely, and he has such a nice voice. I love him when he's not the prime minister.

The election of the President of the Republic in Italy

Today, Italy is facing the first day of election of the President of the Republic.
Needless to say, the confrontation between majority and opposition is likely to be harsh. We hope that it will produce a good result.

The centre left put forward the name of Giorgio Napolitano, a 81 year old ex-communist with a very respectable institutional pedigree. But of course his heart is beating left...

Giuliano Amato would be my preferred option. A professor of constitutional law at the Universtity of Rome and at the European University Institute, Florence. He has a political experience in Italy and Europe. Recently, he was the vice-president of the convention for the drafting of a constitution for Europe.

The centre right proposed his name and I can't understand why the centre left does not want to support this hypothesis. Curious. Let's see what happen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Steven Colbert Takes on George W. Bush and the American Media

The American blogosphere has been abuzz this week with debate about Steven Colbert’s performance at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday, attended by the President and other notables. Colbert, whose television show, The Colbert Report, parodies (the often ridiculous) American cable news talk shows like The O’Reilly Factor, was asked to perform at this year’s dinner, which is usually a forum for the President and White House reporters to good-naturedly poke fun at one another. Colbert’s performance, however, was anything but gentle. With a mock-serious delivery in which he feigned staunch support for the President, Colbert delivered a blistering indictment of the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the media’s coverage of his Presidency. Colbert’s jokes apparently received only polite applause and stony silence, and those in the mainstream media who attended the dinner or watched the event live on C-Span were not complimentary. However, in the last few days many bloggers have defended Colbert, calling his performance both funny and brave. This debate is noteworthy as it straddles two contentious issues in the American political scene, the Bush administration performance and what some consider to be the failure of mainstream American media to sufficiently scrutinize and criticize it. The transcript of Colbert’s performance is linked at the top of this entry (borrowed from Daily KOs). It is well worth reading. It is debatable whether Colbert’s performance was funny or in good taste, but it seems undeniable that he delivered a withering critique of the Washington establishment. It is, perhaps, reaching a bit to analyze Colbert's motivations, but it looks as though he was speaking to American society, rather than the dinner’s attendees, and that beneath his facetious routine Colbert is really rather furious.

The Mladic case: Inside the billiard ball

In order to fully understand Serbia’s failure to deliver Mladic by the 3rd May 2006 deadline and the subsequent decision of the EU Commission to temporarily interrupt the negotiations leading towards the signing of the Stabilization and Association agreement with Serbia it is necessary to understand what the resolution of the Mladic case would mean for every individual political player in Serbia. Euan’s blog entry offered a good introduction to this analysis.

Prime Minister Kostunica and his party Democratic Part of Serbia have a lot to lose with the arrest of Mladic. What’s at stake in this case is losing power. This is because the minority government relies on the support of the party of the late Serbian dictator Milosevic, and this, Socialist Party of Serbia threatens to withdraw their support to the government if Kostunica arrests Mladic. A preferred alternative is the mechanism of ‘voluntary surrender’ of ICTY indictees that in the past produced considerable results leading to the delivery of around 15 indictees to ICTY (the voluntary character of some of them is doubtful). Yet, it seems that Mladic is not ready for such an eventuality. On the other hand, a stalemate in the process of negotiations with the EU does not suit Kostunica’s image in front of his own voters and especially as far as the undecided electorate (largely pro-European oriented) is concerned. Kostunica could of course try to arrest Mladic, but in this case the Socialists would withdraw their support from the government. Of course the opposition Democratic Party (led by the Serbian President Tadic) could come in, or at least offer support to Kostunica’s fragile government. Still, this scenario would require Kostunica’s acceptance of the conditions Democrats are posing in front of his government as well as it would mean that Kostunica would not be the only one signing the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. On the other hand, if Mladic is not in the Hague, there will be no SAA at the first place.

The Party of the Serbian vice President Labus, G 17, continues to be in an uneasy position, being a pro-reform oriented and resolutely pro-full cooperation with ICTY, including arrests. From their perspective Labus’s resignation is more than logical, having the purpose in the unconditional pro-European electorate.

It is useful to consider the presumption that the Serbian security forces have Mladic surrounded but that the Serbian government still hesitates to go ahead with the arrest, hoping that Mladic might still surrender (as some Belgrade tabloids claim). Furthermore, ICTY Prosecutor Carla del Ponte is convinced that Belgrade could arrest Mladic if they wanted to. More worrying is the presumption that some parts of Serbian military and civilian secret services remain independent from the power of the Serbian government. In the light of this one should right Labus’s statement that Mladic “could be arrested in one day or five years”, after which Labus invited journalists to interpret his statement themselves.

First scenario would argue that the Serbian government purposefully missed the deadline wanting to create the alarming situation in the Serbian public opinion. One has to note that they largely succeeded in this, almost every newspaper is screaming “sanctions”, “isolation from the world again”. Only such a feeling of returning to the disastrous years of 1990s has the power to win over the feeling of injustice and betrayal that would be created (in the minds and hearts of many) after Mladic’s arrest. Of course this feeling is not about Mladic himself, irrational or justified, it is about the unjust treatment of the Serbs in the conflict of the 1990s that still prevails in the majority of the Serbian opinion. As in the case of the revolution that led to Milosevic’s demise, economic and social despair remains stronger than the feeling of injustice. Thus, if at the end Kostunica is forced to arrest Mladic, he could say, as he already by the way did, “because he is hiding, Ratko Mladic makes a great damage to our state and national interests”. If he arrested Mladic before the deadline this statement would be less convincing, in the present situation fear of losing the EU perspective (even 2/3 of Radical party voters are pro EU) can possibly justify the arrest. Some even claimed that this might happen by 10th May, so that Serbia could normally continue with the scheduled EU negotiations on the 11th May.

As far as Labus’s resignation is concerned, it remains an act of personal nature and it is rather uncertain that the ministers from his party will follow. Other G 17 ministers might indeed decide to stay in the government. Whether, this move will make them save part of their increasingly smaller electorate to the opposition Democratic Party, it remains doubtful.

Moreover, the interruption of negotiations with the EU has a fundamental importance for the outcome of the Montenegro’s referendum. A stalemate in the negotiations with the EU certainly goes in favour of the Montenegrin independence card. In this case Montenegrin President can use the Mladic card to defend his sophist argument that Serbia presents a brake in Montenegro’s inevitable EU accession. A Machiavellian cynic could even argue that hiding Mladic, although risky, is in Djukanovic’s interest. Failing to arrest Mladic before the date of the Montenegrin referendum (21st May 2006) might provide Djukanovic with few votes he needs to surpass the EU imposed threshold. Since the large portion of Montenegrin pro-independence vote is caused by the bad memory of Milosevic’s years and the impression that alliance with Serbia presented a heavy cost for Montenegro’s future.

The same goes for Kosovo. Mladic’s arrest (more than surrender or some unfortunate outcome of the arrest operation) would lead towards Serbia’s eventual entry into NATO Partnership for Peace. Together with the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, such a situation would make imposed independence of Kosovo very difficult.

Mladic will be found. It is less likely that he will surrender more likely that he will be arrested. Lets just hope that he does not take poison before they arrest him.

Sicily against the Mafia

An interesting piece here.

Following the imprisonment of Provenzano (May 11) and his son (today),
sicilian people are showing a growing discontent with the Mafia regime
that imposes 'protection taxes' on shop-keepers.

Will Mafia strike back? Normally, it does so when it feels threatened.
Is it threatened this time? Or is it quietly e-organizing itself?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

EU pulls plug on Serbia membership talks

This week, Serbia failed to meet an EU deadline for the extradition of ex-military leader Ratko Mladic to the Hague to face charges of war crimes. The EU has responded by pulling out of talks intended to conclude a stabilisation and association agreement, the first step on the road to EU membership.

As I suggested some time ago, when this course of action was first raised as a possibility, this is a dangerous game. Whilst the EU must show itself to have some teeth in these issues, it risks seriously destabilizing the fragile centre-left coalition in Serbia, who have depended much upon the possibility of EU membership up until now. Nationalist feeling is still, however, strong in the country - the Government depends upon some for its parliamentary majority, and they are strongly against the extradition of Mladic. More importantly, however, the upcoming period, in which it seems like almost a foregone conclusion that at least Kosovo (see our debate here, here and here), and probably Montenegro, will vote for separation from Serbia, means that this could be a very volatile time indeed. The carrot of EU membership has now been withdrawn, leaving the moderates apparently defenceless against the hardline nationalist sticks of Mladic, Kosovo and Montenegro.

The BBC has reported that the fact that talks have been "called off" rather than officially "suspended" is, however, important; the less formal formulation of the former means, apparently, that talks could be resumed immediately upon Mladic's arrest and extradition, whereas the latter would have required a more formal procedure of approval from all 25 member states. This, at least, leaves the door slightly more ajar for Serbian accession, and shows some sensititivity to the political situation in the country.

It remains to be seen, however, whether this will be enough. The tactic could backfire spectacularly, increasing hostitlity towards the Union in Serbia, setting back attempts at reform, and ultimately potentially causing the removal of a sympathetic government and its replacement with a hostile one. The question that must be asked is what price, in terms of Serbia's future stability and development, are we prepared to pay for the arrest and trial of a criminal who is no longer, or at least not currently, in a position to perpetrate more of the crimes of which he stands accused.

It is a common dilemma for societies in this sort of transition to face. Perhaps the most famous recent practical example is that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa; of course, there are vast differences between the two situations, but it is instructive to note that the Commission, widely regarded as a success, chose to put the emphasis on future stability, offering amnesties for those who came forward and told the truth instead of preferring potentially divisive litigation in a volatile social situation. This cannot, of course, be used as authority to suggest that a similar approach, acting to encourage future Serbian integration into Europe at the price of securing a conviction for a deeply criminal past, should be followed in this case. It does, however, serve to illustrate that the hard legal route, which is what the EU have opted for here, is not the only possible response; as such, it is a gamble.

It would be a mistake to conclude, if this course of action leads in the short-term to Mladic's arrest and extradition, that the gamble has paid off. The EU also has an obligation to assist in the long-term security and stability of Serbia, not merely to the victims of its past; and, while it may be argued that any such prosecution is also vital to the future of Serbia, it is undoubtedly in these terms that the current action must in the final instance be judged. "Get Mladic", although a worthy and important aim, must in the end be viewed as only one part, and perhaps even an expendable part, of the ultimate goal of a stable and prosperous Serbia.

**UPDATE** Reuters is reporting that the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, Miroljub Labus, has resigned his position over Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's failure to arrest Mladic. If Labus's party decides to withdraw support for the government altogether, it could trigger an election - and the radical nationalists have a clear lead in the polls.

The French Tragedy one year after

It is almost one year since the failure of the Referendum on the European Constitution in France (May 29 2005).

Back then, I wrote a post, which was highly criticized and considered as extreme.
I believe it now sounds quite reasonable and moderate in light of the social/political events that took place in the last year in France.

You can judge for yourself whether you agree or not. Here is the post:

The nation state par excellence, has decreed its suicide on 29th of May by voting No to the European Constitution. The French people expressed a strong degree of dissatisfaction towards its political class, the high level of unemployment, the French Constitution, and many other things. It is difficult to disentangle them all, but I will at least point to a few of them.

Chirac is the great loser. He threw all his political weight behind the Constitution. He appeared on television several times. Nevertheless, he suffered a great defeat. His putative father, Charles de Gaulle, would have resigned after acknowledging such a defeat. Chirac is there to stay, it is the only thing he can do if he wants to avoid being jailed. By voting No, however, the French people do not get rid of Jacques Chirac.

The French ruling class. It is fragmented and weak, it is not able to agree on fundamental issues such as the european constitution. France is broken into two halves. The elite who preaches modernity and grandeur. The people who rejects everthing coming from the top. Communication is impossible. By voting no, the French people has just confirmed the conviction of the elite that the people should not decide. Sad, but french.

French unemployment. The French economic model does not work. France has the highest unemployment rate, and it is very natural that unemployed people wanted to sanction their government. The plain fact of high unemployment raises the question whether the french welfare system is viable. I think it is not. It is much more in line with the principle of equality to have less unemployment with less social privileges, than more unemployed with more social privileges. By voting No, the French people entrenched the status quo of unemployment and stagnation. Good for them.

The French Constitution. Yes indeed, the French Constitution of 1958 is equally under fire. The presidential systems with an untouchable president is not desirable. The french people said No to Chirac primarily. They only get rid of Raffarin, the prime minister. This, of course, is not sufficient. By voting no, french people only get what they deserve: a new, weak, right wing government.

The end of Solidarity . France is terrorized: Polish workers, africans, muslims, turkish.. They are all perceived as threats. The threats Mr LePen has talked about for so very long; the threats that have seduced all those who voted for the no to the European constitution.

In conclusion, Egalite', Liberte', and Fraternite' do not live in France anymore. They leave in Europe, in the hopes of those who want to construe a courageous Europe. One that does not fear modern challenges. The call for more justice is coming from central and eastern europe. They want to disenfranchise themselves from the dark communist past. Ukraine was one instance of the call for freedom and justice. There are more to come. And all the courageous Europeans will be there to welcome this call for freedom and justice, and support it through our solidarity. France can rest for today, because tomorrow it will have to face the burden of the darkest decadence since the French revolution.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Today, May 2 2006, Berlusconi is supposed to resign from his post as Prime Minister.
After 5 years of rule, he finally gives up. Some people say he was unlucky; he could have done better, were it not for the global crisis. For example, five years ago, in 2001, soon after he started acting as prime minister, 9/11 came and that was it.

External circumstances do play a role. However, it is the job of a prime minister to make well informed choice as to how to steer the country-boat. Berlusconi brought Italy to the very bottom of macro-economic statistics in Europe. This is a fact.

Today, all that ends. Berlusconi acknowledges defeat and retires its troop. Too bad that he did not even have the taste of congratulating his adversaries. It is tasteless, but Berlusconi made tastelessness a political virtue. Be it.

And be prepared, today he will do something spectacular just to mark the end of his happy (horrible) years. What? He is unpredictable.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Oriana Fallaci and Silvio Berlusconi: Just two Primedonne

Oriana Fallaci is becoming famous world-wide for her outspoken intolerance.
Here you find a very positive review of her last (bad) book by Mark Steyn, a canadian writer and journalist.

Oriana Fallaci bears a very dtrong similiraty to Silvio Berlusconi when it comes to her communicative strategy. She is desperate to be a primadonna, always on the front page. She has always been so: when young and attractive, she used to tour the world with the intent of interviewing the mightest dictators of the globe.

Today, she spend most of her time writing in an open confrontational way, using the same rethorical devices as her arch-ennemies: muslim fundamentalists. As a result, her thesis is clear and full of passion. So full of it, that her mind is blinded. She positions herself at the same level of the criminals she so much dreads. And she does so in a way that constantly exasperates the conflict. (Isn't it like Berlusconi?)

She claims that Europe is in decline as it does not listen to voices such as hers.
I think that Europe is in decline because we listen too much and we are too mild with voices such as that of Oriana Fallaci.