Zagreb, CROATIA: Members of rafting club "Adventure Dalmatia" raft down the river Cetina, near the southern Adriatic town of Omis, 22 December 2006. Dressed as Santa Clauses they wanted to deliver gifts to their loved ones in an unusual way.
From BBC News:
A group of Polish members of parliament have submitted a bill seeking to proclaim Jesus Christ king of their overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Forty-six deputies - 10% of the lower house - signed the bill, which was tabled earlier this week, reports say.
Some Polish clerics however have criticised the move as unnecessary.
If the bill becomes law, Jesus will follow the path of the Virgin Mary, who was declared honorary queen of Poland by King John Casimir 350 years ago.
The bill probably won't pass, but if it did, wouldn't that make Jesus's mother his wife? Somehow, I don't think that'll fly.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Litvinenko assassination and investigation is why the killers would have used such a bizarre and dramatic method. If this story is correct—and I don't know that it is—investigators have already traced the substance back to a particular Russian reactor. Surely whoever initiated the plot knew that the material would be traced. Two explanations seem most likely. First, someone is trying to frame Vladimir Putin by ensuring both that the killing was as dramatic as possible and that it gets quickly linked to the Russian state apparatus. The second and far more chilling possibility is that Putin or his associates ordered the hit and wanted everyone to know it was them. Some experts have pooh-poohed the idea of a Kremlin connection.
There was no benefit to Putin or Russian intelligence services to have a highly publicised operation like this."
But was there really no motive? Aside from the benefit of removing a nettlesome critic, can't a demonstration of ruthlessness itself be useful to a politician? The Kremlin might have calculated that the fear and awe generated by the killing would outweigh the opprobrium. It's better to be feared than loved, after all.
Don't miss Jackson Diehl's column today:
The Western allies have no idea what to do about Putin. Five years ago the energetic former KGB colonel was regarded as a strategic partner for NATO and its members. Now he is generally understood to be an autocratic imperialist whose political enemies suffer from a high rate of sinister poisonings. Bush and other NATO leaders aren't ready to act on that understanding, or even to state it out loud.
I think that such fairs are needed," said one communist deputy, Victor Ilyukhin, "so that we can put snipers around the outside and shoot all of the visitors like parasites. None of them have made their money honestly."
Sixteen years after the fall of its Communist government, Bulgaria is still struggling with what to do with its secret archives. They may finally see the light of day:
Bulgaria's main political parties have finally agreed to open the archives of the once feared secret service of Todor Zhivkov's regime, the Durzhavna Sigurnost (state security). Parliament last week made its first move to permit public access to the millions of files that the secret services assiduously collected by an army of anonymous spies and collaborators.
The Bulgarian secret services were linked to some of the Cold War's nastiest moments, including the shooting of Pope John Paul II and the killing of a dissident in London (with a poisoned umbrella). Keep an eye out for revelations.
The Serbian authorities are doing their damndest to convince international prosecutor Carla del Ponte that they're serious about catching indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic. To wit, Serbia just announced that they sacked five police officials for inadequate zeal in pursuing Mladic. The authorities have good reason to tout their seriousness: negotiations with the European Union hang in the balance.
Mladic is one of a handful of men on the lam for genocide and crimes against humanity. Many of them have benefited from the drift in international attention occasioned by the war on terrorism. The EU, to its credit, has kept steady pressure on Serbia, and my guess is that they'll cough up Mladic at some point soon.
If you're Hungarian, your prime minister has been caught on tape admitting that he's lied and his administration "screwed up," and protestors demanding his ouster are descending on the capital city in violent riots, what's your first move?
Join the protestors? Take a long trip to Prague? How about secure the rights to Web domain "elkurtuk.hu," "WeScrewedup.com" in Hungarian? Three Hungarians are duking it out over ownership rights to the newly fashionable address, possibly to post the video of the prime minister's unfortunate admission. Probably to profit from the traffic that is certain to follow, assuming the Hungarian agency charged with handing them out will even allow it.
It's good news that Hungarians are fully embracing the benefits they might garner from postcommunist free markets. May the best capitalist win!
After several days of embarrassing silence, Poland has finally responded to NATO's request for reinforcements in Afghanistan, where the alliance is battling Taliban militants. The government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski has offered 1,000 troops to bolster overstretched Brits, Canadians, and Dutch in the south of the country. Meanwhile, Taliban forces beseiged a district in the west of the country, a clear attempt to show strength outside their southern and eastern strongholds. The Taliban, it appears, are more adept at operating out of area than NATO is.
Back when everyone used to talk about the Balkan tinderbox, tiny Macedonia was often voted most likely to ignite. Tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians flared into violence in 2001. Frantic Western diplomacy produced a power-sharing agreement, but few were sanguine about it chances. Five years on, it appears to be a remarkable success. A new tolerance for the Albanian language is just one of the signs of progress.
Before 2001, whenever a deputy of the Albanian community tried to speak in the Macedonian parliament in his mother tongue, the microphone on the platform would immediately be switched off. The action was typical of a country that steadfastly maintained Macedonia was a state of ethnic Macedonians alone. Today, the picture is very different and Albanian is spoken at plenary sessions in parliament as well as in local municipal assemblies.
At a time when conflict resolution in many parts of the world appears almost futile, it's helpful to remember that a combination of Western incentives and force have helped many parts of the Balkans edge away from the abyss.
Never heard of the country of Abkhazia? Well, Georgia would like to keep things that way. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been trying hard recently to contain the breakaway region, a slice of land along the Black Sea. But a few new actors have added themselves to the mix, and one of them is big neighbor Russia. It seems that Moscow has recently held talks with rebels from Abkhazia, including a local strongman who claims the right to govern a remote gorge in the region.
In recent days, Georgia and Russia have accused each other of trying to start a war in the southern Caucusus. The presence of Russian peacekeeping troops in northern Georgia doesn't seem to be helping; Georgia now claims that Russia aims to annex Georgian territory.
All this could spell a border fight between giant Russia and tiny Georgia, undermining the struggling Tbilisi government and adding to the long list of territorial disputes around the world. In this week's List, FP takes a look at a few of the simmering border fights that don't often make the front pages.
Ask the existing EU members about the prospect of Ukraine joining their club, and you get a resounding "call us in 20 years". But the remoteness of the prospect--and likely Russian objections--haven't stopped the hoping and the planning. Witness the recent Yalta conference of the optimistically named group YES (Yalta Europe Strategy), a committee aiming to guide Ukraine into Europe.
The shadow of the 1943 Yalta conference, where some say the Cold War began, hangs over these talks, and it's clear that decades behind the Iron Curtain left a lot of Ukrainians looking westward. Not everyone is optimistic about the time frame of accession, and some doubt it will even happen. Still others seem to think that pre-accession measures are worth it, even if Ukraine's entry is still decades in the future. From one unexpected leader at the conference:
I am not sure that in 10 to 15 years Ukraine will be a member of the EU. But we need these reforms: democracy, a market economy and the rule of law." --Victor Pinchuk, one of the Ukraine's richest men and the son-in-law of ousted President Leonid Kuchma
A curious piece in the Christian Science Monitor examines the flow of weapons from the Balkans to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Bosnian and US governments are discussing gifting a shipment of Bosnia's familiar Soviet-type weapons to Afghanistan. But small arms experts would like to see Bosnia's weapons destroyed rather than exported, and to end the post-cold war flow of arms from Eastern Europe to conflict zones around the world."
I understand the concern about the rampant small arms trade, but if the choice is between buying brand new weapons for Afghan security forces and recycling weapons quickly from the Balkans, why is this such a bad outcome? The Afghan police, let's remember, are badly outgunned as they attempt to protect towns and schools from marauding Taliban.
The BBC offers today an interesting look at Gazprom, Russia's gas giant. There's some world-class hyperbole in the piece, including this:
Russia is a huge, almost limitless, supplier of gas, and this makes it probably more powerful now than it was during the Cold War."
The premise of the article is that Russia's oil and gas reserves generate geopolitical clout. Perhaps in the short term. But it appears just as likely that the warping of the economy caused by reliance on oil and gas profits will undermine Russia's economic and political transition and ultimately diminish its international profile. Tom Friedman made the case in FP recently that high energy prices hurt freedom. Other prominent Putin critics go much further: they contend that Russia's economic growth is a fraction of what it should be and that energy windfalls are masking economic stagnation.
Under oil windfall profits, Russia's GDP should have grown by 15% to 16% in 2005. Once you dismiss the windfall profits, you see a poor quality of the economic policy that has proven negative to the tune of losing some 9% to 10% of the GDP growth."
When energy prices slide, we'll get a truer sense of where Russia stands.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already shown a low tolerance for free markets and a free press, but now he might be taking on another classic autocrat characteristic: eccentric behavior.
In a scene broadcast over Russian television last week, Putin spontaneously bent down, lifted up the shirt of a five-year-old boy visiting the Kremlin, and kissed him on the stomach. As if that wasn't eccentric enough, Putin explained the kiss today by saying:
He seemed very independent and serious... I wanted to cuddle him like a kitten and it came out in this gesture. He seemed so nice.
Bosnia's international supervisor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, has announced that his position will self-destruct by mid-2007. After that time, he'll merely be the EU's special representative to Bosnia. The post of High Representative was created in late 1995 as part of the Dayton Accords. Very quickly, the High Rep acquired near colonial powers as the West struggled to get Bosnia's ethnic factions into line. The succession of diplomats who have filled the post have regularly enacted laws that Bosnia's parliament won't and fired elected politicians. When I was in Sarajevo late last year, street corner vendors peddled cartoons of a regal High Representative ruling over the country's squabbling politicians. It appears that era is now ending. Soon, we'll see how Bosnia's politicians do without an international hand on the tiller.
President George W. Bush meets with Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom at Sandor Palace in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, June 22, 2006. Also pictured, from left, are: U.S. Ambassador George Walker; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kinga Goncz; and Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi. White House photo by Eric Draper.
In the West, there is growing pessimism about anyone's ability to stop Vladimir Putin from turning Russia into the world's most stage-managed democracy. John McCain's call for the United States to boycott next month's G8 in St. Petersburg has gone nowhere fast. But, as Tom Friedman has argued in FP, soaring oil prices are making Putin more troublesome domestically and internationally. So, could a party girl be about to do what no political party can - seriously challenge Putin’s ever-growing power?
The glamorous 24-year-old reality TV hostess Ksenia Sobchak has launched a youth movement with the provocative name "All are Free." Its aim: Teach Russian youth "how to be free." The group is in direct competition with the Kremlin-endorsed clubs set up to stymie the emergence of an Orange revolution-style movement. She told the St. Petersburg Times, "We have a lot of political youth movements, but I think they are kind of fake."
The Belarus story has, of course, largely left the headlines. But a short while back, hundreds of Belarusians were protesting against the rigged elections confirming Alexander Lukashenko's as the head of state. Among them was Andrej Dynko, editor of the newspaper Nasha Niva who was immediately arrested. While in prison, he wrote a diary-style letter that's worth a read or good skim:
If you thought Putin was totally unoriginal in following the great Russian power-consolidating tradition, check this out. Putin is a copy cat in more ways than one, according to the folks next door at Brookings:
Large chunks of Mr. Putin's mid-1990s economics dissertation on planning in the natural resources sector were lifted straight out of a management text published by two University of Pittsburgh academics nearly 20 years earlier, Washington researchers insisted yesterday.
Six diagrams and tables from the 218-page dissertation mimic in form and content similar charts in the Russian translation of the Americans' work as well, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow Clifford G. Gaddy.
They say that he took a lot of text "word for word" from a 1978 management textbook written by William R. King and David I. Cleland. It's kind of strange considering Putin is known to be really smart and he does marathon press conferences without notes.
Putin was pretty old when the he wrote this, so maybe he had a research assistant whose responsible. Cleland told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "The guy is not a dumb man, in fact he is very brilliant, maybe he was taken by someone who did it and didn't tell him about it."
Hat tip: AL Daily.
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