For more than a decade,
Also for more than a decade, Radovan Karadzic (shown at right) -- one time president of the Bosnian Serbs, now indicted by the U.N.'s International Criminal tribunal for genocide and crimes against humanity –- has remained at large, making a mockery of the court's attempt at international justice. (For anyone who’s seen The Hunting Party, you know the story).
Now, Bosnian officials have reported that the actual original copy of the signed peace accords is missing from the presidential archives. And who do they think has it? None other than Radovan himself. Vladimir Lukic, former prime minister of the Serbian half of
I suppose the document was given to the President of the Republika Srpska (Karadzic) for safe keeping."
A Palestinian man hurls stones at Israeli troops (unseen) during a violent protest against Israel's security fence, Feb. 22, 2008, where it cuts off Palestinian farmers from their land at the West Bank village of Bil'in. Hundreds of villagers backed up by foreign and left-wing Israeli supporters marked three years of demonstrations against Israel's controversial barrier.
The world's best-selling board game is finally going global. Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly, are creating a version wherein instead of snatching up the deeds to Atlantic Avenue or Park Place, players can build up property in global cities such as Moscow or Tokyo.
The company is letting people vote online through Feb. 28 on what cities to include. Originally, the cities listed on the game's Web site included the countries where they are located -- "Dublin, Ireland," for example.
An early version of the site listed "Jerusalem, Israel" as a potential place on the board. But then pro-Palestinians wrote in to complain, because Jerusalem, they hope, will be the capital of a future Palestinian state. So, a mid-level employee dropped the word "Israel" from Jerusalem's place name. Then pro-Israelis complained because of the inconsistency, since other country names were still there.
In a truly Solomonic feat, Hasbro decided to drop all country names (though the company claims they were only there in the first place "as a geographic reference to help with city selection"). And now capitalism is free to run amok without any borders. At least in Monopoly.
The latest news on the Kosovo recognition front is that Bolivia has decided not to recognize the country's independence. President Evo Morales compared Kosovo to the four eastern Bolivian states that are pushing for greater autonomy, a situation we wrote about in December. Morales's ally Hugo Chávez will not recognize Kosovo, either.
Smoke billowed from the U.S. Embassy in
The violent demonstration came at the end of a state-sponsored rally held under the banner "Kosovo is
The embassy was already the site of a major demonstration that took place just hours after Kosovo announced its independence on Sunday. And its location made it a very easy target in today’s gathering -- it sits just blocks from both the Parliament building where the protest began and the Serbian Orthodox temple where the protest concluded.
Yet despite its obvious vulnerability, the Serbian officials who called the rally apparently did not plan any police protection for the building. When the fires broke out, not one police officer could be found on the scene. And it took more than an hour and a half before 200 riot police finally made an appearance.
By leaving the embassy unguarded today, Serbian officials reverted to a favorite technique of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic -- call in the crowds and let the mob mentality do the rest. In doing so, they did manage to grab international attention, but only to demonstrate just how little Serbian democracy has progressed.
If self determination based on ethnic homogeneity becomes the basis of nationhood, every nation in
It's still an open question, though, as to what kind of control over Russia's foreign policy Putin will have once he steps down as president and becomes prime minister. His protégé and successor, Dmitry Medvedev, just might turn out to have some ideas of his own.
As many predicted, a number of separatist regions throughout the post-Soviet world are planning to use Kosovo's widely recognized declaration of independence as a precedent for their own movements. The presidents of the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were in Moscow over the weekend lobbying for Russia to recognize their "nations." For, Abkhazia's Sergei Bagapsh, the issue is black-and-white: "If Kosovo gains recognition, the time has come to look at a lifting of the embargo against Abkhazia."
Both leaders plan to formally ask Russia's Duma, the United Nations, and members of the Commonwealth of Independent states to recognize their republics. Moldova's Transnistria region plans to step up its efforts as well.
But although Moscow threatened to recognize the territories last week in retaliation for Kosovo, the Russians don't seem in any particular hurry to do so. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov's statement after meeting the two presidents was as clear as mud:
The recognition of Kosovo as an independent state will create prerequisites for building up a new format of relations between Russia and the self-proclaimed states in the area of Russia’s interests, primarily on the post-Soviet space,” Gryzlov said.
Why the change? Russian leaders are likely worried about legitimizing their own separatist movements in the north Caucasus. The U.S. government has stressed that its recognition of Kosovo does not in any way imply support for other separatist regions, but others see a precedent. Basque regional authorities were quick to react positively to the news, for instance. (Not to mention the nascent Second Vermont Republic.)
It seems reasonable to argue (as Condoleezza Rice did on Monday) that Kosovo's recent history of ethnic cleansing and U.N. administration makes it a special case. But many will still ask: Why does one marginalized ethnic region deserve to be a state while others do not? As the international arbiters of this sort of thing, the U.S., EU, and U.N. need to do a better job of laying out clear standards. The current ambiguity seems dangerous and likely to encourage countries like Russia to use these territorial disputes as political weapons. That's the precedent to worry about.
Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (shown at right) gave an interview for Friday's Haaretz in which he professes admiration for Israel and stresses that his majority-Muslim proto-country (which is expected to declare independence any minute now) will not be an Islamic state:
At a time when in Turkey, which also wants to join Europe, the battle over the religious character of the state is heating up, Thaci promises: "Kosovo is going to be a democratic and secular state of all its citizens, and the freedom to exercise religion without any hindrance is granted by the Kosovo Constitution."
This assertion is significant since many Israelis fear that an independent Kosovo, or a potentially unified "Greater Albania" could serve as an Islamist beachhead in southern Europe that relies on Iranian and Saudi support, an argument that Thaci said "does not even deserve comment." It was this concern that lead then Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon to break with most of the international community in 1999 and support Slobodan Milosevic during the NATO bombing of Serbia. Nevertheless, Thaci describes Sharon as a "great leader."
Many also see parallels between Kosovo's struggle for independence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and worry that a precedent may be set. This is but one of the many domino-effect scenarios that have emerged in recent weeks. Thaci argues in response that Kosovo is "a unique case" and "should not represent any precedent." The rebel leader-turned-politician clearly hopes Israelis will think of Kosovars as kindred spirits. Haaretz, at least, is already calling him "the Ben Gurion of Kosovo."
Kosovo's impending independence has sparked great international debate, mostly around questions of legal and political precedent. But perhaps the real question is one of economics: Will an independent Kosovo be financially viable?
Judging by statistics from the World Bank, the answer would appear to be: not very.
Kosovo is one of the poorest economies in
Europe, with per capita income of an estimated $1,600 per annum in 2005… Approximately 37 percent of the population live in poverty (below $2.07 per day); and 15 percent in extreme poverty ($1.35 per day).
Youth unemployment will present one of the biggest problems for Kosovo's future independent economy. Last year, during a trip to Pristina -- Kosovo’s dusty, provincial capital -- I met two young Kosovar Albanians, ages 24 and 25. Neither had a job, but neither seemed too concerned about it. Most people don't work, they told me (unemployment is actually 44 percent). One of the two wasn't even looking for employment. He lived off remittances from his brothers who were working in
For a generation that has grown up with little opportunity and, in turn, little motivation, adjusting to a self-sustaining economy will likely prove a long and painful process. As of now, the U.N. is holding Kosovo's economy somewhat together, and the EU will increasing take over that role. But if Kosovars are serious about independence, they're going to need to back up their coming declaration with a real plan for keeping their tiny new country afloat.
By most accounts, Kosovo will declare independence on February 17th. The province's leadership claims that 100 states are ready to recognize it, and experts are even selecting a new flag. It's not an easy business.
[D]esigns based on Albania's flag, the black double-headed eagle on a red background that flutters above graves of Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla fighters throughout the breakaway province, would not be considered. The flag is synonymous in Kosovo with the Albanian community and is the first choice of many Kosovars....But officials were adamant that Kosovo's flag would not resemble Albania's. "We will not have the flag of any other country," said Fadil Hysa, the government adviser tasked with heading the Symbols Commission. "It cannot have an eagle," he added.
At least Kosovo gets to choose its own flag. Poor Bosnia had its flag chosen by international bureaucrats.
Following Mitt Romney's withdrawal speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain had this to say about the topic that has gotten him into such hot water with conservative activists and voters:
On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which provoked the outspoken opposition of many conservatives, I stood my ground aware that my position would imperil my campaign. I respect your opposition for I know that the vast majority of critics to the bill based their opposition in a principled defense of the rule of law. And while I and other Republican supporters of the bill were genuine in our intention to restore control of our borders, we failed, for various and understandable reasons, to convince Americans that we were. I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first, and only after we achieved widespread consensus that our borders are secure, would we address other aspects of the problem in a way that defends the rule of law and does not encourage another wave of illegal immigration. [UPDATE: Watch McCain getting booed here.]
That's pretty much what he's been saying on the campaign trail thus far, and it's been a good enough fudge to net him the nomination. Will conservatives be satisfied with this answer? Probably not, but it seems McCain may have smoothed over some rough patches today. David Freddoso of the National Review writes, "I think the proper reaction to McCain's victory is: Don't Panic. The world has not been destroyed just yet." Mission accomplished?
UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru chimes in—
I'd prefer it if McCain took one more small step. It isn't enough that the border be secure; the illegal population has to start shrinking. (A lot of illegal immigrants came here legally and overstayed their visas, so securing the borders doesn't solve the problem.)
Personally, I think it's wrong to look at illegal immigration as a law-enforcement problem rather than a black-market problem. You can build all the walls you want, but you won't dry up illegal immigration until you drastically raise the number of legal immigrants you let in. But that is for another post and another day.
Early national exit polls suggest that the economy is the most important issue to Republican voters. Interestingly, the war in Iraq is only their third-most important issue, while immigration is the second-most important. John McCain has long been cast as the war candidate or the war on terror candidate by the pundits, yet it still looks to be a very good night for him. These early exits suggest that efforts to portray McCain as against the party on immigration and ill-informed on the economy have failed.
Democrats — top issue: economy 47%; war in Iraq 30%; health care 19%.
Republicans — top issue: economy 38%; immigration 24%; war in Iraq 20%; terrorism 15%.
Serbia may be a shrinking country, but international eyes are keeping a close watch on its presidential elections, scheduled for Feb. 3. This Sunday, voters will be asked to choose between pro-European candidate Boris Tadic and Russia-leaning candidate Tomislav Nikolic.
Much is at stake in the elections. The next president must navigate Serbia's path to EU accession and respond to a likely declaration of independence from Kosovo, Serbia’s Albanian-majority southern province. William Montgomery, former U.S. ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, says about Sunday's election:
[It] will determine whether Serbia continues on a path (slowly or rapidly) towards integration into 'Europe' or alternatively, becomes a 'Belarus of the Balkans,' belligerently looking East instead of West and in some state of confrontation with the EU, the United States and its new 'neighbor,' Kosovo."
But with Serbian voters facing a choice between Europe and Russia, it is American icons that are getting all the attention. For over a month now, images of great U.S. presidents—George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and JFK—have appeared on Belgrade's billboards, along with quotes from presidential speeches, tweaked to support Kosovo as a part of Serbia. For instance, beside the face of George Washington appear the following words (in Cyrillic):
'The time is near at hand which must determine whether we are to be free men or slaves.' Kosovo is Serbia!”
Hollywood stars have been sucked into the Kosovo debate, too. Last week, Serbian news outlets claimed that George Clooney, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, and Sean Connery all stood in opposition to an independent Kosovo, even crediting Gere with poignant statements such as this:
There must be something in that Kosovo, if they will fight for it so hard."
The Hollywood stars have denied making such claims, but the occasionally sensationalist Serbian newspaper Blic claims to know better: Just as Serbia has a been a pawn of Western powers, Clooney too has succumbed to international pressure, denying his statement against independence for Kosovo only after "the UN exerted pressure on the actor."
In an emergency meeting Monday, Serbia's cabinet adopted a "secret plan" for responding to Kosovo's seemingly inevitable declaration of independence. Though as Reuters reports, the plan really isn't all that secret:
[I]nformation leaked in the three months since the plan was first drafted point to several measures, including cutting off electricity supplies and blocking power routes for the province, which buys 40 percent of its power from Serbia, as well as a trade and goods embargo.
Serbia could also refuse to recognize Kosovo passports and force travelers to make a long detour to get to Western Europe. It might also withdraw its ambassadors from countries that recognize Kosovo as an independent state.
At first glance, all of these responses seem like plausible courses of action for Serbia—which is desperate to keep Kosovo from seceding but is essentially prevented from taking military action by the 16,000 NATO troops in the region—except for the plan to withdraw ambassadors. Given that the United States and most countries in the European Union plan to recognize Kosovo's independence, it seems unlikely that Serbia would want to risk antagonizing them and returning to the isolation and pariah status it suffered during the 1990s.
On the other hand, comments by new EU President Janez Jansa indicate that Europe may be backing away somewhat from supporting "total independence" for Kosovo, so Serbia's leaders may feel that there's still bargaining to be done. It seems increasingly likely that Kosovo will continue to languish as "undefined" for the foreseeable future.
This is still unconfirmed, but it seems that the chaos in Kenya may have taken on an international dimension. Kenyan blogger Joseph Karoki claims to have confirmation that Ugandan forces have entered the border areas around Kisumu and Lake Victoria on the map above:
Last night I recieved news that there were reports of Ugandan militia in or around Nyanza Province and Western Province. I waited utill I got confirmation from the ground. After several late night phone calls, I did confirm that Ugandan Forces were indeed within Kenyan borders.
This is quite a scoop if it's true. I haven't found any reports on it from the mainstream media, but Uganda's military spokesman did confirm on Tuesday in an interview with Nairobi's The Standard newspaper that troops were massing along the Kenya border to "forestall possible spill over of violence in Kenya."
Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni is a supporter of Kenya's Mwai Kibaki and was the first and only African leader to congratulate him on his disputed election victory. Uganda also has a strong economic interest in controlling the violence. Ninety percent of the landlocked country's imports and 78 percent of its exports pass through the Kenyan port of Mombassa. Since the violence started, fuel prices in Uganda have more than doubled and merchants have been unable to replenish their stocks. Museveni's legitimacy rests almost entirely on his country's strong economic performance and it seems possible that he would resort to extreme measures to protect it.
(Hat tip: Global Voices):
Bolivia appears to be on the verge of a constitutional crisis after four of its richest states declared their autonomy over the weekend. At issue is a new draft constitution—approved by supporters of President Evo Morales—that leaders in the energy-producing lowland states of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando fear will put the country on the path to Hugo Chávez-style socialism. The new constitution would greatly increase the power of the presidency and give the central government greater control over the economy. There is a racial aspect to the split as well. The mostly European population in the lowlands object to new policies that would redistribute wealth to Bolivia's indigenous population, of which Morales is a member.
The state governments are now seeking support for a referendum that would place elections, public works, roads, and telecommunications under state control and protect private property rights to prevent redistribution of land. Morales meanwhile has declared their actions unconstitutional and placed the military on high alert. It should be stressed that this is a bid for greater local autonomy, rather than a declaration of independence like the one Kosovo will likely make in the next few weeks. However, Stratfor outlines how the situation could easily spiral out of control:
Morales cannot allow the country's sources of income to flout the authority of the center, and the lowlands cannot allow Morales to usurp both political and economic power from them. The questions now are: can Morales muster enough force to impose his will on the lowlands? Or can the lowlands resist?
Neither side has openly discussed the issue of secession or civil war, but once one security force starts firing on another, that is the next logical step.
That seems bit overly dramatic, but with Morales signing a $750 million deal with Brazil this week to exploit Bolivia's oil and gas reserves (most of which are in the lowlands), he certainly can't afford to lose control over his energy supplies. Could we be witnessing the birth of Latin America's Kurdistan? As Tyler Cowen complained on Sunday, this story should really be getting more attention.
Last week, I noted the irony that Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia has finally given Russia and Georgia an issue they can agree on. Both are wary of the precedent that an independent Kosovo would set for their own separatist movements.
The prospect of a "Kosovo precedent" is creating more strange bedfellows this week. Ethnically divided Cyprus is the one holdout preventing the EU from reaching consensus on recognizing Kosovo's independence. Spain, Slovakia, and Greece, all of whom contend with ongoing separatist movements themselves, were also wary about Kosovo but have apparently come around.
Perhaps most unexpectedly, an independent Kosovo may put Canada in something of a bind. In a column for the Toronto Star, political analyst Richard Gwyn worries that the 1995 "Clarity Act," enacted in response to Quebec's near-secession, will put Canada in the dubious company of Georgia and Russia:
This legislation proclaims that a pro-separation majority in any future referendum would not give a Parti Québécois government the right to declare independence unilaterally.
Instead, and as confirmed by the Supreme Court, any separation-bound PQ government would have to negotiate first with the Canadian federal government of the day.
Accepting Kosovo's right to declare independence unilaterally would ensnare us into accepting Quebec's right to do the same. [...]
Given a free choice, there's no doubt Canada would support Kosovo's independence.
Instead, we're going to stand among the naysayers, while looking embarrassed.
European attitudes toward immigrants from outside of the continent are well known — they're generally not liked. But in recent months, a new hostile sentiment has been growing toward Europe's internal immigrants. Under the EU's free movement policy, any citizen of an EU member state can pick up and move to any other member state. National borders don't matter. Anyone who lives in an EU country is a citizen of Europe. So as the EU has grown, older member states like England and Italy have seen a large influx of people from former Soviet bloc countries. These immigrants generally only speak their native language, so assimilation has been difficult.
The debate over how to deal with these immigrants, until recently, was mainly civil. Now, in Italy, it's openly hostile. Following the October murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian immigrant, Italy's Senate approved a law on Thursday that would allow them to deport non-native EU citizens. The bill still has to be approved by the lower house, but if it passes, it would give Italy the power to expel anyone, thus contradicting the free movement policy.
The English haven't gone that far, but their patience with non-native speakers is waning. Local councils are being instructed to spend less on translating signs and other materials into the languages of local immigrants. Instead, they are being advised to spend on English classes — a stance that is not openly hostile, yet not exactly welcoming.
Controversies over internal immigration raise an important issue regarding the future of the EU: the fear that national identities could be lost. What does it mean to be Italian if anyone can live in Italy? Do you have to speak English to be English? A common currency and trade policy and open borders are great, but they aren't conducive to preserving how individual nations define themselves.
As long as Azerbaijani territory is occupied by Armenia, the chance of war is close to 100 percent."
That's Safar Abiyev, Azerbaijan's defense minister, who made the remark in Kazakhstan during a meeting with other neighboring defense ministers. It sounds like Azerbaijan thinks it can recapture Nagorno-Karabakh from the Armenians, an unlikely prospect given Azerbaijan's military feebleness. Ethnic Armenians cleansed the narrow corridor of ethnic Azerbaijanis in the early 1990s and opened up a corridor to Armenia. Since then, the conflict has remained largely frozen.
Britain's announcement on Wednesday that it plans to extend its Antarctic territory by 1 million square kilometers has already come under fire from environmental groups as being antithetical to the UK's status as a leader in the fight against global warming. The new territory would likely be used for oil and gas exploration, critics points out, thus violating the 1959 Antarctic treaty. The treaty divides the continent between seven nations and forbids resource extraction.
But Her Majesty's Antarctic land grab is only one of five new territorial claims the UK plans to submit under a new U.N. treaty that allows countries to claim continental shelf up to 380 miles off their shores. Britain's four other claims are located around the Falkland Islands, around Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, near the Bay of Biscay in the North Atlantic, and in the Hatton-Rockall basin off Scotland's coast. Though eight other countries have filed claims under the treaty, some are characterizing Britain's sudden expansionist mood as imperialistic.
The Falklands claim is particularly touchy because of certain previous, uh, territorial disputes in that region. When the claim was announced last month, a senior Argentine official stated, "[I]f the British do not change their approach we shall have to interpret it as aggression." Now, Argentina is working on its own Antarctica bid. This should be interesting.
While Kosovo, Chechnya, and Georgia's breakaway provinces get all the press, you might be wondering if there are any other post-Soviet regional conflicts that deserve your attention.
You're in luck. This week, the government of Moldova angered residents of its breakaway region, Transnistria, by outlawing dual citizenship (Many Transnistrians are also citizens of Russia or Ukraine) and proposing that the Transnistria army disband and join the Moldovan national army.
Also known as Pridnestrovie or Transdniester, Transnistria is a Russian-speaking region that declared its independence from Moldova in 1990 due to fears of Moldovan nationalism. A war of independence ended in stalemate, with a ceasefire declared in 1992.
Since then, Transnistria has existed in a state of international limbo, ruled continuously by former Communist apparatchik and Sean Connery look-alike Igor Smirnov. (You've got to love a place where the government's own Web site runs headlines like "(Some) international observers call elections free, democratic.") It has its own parliament, currency, and military, but is not recognized as a state by any other country, though Russia maintains a troop presence there and Hugo Chávez, of all people, recently pledged his support. Its economy has been mostly privatized but residents retain a odd fondness for Lenin.
Transnistria now finds itself caught between hostility from Moldova and neglect from Russia, as Douglas Muir of Fistful of Euros explains:
The country's rulers would love to merge with Russia, and much of the country's population would probably follow them. But Russia lacks enthusiasm for picking up another exclave. Especially one that is (1) hundreds of kilometers south of Russia’s current borders, (2) totally lacking in resources or strategic utility, (3) majority non-Russian, and (4) dirt-poor. Independence doesn’t make a lot of sense; Transnistria is small, ethnically divided, economically dependent on Russia, and geographically ridiculous.
It has also earned a reputation as a crime-ridden, mafia-dominated transshipment point for the international weapons trade, a role you can learn a lot more about from Illicit, by FP's editor in chief Moises Naim. And to keep up-to-date with Transnistria developments, check out The Tiraspol Times, which reads like a bizarro-world Fox News with headlines like:
Igor Smirnov: Communist strongman or courageous independence hero? We report, you decide..."
How's the surge going? The latest figures from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tell us that an average of 60,000 Iraqis a month are fleeing their homes in fear of their lives, an increase of 10,000 since the buildup of U.S. troops began in January. And who could blame them? We've already highlighted the recent BBC/ABC/NHK poll here on Passport, which revealed that as many as 70 percent of Iraqis feel less secure since the surge started.
What's worse, escaping the violence has just gotten a lot harder. Until this Monday, neighboring Syria had allowed in any Iraqi without a visa for a six month period. Now, new visa regulations imposed by the Syrian government have made it so that every Iraqi—with the exception of academics and businessmen (and perhaps the odd insurgent)—must apply for a visa at the embassy in Baghdad's al-Mansour district, an area prone to sectarian violence. The result? According to a UNHCR spokesman:
For the first time in months, if not years, UNHCR field workers visiting the Syrian-Iraq border yesterday found the crossing point virtually empty.
We shouldn't be quick to point fingers at Syria. The estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living there have cost the Syrian government some $1 billion a year and have put undue strain on the country's health, education, and housing services. An on-the-ground Brookings report revealed that in 2006, the state had to foot the bill for a 35 percent increase in subsidized bread as well as 30,000 new Iraqi students flooding the school systems. Syrian citizens blame the refugees for the recent spike in unemployment, cost of basic goods, and high rents in Damascus neighborhoods (in some places, rental prices have doubled or even tripled since the outbreak of the war). But despite UNHCR's calls for international assistance, Syria has mostly been left to deal with the situation alone. U.N. officials have desperately been advocating the inclusion of a "humanitarian visa"—which would ensure that those fleeing persecution won't be turned away because they don't meet regular visa requirements—but it's about time someone else lent a helping hand.
At least the refugees now have Angelina Jolie on their side. The actress visited refugees on the Iraq-Syria border at the end of August and demanded increased international support:
It is absolutely essential that the ongoing debate about Iraq's future includes plans for addressing the enormous humanitarian consequences these people face.
Maybe she can get someone to pay attention.
We're still not sure how seriously we should be taking this, but Belgium appears to be in the midst of a political crisis that has many questioning whether the country even has a future. It all started in June, when French-speaking Wallonian politicians rejected their Dutch-speaking counterparts' demands for greater autonomy for Flanders. Lawmakers have spent the past 11 weeks trying to form a coalition government. There is apparently growing Flemish resentment that their tax dollars are going to subsidize the less prosperous French-speaking south. Pro-independence rallies have been held in Flanders and remarkably, only 29 percent of Belgians are certain that there will even be a Belgium in ten years. A full fifteen percent are certain that it will not. After a round of talks led by the head of the Flemish Christian Democrats collapsed last week, Belgium's king has now appointed another prominent Flemish politician, Herman Von Rompuy, to resolve the situation.
Paul Belien at the Brussels Journal blog has been all over "the Belgian Crisis" like mayo on frites, deriding the international media for not covering what he calls "Yugoslavia in slow motion" and speculating about Europe after Belgium. Belien might be jumping the gun a little bit, but he's not alone. A recent editorial in Le Figaro (in French) called for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to annex Wallonia if Belgium should split, comparing it to Helmut Kohl's decision to absorb East Germany after the fall of Communism. Seventy-seven percent of Dutch citizens apparently favor absorbing Flanders as well.
If nothing else comes from this, it should certainly give EU diplomats some pause before chastising Albanians and Serbs, Palestinians and Jews, or Sunnis and Shiites for failing to coexist. I suppose Congolese peacekeepers on the streets of Brussels would be too much to hope for.
Some countries give their provinces, states, and territories really boring, unoriginal names. Canada has the Northwest Territories. Australia has the state of Western Australia (guess where it's located) and Northern Territory. Pakistan has its Northwest Frontier Province.
The government of the Northwest Frontier Province, however, is ready for a name change. It conducted a survey to identify a new name for the province, and the most popular alternative name was … drumroll, please … "Afghania." (The province borders Afghanistan, surprise, surprise.)
Of course, Pashtun nationalists aren't too happy with the proposed new name. They want the Northwest Frontier Province, which has had that name since the days of British colonialism, to be called "Pakhtunkhwa," after, well, themselves. It makes a bit of sense since Pakistan's three other provinces are named after ethnic groups: Punjab for Punjabis, Sindh for Sindhis, and Baluchistan for Baluchis. [See correction below. -Ed.]
Either new name, though, could bring its own new problems. Pakistan's central government fears that "Pakhtunkhwa" could rekindle conflicts with Afghanistan over the Pashtun territory that lies along their shared border, a border that Afghanistan has never recognized. Meanwhile, "Afghania" doesn't sound much more original that the province's current appellation.
CORRECTION: As a couple of astute readers have informed me, Punjabis and Sindhis are named after Punjab and Sindh, and not the other way around, as the original post states. The Reuters article to which this post links does not make this distinction clear, however.
Back in 1969, the United States won the space race against the Soviet Union by planting the U.S. flag on the moon. This Thursday, Russia is expected to win the race to claim much of the oil and gas deposits of the Arctic Ocean by sinking its flag to the seafloor beneath the North Pole.
A Russian icebreaker has already broken through ice sheets and cleared a path to the North Pole. Thursday morning, two submarines will dive more than 13,200 feet and drop a capsule containing the Russian flag. The symbolic act seems aimed at strengthening Russia's legal claims to the estimated 10 billion tons of oil and gas deposits that are in a 460,000-square-mile region of the Arctic shelf.
Four other countries — Canada, the United States, Norway, and Denmark — have claimed land inside the Arctic Circle. International law lets them claim only up to 200 miles from their coastlines for economic activity. Russia, however, has been claiming a larger area that reaches the North Pole by saying that Siberia and the Arctic seabed are on the same continental shelf.
If the flag drop succeeds, it will be a small step for submarine pilots, and a giant leap for Russia … into a territorial dispute.
Here's why I think former British PM Tony Blair is making a big mistake in taking the job of Middle East envoy—a job that is apparently limited in scope to "shoring up Palestinian institutions" and not actually negotiating any deals.
Alvaro de Soto, who was the United Nations' representative to the Middle East until he stepped down in May of this year, penned a damning report on the Quartet's failure in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. It leaked to the Guardian, which promptly published the entire report on its website. De Soto is a professional diplomat who did a lot of good in advancing the Cyprus peace process, so we should take him seriously.
The report is filled with juicy details on why Blair's predecessor, James Wolfensohn, couldn't get anywhere. It does credit Wolfensohn with getting across "the notion first put forward by the World Bank that the Israeli closure system was the determining factor in the decline of the Palestinian economy." But as de Soto notes, "Israel has completely shut off Palestinian workers from going to Israel at all - Palestinians who used to work in numbers over 100,000 in Israel have been reduced to zero."
And so it's clear that Blair will have to address this key factor in the Palestinians' economic catastrophe if he is going to get anywhere ... which will entail negotiating with the Israelis. Unless Condi Rice can deliver on this, Blair's efforts will be useless—and that's why he'll eventually quit in frustration. I'd love to be proven wrong.
Perhaps no gun on Earth is more popular than the Avtomat Kalashnikov, or AK. What makes the AK so popular? In a recent study by Oxford University Economist Phillip Killicoat, "Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles," two theories emerge. The first is the weapon's simplicity:
The AK-47 was initially designed for ease of operation and repair by glove-wearing Soviet soldiers in arctic conditions. Its breathtaking simplicity means that it can also be operated by child soldiers in the African desert."
But the AK is also less accurate, less safe, and has a smaller range than its competitors. So its popularity could also stem from its early competitive advantage:
In the case of the AK-47 that early advantage may be that as a Soviet invention it was not subject to patent and so could be freely copied. Furthermore, large caches of these weapons were freely distributed to regimes and rebels sympathetic to the Soviet Union - more freely, that is, than weapons were distributed by the US - thereby giving the AK-47 a foothold advantage in the emerging post-World War II market for small arms."
Either way, there's a lot of them floating around, something FP examined way back in 2004. Of the 500 million firearms found in the world today, an estimated 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are the famed AK-47 (the "47" refers to the year in which the rifle was designed for the Soviet army).
Killicoat also looks at the price of an AK-47 in 208 countries between 1990 and 2005. He finds that, although the average global price of an AK-47 has risen from $448 in 1990 to $534 in 2005, in African countries purchasing an AK-47 is on average $200 cheaper than anywhere else in the world. Here's why:
[T]his staggering Africa-discount is predominantly driven by porous borders. Since borders are more porous than elsewhere, the trade in assault rifles across the African continent approaches a deregulated market in which prices converge and there are only negligible trade barriers that arms supply must overcome to meet demand. At any one time, only a few African countries have very high demand for weapons due to conflict. This demand profile across the continent changes over time as localized tensions rise and recede. Porous borders enable the entire supply of weapons on the African continent to meet whichever country currently has high weapons demand.
In fact, the weapons are so ubiquitous in Africa that "Kalash," an abbreviation of Kalashnikov, has become a popular boy's name in some countries.
(Hat tip: HTWW)
The case of the walking tuberculosis bomb keeps getting stranger. The latest, according to the Wall Street Journal, is that Andrew Speaker, who has a rare case of TB, somehow made it across the U.S-Canada border even though he triggered the proper warning signals:
According to investigators, it appears that when the man arrived on May 24, at the crossing on Champlain, N.Y., his passport was swiped, activating the flag on his records and the warning. Records show that man spent less than two minutes at the border post before being cleared to enter the country.
It's another black eye for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal entity in charge of securing the United States' lengthy borders. The agency is under a great deal of strain recently, though I've seen few news outlets report that the Border Patrol (which is a distinct unit from the Office of Field Operations, which staffs ports of entry such as the Champlain crossing) is basically in revolt.
The National Border Patrol Council, a union that represents the United States' approximately 11,000 border control agents, filed a symbolic no-confidence vote in late April against David Aguilar, who heads the Border Patrol. And more recently, the council filed a complaint against Aguilar with the Federal Labor Relations Authority for allegedly intimidating employees regarding the vote. The council's main beef appears to be about the treatment of two border patrol agents who were convicted for shooting "an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler" on federal land in Texas. With the immigration debate heating up and with today's fatal shooting outside of San Diego of a suspected smuggler of illegal immigrants, tensions within the Border Patrol are unlikely to subside anytime soon.
I'll bet that most people don't know that Scotland is in the midst of a fierce debate over whether to secede from the United Kingdom and become an independent country. Tomorrow, Scots will head to the polls to elect members of the Scottish parliament. The Scottish Nationalist Party, which—as you might be able to guess from its name—favors independence, is expected to do well. The SNP vows to hold a nationwide referendum to decide Scotland's fate if it wins a majority, as seems increasingly likely.
Enter Gordon Brown, the Scotsman who happens to be slated to become the next prime minister of the UK when Tony Blair steps down later this month. Brown frames the Scottish parliamentary elections as "a big choice ... between those who want to break up Britain and those who want to build up Scotland." His not-so-subtle message: Support the Labor Party instead. But Labor's image has taken a beating as Britons have become ever more unhappy with the war in Iraq. And thus, in a strange twist of fate, the invasion and occupation of Iraq could conceivably lead to the breakup of ... the United Kingdom.
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