Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Mostly I despair

Mostly but not always. Mostly I despair of the eurosceptic movement and all who sail in it, particularly when questions outside their tiny little world come up. Or, in other words, I do not think the overwhelming proportion of eurosceptics can or want to understand what is going on in various parts of the world. It is all too difficult and, therefore, they relate everything to what they think they know (but actually rarely do as nothing happens in isolation). So, just as the left has to relate everything to the evil American empire so a large proportion of eurosceptics has to relate everything to the EU, whether that benighted organization is of any relevance or not. As a consequence, the insanely anti-American left and right (a smidgeon more insane than the left), a number of Conservative politicians who have learnt nothing from the second half of the twentieth century and a very large proportion of self-accredited eurosceptics have been cheering for President Putin and his jolly Chekists as they invaded Ukraine, took away a part of it, Crimea and sent in more troops in funny clothes to link up with local separatists in order to destabilize parts of eastern Ukraine.

You'd think that people who are in favour of national sovereignty, especially based on an agreement that was created when a forcibly united multi-national state based on ideology fell apart, would actually support one of them when it is under attack. Well, you'd be wrong. A curious misreading of what happened in Ukraine has led a number of eurosceptics helter-skelter into the ranks of the Putinistas who appear to be in favour of the recreation of a new Soviet Union in the shape of the Eurasian Union. (Fortunately for many of us, not to mention the people of the former Soviet Union, Russia as led and destroyed by Vlad and his mates is not in a fit state to impose its rule on the others though it is quite capable of the aforementioned territorial invasion and destabilization.)

Why am I not in total despair? Well, it always cheers me when I read an article that clearly understand the issues and does not mince its language. Such an article is in July/August's issue of Standpoint and it is by my good friend (full disclosure) Michael Mosbacher.

He lambasts the insane and Stalinist left and insane right in equal measure but what is particularly painful from my point of view is his well-argued and fully justified attack on the Bruges Group that, in my absence from its counsels, seems to have gone slightly mad.
Whether intentionally or not, the Eurosceptic Bruges Group has become an apologist for Putin. The group was established in 1989 to support the views expounded by Margaret Thatcher in her Bruges speech of the previous year calling for an end to the federalist project and a more decentralised Europe. It has now produced Someone Had Blunder'd, a 30-minute film attacking UK and EU policy on Ukraine for provoking Russia, indeed for being the cause of the current crisis. It is fronted by Bruges Group director Robert Oulds and features Conservative MPs Peter Bone, Bernard Jenkin and John Redwood, twice a leadership candidate, as well as erstwhile party chairman Lord Tebbit. They are now exploring a follow-up film with Sir Bill Cash MP.

The argument of these critics is that, in the phrase of Bernard Jenkin, the Euro-neocons — surely as mythical a beast as any yet imagined — running the EU have pursued an aggressive policy of eastward expansion which has encroached on Russia's sphere of influence and thus made it feel threatened. In their view it is the EU's rather than Russia's expansionism which has provoked conflict. Jenkin argues that the EU has been "fomenting divisions in order to bring Ukraine into the European orbit". Redwood says: "It was EU action seeking to expand their empire to the West [sic] which first started the reaction of Russia."
To be honest none of the participants of the film are people to whom I would turn for elucidation of any question of foreign affairs, let alone those to do with the former Soviet Union. What the egregious John Redwood might have meant by his comment is anybody's guess as is Bernard Jenkin's invention of the mythical and meaningless Euro-neocons.

Mr Mosbacher explanation of what happened and what role the EU played at the very beginning of the crisis (after which it became irrelevant as I have mentioned a few times before) is accurate:
It is true that the demonstrations against Yanukovych began last November when he announced that he would not be signing an Association Agreement with the EU but would instead throw in his lot with Putin's Eurasian Customs Union.

The critics are right that the Association Agreement is much more than a free-trade agreement. In Article Seven it commits Ukraine to "promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy". Article Ten of the agreement provides for "increasing the participation of Ukraine in EU-led civilian and military crisis management operations" and exploring the potential of military-technological cooperation.

The agreement may indeed undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, but surely is nothing compared to the Russian-dominated Eurasian Customs Union. While the latter may on paper be nothing more than a customs union does anyone seriously believe that it will remain as such? Has Putin's aggression in Ukraine not rather proven the point that Ukrainian sovereignty is not high on his list of priorities?
Clearly, it is not high on the average eurosceptic's list of priorities either (that is, assuming, they know where Ukraine is, something I am doubtful of).

There is also a well deserved attack on the Conservatives and their allies in the Council of Europe and its preposterous Parliamentary Assembly.  Read the whole piece.  The title? Putin Has His Useful Idiots on the Left and the Right.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

So you think the West is too materialistic? Well, let me tell you ...

Yesterday evening I went to the British Museum and saw its exhibition Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation. One assumes that the BM sensibly decided to remember the 1914 anniversary of the beginning of what used to be known as the first German war by looking at what that event wrought in Europe and, especially, in the Continent's central part. More power to their elbow.

The six artists whose work is now either in the British Museum collection or been lent for this exhibition by the Duerckheim Collection were all born under the Nazis, have childhood memories of Germany's defeat and the large-scale destruction and are also people who, having found themselves in the eastern section, eventually made their way to West Germany where their career flourished. The art exhibited is, as one would expect variable though the Baselits's chiaroscuro achieved through two or three coloured woodcut blocks create an interesting link with a recently closed Royal Academy exhibition of works created by similar techniques in the Renaissance era.

The artists' personal experience of the Cold War and their knowledge of the two contrasting artistic and cultural worlds clearly contributed to a certain crisis in their identity, both personal and artistic. This is not a particularly clever idea of mine: it is, in fact, the theme of the exhibition, seen through the works of art and through various pronouncements by the artists in question. Having left East Germany behind (most by choice though one, A. R. Penck, through force majeure in the eighties when dissidents were routinely exiled by the DDR) the artists in question continued to feel discontented, though now with the West and, particularly, with Western materialism and consumerism.

It is, of course, the role of the artist in the modern (post-Enlightenment) world to be discontented so we cannot complain about that too much but the particular cause is of interest. as it has been for some time and still is a favourite defence of the indefensible, the Communist system. We all know how it goes: there were, of course, some nasty aspects to it and one would not want to deny that but at least you did not get the obsessive materialism and consumerism of the West. Whether the real horror of those grudgingly acknowledged "some nasty things" is quite balanced out by the often tiresome obsession with the latest gadgets and clothes, yet another holiday and the emptiness of reality TV is questionable. Would people who say that prefer to live in fear of that unexpected yet expected late night or dawn ring of the bell or knock on the door with all that entailed? I think not.

Let us look at the argument: at least they are not obsessed with materialism and consumerism. To start with, what is the basis of Communism and Marxist Socialism but materialism, dialectic or otherwise? The whole political ideology, the whole basis on which state and society are to be built, purport to be materialistic, discarding religion, spiritual entities and "empty" intellectualism. Not only were the ideas discarded and banned, their proponents and practitioners were arrested, exiled, murdered or forced to convert to the worship of Materialism. Socialist Realism from which the artists in this exhibition fled one way or another is the glorification of materialism in art and its apotheosis heralded (or was meant to herald) the trampling down of all non-realist, non-materialist expression.

So much for the underlying ideological basis of Communism. The problem was that it could not provide the material goods that materialism promised to all. While theoretical materialism remained a good thing, its practical assumption had to become a bad thing since it did not exist in the workers' paradise. In particular, it had to be pronounced as bad by Western supporters (at a distance) of that non-materialistic materialist workers' paradise as they could not hide indefinitely behind the lie that consumer goods in the West were available to very few people. In fact, there is an odd correlation between growing contempt for consumerism and materialism and the wider spread of the actual goods.

Were people in Communist countries really not interested in consumer goods? Were they heck. No-one who has ever lived in those countries especially the Soviet Union and managed to communicate with the indigenous population can forget not just the queues for goods that might appear or might not but also the obsessive discussions of what might be available and where, what might be acquired at home or - blissful idea - abroad.

In Soviet cities directions were given by shops. Get off the bus at such and such a shop, turn right, walk to another shop, then right again and it's the second entrance. That sort of thing. Naturally, one had to ask the driver where such and such a shop was, which would cause great excitement on the bus: why were you going to that shop? Was there anything being sold there?

That is materialism and consumerism on the lowest possible level. It did not stop there. With no rights to real property, people competed in ownership of consumer goods: clothes, shoes, make-up, furniture once that became possible and cars when that became possible in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

One of the comedy sketches I recall from my childhood in Budapest was a discussion between two men, played by well known comedians, over breakfast in a cafe about a third one who is assumed to be the owner of a car that is outside. "Where does Kropacsek get his car from?" became one of the oft-repeated lines by people who watched the sketch and sympathized. For about ten minutes there was a discussion about the hapless Kropacsek who ought not to be able to afford a car but seems to have done. How did he do it? Where did he get the car from? Eventually, one of the men realizes that the car is not Kropacsek's but someone else's, whose name might be Moritz. Relief all round. Silence. Well, you can hear the punchline ahead: "where does Moritz get his car from?". Not materialistic at all. Not obsessed with consumer goods. Certainly not.

Even tickets for particularly well thought of plays and films, especially if they were a little daring, books that you could buy only if you had connections, all had become part of a febrile competitive consumerism. Yes, people smuggled in dissident literature but even more they smuggled or just took in all sorts of goodies, basics and luxuries, for themselves, for their families, their friends. Obsessive materialism and consumerism prevailed everywhere in the Communist world with it being considerably stronger and more obsessive in the Soviet Union than in Eastern Europe, particularly countries like Hungary where certain economic reforms made life a little easier, a little more like the West (though only a little).

Communism in its Soviet form has gone and what we see in the post-Soviet states is yet more obsessiveness as well as absolute selfishness in the accumulation of wealth and of consumer goods on a scale that is truly stunning to us in the West. That and the lack of any non-materialist ideas and controls are not the result of the collapse of the Soviet system but of its existence, of its materialist ideology, of the destruction of all other ideas and the contrasting material poverty.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It would be quite funny if it were not so sad

Either Lady Warsi's minions in the civil service have learnt nothing and forgotten none of their ridiculous and frequently disproved statements from the past or they have decided that parliamentary questions are of so little importance that recycling old and meaningless answers is a perfectly adequate way of behaving. Lady Warsi herself, of course, has not the capacity to understand either the questions or the answers so she must be absolved of all sin except the one of not knowing exactly what her limitations are. Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked a perfectly reasonable question that required some kind of a reasonable answer:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Prime Minister’s comments in Brussels on 27 May that Brussels was “too big and too busy” indicate that they intend to oppose any further expansion of the European Union.
After all, we know from experience that widening is not the opposite of deepening and the bigger the EU becomes the more powers are centralized as, quite clearly, a large and ramshackle collection of member states that could never work as one union need to be forced to do so. Does Baroness Warsi understand this? I very much doubt it. Do her minions in the civil service? Well, that is the big question as I asked at the beginning of this posting. In any case, their reply would be quite funny if it were not so sad:
The Prime Minister, my Rt. Hon Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron)’s comment was that Brussels is “too big and too bossy”. He was referring to the need for the EU to reform to become less interfering and more competitive, flexible and democratically accountable. He was not pronouncing on the EU’s territorial size.

The UK continues to be a strong supporter of enlargement based on firm but fair conditionality, focusing on key concerns shared by many Member States, particularly around the rule of law. Enlargement has proved a huge driver of peace, prosperity and progress across our continent.
If they really believe the idiocy of that last sentence or the idea that making the EU ever larger is somehow compatible with it surrendering powers (not that there is the slightest indication of that possibility except in the Prime Minister's pronouncements) than the calibre of our civil service has clearly sunk to an all-time low. If, on the other hand, they do not believe it or do not care whether they believe it but think that any old rubbish will do in reply to a member of Parliament, albeit, the Upper House, then we need to think very seriously about the relationship between the civil service and Parliament, which will be of enormous importance when we start negotiating our way out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Bill is back

Lord Pearson of Rannoch has once again presented his European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.  First Reading, which is a formality, as readers of this blog know full well, was yesterday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Apparently the internet and the blogosphere still count for nothing.

For another blog I received a review copy of Steven Fielding's A State of Play - British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It. An interesting subject and one that I have toyed with myself in my mind not least because of my perplexity why there should be so few good political novels these days.

It is very much an academic book, aimed at other academics, an attitude that has unfortunate effects on the book's style, not to mention the fact that the Introduction consists of a long list of references to and quotations from other academic studies without which no academic book can exist these days.

In between those references, though, there are some interesting nuggets. I was not fully aware, for instance, how many programmes for young children and teenagers have as their message that parliamentary democracy is a bad and corrupt system. This will have to be followed up for surely some of that subliminal propaganda stays with people though having met a number of people who have grown up with Dr Who, I would say that programme's opposition to Margaret Thatcher has not taken much hold among the fans.

Professor Fielding gives a very brief history of British parliamentary democracy, explaining as he does why it has never quite lived up to its promises though not really explaining what those were. In the process he does not mention that a number of political and social institutions existed prior to their submission to central authority, which might be Parliament or it might the the civil service or, and this is a singular omission since he lays some emphasis on the electorate's disillusionment, the role of the European Union and various other quangos in present-day governance. (He does, however, mention that in the 1970s Dr Who supported Britain's entry into the EEC. Really, I seem to have missed out on rather a lot by not watching that programme.)

The theme of the book is the image of politics as it is perceived by the general populace and the sources of that perception, a theme well worth analyzing and discussing.
The public is certainly conscious of the role played by the news media. When asked in 2004 what influenced their opinions about politics, the top two sources people mentioned were television news (eighty-two per cent) and newspapers and magazines (sixty-three per cent). So far as we can tell, nobody mentioned even one work of fiction. If its power is more subtle and harder to quantify than that of newspaper or television news, fiction does, however, play a role in shaping views of politics. Qualitative research suggests fiction can inform how people think about themselves politically and influences how they understand political issues. As fewer people read newspapers or watch television news it is likely fiction will become an even more important source of information about politics. Most students of British politics nevertheless continue to favour focusing on official forms and processes: for them, these are what really matter in a democracy. But as a result they only have a one-sided and superficial view of the subject, such that, as one expert conceded, political scientists do not yet know 'what politics means to citizens'.
You see what I mean about the style? Mind you, I have read worse.

First about people not mentioning fiction either on the page or on TV as a source of information. It is quite likely that they are not aware of it and do not want to be aware of it. Nobody really wants to admit that they get their notion of how MPs behave from some TV comedy show; nor do they want to start analyzing what might be reasonably accurate and what is not. (For example, I know enough about political processes to maintain that Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are completely accurate and in this I have the backing of people who have worked in the Cabinet Office. Other series I am not so sure of, entertaining though they might be.)

It is also possible that people do not always know the difference between news programmes and fiction. I am not sure I can blame them for that mistake.

What is so interesting in that paragraph is the complete absence of any mention of the internet or the blogosphere, both of which were already important in 2004. Nor is there any mention of the social media, especially Twitter, a great source of information, correct or otherwise. Does that mean people do not think about those sources or that they prefer not to mention them or, and this is rather a worrying thought, political scientists have not quite worked out their importance? As they used to say in examination papers: discuss.

Politkovskaya's killers sentenced

This is not really the end of the story as we still do not know (officially) who ordered the murder but the five people who were found guilty after three had been acquitted but a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court, have now been sentenced.
Rustam Makhmudov was given a life sentence for pulling the trigger.

His uncle Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, one of those found guilty of organising the murder, was also jailed for life.

The three others convicted of the killing - two of whom are Makhmudov's brothers - were given between 12 and 20 years in prison.
Last year a former police officer, Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, who was first produced as a rather odd witness for the prosecution, was found guilty of supplying the gun and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. So far as anyone knows he is still serving that sentence.

Meanwhile, Politkovskaya family is threatening to continue campaigning until the person who actually ordered the assassination is identified and tried. In the past the Russian Investigative Committee stated [in Russian] that the time for that revelation had not come. Now they give a slightly different opinion:
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, said that "unfortunately much depends on our foreign colleagues, especially from Great Britain and Turkey. We have sent a number of inquiries, but have never received any response."
This is a little mysterious. To whom had they sent those inquiries and what about? Perhaps if they made the names of the recipients public, pressure could be put on them to provide some kind of response? Hmmmm?

This account in Deutsche Welle is more detailed but there is no mention as to who in Great Britain or Turkey might be in position to provide the answers to the questions Politkovskaya's family and colleagues are still asking.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Comments policy

By and large this blog gets fewer comments than many others, particularly EUReferendum, but what there is tends to be of high quality. Sometimes people agree, at others they do not; sometimes they pursue the line raised in a posting further, at others they mention related issues; sometimes I reply, at others there seems no point in it as the comments stand by themselves or a discussion develops between readers. All well and good.

My policy on comments is quite straightforward. They are not to be used for advertising of any kind, not even promoting blogs that are not relevant. A reader saying about a UKIP posting that this is very interesting and here is what he or she said on the subject is absolutely fine. That is part of the dialogue and neither I nor any other blogger can keep up with every blog so we are grateful for links. But a reader saying about a posting on Russia, for instance, that this is very interesting and here is a link to his or her blog on sportswear is deleted on the spot (or as soon as I see it). That is advertising

I do not mind disagreements, criticisms or attacks though I draw the line at overtly personal comments, open racism and anti-Semitism as well as conspiracy theories. 9/11 Truthers or World Government obsessives in any form are discouraged from posting and if that does not work, deleted. I am happy to say there have been very few of those in the history of this blog possibly because they see it as being unimportant. May that last.

There is another rather pestilential incursion and that is the Anonymous attacker. In the past I have made it clear that I shall ignore people who have not the guts to put a name to their posting, especially if it is an attack on the blog or on me (the Boss can look after himself but on my blog he, too, is defended). I understand that some people prefer to use their initials or some other moniker on the internet or the blogosphere and consider that to be a signature as well. Some of those people occasionally tell me in private e-mail who they are and that is fine, too. It has also been drawn to my attention that sometimes people seem to be unable to sign into the blogger comments, something that I can neither explain nor understand. But it is perfectly reasonable for someone in that position to sign a posting or a comment. None of this is Anonymous within the meaning of the word. However, people who think it is acceptable to attack while hiding behind complete anonymity are not people one wishes to have any dealings with. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, contemptible. They should be ignored though I may well, in future, simply comment on such a contribution to point out that here is another cowardly anonymous attack. Or I may ignore it. We shall see.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Well, that's that then

The Conservatives won Newark with a halved but comfortable majority on a turn-out of 53.79 per cent. UKIP well enough but did not produce that political earthquake they have been promising and Roger Helmer will have to stay in the Toy Parliament, not a prospect that worries him all that much, I imagine. The Lib-Dims have continued their tale of woe.

The Boss in his inimitable fashion points out something interesting that UKIP ought to ponder over:
The comparison is between Newark and Eastleigh. On a near identical turnout (52.79 – 52.8 percent), Helmer got 10,028 votes, taking a 25.9 percent share of the total. At Eastleigh in February 2013 – only just over a year ago, Diane James got 11,571 votes, taking 27.8 percent of the total.
Looking forward into the muddy mirror of future predictions, one can say that this is a hopeful sign for the Conservatives (as were the local and Euro elections). Their vote has held, they have won a by-election a year before the General when the turn-out will be even larger and the fact that UKIP has done reasonably well though it is a long way from nipping at their heels may well concentrate their minds in the months to come.

Can we now all get back to real work? Thank you.

Seventy Years Ago

"Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. "Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

"But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

"I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

"Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."

— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, 6 June 1944.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Twenty-five years ago

Who could ever forget this picture or the news we all woke to that day? The Chinese army was moving into Tiananmen Square and its tanks were squashing, quite literally, the peaceful protests of people who thought that China, too, ought to be moving towards some kind of democracy?

What happened to tank man? We do not know. Here are a few stories and speculations. I have always assumed that he was imprisoned, humiliated and executed but, it seems, that may not be the case. Perhaps, one day we shall find out.

All the media is or will be writing about it so I need to put up only a few links. The Wikipedia account is a good starting point; the BBC has put up a gallery of pictures; the Independent has an account of how it all happened; and a reminder that protests in China in 1989 were not confined to Beijing but had swept the country, though you would never know from the silence that has surrounded those events in the country since then.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has moved fast to silence all remembrances and arrest several prominent dissidents (mostly re-arrest) but in Hong Kong, the crowds turned out in force. Not that we in the West have much to feel smug about, not when one reads stories about such sites as LinkedIn going beyond China's censorship rules in a crazy effort not to upset that government.

The last word in this posting must go to The Onion: Chinese Citizens Observe 25-Year Moment Of Silence For Tiananmen Square Massacre. As one reply said: brutal but true.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Useful links

No, I have not done my analysis of the European elections and what they might mean for the future of this country's or the EU's politics (precious little in most cases). The reasons are: laziness, stultifying boredom with the subject and too much time wasted in arguing with people that not all anti-EU parties, even if they are right-wing, are fascist even if you assume that fascist means right-wing.

We live in an age of endless and freely available information or so we are told by people who either like the idea or hate it. There is much talk about information overload. Yeah, right. My own experience is that the number of people who ignore information, stick to about two sources and repeat well known mantras may well have grown in this age of information. Perhaps, they are scared of having to think for themselves.

In the meantime, here are two links to very useful articles dealing with necessary issues and making it unnecessary for me to do so.

First up is the Boss of EURef who gives a very cogent analysis of Peter Kellner's article in the Grauniad about UKIP and its polling.

Secondly, The Boiling Frog has done us all a favour by analyzing and debunking the latest canard that is making its round in eurosceptic or quasi-eurosceptic circles: that the new rules on QMV about to come into force will allow the EU to disallow either an IN/OUT referendum or Brexit. Take your pick. It really depends on which eurosceptic or quasi-eurosceptic you are listening to.
It’s true that from the 1st November many areas are changing to “Lisbon Treaty QMV rules”. The main effect of this is to change to QMV those clauses which required unanimity according to the Nice Treaty. Yet, and what is often overlooked, is this doesn't apply to withdrawal because crucially Article 50 wasn't in the Nice Treaty. Instead it is an innovation of Lisbon and is listed as a "new item". As such it began life already under QMV rules, alongside other "new items" such as the election of the President of the European Council. This is made clear by Article 50 (2) (my emphasis):

In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

Article 50 therefore has never been under a unanimity decision, it has always been subjected to QMV rules. All that happens is that Article 50 will change from “Nice QMV rules” to “Lisbon QMV Rules” "in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union."
And so on. Read the whole piece. Undoubtedly, however, I shall have to produce my own opinions on that very small, barely noticeable earthquake that took place last month.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Odd notions from Belarus

Somebody should teach President Lukashenka some history. He is in danger of repeating it, having learnt nothing from it, presumably, forgotten nothing except the outcome. According to this article in Business Insider "Belarus is planning to bring back serfdom".

Serfdom is rather a difficult concept as it means different things in different countries. The serfdom of the high European feudalism was not really like the serfdom in Russia where it went on till 1861. That was more like slavery as the peasants who had originally been tied to the land while their masters were tied to service to the Tsar until Catherine II freed them from it, became, by various gradations, those masters' property who could be bought, sold or gambled away. The difference between that and the slavery in the American South was that the Russian peasants (serfs or slaves) were still liable for military duty and were taxed through their village commune.

Is this what President Lukashenka has in mind? Well, no, not quite.

According to this blog in the Financial Times [you have to register to read it and other blogs but it is free]
Lukashenko has announced plans to introduce legislation prohibiting farm labourers from quitting their jobs and moving to the cities. “Yesterday, a decree was put on my table concerning – we are speaking bluntly – serfdom,” the Belarus leader told a meeting on Tuesday to discuss improvements to livestock farming, reported.

The serfdom decree would beef up the power of regional governors and “teach the peasants to work more efficiently,” Lukashenko said. Governors who failed to ensure timely and efficient harvests in their regions would get the sack, he added.
What it really reminds one of is the position of the peasants in the Soviet Union after collectivization ( the ones who survived the process, the subsequent state induced famine and deportation). They were all members of kolkhozes (collective farms) and sovkhozes (state farms) but, unlike other citizens of that great country, they had no passports by which, of course, I mean internal passports since nobody had foreign ones. Without a passport you could not go anywhere in the country so the peasants were tied to the land. They could not leave their kolkhozes unless their turn for military service came or they were arrested for nor fulfilling their plan or making nasty comments or even jokes about it.

One can't help wondering whether the "Governors who failed to ensure timely and efficient harvests in their regions" would merely get the sack. If so, times have certainly become more lenient but the outcome from the point of view of production will be the same: a disaster.

Looks like we shall have to get used to another name

Not King Juan Carlos, who, when all is said and done, has served his country and his people well, but King Felipe. We shall have to see how smooth the transition will be, given Spain's slightly tumultous twentieth century history.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

And who says there is no point to MEPs?

Well, I do, for one. However, it seems that I may be wrong. There is some point to them and not just in terms of them getting salaries and expenses as well as strutting round, producing unreadable articles in local newspapers. I can't wait for all that whining from UKIP MEPs (assuming they are still in that party and group by the end of the year) about them not being able to achieve anything in the European Parliament because .... well, really because there is not a great deal they can achieve, given the position of the Toy Parliament in the EU and its structure.

I am glad to say that the Speciality Food Magazine has set me right on this subject. I don't mean they set me right on the notion that UKIP MEPs will whine but on the general pointlessness of MEP behaviour. It seems that some MEPs manage to find themselves entertainment employment by providing funds for British food products to be sold to various countries in the Far East.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am very happy with the idea of British food being sold in other countries and, indeed, I happen to know that much of it is, from luxury items like good marmalade to meat and dairy produce, such as cheese. Ever more American delis, for instance, stock cheese from the British Isles which they buy through Neal's Yard Dairy. Many of those cheeses are produced by smallish producers and the reason they are bought in this country and abroad is because they are good. That is apparently insufficient: we must have the European Parliament allocating funding to a few chosen producers, usually rather large ones and ensure that small ones are left out and innovation is not encouraged.
Graham Watson, South West Liberal Democrat MEP [well, actually, he has just lost his seat in the general massacre of the Lib-Dims] said, "This new scheme will give Westcountry farmers, fishermen and brewers the opportunity to bring a taste of the South West to the world. I was pleased to see last year an EU-funded trade mission to Japan and South Korea to promote our very own West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.

"The European Parliament has today ensured that traditional products with European protected status like Cornish pasties will be given extra funding to boost their exports and win over new customers abroad."

The West country products receiving the boost include West Country Farmhouse Cheddar, Cornish pasties, Somerset cider brandy, Gloucestershire perry, Cornish clotted cream, Gloucestershire old spot pork and Fal oysters.
 Though Sir Graham Watson is out others will step into his shoes or follow in his footsteps. There are many opportunities there for lobbying and wining and dining our representatives in the Toy Parliament.