Friday, April 27, 2007

So many books, so little time...

Few books I am enjoying lately:

The Stories of Raymond Carver.
447 pages.

The Foundation – A great American secret.
How private wealth is changing the world.
By Joel L. Fleishman.
Public Affairs.
357 pages.

The Shadow of the Sun
By Ryszard Kapuscinski
325 pages

Intelligent but blind?

The Economist produced a special report, last March, about the European Union. Good and well informed in general, I got badly surprised with the last paragraph of the piece titled “Are you sitting comfortably?”, describing the different government bodies of the EU. Goes like that (italics are mine).

“The EU has a plethora of other agencies, as well as the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank, the world’s biggest multilateral borrower. Among the more puzzling are two Brussels-based advisory bodies: the Economic and Social Committee, which brings together the “social partners”, and the eponymous Committee of the Regions. Between them they cost some 150m Euro ($200m) a year to run, and nobody can remember what they are for. But this being the EU, nobody dares to scrap them either.”

I like The Economist. I think it’s a serious, well informed, quite fair and truly liberal product. Having said that, the above paragraph shows very well the no-so-nice face of the magazine’s background ideology. Mainly two points to comment here:

Every human group has a religion, in a broad sense. For some people is their god, for others their culture or language, for others is race or ethnic group. The Economist has its own religion, the biggest god in Anglo-Saxon societies: the almighty Market. Fair to say that historically the so-called Left has showed a narrow-minded attitude towards the potentiality of the market, underestimating it. But you can go to the other extreme and think, as The Economist does, that the market will solve every single problem in any society at any time. Is in this ideological context where we should place the arrogance showed by the magazine snubbing a body which encompasses the social partners of any society. Do they really think it is viable to solve gross basic problems without counting, for instances, with unions, employers associations and main social movements like the green or immigration charities? What kind of democracy has The Economist in mind where they say things like that? The classical XIX c one with just a vote every 4 years and a Parliament who thinks knows everything?

The other shameful point is the description they do of the Committee of the Regions. It seems The Economist think it’s useless and should be scraped. I won’t argue that at the moment this body is quite a flowerpot and empty shell but I would say that the right step is to give this (or another similar body) more powers and not less. Why? I know what some people will say immediately, this body is not representative as their members are not elected. True, but it seems that is not the only organ which has this illness in the EU, and some very serious people don’t criticize those other bodies. The Economist shows here the typical blindness of any group of people who, being members of a big ethnic group (in this case English, with the UK state of their own) don’t see the need of any kind of representation for sub-states national realities. They think these organs are not needed and are just a waste of resources. Wrong, dead wrong. With this point of view, looking at any national claim like a “romantic” posture you will never understand the deep frustrations that some small minorities accumulate after years of cultural and linguistic colonization (some of them gentle, some of them brutal). With this arrogant attitude you will never understand what’s going on in Wales, Brittany, Scotland, Corsica, Ireland, Catalonia, Frisland, Galicia, Quebec, Basque Country or Belgium, which is falling apart in a very polite way. Collective identity issues are one of the main reason behind a range of conflicts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


"You campaign in poetry but you must govern in prose"
Mario Cuomo - former governor of New York.

Polish witchhunt

By Ignacio Ramonet

The Poles call it the law of lustration, a term meaning ritual purification; the word has strong connotations of repentance and penitence in Poland, where history and Catholicism are so closely intertwined.
Under the law, which was passed last October and entered into force on 15 March this year, 700,000 Poles are required to confess any collaboration with the communists between 1945 and 1989. All senior civil servants, university professors, lawyers, headmasters and journalists born before 1972 must now confess their past sins by 15 May.
They must all fill in a form and answer the question: “Did you secretly and knowingly collaborate with the former communist security services?” The forms must be handed to their immediate superiors, who will forward them to the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, which will check its records and issue a certificate of political purity. Journalists employed in any public service will be dismissed automatically if they collaborated. Anyone who refuses to answer the question or who is proved to have lied may be banned from their profession for 10 years.
This mad law, which is causing uproar in the European Union, makes the McCarthyites of the United States in the 1950s look like amateurs at the practise of anti-communism. It is the main feature of a witchhunt launched by the authorities after the conservative president, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother, prime minister Jaroskaw Kaczynski, came to power in Poland in October 2005.
Many Poles consider the law to be unconstitutional because it requires citizens to prove that they did not do something. It may be quashed by the Constitutional Court, which will deliver its verdict in May.
The ruling rightwing, Catholic and nationalist coalition (the Kaczynski brothers’ Law and Justice party, the agrarian Self Defence party and the League of Polish Families) is pursuing a disturbing policy of tough enforcement of moral values. Roman Giertych, deputy prime minister, minister of education and leader of the League, has just tabled a homophobic bill, causing more international uproar and protests from human rights organisations. Under the bill, which could be presented within a month, any person disclosing their homosexuality “or any other sexual deviation” in a university or scholastic establishment would be liable to a fine, dismissal or a term of imprisonment.
The minister’s father, the League MEP Maciej Giertych, caused protests in February when he published an antisemitic pamphlet, paid for by the European parliament and issued under its logo, containing such statements as “the Jews create their own ghettos” and “antisemitism is not racism”.
These anti-communist purges and attempts to reimpose an authoritarian moral order in Poland — and also to some extent in Ukraine, Lithuania and other countries formerly in the eastern bloc — conceal a worrying nostalgia for the period before the second world war, when racism was blatant. Some of those caught up in the current wave of revisionism go as far as extolling collaboration with the Third Reich against the Soviet Union.
The idea, so popular with the media, that Putin’s Russia is merely a covert extension of the old USSR inspires the spirit that prompted Warsaw to agree to instal on Polish territory the anti-missile shield designed by the Pentagon to protect the United States. It did that without deigning to consult its partners in the EU and Nato. Which goes to show that paranoia in politics can lead not only to spiritual atrophy but also to a special form of treachery.