Friday, February 29, 2008

Artificial Borders

The present border of approximately 1,500 miles between Afghanistan and Pakistan was agreed upon in a treaty signed on 12 November 1893, in Kabul by Sir Mortimer Durand, representing British India, and Abd al-Rahman, amir of Afghanistan.Durand, the Indian foreign secretary, had been sent by Lord Landsdowne, the viceroy of British India, to pursue Britain's "Forward Policy" designed to control tribal activity along the northwest border of British India. Afghanistan has never accepted the legitimacy of this border, however, arguing that it was intended to demarcate spheres of influence rather than international frontiers. In addition, the Afghans contend that this border bisects the Push-tun tribal area, leaving more than half the Pushtun tribes in Pakistan. Afghans believe that Pushtuns are true Afghans and therefore the Pushtun area, sometimes called Pushtunistan, should be part of Afghanistan. The "Pushtunistan question" has remained an obstacle to good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.After the communist takeover of Afghanistan in 1978, the government of Nur Mohammed Taraki and Hafizullah Amin actively challenged the legitimacy of the Durand line, largely because of their strong Pushtun sentiments. For this reason, the Afghan government formally repudiated the Du-rand Agreement in 1979. In 1993, 100 years since the signing of the agreement, the Durand Agreement formally lapsed. Afghanistan refused to renew the treaty, leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan with no official border.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Open Society Hero

1986: Swedish prime minister assassinated

The Swedish prime minister has died after being shot in a street ambush in central Stockholm. His wife was wounded.
Olof and Lisbeth Palme were attacked as they were leaving a cinema at about 2330 local time. Mr Palme was shot twice in the stomach, his wife was shot in the back.
Police say a taxi-driver used his mobile radio to raise the alarm. Two young girls sitting in a car close to the scene of the shooting tried to help the Prime Minister.
He was rushed to hospital but was dead on arrival. Mrs Palme is being treated for her injury, but it is not thought to be life threatening.
Advocate of peace
Mr Palme, 59, and a social democrat, was serving his second term as leader. He believed in open government and shunned tight security.
He had two bodyguards to protect him on official functions but frequently walked unattended through the Swedish capital and went on holidays unescorted to his summer cottage on the island of Gotland.
His assassination will come as a shock to the Swedes. They have always taken great pride in the fact their prime minister could walk openly in the streets without the security which accompanies other heads of state.
Mr Palme will be remembered as a campaigner for the working classes and Third World causes. He was first elected as prime minister in 1969.
He became a leading advocate of peace and non violence and campaigned for an end to the war in Vietnam.
He saw himself carrying the banner of Social Democracy through Europe at a time when the Right was only temporarily in triumph.
He once said: "I know that the Thatchers and the Reagans will be out in a few years. We have to survive till then."

Kurdistan: A State In The Making?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Kosovo Serbia?

ROGOVO,SERBIA,29JAN99 - A Serb policeman removes an AK-47 assault rifle from a dead alleged Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrilla in Rogovo, some 65 km west of Pristina, January 29. Serb security forces responding to the killing of one of their officers shot dead 24 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo on Friday in circumstances which remain disputed. yb/Photo by Yannis Behrakis REUTERS

Kosovo is Serbia - Ask any historian

"Kosovo is Serbia", "Ask any historian" read the unlikely placards, waved by angry Serb demonstrators in Brussels on Sunday. This is rather flattering for historians: we don't often get asked to adjudicate. It does not, however, follow that any historian would agree, not least because historians do not use this sort of eternal present tense.

History, for the Serbs, started in the early 7th century, when they settled in the Balkans. Their power base was outside Kosovo, which they fully conquered in the early 13th, so the claim that Kosovo was the "cradle" of the Serbs is untrue.

What is true is that they ruled Kosovo for about 250 years, until the final Ottoman takeover in the mid-15th century. Churches and monasteries remain from that period, but there is no more continuity between the medieval Serbian state and today's Serbia than there is between the Byzantine Empire and Greece.

Kosovo remained Ottoman territory until it was conquered by Serbian forces in 1912. Serbs would say "liberated"; but even their own estimates put the Orthodox Serb population at less than 25%. The majority population was Albanian, and did not welcome Serb rule, so "conquered" seems the right word.

But legally, Kosovo was not incorporated into the Serbian kingdom in 1912; it remained occupied territory until some time after 1918. Then, finally, it was incorporated, not into a Serbian state, but into a Yugoslav one. And with one big interruption (the second world war) it remained part of some sort of Yugoslav state until June 2006.

Until the destruction of the old federal Yugoslavia by Milosevic, Kosovo had a dual status. It was called a part of Serbia; but it was also called a unit of the federation. In all practical ways, the latter sense prevailed: Kosovo had its own parliament and government, and was directly represented at the federal level, alongside Serbia. It was, in fact, one of the eight units of the federal system.

Almost all the other units have now become independent states. Historically, the independence of Kosovo just completes that process. Therefore, Kosovo has become an ex-Yugoslav state, as any historian could tell you.

· Noel Malcolm is a senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.

He is the author of Kosovo: A Short History

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Upside Down

More than seven million Britons have never ventured across the nation's north-south divide, with two thirds of southerners claiming the north is 'bleak' and half of northerners assuming that southerners are arrogant snobs.

Almost five million southerners - 15 per cent - have never visited the north, while 2.3 million northerners - one in 10 - have never been south. And three quarters of British people admit they discriminate against those from other regions and use common stereotypes inspired by such soaps as Coronation Street and EastEnders, according to a survey of regional attitudes.

Half of northerners associate the south with 'wide boys' and pinstriped businessmen. Two thirds brand southerners snobs, with more than half citing arrogance as a southern characteristic. James Howison, a 35-year-old electrician from Oldham, said his only trip south was to London and he wanted never to go again.

'It was an awful experience. I felt like I couldn't look anyone in the eye. No one talked to each other,' he said. 'Southerners are stuck up and prejudiced towards anyone without a posh accent.'

And southerners appear just as scathing. One in five says they see mining villages and chip shops as defining images of the 'bleak' life 'up north'. Only one in five southerners has ever visited Liverpool, while fewer than one in 20 have been to Newcastle or Leeds.

Loren Sullivan, 29, an office manager from Stratford, east London, vowed never to travel north. 'It rains a lot more and is much colder. People from the north are a bit behind the times,' she said. 'I doubt the nightlife is anywhere near as good and I imagine the pubs are all a bit grimy and old fashioned. The north is less advanced than the south. London has everything I need.'

Richard Sharpley, professor of tourism at the University of Central Lancashire, described the generalisations as 'disappointing', adding: 'Differences should be celebrated.' And Guy Parsons, chief operating officer at Travelodge, which conducted the study of 2,000 British adults, said: 'This shows a worrying trend towards parochialism. We are travelling abroad more frequently than ever before, but at the cost of abandoning what's on our own doorsteps.'

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Freedom of the Press

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.
— First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Thomas Jefferson, on the necessity of a free press (1787)

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Viva la Revolucion...

...but 49 years in power is more than enough, camarada.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gëzuar Pavarësine

Or... Happy Independence!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

5 Years On

To my noisy Kiwi friends.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Polish re Police


Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are as they were, it's just the earth that's grown smaller,
and whatever happens seems right on the other side of the wall.

Nothing has changed. It's just that there are more people,
besides the old offenses new ones have appeared,
real, imaginary, temporary, and none,
but the howl with which the body responds to them,
was, is and ever will be a howl of innocence
according to the time-honored scale and tonality.

Nothing has changed. Maybe just the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of the hands in protecting the head is the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs give out, it falls, the knees fly up,
it turns blue, swells, salivates and bleeds.

Nothing has changed. Except for the course of boundaries,
the line of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid these landscapes traipses the soul,
disappears, comes back, draws nearer, moves away,
alien to itself, elusive, at times certain, at others uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has no place of its own.

by Wislawa Szymborska

Sunday, February 10, 2008

We Love You, Michael

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Marie Smith

Marie Smith, the last speaker of the Eyak language, died on January 21st, aged 89

BEYOND the town of Cordova, on Prince William Sound in south-eastern Alaska, the Copper River delta branches out in silt and swamp into the gulf. Marie Smith, growing up there, knew there was a particular word in Eyak, her language, for the silky, gummy mud that squished between her toes. It was c'a. The driftwood she found on the shore, 'u'l, acquired a different name if it had a proper shape and was not a broken, tangled mass. If she got lost among the flat, winding creeks her panicky thoughts were not of north, south, east or west, but of “upriver”, “downstream”, and the tribes, Eskimo and Tlingit, who lived on either side. And if they asked her name it was not Marie but Udachkuqax*a'a'ch, “a sound that calls people from afar”.

Upriver out of town stretched the taiga, rising steadily to the Chugach mountains and covered with black spruce. The spruce was an Eyak dictionary in itself, from lis, the neat, conical tree, to Ge.c, its wiry root, useful for baskets; from Gahdg, its blue-green, flattened needles, which could be brewed up for beer or tea, to sihx, its resin, from which came pitch to make canoes watertight. The Eyak were fishermen who, thousands of years before, were thought to have crossed the Bering Strait in their boats. Marie's father still fished for a living, as did most of the men in Cordova. Where the neighbouring Athapaskan tribes, who had crossed the strait on snowshoes, had dozens of terms for the condition of ice and snow, Eyak vocabulary was rich with particular words for black abalone, red abalone, ribbon weed and tubular kelp, drag nets and dipping nets and different sizes of rope. One word, demexch, meant a soft and treacherous spot in the ice over a body of water: a bad place to walk on, but possibly a good one to squat beside with a fishing line or a spear.

This universe of words and observations was already fading when Marie was young. In 1933 there were 38 Eyak-speakers left, and white people with their grim faces and intrusive microphones, as they always appeared to her, were already coming to sweep up the remnants of the language. At home her mother donned a kushsl, or apron, to make cakes in an 'isxah, or round mixing bowl; but at school “barbarous” Eyak was forbidden. It went unheard, too, in the salmon factory where Marie worked after fourth grade, canning in industrial quantities the noble fish her people had hunted with respect, naming not only every part of it but the separate stems and shoots of the red salmonberries they ate with the dried roe.

As the spoken language died, so did the stories of tricky Creator-Raven and the magical loon, of giant animals and tiny homunculi with fish-spears no bigger than a matchstick. People forgot why “hat” was the same word as “hammer”, or why the word for a leaf, kultahl, was also the word for a feather, as though deciduous trees and birds shared one organic life. They lost the sense that lumped apples, beads and pills together as round, foreign, possibly deceiving things. They neglected the taboo that kept fish and animals separate, and would not let fish-skin and animal hide be sewn in the same coat; and they could not remember exactly why they built little wooden huts over gravestones, as if to give more comfortable shelter to the dead.

Mrs Smith herself seemed cavalier about the language for a time. She married a white Oregonian, William Smith, and brought up nine children, telling them odd Eyak words but finding they were not interested. Eyak became a language for talking to herself, or to God. Only when her last surviving older sister died, in the 1990s, did she realise that she was the last of the line. From that moment she became an activist, a tiny figure with a determined jaw and a colourful beaded hat, campaigning to stop clear-cutting in the forest (where Eyak split-log lodges decayed among the blueberries) and to get Eyak bones decently buried. She was the chief of her nation, as well as its only full-blooded member.

She drank too much, but gave it up; she smoked too much, coughing her way through interviews in a room full of statuettes of the Pillsbury Doughboy, in which she said her spirit would live when she was dead. Most outsiders were told to buzz off. But one scholar, Michael Krauss of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, showed such love for Eyak, painstakingly recording its every suffix and prefix and glottal stop and nasalisation, that she worked happily with him to compile a grammar and a dictionary; and Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker was allowed to talk when she brought fresh halibut as a tribute. Without those two visitors, almost nothing would have been known of her.

As a child she had longed to be a pilot, flying boat-planes between the islands of the Sound. An impossible dream, she was told, because she was a girl. As an old woman, she said she believed that Eyak might be resurrected in future. Just as impossible, scoffed the experts: in an age where perhaps half the planet's languages will disappear over the next century, killed by urban migration or the internet or the triumphal march of English, Eyak has no chance. For Mrs Smith, however, the death of Eyak meant the not-to-be-imagined disappearance of the world.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stasi (II)

The pretence of oversight has been ripped aside by the Khan bugging affair: the security apparat has become a law unto itself

by Simon Jenkins

The machine is out of control. Personal surveillance in Britain is so extensive that no democratic oversight is remotely plausible. Some 800 organisations, including the police, the revenue, local and central government, demanded (and almost always got) 253,000 intrusions on citizen privacy in the last recorded year, 2006. This is way beyond that of any other country in the free world.

The Sadiq Khan affair has killed stone dead the thesis, beloved of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that any accretion of power to the state is sustainable because ministers are in control. Whether this applies to phone tapping, bugging devices, ID cards, NHS records, childcare computer systems, video surveillance or detention without trial, it is simply a lie. Nobody can control this torrent of intrusion. Nobody can oversee a burst dam.

Khan, an MP and government whip, was allegedly targeted by the police for having been a "civil rights lawyer" and thus a nuisance, though the recording of his meetings with a constituent in prison was supposedly directed at the inmate. Either way, the bugging destroyed the "Wilson doctrine", that MPs cannot be bugged. It appears that they can if ministers, or the police, so decide.

Security machismo claims that in the "age of terrorism", real men bug everyone and everything. The former flying squad chief and BBC dial-a-quote, John O'Connor, implied this week that it would be negligent of the police not to bug anyone they - repeat they - thought a threat. The Blair thesis that "9/11 changes everything" has been a green light to every security consultant, surveillance salesman and Labour minister wanting to flex his - or her- muscles in the tabloids.

Years ago a lawyer gave me unassailable evidence that a call with a client had been tapped by the police and handed to the prosecution. Such tapping allegedly required a personal warrant from the home secretary who, when tackled on the subject, flatly denied it could have happened without his approval, which he would never give in such a case. I checked back with a police chief, who roared with laughter. "The home secretary is absolutely right. He must authorise all taps sent to him for authorisation. But not, of course, the rest." Orwell's cuttlefish were squirting ink.

The grim reality of the past week alone is that it has seen a substantial section of the British establishment allowing itself to believe that private dealings between lawyer and client, and between MP and constituent, should no longer be considered immune from state surveillance. A cardinal principle of a free democracy is thus coolly abandoned. It is not a victory for national security. It is a victory for terrorism.

The monitoring organisation Privacy International now gives Britain the worst record in Europe for such intrusion, indeed the worst among the so-called democratic world and on a par with "endemic surveillance societies", such as Russia and Singapore. The Thames Valley policeman, Mark Kearney, who bugged Khan's conversation in Woodhill prison, claims to have protested that it was "unethical" but was overruled and placed under "significant pressure" from the Metropolitan police. He has since had to leave the force. The saga reads like a script from the film about East German espionage, The Lives of Others.

Britain's poor record is the result of government weakness towards the security apparat. Even among supposed liberals, the response is to demand not less surveillance but more oversight. David Davis, the Tory spokesman, said yesterday: "It's got to be controlled; it's got to be accountable." Civil rights champion Liberty wants "simpler and stronger surveillance laws, with warrants issued by judges, not policemen nor politicians".

People have been saying this for years. Britain has a Kafkaesque oversight bureaucracy ranking with the one it purports to oversee. Some six separate surveillance monitors trip over themselves. All operate in secret and appear to be one gigantic rubber stamp. The distinction drawn by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, between "intrusive" and "directed" bugging, illustrates the prevailing mumbo-jumbo. The chief surveillance monitor, Sir Christopher Rose, has been asked by Straw to investigate the Khan affair, which appears to be a failure by the chief surveillance monitor. Is this to be taken seriously?

When the council can bug you for fly-tipping, when prisons can record conversations with defence lawyers, when any potentially criminal act can justify electronic intrusion - and when ministers resort to the dictator's excuse, "The innocent need not fear" - warning bells should sound.

There is no "balance" to be struck between civil liberty and national security. Civil liberty is absolute, security its handmaid. Measures are needed to protect the public, but a firm line needs to be drawn round them. The line must accept a degree of risk, or a police state is just around the corner.

A quarter of a million surveillances in Britain are beyond all power of politicians or overseers to check. It is state paranoia, justified only by that catch-all, the "war on terror". In truth it is not countering terror, but promoting it. Mass surveillances one of the poisons that the terrorist seeks to inject into the veins of civil society.

It is clear the overseers have gone native. Even the "independent" security watchdog, Lord Carlile, has bought 42-day detention. More oversight will not cure surveillance but mask its spread. The extension from terrorism to benefit fraud, fly-tipping and trading standards demonstrates how the official mind flips to Stasi mode at the least excuse.

To claim that Britain is a police state insults those who are victims of real ones. But I have no doubt that feeble ministers are slithering down just this road, pushed by the security/industrial complex. It is not oversight that must be increased, but rather the categories and boundaries of surveillance that must be drastically curbed.

Of course there are people who want to explode bombs in Britain. Taxpayers spend a fortune trying to stop them. But how often must we remind ourselves that the bomber need not kill to achieve his end when we appease his yearning for the martyrdom of repression? The amount of surveillance in Britain is grotesque. It is a sign of the corruption of power, and nothing else.

Waitangi Day in Aotearoa

Monday, February 04, 2008

From Super Bowl to Super Tuesday

Stasi, We Miss You

Our state collects more data than the Stasi ever did. We need to fight back. To trust in the good intentions of our rulers is to put liberty at risk. I'd go to jail rather than accept this kind of ID card.

by Timothy Garton Ash

This has got to stop. Britain's snooper state is getting completely out of hand. We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society, and we must wake up. When the Stasi started spying on me, as I moved around East Germany 30 years ago, I travelled on the assumption that I was coming from one of the freest countries in the world to one of the least free. I don't think I was wrong then, but I would certainly be wrong now. Today, the people of East Germany are much less spied upon than the people of Britain. The human rights group Privacy International rates Britain as an "endemic surveillance society", along with China and Russia, whereas Germany scores much better.

An official report by Britain's interception of communications commissioner has just revealed that nearly 800 public bodies are between them making an average of nearly 1,000 requests a day for "communications data", including actual phone taps, mobile phone records, email or web search histories, not to mention old-fashioned snail mail. The Home Office website notes that all communication service providers "may be served with a notice by the secretary of state requiring them to maintain a permanent intercept capability. In practice, agreement is always reached by consultation and negotiation." How reassuring.

The fantastic advance of information and communications technology gives the state - and private companies as well - technical possibilities of which the Stasi could only dream. Most of your life is now mapped electronically, minute by minute, centimetre by centimetre, through your mobile phone calls, your emails, your web searches, your credit card purchases, your involuntary appearances on CCTV, and so on. Had the East German secret police had these snooping super-tools, my Stasi file would have measured at least 3,000 pages, not a mere 325.

We therefore need to strengthen the protection of data, privacy and civil rights simply to remain as free as we were before. As technology lifts the sea level of information flow, we have to build up the dykes. To a limited extent, this has been happening; some legal data protection safeguards have been improved. Our stalwart information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has fought a valiant battle to protect what the Germans call, with portentous profundity, the right to informational self-determination. A valiant battle, but a losing one - as the commissioner himself acknowledges. The warning that we are "sleepwalking into a surveillance society" comes from him.

For even as he tries to strengthen the dykes, more powerful arms of government are busy tearing them down: in the name of fighting terrorism, crime, fraud, child molestation, drugs, religious extremism, racial abuse, tax evasion, speeding, illegal parking, fly-tipping, leaving too many garbage bags outside your home, and any other "risk" that any of those nearly 800 public (busy)bodies feels called upon to "protect" us from. Well, thank you, nanny - but kindly eff off to East Germany. I'd rather stay a bit more free, even if means being a bit less safe.

Yes, I recognise that the threat from homegrown suicide bombers - like those who struck London on July 7 2005, and extremists who have been picked up since, including the recently convicted would-be beheader of a British soldier - is particularly difficult to detect. I accept that it requires some extra surveillance and prevention powers. The balance between security and liberty needs to be recalibrated. But in the last decade the British government has erred too far on the side of what is alleged to be increased security.

An over-mighty executive, authoritarian busybody instincts at all levels of government, a political culture of "commonsense" bureaucratic judgments, rather than codified rights protected by supreme courts and, until recently, a gung-ho press forever calling for "something to be done": this fateful combination has made Britain a dark outrider among liberal democracies.
The birthplace of laissez-faire liberalism has morphed into the database state. We have more CCTV cameras than anyone. We have the largest DNA database anywhere. Plans are far advanced to centralise all our medical records and introduce the most elaborate biometric ID cards in the world. All this from a government which, having collected so much data on us, goes around losing it like a late-night drunk spreading the contents of his pockets down the street. Twenty-five million people's details mislaid by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs; at least 100,000 more on an awol Royal Navy laptop; and so it goes on.

Meanwhile, the government has just laid before parliament its latest counter-terrorism bill. Besides the notorious proposal to increase the period of detention without charge to 42 days, this includes provisions that, as the attached official notes explain, allow anyone to give information to the intelligence services "regardless of any duty to keep the information private or of any other restriction" (other than those mentioned in a pair of elastic subclauses). Such information can then be shared or disclosed by that service more or less at will.

This will not do; and even the staunchest supporters of the smack of firm government are beginning to say as much. The Daily Mail, that prince of firm-smackers, yesterday ran a leading article which concluded that "Under this government - of whom the Stasi would have been proud - the balance between state power and individual liberty has been outrageously skewed. It must be restored." This is something on which press and politicians of left and right are beginning to agree.

Of course that flourish about the Stasi is hyperbole. As someone who actually lived under the Stasi, I know we're nowhere near that. But the amount of information collected and shared - not to mention lost - by the British government far exceeds the Stasi's modest 160km of paper files. The potential for it to be abused, in the wrong hands, is simply enormous. Liberty is not preserved simply by putting our trust in the good intentions of our rulers, civil servants and spooks. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

My sense is that the tide is just beginning to turn in British public, published and parliamentary opinion. I hope the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Labour backbenchers and the House of Lords will between them give the new bill the roasting it deserves. Some of our watchdog commissioners and more independent-minded judges are already sounding the alarm. If the government were still to be so foolish as to try to introduce the new ID cards before the next election, it could be to Gordon Brown what the poll tax was to Margaret Thatcher.

Comprehensive, compulsory ID cards would directly impinge on every single citizen; this is just the kind of thing the British like to get bloody-minded about.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said he would go to jail rather than accept an ID card of this intrusive kind. So would I. And so, I believe, would many thousands of our fellow-citizens. (There's a good website called NO2ID where you can join the fray.) Which is why, I suspect, the government won't be so foolish. But we need to draw the line well before ID cards. There are liberties that we have already given away, while sleeping, and we must claim them back.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Magnet European Union

The empire strikes back

While Britain frets about EU expansion, Europe is overtaking its rivals to become the world's most successful empire. US scholar Parag Khanna on the rise of the new Rome

by Parag Khanna

Kiev, Tbilisi and Baku neither look nor feel like the grand European capitals of London, Paris and Rome. Littered with the hulking architectural and mental debris of the Soviet Union, these cities - and the countries of which they are the capitals - are in serious need of an overhaul. The trouble is that this requires political stability, economic investment, and most of all a counterweight to Russia, which is still manipulating borders, pipelines and markets to pull them back into its orbit.

"It's fairly simple: We hate Russia," said an Estonian diplomat in Tallinn, bluntly capturing a problem that is at once emotional and strategic. Of course, this is not a new challenge for Europe's east, where western Christendom, Slavic Orthodoxy and Turkic Islam have clashed for more than a thousand years. But the European empire is a new solution.

These days it is not fashionable to speak of empires. Empires are aggressive, mercantilist relics supposedly consigned to the dustbin of history with Britain, France and Portugal's post-1945 retrenchment from the African and Asian colonies and the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than empires, many predicted that ethnic self-determination would drag the world into a new era of political fragmentation, with every minority getting its own state, currency, and seat in the United Nations.

But for thousands of years, empires have been the world's most powerful political entities, their imperial yoke restraining subjugated nations from fighting each other and thereby filling people's eternal desire for order. Empires may not be the most desirable form of governance, given the recurrence of hugely destructive wars between them, but humankind's psychological limitations still prevent it from doing better. Big is back. It is inter-imperial relations that shape the world. Empires, not civilisations, give geography its meaning.

The mental journey of Europe's imperial expansion begins on a map, as one traces a finger along the L-shaped path from the chilly Baltics downwards through Ukraine, Romania, the central European countries, the former Yugoslavia and the southern Balkans, then eastwards along the Black Sea through Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Caucasus to the oily shores of the Caspian Sea. This contested zone - the original "second world"- was, except for Turkey, once coloured red to signify the Warsaw Pact. Today the European Union is painting it blue, indicating the region is ready to ascend into the first world.

The actual journey through this new European east, however, is extremely bumpy and filled with unpredictable delays and all the anxieties of people liberated less than a generation ago from totalitarianism.

For all the post-communist soul-searching afflicting the region in the 1990s, the EU has already won the easiest fights. Since the Soviet collapse, on average one country per year has been absorbed into the EU. On a single day - May 1 2004 - over 100 million citizens in 10 countries officially became European.

For over half a century, European nations have been pooling their power, eventually giving small and shattered post-second world war countries a new lease on life. Though EU members remain distinct nations, their greater meaning now comes from being part of the world's only superstate. War between any two countries within the EU's dense institutional nexus has become impossible, and the promise of greater security and wealth has largely succeeded in aligning the foreign policies of its members. "Our biggest logistical exercise since the second world war was not military," an official in one of the EU's shiny, postmodern edifices boasted, "but the circulation of the euro currency in 2002."

Europe has its own vision of what world order should look like, which it increasingly pursues whether America likes it or not. The EU is now the most confident economic power in the world, regularly punishing the United States in trade disputes, while its superior commercial and environmental standards have assumed global leadership. Many Europeans view America's way of life as deeply corrupt, built on borrowed money, risky and heartless in its lack of social protections, and ecologically catastrophic. The EU is a far larger humanitarian aid donor than the US, while South America, east Asia and other regions prefer to emulate the "European Dream" than the American variant.

The US and the EU increasingly differ about both the means and ends of power as well. For many Europeans, the US-led war in Iraq validated their view that war is not an instrument of policy but a sign of its failure. The al-Qaida attacks on European soil served to heighten this disdain. It is often said that America and Europe make a strong team because America breaks and Europe fixes, but this cliche has long begun to grate on Europeans, who would rather spread their version of stability before America destabilises countries on its periphery, particularly in the Arab world.

As the most highly evolved form of interstate governance, the EU aggregates countries in a manner more resembling a corporate merger than a political conquest, with net gains in both trade and territory from north Africa to the Caucasus. In Europe's capital, Brussels, technocrats, strategists and legislators increasingly see their role as being the global balancer between America and China. Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German member of the European parliament, calls it "European patriotism". The Europeans play both sides, and if they do it well, they profit handsomely.

Robert Kagan famously said that America hails from Mars and Europe from Venus, but in reality, Europe is more like Mercury - carrying a big wallet. The EU's market is the world's largest, and European technologies more and more set the global standard. If America and China fight, the world's money will be safely invested in European banks. Many Americans scoffed at the introduction of the euro, claiming it was an overreach that would bring the collapse of the European project. Yet today, Arabian Gulf oil exporters are diversifying their currency holdings into euros, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has proposed that Opec no longer price its oil in "worthless" dollars. With London taking over (again) as the world's financial capital for stock listing, it's no surprise that China's new state investment fund is to locate its main western offices there instead of New York. Model Gisele Bundchen demands to be paid in euros, while rapper Jay-Z drowns in 500 euro notes in a recent video. American soft power seems on the wane even at home.

And Europe's influence grows at America's expense. While America fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many of the foreign students shunned by the US after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the US.

EU expansion is a gamble more expensive than America's war in Iraq, but one that is actually paying off. "We purposely make the EU poorer each time we expand," a Eurocrat from Lithuania explained in a Brussels pub crowded with multilingual Europhiles. "But the stability we spread can hardly be measured." The EU spends over $10bn (£5.07bn) a year just to resurrect the physical infrastructure of its new east, accelerating its recovery from decades of communist negligence. This strategy, which lifted Ireland - the "sick man of Europe" a generation ago - and post-authoritarian Spain and Portugal, is now working its magic in the east. Rather than the decades many predicted it would take to catch up to the west, Hungary has already become the regional corporate off-shoring hub, with 80% of its production led by European multinationals and 80% of its exports going back to the EU.

EU expansion has become a virtuous circle of tapping new markets to decrease reliance on exports to the US - a crucial step in building an independent superpower. The fresh blood of the EU's new members has generated a competitive federalism that boosts the European economy as a whole. The model of the Baltic countries - entrepreneurial freedom, open competition and flexible labour laws - has begun to seep back via central Europe into the laggards of western Europe.

The EU is easily the most popular and successful empire in history, for it does not dominate, it disciplines. The incentives of Europeanisation - subsidies from Brussels, unfettered mobility, and the adoption of the euro currency - are too great not to want. Brussels today rivals Washington with its swarms of lobbyists, including dozens of public relations outfits hired by Balkan and post-Soviet countries actively vying for EU admission. To qualify for accession, however, the still-ruined, post-communist countries must do more than just burnish their image. They have to follow concrete steps toward internalising EU laws and rules as called for in the New Neighbourhood Strategy, which locks together military, economic, and governance issues.

Europe's growing diversity makes European-ness a gradually attainable ideal rather than a mythical Platonic form, transforming Europe's identities from tribal to cosmopolitan. Even as some west Europeans fear the dilution of their elite brand, Europe's evolution is giving the term European a positive meaning. Europe is already partially Islamic, with growing Muslim populations in Britain, France and Germany and almost 100 million Muslims from Albania, Bosnia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan in the European diplomatic and strategic space via the Council of Europe or Nato.

European has become an identity as strong (or as weak) as American or Chinese. As life imitates art, all countries participating in football's European Championships and the Eurovision Song Contest consider themselves - and are increasingly considered - European. Most importantly, an entire post-cold war generation of students, called the Erasmus generation after the EU's exchange programme, is transcending the national identities their elders fought to establish, all for the sake of European stability. These "post-national" European youth now travel virtually visa-free from Belfast to Baku, speak multiple languages, study in exchange programmes and vote in European parliamentary elections.

As with all empires, the EU rubber band will stretch until it no longer can, growing until it has fully replaced the dismantled Soviet Union across Europe's east, creating a borderless and contiguous "Pax Europea" of about 35 countries, an imperial blanket covering close to 600 million people. But the Europeanisation of the L-shaped zone is far from complete. Balkan and Caucasus countries are still fragile post-conflict regions and have become a convenient crossroads for trafficking in weapons and women; Turkey has a mind of its own, and will not be easily subdued; and, of course, no country presents a bigger obstacle to Europe's ambitions than Russia.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Pretty Eyes