20 December 2013

Thoughts on Ukraine

Ukrainians are right to not want to join the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan

According to research conducted in November by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology only 37% of Ukrainians support the idea of Ukraine joining the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.* A more recent poll from December has the figure of 36%. Ukrainians are right in being unenthusiastic about joining this arrangement.

The Russian-led Customs Union is as much a protectionist bloc as it is a free-trade zone. It abolishes custom fees between member-states, but also maintains hefty tariffs for imports originating in third countries. The Custom Union import tariffs are only slightly lower than the Russian tariffs they replaced and much higher than the tariffs Ukraine collects now.

By joining the Customs Union Ukraine would eliminate artificial, state-imposed barriers to trade with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. However, it would simultaneously have to accept additional, Customs Union-imposed barriers to trade with third states. It is doubtful the elimination of tariffs and customs checks on the border toward Russia and Belarus could offset the loss of trade with the rest of the world with which the Ukraine currently conducts 65% of its trade.

Even if it could, however, it simply does not make long-term sense for Kyiv to place itself in a position where it may not set custom duties by itself, but where it is tied to more protectionist-minded Moscow, Astana and Minsk instead. That said the Customs Union could become more appealing in the future if it were to dramatically reduce tariffs.

Popular support for EU membership in Ukraine is actually rather weak

Media coverage has focused on the pro-EU protesters in Kyiv, but in reality these speak for fewer than one half of all Ukrainians.

45% of Ukrainians support the recently-negotiated EU Association Agreement. The support for the eventual (and at this point very much hypothetical) EU membership is at a similar level. A November poll has it at 39%, while a more recent research suggests the figure of 46%. In either case this actually represents a very low level of support for EU integration

19 August 2013

The Chauvinists at it Again

No Latvian vodka for us please

The Western-liberals are at it again. Between the NSA surveillance scandal and the American-supported government crackdown in Egypt the hip, right-thinking crowd in the West has its panties up in a bunch over, wait for it... gay rights in the Russian Federation. You could not make this stuff up.

Obviously there can be no obligation upon anyone to care more about one event than another, and there are bound to be differences of emphasis between sincere people, but let us be serious here. When your government is drone-bombing Yemen, occupying the nation of Afghanistan, fueling the civil war in Syria and filling up its prisons with blacks, yet you spend your August crusading (posturing) against mistreatment of gays in Russia your credibility suffers. You come off as either dishonest, or too dull to be worth listening to.

What is more, the letter which spearheaded all of this is a glaring piece of national chauvinism:
"He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately)."
Yep, Stephen Fry, the British comedian who jump-started the Russia-frowning meme for this summer outs himself as an anti-Russian chauvinist in the very same text he wrote to complain about the horrendous political incorrectness going on in Russia.

Fry insists the religion Russians practice is "bigoted". What is more their bigoted religion is one of the two components that creates a "toxic mix" which grips the Russians. It is incredible how unattuned the Western peddlers of synthetic moral outrage are to their own bigotry. Socialist Yugoslavia was a secular state, one which discouraged religious practice and was dedicated to promoting atheism. Yet even there proclaiming somebody practiced a bigoted religion would result in that person rightfully being seen as a mouthing-off chauvinist.

06 June 2013

Still the Wrong Kind of Croats

Embattled Bosnian Croat enclaves in Central Bosnia during the Muslim-Croat War

In December I wrote about the attitude of the ICTY toward the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I noted the court has shown itself to be negatively disposed to them and highly energized to pursue them.

I noted this differed from its demonstrated disposition toward Croatia. Indictments against soldiers and officials of the Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia were issued much earlier and were more numerous (27) than those issued against the officials and soldiers of Republic of Croatia (6).

Also, the outcome of subsequent trials was far different. All procedures against officers of the Croatian military ended up in withdrawals, acquittals or transfers to Croatian courts so that in the end the ICTY did not condemn any of them to any length of imprisonment. Meanwhile the twelve Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats who found themselves condemned gathered convictions that add up to 166 years of imprisonment.

At the time, one trial against the Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats was still ongoing, the trial of six of their highest war-time political and military officials ("the Herzeg-Bosnian Six"). Last week they were proclaimed guilty and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging between 25 to 10 years, for a total of 111 years for all six. If the sentences are confirmed at the inevitable appeal, it will mean the disconnect between condemnation by the ICTY of Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats and of Croats from Croatia will amount to 277 years for the former, to zero for the latter.

Apparently encouraged by the fact that last year the sentences against two Croatian generals (Gotovina and Marka─Ź) were overturned on appeal, many media outlets in Croatia have carried opinions speculating the same could happen with regards to the "Herzeg-Bosnian Six". Especially since the verdict was a split decision one of the three judges published a dissenting opinion in a 600 page-long dissertation.

First of all that seems at least somewhat self-serving. This is the very same media that year upon year of the trial has shown extremely little interest in publicizing the details of the proceedings and reminding the public it was happening. Instead it has been happy to see the marathon-trial pass from the mind of the public. Now that a verdict has been proclaimed and it has been forced to report on it, however, it opts to accompany the reporting with a prediction it may be realistic to expect the proclamation of guilt to yet be revoked which just happens to lessen the impact of the news.

31 May 2013

Slovenia: What Democracy?

A scene from anti-government protests this winter

Last week the parliament of Slovenia adjusted the Constitution in a way to curtail the citizens' right to overturn laws passed by the parliament via a referendum in a number of key areas. Most importantly the voters are from now on precluded from having a direct say in matters of finance, taxation, customs, ratification of interstate treaties and anything the parliament deems a matter of defense. In other words in exactly the areas which are the most important, and where a check of the government by the people is the most needed. They are also the areas where dissent and veto by the citizenry along the road, was the most likely.

The changes announced on May 24th will already be in effect tomorrow, eight days after the move. It was done quickly and quietly so as to attract the minimum of media attention. The media was anyway very cooperative and offered the development only scant attention, and even then only to pronounce this would actually serve to "limit abuse" of the referendum rule by political parties in motioning for referendum for "political purposes" (as opposed to for non-political purposes?).

In this way, a tiny parliament in a lightning fast move curtailed the Constitutional rights of two million citizens, who are without any legal recourse to contest the change. One can not help but note what absurdity this makes of allegedly high-minded, but actually empty and stupid notions of "democracy" and "social contract". So the Slovenians had previously 'socially contracted' they would have the right to overturn unpopular laws at direct polls, but now they have 'contracted' they would no longer have this privilege, though in fact aside from the 90 putschists in the parliament building nobody was actually doing anything last Friday? Give me a break!

13 May 2013

Axis or Allied?

Textbook history on the Second World War is inclined to unceremoniously designate belligerent nations as either Axis or Allied. This is not necessarily invalid. However, such designation sometimes leaves out so much nuance that in the sense of actually understanding the past it may be nearly useless. This point is easy to demonstrate. Consider the participation in the Axis and Allied war effort of Denmark and of Bulgaria. The former an Allied and the latter an Axis power.


When war broke out in Europe in 1939 Denmark attempted to remain neutral and stay out of it. But when German invasion forces poured across its borders anyway, its government capitulated on the same day. Consequentially the Germans allowed the Danish government to remain in place and to continue to administer the country albeit under certain constraints. The Danes grumbled, but ultimately went along with this. Danish politicians who left occupied Denmark for exile in Britain found themselves marginalized and without influence in the country.

Thus Denmark was — by the virtue of having been victimized by Germany which deprived it of its external independence — in the Allied imagination on their side of the World War as one of the "overrun nations" of Europe. There is justification for this view in the moral sphere, since Danes overwhelmingly resented the German occupation and sympathized with the allies.

In the material sense, however, the Danes were not doing much about it. The wartime government in Copenhagen which was cooperating with the Germans was not installed by the occupation from political forces on the margins of Danish political life. It was instead a national unity government of all the parties that could boast mainstream popularity before the occupation. Nor was there much armed resistance to the occupation, of the kind that could significantly diminish the economic benefit the Germans derived from their control of Denmark. The fact Danes rooted for the allied side in the war, nonetheless did not influence the fact their manufacturing and agriculture stood at the disposal of the Nazi Empire and the German war machine at essentially full capacity.  

Similarly, actually more Danes lost their lives fighting alongside the Germans, rather than against them. Fatalities of Danish fighters on the allied side include 850 deaths among anti-German resistance fighters (of which a minority in actual combat), the deaths of sixteen soldiers during the initial German invasion of 9th of April, 1940, as well as a further one hundred deaths of Danish soldiers in Allied service. On the other hand more than 1500 Danish volunteers fell in German service, majority of which in the Waffen-SS and on the Eastern Front.*

Danes who entered German service were far less representative of mainstream Danish aspirations than were those of their co-nationals who entered into Allied service instead. This, however, does not change some basic math. Ultimately Danish nationals were the most likely to participate in combat action in German uniform. And so in terms of blood shed, the Danes taken as a whole, through the disproportionate sacrifice of a small pro-Nazi segment of the population in the end actually shed more blood for the Germans against the Allies, than the other way around.

12 May 2013

The Voluntaryist Reader Recommendations

Obviously enough lately I have not been able to maintain the same frequency of new posts on here as was the case in the past. This has been mostly due to real life obligations. I have been able to blog a little more over at the Voluntaryist Reader however, so you may want to check out some of my posts over there. For the readers of this blog I would especially recommend the following: Commentating on Stone’s Untold History of the States, Shock TV: Pavlik Morozov Redux, Raico on Klaus and the Czechs and Wenzel on (some other) Soviet Union.

09 March 2013

Independence: Yours If You Want It

Brendan O'Neill has an article at Spiked where he comments on the legacy of the late president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. O'Neill argues the key to understanding how Chavez had been able to defy, irritate and mock the United States without apparent consequences for himself, is to understand just how much the power of the United States has declined, particularly in the moral sense. He argues ideological notions which once spurred imperial America into decisive action against its chosen opponents seem to have lost their persuasiveness and now fail to do so.
"The decisive factor in the Chavez story was not his own political vision, but the creeping incapacitation of American power and influence in global affairs, including in Latin America. Chavez and his influential cheerleaders were energised by, indeed were parasitical upon, the glaring inability of Washington to pursue or even outline its interests on the twenty-first-century world stage."
It is an assessment that is impossible to disagree with. Rather than someone who could keep Washington at bay due to his own strength and the potency of his ideas, Chavez was first and foremost a figure who merely moved to enjoy the space he had been offered by the decay of American power. It is what O'Neill styles being "parasitical" upon American impotence.

I would point out, however, the importance of understanding that Chavez nonetheless was a cut above most other state leaders. If it is the case it was the decline of American power, which had opened up room for Chavez to act in the independent manner he did, it is also the case this space had been opened up for everyone else as well. Yet very few chose to take advantage of it. This is more an indictment of Chavez's peers in charge of other states, than it is praise of the president of Venezuela, but it still leaves Chavez looking as one of the better leaders in a very sorry-looking bunch.

A pertinent comparison would be with one Milorad Dodik, the popular political leader of the Bosnian Serbs. As a politician who used to be a part of the American, and the general Western, agenda for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dodik will not be mistaken for a man with an excessive strength of convictions or for an avid believer in an energizing ideology. He is simply a US man who had observed the moral weakness of his sponsors up close and realized he could go off the reservation without consequences.