Monday, 31 January 2011 10:18

Photos from Strasbourg

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Lucy (Editor), Christian, Ingvild and Juliane (Authors) are currently in Strasbourg presenting E&M at Shake-up Europe! They're participating in the conference as an integral part of new-generation European media. 

For you, we have some photos from the beautiful city of Strasbourg.

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011 13:33

Thaçi: A big fish in organised crime?

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I got a bit angry when I read the news that Hashim Thaçi, Prime Minister of Kosovo, might be "a big fish in organised crime". My problem is not that there is a smear campaign against him, but rather that the facts have been public for ten years, whilst the media is regularly surprised.

The recent uproar is based on a leak of a "secret" document marked as "USA KFOR", that - according to the Guardian - accuses Thaçi of being involved in organised crime, particularly in the smuggling of drugs and human organs. Just to be clear: this man got his position (and keeps it) on the basis of massive European and international backing. Shocking? Yes. Surprise? No.

A classified study (pdf, in German) by the German Institut für Europäische Politik, in 2007 quotes a German intelligence assessment which states "especially in Kosovo there are the closest connections between leading political decision-makers and dominant criminal clans from the province, which hold almost all the relevant key positions in society (...) Therefore, the BND notes 'Through the key players (like, for instance, Haliti, Thaçi, Haradinaj) there exist the closest interrelations between politics, the economy and internationally operating [organised crime]-structures in Kosovo'" (my translation, but you get the point).

A different BND assessment, leaked in the slightly darker parts of the web, is more blunt. The dossier (dated 2005) that covers activities of organised crime in the Balkans states that Kosovo is divided into three spheres of interest when it comes to organised crime - one of them controlled by Thaçi. He is brought into connection with riots that took place in March 2004, during which entire truckloads of heroine and cocaine were reportedly brought through the country. Via various connections listed in detail, Thaçi is brought into connection with money laundering, fuel- and drug smuggling, accused of being one of the main "customers" of a hitman. He created the Kosovar intelligence service that is accused of "reconnaissance, intimidation and the physical elimination (through hitmen), particularly of OC [organised crime] enemies".

These allegations are invigorated by public reports, such as the one published (pdf) by Dick Marty for the Council of Europe in late 2010, finding that "[Thaçi's] "Drenica Group" built a formidable power base in the organised criminal enterprises that were flourishing in Kosovo and Albania at the time". However, this was not limited to the German intelligence assessment, but four national intelligence services as well as joint intelligence operations by NATO. Accordingly, "[Thaçi] was commonly identified, and cited in secret intelligence reports, as the most dangerous of the KLA's "criminal bosses".

So, Guardian et al., it's not exactly news, is it?

Saturday, 22 January 2011 13:26

Turkey and the EU: a question of identity?

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Turkey’s possible membership in the EU has caused widespread discussions across Europe. Whilst there are good reasons for the EU to say “hayir” (no) to Turkish membership at the moment, saying no on the basis of cultural differences, as seems to be happening now, does not only go against fundamental European principles but will create an unprecedented distance between Turkey and the EU. 

Despite the fact that Turkey’s economy is seeing double digit growth, has a higher per capita income than Romania and Bulgaria, and ranks better in risk assessments than Italy and 10 other European states, Turkey’s democracy has still got a long way to go before it could be regarded as consolidated. On the one hand, of course, Turkey still has to deliver on many internal issues. The controversial article 301 that prohibits insulting the Turkish state has caused severe concern for press freedom. As journalists privately admit, they impose self-restraint because of fear over lengthy court cases and possible imprisonment for 5+ years. 

Additionally, human rights and rights for minorities still pose challenges. The shaky state of Turkish democracy is further underlined by the troubled opposition that could indulgently be described as divided and lacking a clear plan, as well as  the almost-ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the constitutional court over violating the secular principle of the Turkish state. If just one more judge had voted to ban the AKP, Turkey would have slipped into a crisis with an unforeseeable future for Turkish democracy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:23

Mickiewicz and me

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I live in Weimar. Maybe you have heard of it. It is the town of Goethe and Schiller. The cradle of German culture and one of the numerous cradles of European culture. Every day I pass by their statue, standing sentinel on the theatre square: there they are, Schiller the dramatic, Goethe the classic, the two poet-friends, genius up above, tourist below, zoom in, click, go.

Every day I pass by trees and bushes, quiet, babbling and burbling waters behind, a gravel path around the back of the city castle, and there he is. Or rather his head in bronze, and I passed by many times before deciphering the inscription below: M-I-C-K-I-E-W-I-C-Z. Never heard of it. Later at an East Europe seminar I learnt it’s pronounced not like „Micky“, but like "Miez", the sound a German cat is said to make. Never heard of him, how could I?! The Polish Goethe! The neighbour's poet-duke! 

Born 1798 near Nowogródek (nowadays Belarus), educated in Wilna (Vilnius, nowadays Lithuania), exiled in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Odessa and Paris with intermezzi in Berlin, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Rome, deceased in 1855 in Constantinople while raising Jewish troops for Poland against Russia under a French mandate – a magnificent specimen of European biography!

So what was his œuve a specimen of? Poland, primarily. With his magnum opus Pan Tadeusz (published 1834 in Paris) he created the national epos for the state that did not exist during his life-time. Meanwhile, his Ksiegi Narodu Polskiego i Pielgrzymstwa Polskiego ("Books of the Polish people and the Polish pilgrimage", 1832) was a unifying signpost to Polish expatriates throughout Europe, and his dramatic cycle Dziady ("Funeral ceremony", first parts 1823) was scrupulously persecuted and confiscated by the occupying powers in Poland.

But the Romanticist with an eye for the humiliated and insulted had the big picture in mind, and to him the liberation wars were a pan-European phenomenon: "Europe's situation", he wrote in 1849, "is of the kind that it is unlikely that only one people for itself could embark on the path to progress; it would risk to be destroyed and at the same time to ruin the common cause." In 1848 French professors dedicated a chair to him, "the great Mickiewicz, whose words lead the worlds together, seemed to constitute a federation between orient and occident sounding from the Collège de France to Asia".

Perhaps the mystery of the bust in Weimar lies in a chance meeting, in 1828 he passed by the then village-like capital of Weimar, a politically meaningless but culturally ambitious duchy. It is here that he met Goethe, one of the greats of German and European Culture. Maybe the two had a nice chat on the idea of a "federation of free citizens and nations", grounded in a commonly shared culture and system of values, as Mickiewicz once wrote. The Polish romanticist was one of its forerunners for sure.

Photo By Most Curious [CC-BY-SA-3.0]