Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Serbia's economy: real devaluation still needed

Die Tageszeitung has an article (in German) about the economic situation of Serbia. Some observations:
- since the start of the economic crisis Serbia has wasted 1 billion euro to defend the dinar
- in the same period 1 billion euro has fled the country to Western banks
- About 60,000 firms with 1.3 million employees are nearly bankrupt. One reason is the Serbian state that is late with paying it bills and owns now 720 million euro to Serbian companies.
- This year 120,000 people could lose their jobs. Unemployment is at the moment 23.7%.
- Since the beginning of the year Serbia's export has fallen with 37.5% and its import with 24%. So its trade balance has worsened - and it was already bad.
- At the end of last year the dinar dropped about 25%. But since then it hasn't moved.
- Serbia is now asking for at least 3 billion dollar more mainly from the IMF.

It looks like Serbia's government is still the prisoner of the irresponsible election promises that it made. Ukraine had to drop its currency by 50% on orders of the IMF. Does Serbia's government really hope that the IMF will keep financing its leaky pockets?

Come on, Tadic, stop being a coward! Buy a Churchill biography and learn that being a leader sometimes means that you have to promise your people "blood, sweat and tears"! The situation will keep getting worse until Serbia adapts itself. The "growth" financed by foreign transfers simply wasn't sustainable. The longer you delay it the worse the situation will get. I can only hope that the IMF will make tough conditions.

This doesn't mean that I am an economic neoliberal. Serbia should never have allowed that its citizens borrowed so much in foreign currencies in the first place. And one of the ways to achieve that would have by allowing less foreign control of the banks. In the present situation I am very worried about Tadic's determination to unilaterally implement the SAA. Serbian business has enough to adapt itself to without this additional burden. Serbia's government is making some efforts to stimulate the exports (at least acknowledging the problem), but until now it has little to show for the effort.

At the head of the FAZ article and in its last paragraph it is suggested that the US might IMF aid to Serbia conditional on a change in its Kosovo policy. It would be a stupid move: IMF is about finance. Using it so rudely as a tool of US foreign policy would seriously antagonize other countries. It would signal that Obama's foreign policy is even more unilateral than Bush's.

Postscript 26 march: according to this article IMF has given Serbia 3 bln Euro. The deal still needs approval of the IMF board - expected at the beginning of may and forces. Serbia has committed to 1.0 billion euros worth of spending cuts, equivalent to three percent of GDP. About the conditions the NY Times article says "The economy minister, Mladjan Dinkic, said on Wednesday in an interview with the daily Vecernje Novosti that the measures would fall mostly on the public sector, which employs 550,000 workers, versus 1.6 million in private sector.

“We will reduce funds for cities and local administrations,” Mr. Dinkic told the newspaper. “There will be no new jobs, and those who retire will not be replaced with new staff. The position of state servants will be equalized to the position of employees in the private sector. Various privileges used by public servants will be abolished. No bonuses will be allowed. We will not allow the purchase of new cars. We decided to cut costs as much as possible.”
". The IHT is shorter "the IMF calls for drastic cuts in public spending, a freeze in wages, pensions and hiring in the state sector, and the introduction of an additional 6 percent tax on salaries and pensions to cope with the budget deficit.".

Is this good news? Not really. While I do believe that Serbia should reduce its social spending as it is at an unsustainable level, I think it is not very wise to reduce the overall amount of government spending in a time of crisis. I would prefer to see Serbia spending more on helping its business sector to overcome the damage of both the crisis and the devaluation.

Schook and Walker aim for more Kosovo profits

The UN journal Inner City Press has an article claiming that Steven Schook and William Walker have asked the UNMIK head Zanier whether there is any objection if they take part in Kosovo's privatization.

Of course neither of them is new to the money game. One of the reasons Schook had to leave as deputy SRSG was the way he worked as head of Kosovo's privitization program. And William Walker works as a consultatant for American AES, a company that wants to take over Kosovo's power plants.

Another interesting point in the article: EULEX didn't allow the UN to attend its meetings in Belgrade.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thoughts on the release of Ejupi

On 13 march the internationalized trial chamber of the Kosovo Supreme Court released Florim Ejupi. Just 9 months earlier he had been sentenced to 40 years prison for his role in the bombing of the Niš-Ekspress bus in 2001 that killed 12 Serbs. Amazingly - allthough many Serbs condemned the release - only the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade gave arguments for their condemnation. They argued that "It was more suitable, considering the gravity of the crime, for the Supreme Court to reverse the judgement and reopen the main hearing to directly adduce evidence, including the examination of witnesses, and thus prevent criticism and dissatisfaction of the victims’ families caused by the acquittal of a person who was previously sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment."

The argument for the release was a "lack of evidence". I suppose the court will later publish a more thorough verdict. The shortness of the publication leaves a bad taste. It gives the impression that the court ignores the severity of the case and the need of the public for clarity. One of the purposes of trials for ethnic crimes is to build inter-ethnic trust. With its attitude the court certainly does not contribute to that trust.

There is also the question whether there are other cases for which Ejupi could be prosecuted. In reaction to the release Serbian Interior minister Ivica Dačić said that "the Serbian police have information on Ejupi related to other crimes, as do their German counterparts, since some of those crimes were committed in Germany".

Having seen the indictment and the prior verdict I was left a bit puzzled. The case against Ejupi is based on two pieces of evidence: a fresh cigaret butt with his dna near the place from where the bomb was detonated and the testimony of "witness alpha" who had been with Ejupi in the prison of Mitrovica and Dubrava.

As I understand it the cigaret butt alone would be enough for condemning Ejupi for complicity. The butt was fresh, the place was remote and far from paths and it is very improbable that the bombers would have allowed an outsider close to them to witness their proceedings. Ejupi has no alibi or excuse. According to the verdict "The accused Florim Ejupi pleaded not guilty to all charges. He decided to defend himself in silence. He also refused to give a statement or answer questions during the investigation.". But that didn't stop his lawyers from making many points.

Witness alpha is more problematic. He had a few contradictions in his statement. The most important one concerns an article in a Serb newspaper that he says he saw first while in prison (and then discussed with Ejupi), but that was published 9 months before. I find the verdict in this respect very incoherent. The article in Blic the verdict refers to (of 9 june 2004) must have discussed the arrest of Ejupi at that time. It is hard to imagine Alpha to discuss that with Ejupi many months later as if it just happened.

Another incoherent part of the summary of Alpha's testimony in the verdict concerns his relation with Ejupi. At the beginning it is stated that "He testified that the first time he met Florim Ejupi was in 2004 in Mitrovica, near the park in the market. Then in the summer of 2005 they met again in Mitrovica Detention Center." Yet further in the report it appears that they took together part in the march 2004 riots and that Alpha gave testimony about that in which he gave incriminating evidence against Ejupi. It is rather crucial to know as much as possible about the relation between Ejupi and Alpha as it is one of the points of the defense their relation was not of a nature that one would have expected Ejupi to tell Alpha the details of his bus bombing exploits.

Other question marks arise about another point of the defense: the car battery. The person who triggered the bomb did so by connecting the wire to the poles or some kind of battery. However, due to the long distance (1200 meter) a normal car battery would not have been sufficiently strong. You would have needed either a special device or a car battery with some extra electronics. As the battery hasn't been found we don't know what was used. But the defense is using it against Alpha that he reports that a car battery was used. I found this a rather weak argument: unless both were in love with technology it is very unlikely that Ejupi would have bragged about the advanced electronics that was used. And it is rather peculiar that the defense knows about these kinds of things. It raises the question who thought up that argument: someone involved with the crime?

All together this summary of Alpha's testimony in the verdict left me with a bad taste. It is rather incoherent and the inconsistencies in his statements are elaborately discussed in the middle of the main story. I got the impression that the summary of the testimony had been deliberately written to undermine the credibility of the testimony - possibly by some lower court house employee with sympathies for Ejupi. For the verdict in june it didn't make a difference as the judges had heared the testimony themselves and judged its credibility from that. However, the higher court probably relied on those summaries and probably didn't look at a tape of the testimonies (if there was a tape).

Homosexuality and discrimination

With the Serbia's anti-discrimination law under discussion it is interesting to pay attention to some dissident voices in the West. Non-discrimination is not controversial. But the in-your-face activism of some homosexuals is. The article below is a translation of the "Gevangen in een westerse obsessie" in the rather small newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad - a small conservative Christian newspaper in Holland. As the article was quite long I have occasionally summarized some sentences. It is largely based on an interview with the Australian Shannon Woodcock who some years ago published the paper "Globalization of LGBT identities. Containment masquerading as salvation or why lesbians have less fun", that deals with gays and lesbians in Romania and Albania. It's main point is that Western aid aimed to improve the position of homosexuals in those countries actually worsens it.

Prisoner of a Western obsession

13-03-2009 by Ab Jansen

The Nederlands spends lots of money in campaigns in order to liberate the homosexuals in Eastern Europe from discrimination and oppression. Wasted money, says the Australian scientist Shannon Woodcock. By presenting themselves explicitly as ”gay” and ”lesbian”, these men and women suffer only more discrimination.

One day dr. Shannon Woodcock, employed by the La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia was stopped by a Dutch human rights activist in Tirana. She thought Woodcock was an Albanian lesbian and told her that she worked for the Dutch embassy in order to establish an organization for homosexuals and lesbians in Tirana that would be financed with Dutch money. Woodcock told her that she didn't believe such an organization would be beneficial and tanked her politely. "The woman became almost hysteric and argued that I obviously was prepared to spend my life in shame and secrecy, while it was time for lesbians to take courage and choose for freedom."

The work of the Dutch activist fits in a pattern that has been going on for 15 years: The spread of specific western ideas about homosexuality in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to these ideas men and women are encouraged to frankly admit their sexuality and even organise themselves.

Five years ago Woodstock published a study of this subject on the title ”Globalization of LGBT identities. Containment masquerading as salvation or why lesbians have less fun”. In that study she mainly discusses the position of lesbians in Romania and Albania, nut her criticism goes further than those countries. By the way: LGBT is abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. It is often used by NGOs and it concerns not only homosexuals.

According to Woodcock Romanian and Albanian lesbians are not happy about those liberation campaigns. They have obtained themselves a secure place in their homo-hostile society in a much more subtle way. The effect of the Western campaigns is that they destroy this delicate and subtle way of life. „In the end the effect is that what was meant as liberation results in more oppression for other-natured men and women.”

Homosexuals have special characteristics and behaviors with which they can recognize each other. These are different in every culture but they are there in Eastern Europe too.

In countries like Romania and Albania men and women live rather separate lives. This offers homosexuals a space where they can feel at ease without having to behave themselves explicitly like a homosexual or lesbian. „So many other-natured women have a circle of female friends around them and some are even married. Nobody in their family or wider circle makes a problem about that, even when they know that they are different. Although these are intense friendships they are not seen by the women and their environment as a deliberate choice for a lesbian way of life.”

Family and friends are much more open for this kind of relations, as long as they are not explicitly sexual and also are not explicitly presented that way. The brutal definition of these relations as lesbian – and thus as explicit and one-sided sexual - are very harmful for other natured men and women in those countries. Yet that is the aim of the Western campaigns with their call for “coming out”: tell openly that you are gay or lesbian. Woodcock: „Women with whom I talked about that reacted in horror. When they do that they will lose their freedom.”

The emergence of the internet has created another popular meeting space: online. It makes the EU-campaigns even more redundant. “Internet offers the choice to hide or show your sexual nature. That is real freedom. The West wants you to believe that you are only free when you tell everybody – preferably on television – that you are lesbian.”.

Michel Foucault
According to Woodcock the Western obsession with “coming out” has its origin with the French philosopher (and homosexual) Michel Foucault. He claimed that sexuality is a form of self-knowledge that is blocked in Western society by social taboos. Only a public confession that explicitly breaks the taboos of other people can learn you the truth. In this vision public confession of your sexual nature is a kind of healing.

Specially in the US there is w whole sub-culture around coming-out and there is applause when some boy or girl tells on television to be gay or lesbian. This typical Western culture about coming-out has been copied by Romanian and Albanian homosexual organizations, but the effects for the participants have been far from liberating. They see only more aversion and discrimination from the society.

Woodcock says that she has felt the harmful effect of the imported gay and lesbian culture herself: „Before 1999 it was rather easy in Romania to walk hand in hand with another woman on the street. People didn’t see it as sexual. The introduction of Western terms like ”gay” en ”lesbian” changed that and they soon became terms of abuse for harassing homosexuals. Women who didn’t want to be openly lesbian were scolded too. I can no longer walk hand in hand with a female friend in Bucharest without being aggressively approached by passerby’s.”

So why do the East-European gay organization (the so-called LGBT-ngo’s) support this approach? “The donor determines everything”, react Woodcock “The Netherlands for example spends a lot of money of LGBT-things and the consequence is that everybody in Eastern Europe copies the point of view of the embassies. They are free not to do so, but in that case they don’t get money.”. Woodcock tells that when she published her study 5 years ago she got reactions from over the world. “People from Romania, but also India, Sri Lanka and Brazil let me know that they totally agreed, but they added that they wouldn’t say so openly because it would cost them their job with a gay organization.”

Discussion groups
Not everybody can be bought, according to Woodcock. She tells that the Dutch embassy subsidized the creation of discussion groups for lesbians in Romania. “They exist on paper, but when the members come together they talk about different things. Not so much about sexual nature and everything connected, but about practical things like applying for a visa.”.

The Australian scientist thinks that there is hardly any scientific research that justifies all those well–intentioned campaigns by Western governments and embassies. „They have all big ideals, but obviously no one among the policy makers wants to investigate the problems in the field.”

What would she advise them?
„Give more power and money to the local communities, so that they can choose for themselves what they do with it. The better ideas come from below and not from the people who give the money.” As an example she mentions ”Ladyfest”, a yearly festival that is organized by and for women and that purposely is not exclusively focused on sexuality, but is open to all women. „People have much more than sexuality? As long as ngo’s are focused on things like aids, discussion groups for lesbians and gay prides there is something thoroughly wrong in their approach.”

Woodcock points to recent EU reports that show that hate against homsexuals has increased a lot recently in countries like Romania. „Western terminology like ”lesbian” and ”gay” is nowadays widely used by right wing extremist groups that hunt for homosexuals. Five years after I published my study hate against homosexuals has become more widespread than hate against Roma, and that in a country like Romania.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Afghanistan and Vietnam

I was in favor of the American troop increase in Iraq, because I thought there was a good chance of winning the war. I considered the fundamentals ok: the Sunnites (the main rebels) are a minority and can't dominate the country. The other troublemaker - Al-Sadr - had gotten some prominence because of his use of violent militias. He had gotten some prominence only because nobody confromted him. The main trouble had been that until the Surge the US had not been committed to winning: arbitrary measures like the debaathification showed that the US didn't consider loosing as an option. With the Surge the US finally got serious. I consider that more important than the troop increase itself.

For Afghanistan I am much less optimistic. The situation feels more similar to Vietnam. Both the Vietcong and the Taliban have wide support among the population and have a strong ideology. On the other hand Karzai and his supporters are seen by many as a bunch of opportunists who care more about enriching themselves than about winning the war. The government in South Vietnam had a similar image.

Obama's and Clinton's latest idea is talking with the Taliban. It is good to see that they finally take some initiative and don't let Karzai determine what they do (Karzai didn't want the US to talk with the Taliban - while he himself did talk with them). But I don't expect much from those talks - except for co-opting some local Taliban commanders.

My solution would rather be to bring government closer to the people:
- after the US invasion Afghanistan has become a rather centralised country - much more centralised than it has historically been. This should be turned back.
- Local government should be close to the people. No more "women liberation" and other projects to please the liberals in the West.
- I am not in favor of warlords. But it should be regional police instead of the national army of Afghanistan that does the main fighting against the Taliban.
- The national government should derive its power mainly from its possibility to distribute money for development projects in the different provinces. It should protect this power with a strong anti-corruption policy.

Newsweek has an article about this too.