Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grey rule

In the article In Japan, Young Face Generational Roadblocks it is discussed how in Japan the older generation enjoys many benefits whle many of the young have to do with marginal jobs. It is a direct consequence of the large number of older voters and even trade union members. By defending the rights of the older they implicitly undermine the rights of the young. The article blames Japan's economic stagnation partly on this rule of the old.

I think the problem plays in the whole Western world. The refusal to let the banks pay for their losses was and the socializaton of those losses instead was partly a concession to people who wanted to protect their retirement rights.

In the West much losses still have to be taken: our houses are overvalued, China is taking our jobs and exposing how overpaid we are, in Eastern and Southern Europe the currencies are overvalued and our banks are generally believed to still hide many losses. The wise thing would be to take those losses as soon as possible so that our financial systems become healthy again. Instead we try to keep those bubbles from popping - at a huge price - or - like the Irish - we socialize the losses, letting future generations pay for the present one and the poor for the rich.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

High finance in the US and the EU

It is interesting to see that while the EU seems still incapable of finding a solution for the Euro problems in the US a discussion is starting about allowing states to go bankrupt.

There was another article on this subject. It appears that the proposal to make it possible that states can go bankrupt came from Republicans who wanted to prevent a government bailout of troubled states like California and Illinois. But what followed was a near panic on the markets and now they are backpedaling.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to handle Belarus

Lukashenko is a dictator and I didn't expected him to give up power at the last elections. However, the amount of violence against the opposition was more than expected. At least a part of it will have been because Lukashenko expected color revolution-style protests and thought it best to suppress them while that was still possible. But there may have been other motives and Lukashenko may be trying to increase his grip on the country.

The question is how to react to this. There is an interesting article about this on EU Observer by Andrew Rettman Poland: West should use Cold War tactics to free Belarus. Noting that the protests against the election fraud came mainly from the intellectual elite he argues to make it easier for the common Belarussians to visit the EU so that the common people can see for themselves how democracy is supposed to work. He notes that Poland and Lithuania unilaterally dropped visa fees for Belarusians in December. At the same time he argues for increased travel bans for those in Belarus who contributed to the suppression.

I would like one point to this: make these travel restrictions temporary. Common cops might get a two year travel ban, their bosses 4 years and the Belarussian elite 6 years. That way we stress the punishment character of the sanctions, we make it possible also to punish the lower levels and we evade endless discussions about revoking sanctions.

There is another view to sanctions about which I am less ethousiastic. It says that Belarusian wishes of EU-sponsored infrastructure projects - such as a new Vilnius-Minsk train, a Klaipeda-Minsk-Moscow highway and a liquified gas terminal - should be denied. This would isolate Belarus and make it more difficult for its citizens to visit the EU.

My suspicion is that the US is behind the latter kind of proposals. The US has been sceptical for a long time about any rapproachment between the EU and Russia. Isolating Belarus and Ukrain is one way to block that as it geographically isolates Russia from the EU. The recent blind support of EU commissioner Fuele to Ukrain's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko who is accused of fraud fits in this picture.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Estonia and the Euro

Estonia has introduced the Euro while the majority of its population was against it. It must be noted however that until the recent problems a majority had been in favor.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

CoE witness protection report

Here is the Council of Europe report on witness protection in the Balkans written by Jean Charles Gardetto. The title is “The protection of witnesses as a cornerstone for justice and reconciliation in the Balkans”.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Bosnia once again

Reading about the struggle in Bosnia to form a government, Inzko's predictable but unhelpful New Year's speech and the latest spat between Inzko and Dodik I will once again try to explain how the Netherlands evolved.

A century ago the Netherlands was strongly divided. You had fire and brimstone protestant preachers for whom the Pope was the devil himself. You had the Catholics who lived completely in their own world, showed slavish obeyance to the local priest and saw the outer world with fear. And you had the Socialists with their atheism and revolutionary zeal who looked down on those superstituous believers who were not capable of thinking on their own. Of course not everyone was a fanatic - just as in Bosnia not everyone is a nationalist - but when threatened the ranks tended to close.

We did not solve this by having some foreigner tell our preachers and priests that they should stop their inflamatory speaches. On the contrary, we adopted a system that we called "autonomy in the own sphere". And so - while the government provided neutral schools - every religion was allowed to establish its own schools and use its own educational methods. There were separate protestant, catholic and socialist trade unions, savings banks, sport clubs and many other organizations.

Did this strengthen the conflicts? No! On the contrary, by giving everybody what he wanted we more or less neutralized the conflicts. Nowadays religion hardly plays a role in the Netherlands. We still have many organisations and institutions that are in name Protestant or Catholic but often it is nearly meaningless and many of its customers don't share that religion.

The secret? The problem is not those extremist politicians and preachers. You have extremists and crazy people in every society. They only become a problem when the rest of their group starts to believe that they have a point.

The worldwide standard solution for minorities is remarkable similar to the solution we used in the Netherlands, but for some mysterious reason the West has decided that it should not be applied in the case of Bosnia.

In my opinion there is only one workable solution for Bosnia: a separate Croat entity. That way religion can stop to be a major theme and be replaced by more mundane things like corruption and the economy.

Might this lead to the breakup of Bosnia? Yes, it could. But in the long term Bosnia can only stay together when all its inhabitants want it. And the longer we wait with self determination and keep the conflict up the greater the risk that Bosnia actually will fall apart.

I can understand that some people still are nostalgic for Tito's solution of totally ignoring ethnic conflicts. But that won't work in an open democratic society.

It should also be noted that there is a big difference between autonomy on basis of religion and one on basis of language. The latter can lead to groups growing apart because they no longer understand each other's language.

Finally one note on language. All Bosnians speak more or less the same language but details do matter. Bosnia has now standardized as "Bosnian" a dialect that tries to distinguish Bosnia as much as possible from its neighbors. This is discriminating towards it Serbs and Croats. I believe it would be much better to chose something in between, like good old Serbo-Croatian, as a standard. That would also make it much more attractive to have mized schools. It would be a good start when it would become possible to start such schools.