Here's an interesting post and thread on Slovenia's "Erased" people. It's over at Michael's excellent "Glory of Carniola" blog.
-- Okay, this is sort of a cheap way to turn my several long comments on that blog into a post on this blog. But it's late and the baby has a cough and is sleeping restlessly, and I'm afraid too much typing will wake him up. So.
EU immigration policy, that is.
Eastern Europe is full of smart, ambitious, hard-working young people who would jump at the chance to move to Germany or France or Britain. In the last three years, we've met engineers, doctors, nurses, software designers, journalists, economists, entrepreneurs of every sort imaginable.
Most of these people are under 35. Over that age, people are usually too settled to seriously consider emigrating (though there are exceptions). Below it, though... well, the younger an educated person is, in this part of the world, the more likely it is that they're at least thinking about leaving. And the converse seems to be true, too: the more educated a young person is, the stronger the pull of the West.
(This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. If you're young but unskilled... well, being a bricklayer in Spain or Germany is not that much better than being a bricklayer in Serbia or Romania. A software engineer in the West, on the other hand, can make quite a lot more money. Even adjusting for the higher cost of living, it's a very rational decision.)
Serbia and Romania are not unusual. There are thousands and thousands of people like this, all over Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, most of the EU countries are facing a looming demographic crisis. In the next couple of decades, they're not going to have enough people of working age to support the ever-growing ranks of the nonworking elderly. From Italy to Belgium, western Europe desperately needs more hard-working young people.
And now all these new countries -- full of smart, ambitious young people who would very much like to move West -- have just joined the EU. Hungarian electricians, Polish computer programmers, Slovakian mechanical engineers, Latvian health care workers: they're all available now for recruitment to the west.
So, of course, the EU member's response to this is....
...to slam the door shut. Of the 15 old EU member states, every one but Ireland chose to place sharp restrictions on the free movement of people from the 10 new members. The Germans, the Italians, the Swedes and Dutch and French: they're all closing their doors. And in most cases, it looks like they plan to keep them closed for the maximum time allowable -- seven years. So they're not going to take advantage of this opportunity until 2011.
The only way to really get to know a city, I find, is to get lost in it. Which is how I found myself walking towards the railyard on Bucharest's inner ring road. Literally kilometers and kilometers of high-rises from the bad old days. I doubt if they've ever been the focus of so much tourist appreciation before.
Now, I am going to be contrary here, and say that by recent global standards of architecture, the Ceaucescu-era buildings are not absolutely horrible. True, they're vast malignant shoddy wastes of concrete. But that was hardly unique to Romania. Consider Governor Rockefeller's showpiece center in New York's state capital, Albany. It's almost exactly contemporary with old Nic's rebuilding scheme. Then turn away, quickly. An eyewash might be indicated.
And in fact, when I saw these remarkably ugly buildings, I couldn't help but imagine them in an American context. So the state television building on the north side of Bucharest, a long low-slung concrete affair tiled several improbable shades of sea-green (and site of some major violence during the revolution; there are memorials), looks almost exactly what an aquarium in Cleveland built during the Johnson administration might look like. The infamous Palace of the People looks strikingly like the world's largest Ramada Inn. And so on.
The real crime isn't that Ceaucescu built ugly junk. Everyone was doing it at the time: east, west, north, and south. It's that he gutted a lovely, perfectly functional city to do it. There's enough left of old Bucharest to figure out what it must have been like. But it's rather like Cuvier extrapolating an extinct mammal from a single tooth.
"Official sources quoted by Mediafax said The National Bank would reduce the official rate next week, probably by 0.5%. For the time being, the official rate is 21.25%."
-- From Gardianul ("The Guardian") this morning.
Now that is interesting, and here's why. At the moment, the rate of inflation of the Romanian leu is somewhere around 12%. The National Bank is dealing in leu, so it includes this figure in its interest rate. So the real interest rate is 21.25% minus inflation, or around 9%.
Hi all. This is Carlos, the mysterious fellow who has occasionally been mentioned on the pages of this blog. This is something of a test post, but I'd still like to thank Claudia and Doug for letting me post whatever crosses my mind here. (They may yet regret this.) I'm a first time blogger, but a long time commenter. As you can see from the title of this post, I'm not actually anywhere near the Balkans (or even the Carpathians) at the moment, being in sunny Brooklyn, New York. I have a bunch of terribly obscure hobbies, unkempt hair, no tattoos, I'm an Aries, and my favorite color is blue. And yes, I do drink an awful lot of coffee. Soon I will have a real post.
Remember, back in November, when we bitched and complained about Charles de Gaulle airport?
I had to go through CdG again only two weeks ago -- the fare was just so much cheaper than flying through Frankfurt. It hadn't improved one bit and I nearly missed my connection because of the endless bus rides they make you take between terminals. The terminals I used were B and E. Little did I know that I was actually lucky not to have the roof falling down on me.
We'll probably just not use this airport ever again.
I've always wondered why Romanians were so adamant about their country joining the EU in 2007. Listening to the talk, it appeared as if this date was fixed, absolutely certain. On May 1, the entire city of Bucharest was decked in European flags. For a moment, I was not sure whether Romania hadn't managed to do the impossible thing and make the EU a union of 26. On May 9, Europe Day was celebrated with a giant firework and President Illiescu declared that Romania was a "de facto member of the European Union".
Not so, my friends and I'm not the only one to think so.
Over at Apartment 11D, Laura had an interesting article about raising kids in the city (scroll to Wednesday, May 19). It made me think about what we will do when, one day, we move back to the US. We're very likely going to move to a metropolitan area of some sorts -- international lawyers aren't much in demand in Pierre, North Dakota.
One of the reasons Laura gives for her impending move to the suburbs:
Outdoors. Kids like to be outside. Try carrying a bike, a stroller, and a three year old down four flights of stairs. If the baby needs a nap, then no one goes outside. If one kid is sick, then no one goes outside.
My kids are outside kids, too. They are both full of energy and need to run around all day long.
Carlos, aka Coyu, well known in cyberspace for his erudition, knowledge and lack of patience with trolls, the ill-informed and the stupid, has been our guest (in real life) for the last two weeks. We had a delightful time and he walked miles and miles in the city and found all sorts of interesting things we had no idea existed.
He's back in the US now but he promised to write down his impressions of Bucharest and Romania and guest blog a little for us. I hope you enjoy his contribution. His icon, BTW is this:
(It's a tiny little joke on my part. Carlos is a two-fisted coffee addict.)
OK, Carlos. Now it's up to you. Write, write, write!
Yes, we watched it. Carlos and I, Saturday night, up past midnight.
If you're an American or something, and you don't know what Eurovision is, A Fistful of Euros has a good description. This Kieran Healy post from last year is also nicely informative.
And how was it, you ask?
A commentor on the last post mentioned the external debt issue.
Romania's external debt has been rising and rising, which should cause the leu to fall at some point. But this hasn't happened yet. In fact, the leu has risen a little bit. (Against the euro. It's risen a lot against the dollar, but so has everyone else.)
I think the reason for this is that the National Bank is talking tough on inflation. That is, they are LOUDLY saying that they won't allow inflation above 9% next year.
What this means -- and what they're really telling the world -- is that if the leu falls, they will raise interest rates to defend it.
Romania's economy is still ticking along.
It grew in the first quarter at a rate of about 5.3% (annualized). This means that Romania is heading into a fourth year of respectable growth.
Inflation is falling -- still high, but falling. It was 14% last year, is presently around 12%, and is expected to fall to 9% by the end of 2004. (The National Bank has been talking very, very tough about this.)
Foreign investment is growing quickly, although from a very small base. Lending is growing like mad, around 50% per year.
So up and up the little spiral staircase I went.
Up and up again. The Palace is something like 25 stories high. I soon realized that it wasn't such a great idea to do this in a suit while carrying a folder full of papers. Also that I really, really need to start running again.
Still, all staircases end sooner or later. For this one, the end came at a strange low landing under a dirty skylight. I say "low" because there was only about a meter and a half of clearance between landing and skylight, maybe less. Anyone over the age of ten had to hunch or squat.
The skylight itself was propped open; a fat snake of cables ran along the concrete ceiling, up through it, out and away. If I'd been feeling very brave, I could have pushed it open further and crawled out onto the Palace roof. Since this would have involved leaning far out from the little landing over a 20-story drop down the center of the staircase shaft, and then doing a sort of diagonal chin-up and belly-crawling out over the dirty glass, after some consideration I decided that I'd rather not.
Heh. I guess you thought I'd died or something but no. I was just very busy flying around the globe and dealing with Astral to finally get the cable internet connection installed that we ordered in February. It's a long story and not amusing but in the end, we prevailed. We now have a super speedy 24/7-online-and-not-blocking-the-phone-ever-again internet connection. And boy, does it feel good. OK, so it's not quite as speedy as my friend Natalie's broadband in Bethesda, MD, but it's SUCH an improvement over how things were. I'm so thrilled. Internet is fun again!
It will also be much more fun posting now, since I don't have to wait for two minutes for the interface to open. Happy us.
Okay, not very lost. I just wandered up one of the big staircases when nobody seemed to be looking, then strolled down a hall. I didn't want to use an elevator -- they have attendants, and I was vaguely worried someone might ask me for ID -- but then I noticed an open door that led to a little, dimly lit spiral staircase.
I stepped inside. The stairs went down into obscurity, and up to a smudge of light -- a dirty skylight, many stories above. I stepped inside (making sure the door didn't lock behind me) and started to climb.
I'm shamelessly lifting this from a recent post at Idle Words, because it's so good. (And a tip of the hat to Dragos' ever-informative Argumente for bringing it to my attention.)
So: Things the European Union Really Needs...
I went inside the Palace of the People yesterday.
Although we've been in Bucharest for almost a year now, this was my first time inside. Go figure. We've never gotten around to taking the guided tour (it's a popular tourist attraction), and this happened to be the first time that business took me down there. (A banking conference, and no, you don't want to know the details.)
I came prepared to sneer. As I've said before, the Palace is pretty damn ugly from the outside. So I figured it would be just as bad inside -- either tastelessly overdone, or crass and pompous and massive in a Stalinist sort of way, or both.
I was wrong. The inside of the Palace is actually pretty impressive.
I've mentioned before that Macedonia doesn't seem to get much attention in the world news.
That said, I'm still surprised by the lack of coverage of this story.
Short version: in 2002, officials of the Macedonian goverment murdered seven illegal immigrant workers -- six Pakistanis and one Indian -- and then claimed they were "terrorists" who were planning an attack on the American embassy there.
The point of the exercise? To win favor with the US government, apparently.
(Here's another version with some more information.)
Just read an excellent article on Euroskepticism in Slovakia, taken from Transitions Online. TOL is an excellent site, highly recommended for anyone interested in the region.
Unfortunately, they move their stuff behind a "Premium Content" wall after a few days. So I'm going to quote at a little length here. (All this is copyright Domino Forum, 2004, authors Robert Zitnansky and Martin Hanus.)
Five days after surrendering to police, Legija (it's pronounced Leggy-uh, by the way) is still in captivity.
And that's all we know. The news blackout continues.
To paraphrase Dragan Antulov (of Draxblog), the optimists are just glad that Legija is off the street, and hope that he can offer useful information -- more about the ugly nexus of politics and organized crime in Serbia, more about the Djindjic assassination, maybe even something about the whereabouts of much-wanted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
The pessimists think that Legija's surrender is just the tip of the iceberg. That he had help to stay undercover for fourteen months -- maybe official help. That as an intelligent paramilitary-counterintelligence-antiterrorist-organized crime figure, he'd never have given up without some good reason. They think he surrendered because he cut a deal with Kostunica's government; and that he'll be kept sequestered and and put back into play only when it suits the government (i.e., when he has some particularly damning piece of information about the previous administration, or perhaps some political rival).
"We do know that Legija is not to be believed, that he has outmanoeuvred many people who thought they were a jump ahead of him, and that he has buried many who believed they were better than him," said a former police minister.
Short answer is, we don't know. More on this when there's more to tell.
So there's this outfit called the International Management Development Institute, a business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. And every year, they publish something called the World Competiveness Scoreboard.
I'm sure you can already guess where this is going. For 2003, the IMDI trashed Romania, ranking it 54th out of 60 countries and regions. As usual, this has caused a certain amount of consternation here in Romania.
Me? I'm deeply skeptical.
We've been through this before, just a few months ago. I haven't had time to look at the "World Competitiveness Scoreboard" in detail yet, but what I've seen so far doesn't impress me much. Romania is less competitive than Russia? Than the Philippines? I've been to the Philippines, and I don't buy that for a second.
I'm starting to get really, really dubious about these things.
Claudia is in the US for a few days, so I'm a single parent this week.
The baby-sitter comes around 8:30. Alan and David wake up around 6:00. So I'm definitely getting some time with my children.
And fairly intense time it is too. For instance, this morning...
The machines, not the birds.
I think I mentioned that Oltenita has no waterfront. What it does have, is a port facility. With cranes. Big ones -- like, 30 or 40 meters tall.
The cranes are old, and they show it. They were made by an East German company in 1966 or maybe 1968 -- the nameplate was so rusted that I couldn't be sure. They're powered by electricity, and there are cables as thick as your arm running along the ground.
Legija "the Legionnaire" is the nickname of the Serbian criminal suspected of masterminding the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic last March. After fourteen months on the run, Legija surrendered to Serbian police yesterday.
This came as a complete surprise. Several of Legija's associates had been captured or killed in the weeks following Djindjic's death. Legija himself, though, had simply disappeared. The general assumption was that he was living someplace far away -- Moscow, say -- with a new set of papers and possibly a new face.
Not. He surrendered at his house in Belgrade. And while his whereabouts for the last fourteen months remain unknown, it looks like he may have been in Serbia for most or all of that time.
Okay, probably not the very worst. But definitely the worst one I've yet found.
It's in the big park just west of the center of Oltenita. Oltenita is a small city on the Danube; we went there this weekend, for no particular reason. It's pronounced ol ten EETS ah -- I don't know how to make the special Romanian "ts" character here.
Oltenita is one of those places that, when you tell Romanians that you're going there, they look at you and say, "Uhhh... why?"