Raoul, in a recent comment, pointed me to an article in today's Guardian. The teaser: "Reformers blame problems on the legacy of 40 years of communism. But could it be that the reform process itself is responsible? Far from being a panacea, as claimed by eastern Europe's political elite, following the IMF-EU economic prescription has caused hardship for millions." Ah hah, said I to myself, said I. Before I even clicked on the link? I knew it was going to be one of two people: Mark Almond or Neil Clark. So I clicked... Ding! You've got Neil!
Well. It's difficult for me to overcome my revulsion to Clark. He's an old Milosevic fanboy. Slobo, says Clark is a "prisoner of conscience", a man whose "worst crime was to carry on being a socialist". His trial is "a travesty". I guess I could get past that, but then there was the Djindjic piece. Written just a few days after Djindjic's murder, it positively crowed over the killing of "the Quisling of Belgrade". Djindjic, you see, was an American puppet, the "State Department's man", who "enriched himself by selling his country to those who had waged war against it so mercilessly only a few years earlier." Worse yet, there was "evidence that underworld groups, controlled by Zoran Djindjic and linked to US intelligence, carried out a series of assassinations of key supporters of the Milosevic regime". Because of all this, "Djindjic will be mourned by few in Serbia... there are many... who would willingly have pulled the trigger." 'Djindjic will be mourned by few in Serbia'. I was in Belgrade when Djindjic was shot. And I walked in his funeral procession, along with over half a million other people; roughly a tenth of the country's population. And I remember the thousands of candles people set outside Democratic Party headquarters for weeks afterwards; and the flowers, piled higher every day, until we could smell them far down the street. Well. Raoul wanted to know what I thought of the latest Clark piece. Not much. The first half is a recitation of statistical bad news about Eastern Europe. Nothing new there. Oh, it's true, and it bears repeating: the '90s were a bad, bad time in this part of the world. Like the Great Depression in the US; in some places, worse than that. A lot of Americans, and even some Europeans don't get this. Communism fell, and there was an adjustment period, and now we're all happy shiny EU members! Well... no. The adjustment period went on for a decade, give or take, and it was seriously bad news. And it's not completely over yet. But then Clark gets into the whys and wherefores and, well, you can guess. It's the West's fault; it's NATO's fault; it's foreign capital's fault. Do I have to say that there are legitimate criticisms to be made of how the transitions were handled? But this isn't it. Nothing in the article is backed by anything but assertion. "These bad things happened; clearly it was the fault of *this*!" There are also some goofy errors of fact. (N.B., this is pretty constant with Clark.) "The EU's 3% budget deficit rule for euro members means that a fresh wave of deflation is on its way for populations which, since the late 1980s, have known nothing else." This will come as a surprise to Romanians, who have seen two bouts of hyperinflation in the last 15 years; inflation here was at 100% just five years ago, and has still not dropped out of double digits. Similarly, the Poles saw double-digit inflation pretty much every year through the nineties, as did Hungary ; the Baltic States all had terrifying inflation until around 1996. Does nobody at the Guardian fact-check this stuff? Then there are bits that are true, but don't seem to mean what he thinks. 27% youth unemployment in Slovakia: that's bad, but then it's over 18% in the EU generally, and several new EU members are doing better than that. (Hungary, 15%; Slovenia, 14%. As opposed to 21% in Spain, 22% in France.) And he's aghast at the NATO requirement that new members spend 2% of GDP on defence. Yet this is much less than former Warsaw Pact members used to spend, and it's less than Greece (4.3%), France (2.6%), or socialist Sweden (2.1%) spend today. And, you know? This is a guy who went to Belgrade in 1998 -- at a time when living standards were far lower than they are in Poland or Hungary today, and the country was being methodically looted by Milosevic and his friends -- and burbled that "what a truly wonderful place was Belgrade!" Because, you see, "state-owned department stores abounded". The poverty, the blackouts, the refugees, the pensioners standing in line for hours for cooking oil, the hyperinflation, the pervasive corruption, the bogus privatizations, and the soaring income inequality as Milosevic's friends and family distributed state-owned companies among themselves... those escaped Clark's notice, back in Belgrade in 1998. But his "delight turned to ecstasy" when he discovered that he could buy books by Tony Benn. Given this, I'm not too surprised to find that his ray of hope in Eastern Europe's miserable gloom is... an alliance between Marxists and right-wing ultranationalists. Yeah, that's generally worked a treat in this part of the world. And that's about all I have to say just now. Back to the ICG thing tomorrow, if time permits.