Well, headlines don't get much more attention-grabbing than that.
But actually, it is pretty interesting. See, the Minister in question was Ms. Ljiljana Colic -- the one who was going to ban the teaching of evolution in Serbian schools, at least until Biblical creation could be given equal time.
Apparently the evolution proposal was the last in a long string of blunders and questionable policy decisions, from halting foreign aid to eliminating English classes. I'm not privy to the inner decisions of the Kostunica government, but one has to suspect that the international wave of negative publicity made the difference this time.
Some of you may remember our Serbian friend, "Anna". I asked what she thought about the whole thing. "She (Colic) was a mean and stupid woman," said Anna, "a political appointment made with no thought for what children or young people need."
"My heart was full of joy seeing her leaving the ministerial stage. I even loved the tears in her eyes... Am I becoming an evil and cynical person? Maybe, but I can't help it right now!"
-- Actually, I agree with Anna. From everything I've been able to discover, Ms. Colic was mean and stupid, at least in her capacity as Minister. When mean and stupid people get into positions of power, they make a lot of misery for everyone else. Simple justice says that we'd rather see that misery go where it belongs.
Mind, it's not all smooth sailing for the Serbian education system; Anna tells me that the next Minister may be, in a different way, just as bad. More on this in a bit, if anyone is interested. (Is anyone interested?)
My dear husband thinks that my reaction to Bush's speech yesterday was a little intense. He might well be right. It's very easy for Bush to annoy me - basically, he always does.
Maybe European feelings of decorum are a bit different from American ones. I know other Europeans who had the same disgusted reaction to Bush's speech, yet Doug didn't really get the point, and neither did reader Budd Tuggley. So let me explain.
What Bush said, at a campaign rally, of all places:
"This is yet another grim reminder of the length to which terrorists will go to threaten this civilized world."
In my eyes, it was unnecessary to say this, especially as the carnage was still going on. The implication -- vote for me, if you don't want this to happen in the US -- is clear. Tact is not one of Bush's strong suits, to put it mildly. The situation required him to react as a president, not a campaigner. That's what upset me so.
Leave the above sentence away, proceed with
"We mourn the innocent lives that have been lost, we stand with the people of Russia, we send them our prayers for this terrible situation",
and it would have been OK.
But putting it into a campaign, using the horror and the tragedy to scare his people (a very questionable strategy in any case) into voting for him, is despicable.
I know I'm not American and not informed enough and shouldn't really say anything... But can Bush dare to stand up and use the horrible tragedy in Russia to his own ends? Does this man have no decency? Couldn't he for one moment, just for one moment, bow his head and say "I'm so sorry to hear this"? Is this too much to ask?
How dare he!
Boris Tadic won the Presidential election in Serbia yesterday.
You may recall that Tadic was running against Nikolic of the Radical Party. Nikolic came alarmingly close -- the final vote was about 54% - 46%. That's worrying. Still, when the dust had settled Tadic was the clear victor.
So what next? Nothing much -- and that's a good thing. Tadic has said that he doesn't plan to call elections any time soon, which means he won't upset the oh-so-delicate Parliamentary balance.
Still, his party -- the Democrats -- are still out of power. So Serbia is in the odd position of being governed by a coalition of three parties, while a fourth party (the Socialists) is out of government but gives them tacit support, a fifth party (the Democrats) is out of government but holds the Presidency, and the largest single party of all -- the Radicals -- has no say in government at all.
A few days ago, a commentor asked what the differences were between Romania's major parties.
The short answer is: not much.
Oh, there are differences. But the three major parties -- PSD, the Democrats, and the Liberals -- all seem to be rather similar. They're all more about personalities and factions than ideology. They all have a lot of very turbulent internal politics. In practice (as opposed to what they publicly say) they're all rather interventionist with regard to the economy, moderately nationalist, and not overly worried about things like press freedom and due process. They've all made European integration a top priority. And they're all top-heavy with former Communists.
Still, there are some real differences. So let's take a look at some of the parties in a little detail.
For this first post, I want to look at a party that isn't one of the major parties, but that I find interesting anyway: the Humanist Party of Romania, or PUR.
The Presidential election in Serbia is over, and the winners are...
...as expected: Nikolic of the Radical Party, and Boris Tadic of the Democrats.
Not all the votes have been counted, but it looks like Nikolic will get about 32% of the vote, to Tadic's 27%. An independent "clean government" candidate came in third. Dragan Marsicanin, the selected candidate of the ruling coalition, finished a humiliating fourth place, with around 19%.
So now what?
Serbia's holds their Presidential election this weekend. As I noted a few weeks back, this is a very interesting race.
Right now the frontrunner is still Tomislav Nikolic of the Radical Party. There's a recent interview with Nikolic in English available on the "B92"site. I don't think either interviewer or subject come off with flying colors, but it's interesting.
(There are some local references that might be confusing. Like, the bit about "rusty spoons"? That's referring to when Radical Party leader Seselj, now on trial for war crimes in the Hague, once said that he would gouge out Croat eyes with a rusty spoon. So what Nikolic is saying here is, ah gee, not that old chestnut again.)
If the polls are correct, Nikolic will win, but won't get 50%. That means he'll go to a runoff in two weeks against the next-highest vote getter -- probably Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party. Nikolic would probably lose a runoff if the other parties united. But will they? It won't be easy, especially if the other candidate is Tadic -- his Democrats were the dominant party in the last government, and a lot of people are still carrying grudges.
Meanwhile, gang boss, paramilitary leader, secret police chief and accused Presidential assassin Milorad "Legija" Ulemek appeared in court in Belgrade yesterday.
Legija refused to make any statement. Interestingly, he said that he was keeping quiet because of the election. He refused to go into detail, saying only that he didn't want to have an influence on the outcome. "Elections are more important, the country has been without a president for four years," said Legija. "I don’t want to help anyone."
He also said he did not want to be "anyone’s political prostitute".
This has, of course, only fueled the already red-hot speculation that Legija might implicate senior politicians in the assassination.
On a more cheerful note, there's this. I think this is a great idea, and I hope it gets picked up by other countries. "Hi, I'm Vice-President Richard Cheney. Can I get your bag?"
Football and extreme politics seem to go hand in hand around the world.
For instance, take a look at Juan Posadas. A player for the Argentine team La Plata Estudientes in the 1930s, Posadas moved gracefully into the splintered world of post-Trotsky Latin American leftist politics, where, as time went on, his positions became stranger and stranger. Preemptive nuclear war, a solid Soviet first strike, a good thing! "After the destruction commences, the masses are going to emerge in all countries – in a short time, in a few hours." But then our socialist space brothers will save us. "Capitalism doesn’t interest the UFO pilots, which is why they do not return." In the meantime, though, we should make our peace with our aqueous cousins, the dolphins. So far, his ideas have come to not very much. After all, you can't have socialism on just one planet.
Then there's David Icke. Once a goalkeeper for Coventry City, and later a sportscaster, Icke declared himself the Son of God in 1991 on British television and has never looked back. Although his beliefs have changed through the years, at present David Icke believes... well, he believes the lizard people are secretly in control of the Earth. In disguise, of course.
As far as X-Files conspiracy theories go in the US, there's Marshall Faulk, who thinks the Moon landings were a hoax. It stands to reason, he opined in a Playboy interview. After all, the flag was waving, but there's no air on the Moon. So far as I know, Faulk harbors no political ambitions. Yet.
On the other hand, there's Jack Kemp. Once quarterback for the Buffalo Bills -- the position of QB is a little difficult to explain to people only familiar with soccer, but Kemp was a star -- he parlayed that into a political career, trying (and failing) to reach the golden ring of the American presidency. I say 'golden', because Jack Kemp has been a strong advocate of returning to the monetary gold standard. You know, using the stuff in deluxe tooth fillings for money. This would (experts aver) have an effect on the American economy somewhere between abolishing the SEC and collectivizing the farms, although some Texans seem to like it.
On the other other hand, there's Paul Robeson. All-American at Rutgers, he quit a career in the law, became a radical actor and singer, and engaged in heavy petting with Stalin. You can hear him sing the Soviet national anthem (with English lyrics) here, about halfway down the page. (Look for the picture of Uncle Joe.) He had a hell of a voice, though. Much better than Kemp's.
You'll notice the absence of overt blood-and-soil tendencies among my American selections. It's not that they don't exist in American football, but professional football in the US has made a virtue of its racial and ethnic inclusiveness. So you get strange bits of rhetoric like the following, taken from a speech given by the great defensive end Reggie White to the Wisconsin state legislature:
When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to black churches, you see people jumping up and down, because they really get into it.
White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people do around the world.
Hispanics are gifted in family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home. They were gifted in the family structure.
When you look at the Asians, the Asian is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They're very creative. And you look at the Indians, they have been very gifted in the spirituality.
When you put all of that together, guess what it makes. It forms a complete image of God. God made us different because he was trying to create himself.
So the local elections are over.
"Local" here means for mayors, city and communal councils, and county councils. There are 265 cities in Romania, each with a mayor and a city council. Then, outside the cities, there are about 2700 "communes" -- rural political divisions consisting of several villages. Each commune has a mayor and a council too.
Then, at the regional level, the whole country is divided into 41 counties, or judets. Each judet elects its own county council. However, the judets differ from the cities and the communes in one key respect. The chief executive of a judet -- the prefect -- is not elected. Instead, he's appointed by the government in Bucharest.
To give a crude analogy for our American readers: it's as if the 50 states had their own legislatures, but the state Governors were appointed from Washington by the President.
This system has some interesting effects on Romanian politics.
Or so it seems. We had local elections yesterday and I found the run for mayor of Bucharest rather interesting. It's a tale of true Romanian politics.
In a bid to govern Bucharest for the first time in 12 years, the Social Democratic Party put 45-year-old Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana forward for mayor. A former ambassador to the United States, he is seen as more reform-minded than others in his party, and popular among younger people.
But critics say Geoana's diplomatic skills won't translate well into the rough-and-tumble job of running Bucharest, a dusty Balkan capital with potholed roads and no running water in some areas.
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.)
Some people were paying attention to the New Hampshire primary yesterday. Others were watching London, where Tony Blair's government narrowly survived a challenge in Parliament, winning by just five votes.
But a few of us were looking to Belgrade, where the newly elected Serbian Parliament was trying to form a government.
Trying without success, I must add. They weren't able to agree on that or anything else... in fact, they couldn't even choose a Speaker Pro Tem; the job ended up defaulting to the oldest legislator present. (Yes, really.)
The problem is, the non-evil parties can't form a government unless all of them agree; and the Democratic Party won't agree unless it gets something; and nobody wants to give the Democrats anything, at all, because they were the previous ruling party and have become the scapegoats for everything that's gone wrong in Serbia in the last three and a half years.
So, much yelling and finger-pointing, but no government.
A surrealist touch: while most parliamentarians showed up in suits and ties (or the feminine equivalent thereof), all 81 members of the Serbian Radical Party showed up wearing t-shirts. Identical t-shirts, all bearing the image of Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who is presently imprisoned at the Hague awaiting trial for war crimes.
The new Serbian Parliament will convene tomorrow, but the parties have still not agreed on a government. (If you haven't been following this story, you might want to go back and look at this post. It's three weeks old, but not much has changed.)
DSS, G-17 and the Serbian Renewal/New Serbia coalition are all willing to form a government, but they don't have enough votes for a majority. And the Democratic Party is now refusing to support their minority government. The Democrats have hinted that they'd change their minds if suitably compensated (i.e., with the position of Speaker of the Parliament), but the other parties are too annoyed with the Democrats to consider this.
Complicating the picture is the fact that the Democrats are undergoing a vicious internal faction fight between supporters of former PM Zivkovic and Defense Minister Tadic. The other parties would be willing to deal with Tadic, albeit at arm's length, but Zivkovic and his friends are persona non grata. This is supposedly because Zivkovic allowed corruption to flourish; in fact, I suspect it's because he's become the scapegoat for all the ills associated with the previous government. In any event, the Democrats are not speaking with one voice, which does make things that much more complicated.
The various parties have about twelve more hours to come up with a solution. If they don't, Serbia will enter upon a period of what could charitably be called political uncertainty. If they really can't agree, then new elections will have to be called at some point... but even that gets complicated, because calling new elections is really the President's job, and there is no President. And, of course, it's entirely possible that new elections would simply produce the same results all over again.
I'm not sure when was the last time a European country faced this sort of political deadlock. Is it unique? Does anyone know?
Serbia held Parliamentary elections on December 28. That was almost two weeks ago, but hey, we've been travelling and the kids were sick.
Besides, not much has happened since then. You think a Serbian government can form in just two weeks? They're just starting the negotiations.
Anyhow, it's generally agreed that the elections did not have a very good outcome. Somewhere between "disappointment" and "catastrophe" is the consensus.
I'm now going to discuss the election results in a little detail. If you want to jump overboard and start swimming for shore, now's your chance.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with Romania, the Balkans or the Danube. But I had to laugh out loud today, over this piece of news.
Well, the NY Times article doesn't mention that one reason the court ruled in favor of his parole was the "unlikelihood of repeating his crime".
So I shook hands with Prime Minister Nastase last night.
Granted, it was in a big room with about 200 other people, and at least half of them shook his hand before the evening was complete. On the other hand, I also shook hands with the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church and Prince Paul of the former royal family. So overall it was a pretty successful evening hand-shaking-wise.
Nastase was younger and smoother than I thought he'd be. Later I googled up his official biography, and was surprised to realize he's only 53. So he was only 39 when Ceausescu went to the wall. The same age I am now, actually. And he had the same job: international attorney. Go figure.
Back before 1989, Nastase was a good Party member and a loyal member of the ancien regime. Then, after things changed, he was a member of the National Salvation Front. It would take a while to explain just what that means, so for now I'll just say it's complicated and I'll do a post on it one day. He was foreign minister for a while, in opposition for a while, his party merged with another party and now he's Prime Minister. Pretty typical for a post-Communist leader in Eastern Europe, actually.
This blog is mostly about our lives here in Romania, so I don't post much about political stuff. But the elections in Croatia affect some friends of ours, and they're at least indirectly relevant to what goes on here in Romania. So I think a brief comment is in order.
Croatia just held Parliamentary elections, and the big winner was the Croatian Democratic Union ("HDZ"). HDZ is the party that ran Croatia during the 1990s, and it was closely associated with a variety of bad things -- massive corruption, paranoid xenophobic nationalism, the ethnic cleansing of Croatia's Serbs. HDZ was kicked out of office in 2000, and nobody expected it to come back. But it has.
On the positive, or anyway less negative, side, HDZ has been acting like a good boy for the last couple of years. Most of the egregiously corrupt leaders of the 1990s left the party after 2000 (often because it could no longer protect and enrich them). And the new HDZ leader, a Mr. Sanader -- who will probably be Croatia's next Prime Minister -- has said that HDZ has dissociated itself from "any radicalism, extremism, or xenophobia". Mr. Sanader claims that HDZ is now modelled on German and Austrian moderate-conservative parties like the Christian Democrats.
Should we be worried? Well, my impression is that this was in large part a protest vote. Most Croatian voters were sick of the feeble coalition that was elected in 2000; its half-hearted attempts at reform seem to have alienated both conservatives and progressives, without actually accomplishing much on the ground. So I don't think this shows a sudden lurch back towards paranoid nationalism. And nationalist parties aren't bad per se; a bunch of them got elected in Bosnia last year, and it seems to have had surprisingly little effect on the ground.
On the other hand, it's hard to view it as good news for the region. Just the name "HDZ", for most Serbs (and a few Croatians) is as negative as "Nazi". And while the new HDZ has said that it will respect the rights of minorities, and welcomes the return of Serb refugees, it also says that it won't extradite any Croatians to the Hague. Since Croatian courts have not done a great job of convicting Croats accused of ethnic atrocities and war crimes, this is not language calculated to make minorities comfortable,
(If you're really interested in this topic, BTW, you can find a couple of good articles at Transitions Online, which is a consistent source of good information and analysis on the region. Read 'em now, because they'll be restricted to subscribers only after a week.)
The next elections in the region are in Serbia, by the way -- December 28. Nationalists are expected to win big there too. Watch this space.