Mr Stalin, I presume?

Photo from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with archival comparison:

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Courtesy of Wonkette.

Excellent Italian site on Balkans

When I get around to it, I will add a list of links to news and analysis sites on the Balkans to this page. But for now I'll announce them as I find them. This is one has been around for a while, but I looked at it today after a long while, and it has a new design and much enriched content.

Osservatorio sui Balcani offers news and commentary on the region, together with several features. My favorites are the presentation of works by Pančevo's finest cartoonist, Aleksandar Zograf (who also has his own web presentation in English), and the presentation of recent research on the region from Italian universities. The language of the site è l'italiano.

If you do not read Italian, then try L'Association française d’études sur les Balkans (AFEBALK).

Economic ethics for oyster lovers

Nick Skansi from Sumartin, who has farmed oysters in Louisiana for the last sixty years, offers wisdom for the ages:

Oysters have kept a lot of our families well fed here, have given them a comfortable life. It's true that you have to work with them a lot, they demand a lot of attention, but if you want to work, you can earn something.

So true about so many things, isn't it?

For your antitransitional viewing pleasure

All right, I got a little tired of Legija's rhetorical style, overwrought and underthought, and had to leave off translating. For better antiglobalist rhetoric, try the series of short bombastic monologues by the brilliant Zoran Cvijanović at Миле против транзицијe.

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They have thirteen episodes to enjoy (Real Player format, each is around 10 minutes). So far we have enjoyed "www.mile-srbija.ko.yu" and "Hag," and we will certainly get to the others. They aren't in English, by the way.


Legionary letters

Vreme magazine has come across four letters written by Milorad Luković-Legija, with an analysis by Miloš Vasić. It makes for interesting reading, as the letters lay out the main elements of thinking of people who remain loyal to the kind of "left-right" rhetoric that regimes like the one headed by Milošević used. The letters were written to former US Ambassador William Montgomery and to Serbian politicians Velimir Ilić, Slobodan Vuksanović and Miroljub Labus. If I find time over the next few days, I may translate a couple of them, or some part of Vasić's analysis.

Update: My translation of Legija's letter to William Montgomery, then US ambassador in Belgrade, is here. Short summary: he complains about the way he is portrayed in the media as an ideological mercenary, then offers his mercenary services with an ideological rationale.

Update 2: I've now also translated the letter to Velimir Ilic, a populist politician. Looked at beside the Montgomery letter, it does become clear that Legija writes differently for different audiences! Narrowcasting, they call it. The translation is here.

The Commiecrats are coming! Hide the silverware!

Maybe this is a sign of the times? Jeff Jacoby has an op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe titled “A left-wing monopoly on campuses”, in which he makes the very original point of decrying the domination of universities by a “radical, aggressive and deeply intolerant” thing he calls “campus leftism.” As evidence for this phenomenon he cites surveys from such right-wing sources as American Enterprise magazine and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture (check out this link to David Horowitz’s project to sell his freaky version of far-right Trotskyism to people who have no idea what he is up to!) indicating that not very many university professors are Republicans.

Wait, did he really put a column in a major paper just with a little bit of thin evidence from dubious sources showing something that is only tangentially related to the thesis? Actually, there’s more: he has a survey showing that something short of a majority of students say that their professors sometimes mention their political views when they talk. Shocking! It leads Mr Jacoby to this conclusion:

"Academic freedom is not only meant to protect professors; it is also supposed to ensure students' right to learn without being molested. When instructors use their classrooms to indoctrinate and propagandize, they cheat those students and betray the academic mission they are entrusted with. That should be intolerable to honest men and women of every stripe -- liberals and conservatives alike."

Now I am really confused. He says that we are “molesting” students, which would of course be a criminal offense. And he says that we “use our classrooms” (does he really mean the rooms?) “to indoctrinate and propagandize.” Now that would be a genuine shame if it happened. Too bad his evidence says nothing of the kind.

I think that a lot of this artificial controversy has to do with a common perception that I cannot really explain, which is that what universities are all about is telling people what position they ought to take on the narrow range of political options currently available in mainstream US politics. My historian friends would call this “presentism.” Of course, we tell our students lots of things – for example, that their papers should be well reasoned, that they should evaluate and cite their sources, that they should make clear their theoretical and methodological assumptions. Like anything that anybody tells anyone, some of it they listen to and some of it they do not. If I know my students, any effort I made to tell them that they ought to share my political views or my interests would be met with the same kind of reception as me telling them what they should have for lunch.

The reason we bother with things like clarity, theory and methodology is because we know that if anybody listens to intellectuals at all, it is because they believe we have something to say that is not an opinion. It’s a hard lesson to teach, and over the course of a few years maybe not all students get it.

Let’s give young Mr Jacoby a “C-” for the skills he has shown in evaluation of sources and application of evidence, but give him the opportunity to revise for a better grade when he has thought about the question more seriously.

Update: Thanks to Andras Riedlmayer for directing me to this essay by the mighty Juan Cole regarding an earlier George Will column on the same subject. And to my friends on the right, does the phrase "orchestrated campaign of defamation" ring a bell?


Another bad driver story?

Serbian interior minister Dragan Jočić is announcing that last night's attack on Boris Tadić was an unintentional incident, according to B92. In this version, the driver of the car, a domestic employee of the US Embassy in Belgrade, has voluntarily appeared to the police and denied that there was an attack, reporting it as a simple automobile accident.

The story does not sound especially believable. On a not particularly crowded road, a car approaches close several times (at least four, it seems) to a colony containing Tadić's car and several police vehicles with flashing lights and sirens, then bumps and runs off? So the crash is the result of inattention? Some driver who does not like to be told by police to move over? I'm not convinced, are you?

B92: Reactions to the attempt on Tadić

B92 is running an item giving the statements of various political figures to the attempt on Serbian president Boris Tadić. Some quotations (my translation):

Dragoljub Mićunović, DS: "After vulgarity comes verbal aggression which is already today being expressed by some leading people from The Serbian Radical Party, and some others as well. Then comes physical violence, and after that the road to liquidation is open. We will probably see all that happen, but this should disturb everybody who remembers and should mobilise the public to maintain its defence of freedom and right in this country."

Bojan Pajtić, president of the Executive Council of Vojvodina: "History is repeating itself in the most tragic way, and Serbia cannot allow a repetition of March 2003. I think that would mean losing the last chance this country has to join the European family of nations and the civilised world. Now it is clear that the campaign which is being led against president Boris Tadić is very similar to the campaign which was led against the premier of Serbia who was murdered. The campaign was organised by the same people, sychronised through the media, and resulted in a terrible event."

Tomislav Nikolić, SRS (comments summarised by reporter Vesna Dobrosavljević): Nikolić says that at this time he does not have evidence which would allow him to say whether there was an attack or not. he says that some things are not clear to him, that is, how it is possible that Tadić's security detail did not manage to remember more than two numbers of the licence plate of the attacker's car. Nikolić asked what the president of Serbia was doing at nine in the evening and why he was not at home.

Zoran Anđelković, SPS: "I see no reason for all this excitement due to the alleged attack on Tadić when a few months ago we already had statements from some individuals who claimed that attempts were being prepared against them."

Dragan Kojadinović, minister of culture (comments summarised by unnamed reporter): This event seems to him to be a show of force and the power of these people, because they are perfectly well aware that an attack on an armored car is not so easy to carry out. They just wanted to demonstrate that they are powerful again and that they are returning to Serbia.

When it rains it pours

Also reported on B92 today, death threats have arrived against federal president Svetozar Marović. The text of a letter received by Marović's office reads (my translation): "You dared to ask for Ratko Mladić and because of that we will engage Legija's people to make you, divider of Montenegro from Serbia, pay with your head. You will be rubbed out because of the Hague."

On 24 November, B92 reported that a group called the "Serbian Patriotic Organisation" had sent a death threat against Serbian president Boris Tadić and foreign minister Vuk Drašković to the Serbia and Montenegro embassy in Vienna.

Those patriots must be mighty patriotic, sacrificing themselves in Vienna where their EU-standard paychecks are issued and signed by people who hate them so much. Just as much as they are courageous, sending anonymous threats to public figures, in which they threaten to pay for the services of other people to do dirty work. One can see that they are deeply motivated by a profound commitment to national virtues.

The code of the Marović letter: "Legija" is the nickname of Milorad Luković, the chief suspect in the murder of Serbian prime minister Zoran Đinđić in 2003.

The traffic out of Scheveningen

Last night there was an attempt to assassinate Serbian president Boris Tadić. The method is similar to the one used in an unsuccessful attempt on prime minister Zoran Đinđić in February 2003, two weeks before he was killed by gunfire. In the attempt last night, the attacker tried to break through the security escort of the car Tadić was riding in and ram the car, but the security escort rammed the attacker's car instead.

Then it looks like there is something odd about the story. The security driver succeeded in hitting the attacker's car and forcing it to the side of the road. After that, the security people did not pursue the attacker, allowing him to escape instead. Perhaps they had to stay with Mr Tadić, but surely they have radios and there are police available to be called? This might just be an example of inept work, but it is the sort of thing that leads people to suspect that maybe somebody intended to let the attacker escape.

There is no information yet on the identity of the attacker or the motives for the attack. But the method of attack and choice of target would lead a person to think that we are once again seeing the violent remnants of the Milošević regime at work. There is no way they will return to power by legal means, they do not have popular support, and they cannot seem to get out of the habit of killing people.


They do, however, have the Swampers

Gary Yonge writes in The Guardian today about a referendum in the state of Alabama to remove racist language from the state constitution. The effort is more symbolic than political, since the provisions which were to be removed are already illegal (Yonge says as a result of subsequent civil rights legislation; alternatively, they are preempted by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution). One representative passage, courtesy of the Guardian article:

"Separate schools shall be provided for white and coloured children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race."

The referendum to remove the language appears to have narrowly failed, but by a margin small enough to require a recount. So educational apartheid remains in the text of Alabama's basic legal document, because a majority cannot be formed to reject it.

If Alabama were a country, it would be expelled from international organisations, boycotted and isolated. But it isn't. Not that I know what it is.

Not a culinary post: Sauce for the goose

Playing its part in feeding the controversy over the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the US government has been demanding that other countries sign bilateral agreements exempting citizens from ICC jurisdiction. Down Croatia way, an article in Nacional discusses the cost of some Republicans in Congress trying to raise the stakes (the Ante?). Here is my translation:


More than 70 countries have refused the demands of the US to sign agreements to exempt American citizens from extradition to the International Criminal Court (ICC), considering that signing such an agreement would be contrary with international obligations and domestic law. Up to now Washington has denied military aid in the sum of around 50 million dollars to more than 30 countries, including Croatia, which have refused to sign agreements on exemption from jurisdiction. As the reason for refusing to recognize the ICC, the American administration offers fear of possible politically motivated prosecutions against Americans before that court. Up to now 97 countries have ratified agreements to exempt Americans from extradition to the International Criminal Court. A budget amendment proposed by the Republican congressman George Nethercutt economic aid to countries that have not signed such agreements with the US would also be banned. The US Congress will vote on the budget on 8 December. If the amendment is adopted, Croatia will lose 20 million dollars in aid for strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law. President Mesic has declared that Croatia is prepared to pass on money but not on principles. “Croatia will not sign that agreement as long as it has to extradite its citizens to the Hague tribunal,” concluded Mesic.

Mr Bush in particular has been outspoken in his opposition to the rule of international law. This might have something to do with his extended efforts to circumvent the Hague and Geneva Conventions, as well as the Convention Against Torture.


The devil rides in on a wheezy arthiritic horse

Once Vojislav Koštunica’s DSS (Demokratska stranka Srbije) was able to form a government with the support of Slobodan Milošević’s SPS (Socijalistička partija Srbije), it was only a matter of time before they made their peace with the more openly fascist wing of the Milošević regime, Vojislav Šešelj’s SRS (Srpska radikalna stranka). That finally happened today, when DSS joined forces with SPS to elect SRS deputy Zoran Vučević president of the municipal assembly of Novi Sad, B92 reports.

Popular wisdom says that you don’t need to know much to do good politics, just the difference between good and evil and the ratio of ends to means. And an old popular song says: which side are you on, boys?

Update, 30 November: It looks as though DSS has actually responded. B92 is reporting that the Novi Sad city DSS organization has been disbanded and placed under receivership by the national party. This is a rare and welcome show of spine on the part of DSS. It does not, however, change the makeup of the municipal assembly, since its members are elected.

Fixating on free and fair again

Research on the results of the 2004 US presidential election continues to suggest reasons to be skeptical about the reported results. Mr Bush made radical changes in foreign and domestic policy after being appointed president in a judicial coup in 2000, and now is claiming a mandate based on electoral victory. Though for the most part he seems to have limited his exercise of his expanded power to a campaign to place incompetent sycophants into high positions, there is a whole agenda of appalling initiatives he could take on – war against Iran? an amendment to enshrine discrimination in the US Constitution? a move to revive obligatory military service?

Considering what this far right administration is likely to try, it seems fair to point out that we still do not have an answer to the question: were they elected? A couple of recent studies say maybe not.

Stephen Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania examines the discrepancies between exit poll results and reported election returns in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, and finds the probability of such large error occurring in the same direction simultaneously to be 1 in 250,000,000. That would be similar to the probability of a randomly chosen US citizen being named George Bush.

Michael Hout, Laura Mangels, Jennifer Carlson, and Rachel Best at the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center find that perhaps 130,000 “extra” votes for George Bush in Florida can be attributed to irregularities with electronic voting machines.

The question of the legitimacy of Mr Bush’s administration is real. He is going to continue to claim to represent the United States. The claim needs to be investigated completely.

Ukrainian answers

BBC is reporting on a move apparently intended to intimidate the Supreme Court, which will begin today to consider the legality of the Ukrainian presidential election. The governors of some eastern provinces are threatening to secede if the fraudulent election results are annulled.

Is this a threat or an invitation? Ukraine may not be the only country that could benefit from the chance to move forward without backward regions that resolutely insist on remaining that way. On the other hand, this sort of gesture should probably not be taken too seriously. People will go only so far to preserve structures of corruption that can easily be maintained in less costly ways.