Nils van der Vegte – The Political Crisis in the Netherlands: The Rise of the Reds?

Da Russophile readers will probably know of Nils van der Vegte. He is a Dutch scholar currently based in Arkhangelsk who runs the site Russia Watchers (with Joera Mulders), with whom I did a co-translation of an article on emigration to Belarus. He also has some strong opinions about politics in his native Netherlands. This article is about the possible political ramifications from the recent collapse of the Dutch government.

On Saturday the 21st of April the Dutch minority government fell after the populist Party of Freedom, under the leadership of Geert Wilders dropped out of the negotiations stating that the new proposed budget cuts would hit its electorate too hard. The question is, what now? New elections will be held in September or October 2012 but what will happen in the meantime? And what will “Brussels” and the financial markets say about the fall of the Dutch government? Some of my international friends asked me about the situation and as I have no blog to explain this, I am most grateful to Anatoly Karlin to provide me with an opportunity to do this.

The political system: A short history

Before I start with a short history of Dutch Politics, it is important to say something about our political system. This is not going to be a very detailed history of more than a hundred pages but to understand the problems of The Netherlands one needs to have some basic knowledge about how things work. The political system is sometimes defined as a consociational state: a mix of parliamentary representative democracy and a constitutional monarchy. My country does not have a president, it has a king or queen (during the last century we only had queens). The king does not have any real powers, his power sharply decreased following the introduction of Ministerial Responsibility in 1848, together with a new constitution. The Prime Minister is the most powerful figure in the government as, for example, in Britain. To form a government in The Netherlands, one needs 75+1 seat in the House of Representatives[1], which consists of 150 seats in total.

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Interview with Craig Willy (Letters from Europe)

After a year long hiatus from interviewing Russia watchers, I decided it was time to get back in the game. As it happens, my attention first fell on a Europe blogger – and not just any incisive, counter-intuitive scribbler whose intellect and analytical acumen is matched only by the number of themes he is prepared to expound upon, but also someone who has experience in politics (work in both the US Congress and the European Parliament), journalism (with the EU policy news site EurActiv), ideological adventurer (started off very neocon, but Iraq War and education fixed that), and a fellow rootless cosmopolitan (having been raised in France and briefly in the US, and studied at the London School of Economics). I am talking of none other than Craig Willy, who writes the irreverent (and informed) Letters from Europe.

Craig Willy: In His Own Words…

What first sparked your interest in blogging and Europe, and how did the twain meet?

I’ve been in love with history, politics, thought and argument since I was maybe 14. I remember very clearly telling a friend at the time that I wanted to “be paid to say my opinion”… Perhaps not the easiest career path and not one I persistently pursued!

Blogs don’t provide money, usually, but they are an absolute liberation for the aspiring writer: costs are zero, middlemen are eliminated, and you can reach every person on the planet who has Internet. How could I not blog? I started my first blog in 2004 and I don’t think I’ve changed the mix of more analytical pieces with humor, including on Euro-nonsense.

I have always been interested in Europe as I was born and raised here (specifically in France and the UK). I have been interested in the EU insofar as it seemed to represent Europeans reclaiming their power in the world and historical agency. It usually fails in this respect and hence I used to find the United States of America – its historical role, politics and foreign policy organizations – much more interesting. I now think all areas of the world are worthy of study. The US is probably over-written about and, being based in Brussels and involved in EU journalism, I can genuinely add value writing about European affairs. If I wrote about the US I would be just another opinion. I also think Europe needs more pan-European writers: it is a very real entity but it has no public space.

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Chechnya, A Once And Future War?

Truly, if Willian Burns were to issue an anthology of his Moscow cables during his 2005-2008 ambassadorship, I’d seriously consider buying it. Just consider this cable from May 2006, on Chechnya’s “Once and Future War”, a nuanced US view of that conflict and the cynicism and corruption it engendered amongst all its parties.

What struck me first was its reminder of the awesome magnitude of corruption and state dissolution during the 1990′s. Though Transparency International might claim that nothing much has changed in the past two decades (or even regressed), it is belied by Burns’ vision of a “military-entrepreneurial” officer corps that proclaimed President Yeltsin’s “business” was to “sit in Moscow, drink vodka, and chase women” while they did “[their] work” in the Caucasus region. And profitable work it was too. Due to post-Soviet Russia’s low domestic energy prices, it was highly lucrative to launder oil it through Chechnya, sell it on foreign markets, and make big dollar on the difference. Army officers profited from the racket; their Chechen partners spent their cut of the gravy to arm themselves for war. One of the primary causes of the First Chechen War, apart from the state’s usual hatred of separatism, was a specific desire to reassert control over Chechnya’s oil and arms bazaar.

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Wikileaks As A Mirror On The West

A foreign “subversive” journalist, driven by fevered idealism, publishes reams of leaked internal documents from an Authority that, beneath its carefully positioned mask of civility, honor and justice, views the whole world – of both friend or foe – as its own playground, and engages in the most corrupt and underhanded wheelings and dealing to maintain its lofty pretensions to hegemony. Though the Authority is entirely comfortable with selectively using the material contained therein to legitimize its ideological-imperialist projects to the public, its minions in the Mainstream Media and even its most prominent Archons experience no cognitive dissonance in calling for that accursed fiend, the revealer, to be branded with the number of the Beast that is “terrorist”, and to be henceforth sentenced to eternal imprisonment, or the death penalty, or the most apocalyptic of all, a Perunian thunderstrike from the skies. Now if this were real life as allegory, what would it it refer to?

Perhaps its the Mooslims? Nah, the Islamists aren’t that well organized or articulate. More to the point, they don’t leave extensive paper trails. The Rooskies? But when Russian officials make shady threats, their targets at least tend to be Russian Federation citizens and real traitors. No – as usual, it’s the West and its hypocrisy at its finest.

Now let’s make some things clear, first. As Defense Sec. Robert Gates correctly points out, the real impact of Wikileaks is modest. For instance, one of the ostensible “shocker” cables, revealing the support of the Arab elites for a US strike on Iranian nuclear installations, was well known in geopolitical circles well beforehand (heck, I mentioned this back in August and earlier). Even the impact of these official revelations on the “Arab street” are likely to be minimal, given that (1) polls show a (slight) majority of Arabs in Egypt and Lebanon willing to resort to military force to prevent an Iranian nuke and (2) alleged censorship of Wikileaks in the region.

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Lessons from Byzantium

I finally watched the film Гибель Империи. Византийский урок (Death of an Empire: the Byzantine Lesson), narrated by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, the father-confessor of Vladimir Putin. This film takes a stylized interpretation of the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire – the root cause of which is attributed to mystical factors such as loss of faith in indigenous traditions, the state, and God – and implicitly (and at the end explicitly) draws lessons for modern-day Russia about the dangers of corruption, poshlost, and denigration of national traditions in favor of indiscriminate copying of foreign ways.

One could (rightly) quibble at the film’s ahistoricity, selective coverage, and slanted rhetoric. It is questionable that the West’s plundering of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade was what spurred the development of European capitalism, and so is the assertion that the fundamental cause of Byzantium’s final defeat to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 was due to its recognition of papal supremacy. The arguments eschew rigorous analysis, instead relying on “mystical” explanations based on “life and death biological growth analogies of life and death and vaguely defined concepts of “vigor” and “decadence””, which are unscientific, albeit aesthetic (and hence persuasive). So it is justifiable for the academic historian or the “Western chauvinist” to dismiss the film out of hand.

However, that is to miss the point, which is that the film is political, following in the Russian Orthodox Church’s long tradition of legitimizing the Russian state. It is also a reflection of the feelings of the current Kremlin elites and a majority of the Russian population.

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