South Sudan's Red Army comes of age
In a landmark transition from warfare to welfare, former child soldiers in the Red Army are establishing a foundation aimed at addressing social problems in South Sudan
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 27 March 2013 07.00 GMT
In the early 1980s, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) recruited and began training boys as young as 12 to fight in its battle for independence from Sudan. The child soldiers were called the Red Army. According to a 1994 Human Rights Watch report (pdf), some of the children fought alongside the SPLA.
"In the first few years, the Red Army fought and was always massacred," one military officer told the human rights organisation. Participants say that, at its height, the Red Army numbered in the tens of thousands.
Adam Jaafer Manoah did not need to be recruited. When he was 13, he trekked for nine months from his home in Yirol, in what is now central South Sudan, to a military training camp in neighbouring Ethiopia.
"I was going to liberate my country," he said. He joined the Red Army's Zalzal (or Earthquake) Battalion and became a political organiser and fighter.
The use of child soldiers is one of the more horrific moments in the history of South Sudan's creation, but the former Red Army members who gathered last weekend in Juba are not shy about remembering their experiences. Instead, they are relying on the ties formed in combat to organise a new front.
Less than a year ago, the Red Army was resurrected as the Red Army Foundation (RAF), an organisation dedicated to addressing social problems, especially among its own former members and South Sudan's youth.
When they were originally recruited to fight, the Red Army soldiers were told they would be the "seeds of the nation" – a generation raised in the crucible of the war to be custodians of the SPLA's vision. While their responsibilities varied, they were united by the principle that – in a future, free South Sudan – they would act as the nation's conscience, embodying the tenets behind the liberation struggle. They see the creation of a foundation to increase job and education opportunities as part of this mission.
"We are going to fight," said Major Abraham Majok Deng, who served with Manoah in the Zal Zal Battalion. "We're going to take doctors, teachers to come and teach our community. To fight hunger. This war remains."
The government currently funds the foundation, but its members are planning to launch income-generating activities to keep it afloat. First, though, they had to elect leaders, to which end 685 former Red Army soldiers, including Manoah, gathered at Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba.
The historic importance of the moment – the transition of a military operation into a movement for social change – was not lost on the organiers.
"This is the transformation we wanted to see in our young nation," said Joseph Madak Both, a government policy director, who served as an independent observer during the election. "The leadership of our country is with the Red Army."
Candidates vying for the jobs of chairman, vice-chairman and executive secretary – two for each position – gave speeches and participated in a debate with the audience. It was, the organisers reminded the crowd, the first electoral debate in South Sudan's short history.
All but nine of those who registered turned up to vote the next day. Concern that the results might be greeted with violence by the group of trained fighters prompted the presence of armed South Sudan police officers at each corner of the stage when the announecment was made.
But when Deng Bol Aruai and his two running mates were announced as the winners, the room erupted in applause. After a closing prayer, people gathered around to congratulate the RAF's new leaders.
In his introductory remarks, Aruai said that if the Red Army had created the foundation after the SPLA signed a peace agreement (pdf) with Sudan back in 2005, they might have been able to stem some of South Sudan's current problems.
Those problems include more than half of the country's population living below the poverty line, according to the UN (pdf), and widespread food shortages. The World Food Programme estimates that four out of every 10 South Sudanese will not have enough to eat this year. And education levels remain low.
In his new position, Aruai plans to continue to recruit members to join the organisation, estimating that there are at least 10,000 former Red Army members living in South Sudan or abroad.
He also promised to plant new seeds among South Sudanese youth who were too young to remember the war, helping them to find food, education and jobs – but also training them to one day take over from the Red Army, continuing the fight to improve South Sudan.
March 26, 2013
Syrian Opposition Joins Meeting of Arab League
By HALA DROUBI and RICK GLADSTONE
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — To the outrage of Syria’s embattled government, the opposition coalition leader formally took its vacant seat at an Arab League summit meeting on Tuesday and immediately requested broader recognition, including from the United Nations, as part of an effort to further ostracize President Bashar al-Assad.
The decision to grant the Arab League seat to the Syrian opposition coalition, recommended by the Arab League’s foreign ministers at a meeting earlier this month, was considered a symbolic but important milestone in the two-year-old Syrian conflict. The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 in reaction to Mr. Assad’s repression of political protests, which have evolved into a civil war that has left 70,000 people dead and millions displaced.
“Syrian people alone should determine who rules the country,” the leader of the opposition delegation, Sheik Moaz al-Khatib, said in a speech at the Arab League meeting in Doha, Qatar. The host, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, had formally invited him to take the seat as other ministers applauded.
Sheik Moaz called the Arab League’s decision “part of the restoration of legitimacy that the people of Syria have long been robbed of.”
Even before Sheik Moaz took his seat, Mr. Assad’s government reacted harshly in anticipation of such a move.
“Shame on you, Arab brothers,” said the pro-Assad newspaper Tishreen in Damascus, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse. The newspaper denounced what it called “this theft that the sheikdom of Qatar and other collaborator, treacherous, backward Arab regimes have committed.”
Sheik Moaz was accompanied in Qatar by other prominent opposition figures, including Ghassan Hitto, a naturalized American citizen who was elected as the coalition’s interim prime minister last week. Images broadcast from the meeting showed the opposition’s green and black flag with four red stars placed to Sheik Moaz’s right, replacing the Syrian government’s red, white and black flag with two green stars.
The moment of triumph for Sheik Moaz and Mr. Hitto overshadowed, for now, the fractiousness that has troubled the opposition coalition. Sheik Moaz announced his resignation as president of the exile group a few days ago out of frustration at what he called insufficient help from foreign powers, although that decision did not appear to be final. The selection of Mr. Hitto was made in a sharply divided vote.
Using the Arab League as a new perch of legitimacy, Sheik Moaz said the opposition now wanted “the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organizations.”
Sheik Moaz also told the ministers that he had requested that NATO extend its Patriot missile-defense protections deployed in southern Turkey to include a section of rebel-held territory in northern Syria, where opposition forces remain vulnerable to Syrian Air Force attacks. But there was no indication that NATO would comply with such a request, which would amount to a partial no-fly zone imposed on Syrian airspace.
Turkey, a NATO member that supports the Syrian insurgency, had requested the Patriot defenses to deter the threat of Syrian airstrikes on its territory.
At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a Swedish scientist, Ake Sellstrom, to lead an investigation into assertions that chemical weapons were used in Syria last week.
Mr. Sellstrom has experience in the region, having been the chief inspector of the United Nations team that worked to find and dismantle Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs in the 1990s.
He returned to Iraq in 2002 to work with a different United Nations team that found no solid evidence that President Saddam Hussein had resurrected the program to build banned arms before the United States invaded in March 2003.
A dispute within the United Nations Security Council on the chemical weapons issue remains unresolved. Russia wants investigators to examine only accusations by each side that the other used chemical weapons in Aleppo on March 19. Britain, France and the United States urge the inclusion of other opposition allegations that Mr. Assad’s government used chemical weapons in Damascus and Homs.
No timetable or formal mandate for the inquiry has been announced.
Also at the United Nations, the Security Council reviewed the deployment of the observer force in the Golan Heights, following the brief abduction of 21 Filipino soldiers by Syrian rebels earlier this month.
The unarmed force has been deployed since 1974 to monitor the cease-fire between Israel and Syria. When established, nobody envisioned a time when it would be caught in the middle, with a civil war in Syria bringing occasional exchanges of gunfire and artillery between the Syrian side and the Israelis sailing over the heads of the United Nations monitors.
Hervé Ladsous, the head of all United Nations peacekeeping operations, said that the force would go out on patrol less frequently along the roughly 50-mile disputed border.
Hala Droubi reported from Dubai, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from the United Nations.
March 26, 2013
Congolese Rebel Commander Tells War Crimes Court He Was Just ‘a Soldier’
By MARLISE SIMONS
PARIS — Bosco Ntaganda, the rebel commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a reputation for extreme brutality, did not live up to his nickname “The Terminator” on Tuesday when he appeared for the first time at the International Criminal Court on charges of rape, murder, sexual slavery and using children as soldiers.
Wearing a court-issued dark suit, Mr. Ntaganda seemed timid and anxious, cutting a slight figure next to one of the burly guards the court had chosen for the occasion. Although Mr. Ntaganda, long a wanted man, was not asked to enter a plea, he quickly told the judge and a room full of black-gowned lawyers, “I was informed of these crimes, but I plead not guilty.”
When the judge, Ekaterina Trendafilova, asked him to state his profession, Mr. Ntaganda, 39, said simply, “I was a soldier in the Congo.”
It was an understated summary of Mr. Ntaganda’s career, which spanned almost 20 years of fighting, first in Rwanda, then in an array of rebel groups vying for control over a mineral-rich part of eastern Congo, and even a stint as a general in the Congolese Army. According to the prosecution, Mr. Ntaganda was one of the most ruthless and cruel of Congo’s rebel leaders.
His warfare of choice during operations he led in the early 2000s, according to the prosecution, was not military confrontation but a sweeping campaign that involved terrorizing villagers, pillaging, raping, killing and using drugged children as his foot soldiers and henchmen.
The international court first issued an arrest warrant for him in 2006 and another in 2012, but Mr. Ntaganda lived openly, seemingly untouchable, until he unexpectedly arrived at the American Embassy in Kigali in Rwanda last week and asked surprised diplomats to turn him over to the International Criminal Court.
Questions about what prompted the warlord to turn himself in remained unanswered on Tuesday, as the issue was not addressed during the hourlong arraignment hearing in court.
But there was a moment of bemused surprise among observers when Mr. Ntaganda’s court-appointed lawyer said that his client would ask to be released until the start of the trial. Such a request is unlikely to be granted to a man who has been on the run for years.
One theory suggests that by entering the American Embassy in Rwanda, Mr. Ntaganda looked to save his life after feeling threatened by members of his own rebel group, known as M23. The group had recently split, leading him and about 700 of his men to flee across the border into Rwanda.
He was on a list of wanted men whose capture the United States government would pay a hefty reward for, exposing him to additional risk.
Some experts who focus on the region said that the Rwandan government, which had long backed Mr. Ntaganda and his rebels, had urged him to give himself up because it wanted to rid itself of an ally who had become too much of a liability.
They said Mr. Ntaganda had gained a reputation not only as a brutal commander, but also as a rich crime boss in the region around Goma, one of Congo’s biggest cities, where he smuggled minerals, sold fake gold and extorted local businessmen, according to a United Nations report. Rwanda plainly told him that it could no longer protect him, one expert said.
Stephen J. Rapp, the American ambassador for war crimes, who knows the region well, said: “I don’t know how or why Ntaganda came to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda. For him, this route may have offered the least disadvantages.”
Although neither the United States nor Rwanda is a member of the international court, the two agreed to cooperate to deliver the rebel leader to The Hague, where he arrived in a private plane late Friday.
The removal of Mr. Ntaganda from the conflict zone may be seen as a relief, but it is not expected to bring stability to the region.
Rwanda has been seen as an important destabilizing factor in eastern Congo, with United Nations investigators drawing up detailed reports that the Rwandan government had been covertly supporting Mr. Ntaganda’s men and other rebel groups to profit from the lucrative mineral trade across the border. Several Western nations, including the United States, have cut aid to Rwanda and pressured the government to cut their ties to the Congolese rebel groups.
“We want there to be peace in the region,” said Mr. Rapp, a former international prosecutor, who said that in his present job he had been to Congo eight times and had “seen the horrors inflicted on the people.” At one point, in the town of Kiwanja, he said, “I met a woman who had seen the throats of her eight children slashed before her eyes, allegedly by men under Bosco’s command.”
“There were local prosecutions, but Bosco and his men were above the law,” he added. “When one was arrested he was broken out of jail.”
The judge, in reading the charges against him, said Mr. Ntaganda was accused of the war crime of enlisting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers, and of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and pillaging.
Last year, the court sentenced Thomas Lubanga, a former associate of Mr. Ntaganda, to 14 years in prison for enlisting child soldiers. The prosecution charges that Mr. Ntaganda was the main person in charge of conscription.
During much of the hearing, Mr. Ntaganda was clearly uncomfortable in the sleek modern courtroom, often looking down or hunching over as if wanting to disappear. He told the court he was born in Rwanda but had grown up in Congo and was a Congolese citizen. When the judge asked if he spoke English or French, the languages of the court, Mr. Ntaganda said, “I understand French somewhat, but I speak Kinyarwanda,” the language of Rwanda.
The next hearing in the case was set for April 15.
March 26, 2013
Rebel Chief Suspends Constitution for 3 Years
By ADAM NOSSITER
DAKAR, Senegal — The leader of the rebel group that seized power in the Central African Republic, Michel Djotodia, announced Monday that he was suspending his country’s Constitution, dissolving its Parliament and initiating a three-year “consensual transition.”
Residents reported a precarious calm returning to the capital, Bangui, on Tuesday with less shooting and looting than on previous days, and some markets reopening. But there were also human rights violations by the rebel group, Seleka, according to an activist there.
Mr. Djotodia, a former civil servant who joined the rebels several years ago, told reporters on Monday evening that he had found it “necessary” to sweep aside the country’s political institutions while he organized elections. President François Bozizé, who fled the country on Sunday, was in a hotel in neighboring Cameroon on Tuesday deciding his next move.
Mr. Djotodia did not specify when elections would take place in a destitute country where guns have dictated political change more often than the ballot box. “He has self-proclaimed himself president,” Mr. Bozizé’s former spokesman, Gaston Mackouzangda, himself the leader of a political party, said by phone from Bangui.
Two columns of rebels moved into the capital on Sunday, mowing down South African and other troops defending Mr. Bozizé, a former military officer who himself came to power in a coup 10 years ago. The French newsletter Lettre du Continent reported that Mr. Bozizé fled to Cameroon in a helicopter from his presidential palace — now looted — with bodyguards and five large suitcases.
He was at the Hilton Hotel in Yaounde on Monday, according to Cameroonian security sources, who also said discussions were under way with the authorities in Cameroon about his final destination. The hotel refused to confirm his presence.
Mr. Djotodia said he was keeping in place the opposition prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, who was forced on Mr. Bozizé under a failed peace agreement in January.
Reached by phone in Bangui, Mr. Tiangaye defended the new order, and blamed Mr. Bozizé for the downfall of the previous deal.
“I don’t think one could call it a coup d’état,” said Mr. Tiangaye, who is the country’s leading human rights lawyer. “There was an armed confrontation, the president fled, and there was an institutional void. So, the military victor filled the void. Bozizé refused the accords that precipitated the end of his regime. He alone is responsible.”
Residents of Bangui circulated gingerly through streets where stores had been looted, looking at the rebel patrols with wariness, said Thierry Khonde, the coordinator of the Journalists’ Network for Human Rights and program director of a Bangui radio station. “They are looking at them with a certain disdain,” he said.
There were reasons for the caution.
“There isn’t really respect for the human person,” Mr. Khonde said. “They are entering some houses, and looting everything. Some houses, they are going into three, four times. I’ve seen houses that have been sacked and burned; they are forcing their way in.”
Mr. Mackouzangda, the former presidential spokesman, said the rebels had carried out “a hammer-blow against democracy,” though critics say that Mr. Bozizé’s government was not known for its attachment to democratic principles, either. Mr. Mackouzangda suggested that the country had been on the path toward peace when the rebels came in. “The agreement has given way to a coup,” he said.
Reinnier Kazé contributed reporting from Yaounde, Cameroon.
North Korea cuts off military hotline with South
Pyongyang's sabre rattling reaches new peak as line to Seoul allowing cross-border travel by citizens is closed
Associated Press in Seoul
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 27 March 2013 09.05 GMT
North Korea has cut off a key military hotline with South Korea that allows cross-border travel to a jointly run industrial complex in the North, a move that ratchets up tension and puts the last major symbol of inter-Korean co-operation in jeopardy.
North Korea recently cut a Red Cross hotline with South Korea and another with the US-led UN command at the border between the Koreas, but there is still a hotline linking aviation authorities in the North and South.
North Korea's chief delegate to inter-Korean military made the announcement on Wednesday, in a statement sent to his South Korean counterpart. The hotline is important because the Koreas use it to communicate as hundreds of workers travel back and forth to the Kaesong industrial complex.
Officials in Seoul said more than 900 South Korean workers were in Kaesong on Wednesday. There was no immediate word about how cutting the communications link would affect their travel back home.
North Korea, angry over routine US-South Korean drills and recent UN sanctions punishing it for its recent nuclear test, has unleashed a torrent of threats recently, including vows to launch a nuclear strike against America.
It has also repeated its nearly two-decade-old threat to reduce Seoul to a "sea of fire".
Despite the rhetoric, outside weapons analysts have seen no proof that North Korea has mastered the technology needed to build a warhead small enough to mount on a missile.
The cutting of the hotline could be more significant if it affects travel by the workers at Kaesong.
Kaesong is operated in the North with South Korean money and knowhow and a mostly North Korean workforce. It provides a badly needed flow of hard currency to a country where many face food shortages.
In March 2009, North Korea cut off the military hotline with the South and kept 80 South Korean workers stranded in Kaesong for a day. Cross-border travel resumed after Pyongyang authorities approved it through a South Korean office in Kaesong.
The military hotline remained cut off for more than a week and was reconnected following the end of annual South Korean-US military drills.
March 26, 2013
South Korean Prez Stumbles in First Month on Job
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Park Geun-hye's honeymoon was over before it even began.
Only a month on the job, Park has stumbled repeatedly in the face of bitter opposition to policy proposals and her choices for top government posts.
Half a dozen Cabinet appointees have quit under fire. The latest is Han Man-soo, who withdrew his nomination for antitrust chief Monday amid allegations he stashed millions of dollars overseas to avoid taxes. Other claims that have brought down Park appointees include real estate speculation, a sex-for-influence scandal, bribery and links to an arms broker.
"A couple of flops would've been acceptable, but having a total of six failures in the first few months means that the problem lies with her style," said Lee Cheol-hee, head of the Dumon Political Strategy Institute, a think tank in Seoul. "She seems to think she can just hand down a list of people she prefers, without thinking hard about whether those people's credentials and ethical records fit the jobs they will be handling."
Critics also complain that she's still short on specifics about how to deal with pressing issues including an increasingly belligerent North Korea and serious domestic anxiety about fewer stable jobs, heavy household debt and a wide income gap.
Park on Monday acknowledged the setbacks but said they should only make her administration more determined. "Because the launch of the new government has been delayed by one month, we should work harder to fulfill our vision," she said.
The presidential Blue House did not answer calls seeking additional comment.
The troubles of the country's first female president have a lot to do with the fiercely divided political and social landscape in this still relatively young and rambunctious democracy. She also carries the heavy historical baggage of being the daughter of a dictator whose legacy still divides South Koreans.
The 61-year-old president, who was elected in December and inaugurated Feb. 25, has long faced claims of being aloof and an "imperial" decision-maker. The genesis of this criticism comes from her upbringing.
She is the eldest child of late President Park Chung-hee, who led South Korea for 18 years in the 1960s and '70s and is both denounced for human rights abuses and praised as a strong leader. She grew up in the Blue House and served as her father's first lady for the last five years of his rule, after her mother was killed in 1974 by an assassin who said he was sent by North Korea.
"When her father ruled, no one questioned the president's picks," Lee said. "But things have changed since. ... It's like Park is driving a car with a navigator system that has only decades-old maps."
Even Park's own ruling Saenuri Party has been critical. A spokesman called for a better system of screening appointees, and said whoever vetted the failed candidates should be held responsible.
Park spent much of her first month in office negotiating with opposition lawmakers over an ambitious government reorganization plan that aims to focus on science and economic growth. An agreement was reached only last week, more than 50 days after Park's party floated the proposal.
Her economic team met for the first time since her inauguration only on Monday, and critics said there was little other than promises of major policy goals and specific plans in coming days and weeks. Her economic policies include buzzwords like "economic democratization" and "creative economy."
"These are slogans more rhetorical than real, and few seem to know exactly what they mean, let alone how to realize them," the Korea Times said in an editorial Wednesday.
Park has made some progress, including an announcement this week of the start of a $1.35 billion fund to provide debt relief for more than half a million people unable to repay loans. The fund, however, is less than one-tenth the size of the one she promised during her campaign.
Despite North Korean threats that have followed new U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang's recent nuclear test, Park has pressed forward with a vow to create trust and renew dialogue after five years of tension and animosity under her hard-line predecessor. She approved a shipment of anti-tuberculosis medicine to North Korea last week.
Things, however, may get worse if political gridlock and bickering continues.
Park faces an opposition with a strengthened veto power, and the possibility of organized resistance to her foreign policy initiatives by prominent liberal groups, Park Ihn-hwi, a professor at Ewha Womans University in South Korea, wrote on the Council on Foreign Relations' website.
Some also see growing cynicism with Park among young South Koreans, many of whom voted for her liberal opponent.
"If a political issue emerges to turn apathy into opposition, there is a real possibility that street demonstrations similar to those that occurred in the early days of the Lee Myung-bak administration could further hamper Park's ability to get things done," Scott Snyder, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a blog posting Wednesday.
Lee, Park's conservative predecessor, saw tens of thousands take to the streets in 2008 to protest what opponents called a hasty government decision to allow U.S. beef imports to resume.
March 27, 2013
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Appears at Burmese Military Parade
By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military asserted its role in the country’s politics at a ceremony Wednesday that featured a prominent guest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate, whose presence among the generals would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
In the capital, Naypyidaw, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi sat in the front row, flanked by her former military captors and watching a display of the country’s armed might. It was a scene that symbolized what members of her party say is a fledging partnership, jarring to some, that recognizes the military’s continuing power in a country moving toward greater democracy.
The ceremony, which marked Armed Forces Day and was broadcast on national television, featured a parade of tanks and rocket launchers as helicopters and fighter aircraft flew overhead, a more militaristic display than in previous years.
Nearly two years after a military junta ceded power to a nominally civilian administration, the army appears ascendant again, buttressed in part by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who despite widespread hatred and resentment in Burmese society for the military after decades of oppression, has flattered the army with praise in recent months.
The army’s profile rose last week when soldiers flooded the streets of the central city of Meiktila, where the police had been unable to stop three days of killings of Muslims by Buddhist mobs. Ordered into the city by President Thein Sein, a former general himself, troops have kept the city calm. Over the weekend, religious violence flared in other parts of the country, raising the prospect of further military interventions.
At the ceremony Wednesday, Myanmar’s commander in chief, U Min Aung Hlaing, said the military would maintain its ‘'leading political role.'’
This month, he took the title of senior general, the same rank as his predecessor in the job, U Than Shwe, the dictator who headed the military junta.
Although Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has sent public signals for greater cooperation with the military for several months, the ceremony Wednesday was among the first public signs that the military was reciprocating.
‘'Today is historic for our country,'’ said U Zaw Htay, a former military officer who is a director in Mr. Thein Sein’s office. ‘'Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was a V.I.P. guest.'’
‘'No one could have expected this in the past,'’ Mr. Zaw Htay said. ‘'This is a good sign for the new generation in Myanmar. And the warm welcome for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shows the Tatmadaw recognizes her role,'’ he said, using the Burmese term for the armed forces.
U Nyan Win, a leading member of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, said her presence symbolized a rapprochement between the army and civilians.
‘'Judging from today’s event, we can say the Tatmadaw is no longer separate from the people,'’ he said.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for a total of 15 years by the military before her release in 2010. She is now the leader of the opposition in Parliament.
Members of her party, especially former political prisoners, have expressed apprehension at the party’s new strategy toward the military.
They and outside analysts say it could alienate some of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters and mutes the party’s role as a critical voice toward the military as the army continues to battle rebel ethnic groups.
‘'She’s obviously trying very hard to show the leaders of the armed forces that she is not their enemy, but it’s a dangerous game she’s playing,'’ Bertil Lintner, an author of many books on Myanmar, said by e-mail. ‘'It may antagonize many of her supporters who are ordinary people with no love for the repressive military.'’
International human rights groups have documented abuses by the Burmese military in its campaigns against ethnic militias, including the use of child soldiers and civilians as human minesweepers.
In a speech Wednesday, Mr. Min Aung Hlaing, who rose to prominence by leading the rout of an ethnic minority group along the border with China, took a defensive tone about the military’s legacy.
‘'All our members are being trained in the provisions of the Geneva Convention so our Tatmadaw does not commit any war crimes,'’ he said, according to Reuters. ‘'There is no such thing as genocide in the history of our Tatmadaw.'’
The role of the military in Myanmar, despite the green shoots of democracy in the country, is often described as indispensable under the current Constitution, which the military wrote.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi needs the military perhaps more than anyone else if she is to advance in her political career. She is barred from the presidency under to the 2008 Constitution because her late husband was English. The military controls one-quarter of the seats in Parliament, enough to block the amending of the Constitution.
This month, Parliament agreed unanimously to form a commission to review the Constitution. But the scope and structure of the commission have not been decided, leaving it unclear whether the rule barring Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency might be changed.
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.
03/26/2013 02:24 PM
Kurdish Independence: Negotiations with Turkey Are a Dead End
Last week, imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan called for a ceasefire, lending momentum to the Turkish-Kurdish peace process. But negotiating with Turkey will not satisfy the Kurds' burning need for political self-determination. An Essay by Bejan Matur
How do we go forward? How realistic is imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan's dream of a ceasefire between Kurds and Turks, the withdrawal of all armed forces and a joint future in a new, democratic republic? If the rights of the Kurds and their status as equal citizens of this country are recognized, the problem is solved, isn't it?
I think it won't be that easy to make this dream come true. Indeed, the Kurdish question goes beyond cultural rights and civic equality. We Kurds entered the stage of history as a belated people. This conflict primarily has to do with the birth of a nation -- with the fundamental yearning to belong to a certain geographical region, where one was born, and the desire for political self-determination. One cannot understand the Kurdish question without understanding these aspirations.
The banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) arose from the longing to take possession of this region, and from the desire to determine its inherent nature and geography. Although it internationally defines itself according to a Marxist-socialist ideology, the PKK has always been an organization in search of its own roots. Thus, political self-determination is both a historic and an existential necessity.
A Radical Kurdish Awareness
The PKK has good reasons to negotiate with the Turkish state over the coming weeks and months. Violence has lost its purpose, and political action seems more sensible. But these pragmatic reasons cannot satisfy the deep need of the Kurdish people to achieve a concrete framework for the long-sought control of their region. This is also the case with other belated nations in contemporary Europe. Scotland and Catalonia only wanted to secede from their superordinate government federations after these states took their place under the larger umbrella of the European Union.
If we assume that the Kurds actually wanted to join forces with other peoples of the Middle East to form a democratic union of Anatolia-Mesopotamia with open borders, as Öcalan apparently envisions, could the Turks accept this?
Today, even assimilated Kurds show a radical Kurdish awareness. And it is precisely this heightened self-confidence that is the actual problem for the Turks. After all, these days hardly any of them still has objections to the Kurds speaking their own language and enjoying equal rights.
But it is another story altogether when it comes to controlling a region. The majority of Turks still strictly reject the Kurdish demand for a special status.
That's why I don't think that we can talk about genuine negotiations between the Turkish state and the Kurdish PKK: There is no framework for negotiations, no direct counterparts and no guarantor powers. It appears that after fighting its largest minority for 30 years, the Turkish state still has problems perceiving the Kurdish people as an independent subject. As a result, the government repeatedly strives to make progress by sidestepping the main issues.
There is no other explanation for why they pursue the negotiations via the media and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is represented in the national parliament in Ankara. The BDP cannot negotiate on an equal footing and is only the bearer of messages from the Turkish side.
During the current phase, the negotiations on the Kurdish question require, as with all conflicts, a third, mediating force. Without this, there can be no fundamental solution. It is therefore time to remember the close ties between Turkey and Europe. This friendship could now be tested during the negotiating process with the Kurds.
Kurdish poet and author Bejan Matur, 44, has received numerous awards in Turkey for her work. She lives in Istanbul .
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
Cyprus scrambles to stop run when banks reopen on Thursday
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6:06 EDT
“Superhuman” efforts are being made to reopen banks in Cyprus on Thursday, the central bank governor said, as protests and uncertainty over the island’s top lender showed a huge bailout has not ended its troubles.
The comment, made by central bank governor Panicos Demetriades on Tuesday, came as hundreds of angry Bank of Cyprus workers demonstrated outside his office and thousands of students rallied against the EU-IMF rescue package.
Banks remained shut for an 11th day after markets reacted badly to comments by Eurogroup chief of finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who suggested actions in Cyprus could act as a template for future bailouts.
The decision to remain closed, taken late Monday, left homes and businesses on the Mediterranean island scrambling for cash—and there were growing doubts about whether banks would even open their doors on Thursday, as promised.
Demetriades said the delay in reopening was to fully install capital controls to prevent depositors from draining their accounts, and also to strengthen number one lender the Bank of Cyprus.
“A superhuman effort is being made for the banks to open on Thursday,” he said.
President Nicos Anastasiades secured the €10 billion ($13 billion) bailout in Brussels early Monday, just hours before Cyprus faced bankruptcy and a possible exit from the euro.
Dijsselbloem’s comments Monday had led markets to speculate that the bailout was a model for other struggling members. He later released a statement on Twitter which said Cyprus was a “specific” case.
Most European stocks and the euro rallied on Tuesday. That recovery continued in early trading in Asia Wednesday.
But many Cypriots now fear for their jobs and a future darkened by austerity.
The sense of uncertainty deepened Tuesday when Bank of Cyprus chairman Andreas Artemis suddenly tendered his resignation over concerns about the impact of the bailout. The board of directors refused to accept it.
Hundreds of bank staff, worried for their jobs, flooded into its headquarters in Nicosia on news that an administrator had been appointed to oversee its restructuring as part of the bailout.
Chief executive Yiannis Kypri tried to reassure them but they then marched to the central bank building to call for the resignation of governor Demetriades.
“We don’t know if the bank will be closed or if we will have work… we have to demonstrate to show that we don’t want others to decide for our lives,” said Andreas Costa, a 53-year-old BoC employee.
‘They want to take all our money from us’
Earlier, around 2,000 students worried about the effect the bailout would have on savings intended for their studies marched on the presidential palace, responding to an appeal posted on Facebook.
Protesters denounced Eurogroup officials, and in particular the Germans, for the harsh conditions imposed on the island.
Finance Minister Michalis Sarris meanwhile warned that the “haircut” to be imposed on deposits of over €100,000 ($129,000) at the Bank of Cyprus could be greater than expected, at 40 percent.
The agreement struck early Monday will see the second largest lender Laiki wound up, with some parts of it merged into Bank of Cyprus, dealing a major blow to jobs and the availability of credit to consumers and small businesses.
Fitch ratings agency downgraded the two banks to default category and placed the island’s third biggest lender, Hellenic Bank, on negative watch.
The Cyprus bailout has stirred up fears among other struggling economies following Dijsselbloem’s comments. Stocks in Greece and Spain, two other indebted eurozone economies, both fell sharply on Tuesday.
Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras insisted however that the Cyprus deal only applied there.
Many on the island deeply resent the unprecedented demand by eurozone creditors for bank depositors to foot so much of the bill for the bailout.
Wealthy eurozone governments had refused to bail out Cyprus unless it agreed to put an end to what they regarded as a “casino” financial sector dependent on hot money from countries like Russia.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has become a particular target for demonstrators’ anger in Cyprus, as she was in Greece last year.
Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen called for eurozone taxpayers to be spared from bailing out troubled banks in the future, insisting that shareholders and investors should foot the bill instead.
French President Francois Hollande said the safety of bank deposits up to €100,000, called into question by an earlier Cyprus bailout plan which was rejected by parliament earlier this month, should be sacrosanct in the European Union.
“The guarantee of deposits should be an absolute, irrevocable principle,” he said.
03/27/2013 10:35 AM
Suspicious Transactions: Cypriot Parliament Investigating Capital Flight
By Stefan Schultz in Nicosia
Banks have been closed and accounts frozen in Cyprus recently. Nevertheless, large amounts were moved out of the country's crippled financial institutions on the eve of the bailout package. Lawmakers are suspicious and are investigating both the government and the Cypriot central bank.
Panicos Demetriades looked dead tired as he opened the press conference on Tuesday afternoon on the fourth floor of the Cypriot central bank. The questions and answers flew back and forth for 90 minutes, with Finance Minister Michalis Sarris doing his best to back up the central bank head. Outside, the mountains slowly receded from view behind into a haze, while inside journalists became increasingly restive. When the session ended, many were left wondering why Demetriades had invited them in the first place. He had virtually nothing new to say.
Many interpreted the press conference as a symbolic exercise. Central bank head Demetriades, they felt, sought to stage a show of strength to counter the pressure that has been heaped on his shoulders in recent days. For one, he announced earlier this week, without consulting the Cypriot government first, that small banks in the country would open their doors again on Tuesday, in contrast to the island-nation's two largest financial institutions Laiki and Bank of Cyprus. The result was a massive protest from the smaller banks and a reversal. The banks stayed closed. For the moment, the opening date is set for Thursday, and many fear that a flood of angry customers could overwhelm the sector.
Then, on Monday, the central bank announced that it was installing financial manager Dinos Christofides as a special consultant to the Bank of Cyprus as it prepares to take on assets from Laiki, which is to be liquidated. The deployment of Christofides is legitimate, but it triggered widespread concerns that the Bank of Cyprus too may soon be broken up. Demetriades was accused of not doing enough to explain the steps he was taking, thus intensifying investor anxiety.
Most of all, though, the central bank head has been harshly criticized due to the suspicious capital flight from Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus, the two institutions that have been hit hardest by the Cypriot banking crisis. There are indications that large sums flowed out of the two banks just before the first bailout package was signed in the early morning hours of March 16. At the end of January, some 40 percent of all savings held in Cypriot accounts were on the books of those two banks. Since then, however, much of it has been transferred elsewhere, despite orders from the central bank that accounts at the two institutions be frozen.
The central bank now stands accused of not doing enough to control the movement of capital. Transfers for humanitarian aid were permitted which, while certainly an acceptable exception, opened a loophole for abuse. Many are also furious that the bank allowed "special payments," the definition of which was never adequately established.
The Cypriot central bank has defended itself by saying that it was impossible to completely prevent all transactions, despite the account freeze. Much of the money was withdrawn from overseas, where Cyprus had no authority. Branches of Cypriot banks in non-euro-zone countries such as Russia and Britain do not answer to the European Central Bank. Their liquidity is controlled by central banks in those countries.
Such a defense is nothing less than a voluntary admission of impotence. Holders of smaller savings accounts have been unable to access much of their money for almost two weeks, companies have been unable to pay their suppliers and across the country people are concerned that their salaries will not arrive on schedule on the first of the month. Meanwhile, rich businesspeople and those with connections overseas have been able to transfer their money into foreign accounts.
Parliament in Nicosia is suspicious. Lawmakers have demanded that the central bank assemble a list of those customers who withdrew large amounts of money prior to the closure of the country's financial institutions. In particular, parliamentarians want to know if central bank employees or members of the government received early warning and were able to quickly rescue their assets.
Loss of Faith
According to the Greek television station Mega Channel, the list has already found its way into the hands of Parliament President Yannakis Omirou. No one in parliament or in the central bank could be reached for comment on Tuesday evening. Still, the parliamentary investigation indicates just how great the mistrust is between lawmakers and the government -- and how acute the doubts are as to Panicos Demetriades' competence.
Toward the end of the Tuesday evening press conference, the central bank head did finally find some news to convey. Holders of smaller accounts, he said, should be prepared for the fact that not all bank services will immediately be available. Those who had more than €100,000 parked at the Bank of Cyprus will likely lose "about 40 percent" of their assets, he said, adding that the exact amount is still being established. Despite the remaining uncertainties, though, he assured the press that the banks would open as planned on Thursday. He also said that, while Cyprus is now threatened with a recession, the economy will quickly regain its footing. Demetriades made an appeal to the entrepreneurial spirit of Cypriots.
But none of what he said is cast in stone. Bank customers could suffer for much longer and experts say that those with more than €100,000 in their accounts stand to lose up to 90 percent of their deposits. According to the Greek television station skai, Cypriot banks will remain closed until April 1. And economists forecast a deep recession for Cyprus with high unemployment, comparable to that which has gripped Greece in recent years.
What remains is a central bank head who has lost much of the trust confided in him. He has said that he does not intend to resign, and because his job enjoys constitutional protections, he cannot be fired. Nonetheless, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades seems to have had enough of him. According to Cypriot television, the president is currently looking into potential legal loopholes that would allow him to get rid of Demetriades anyway.
Bank of Cyprus head fired under bailout deal
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6:49 EDT
The chief executive of the Bank of Cyprus, the island’s biggest lender, has been sacked by the central bank governor as part of an international bailout deal, state media said on Wednesday.
Yiannis Kypri was fired on the instructions of the so-called troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) reported.
It said his departure was ordered as part of the restructuring of the Bank of Cyprus under the bailout deal, which involves the bank absorbing the remains of Laiki, the second biggest bank in Cyprus that has been wound down.
Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades, who sacked Kypri, said on Tuesday that under the deal large depositors in the Bank of Cyprus would become shareholders, which would in turn mean the election of a new leadership.
The sacking of the chief executive comes a day after Kypri addressed hundreds of Bank of Cyprus employees at its headquarters. They were angered by the appointment of an administrator for the lender.
The board of the Bank of Cyprus, meanwhile, rejected the resignation of chairman Andreas Artemis and four other board members on Tuesday.
The 10-billion-euro ($13-billion) deal sealed with the troika in Brussels on Monday calls for the reform of Cyprus’s prized but bloated banking sector and deals a major hit to big depositors.
All Cypriot lenders have been closed since March 16, but CNA said capital controls to prevent a run on banks and allow them to reopen on Thursday as scheduled were expected to be announced later on Wednesday.
03/27/2013 12:52 PM
Crisis in France: Hollande Failing to Handle Unemployment
By Stefan Simons
France has long had a chronic problem with unemployment, but the current jobless rate is especially dismal. The government has introduced several employment programs, but they're not taking effect quickly enough to convince the country things will get better.
Ten months after the election of French President Francois Hollande, the number of people registered as unemployed is nearing the national record set in 1997, at just below 3.2 million. Nearly 2 million have been searching for work for more than a year, and every month an additional 80,000 people lose their claim to unemployment benefits, often falling into poverty.
Unemployment is 10.8 percent higher than last year -- a harsh blow to Hollande, who promised during his campaign to curb the crisis on the job market. Instead, the jobless rate has steadily risen, bringing to memory a statement made in 1993 by Hollande's predecessor and fellow Socialist, Francois Mitterrand: "Against unemployment, we've tried everything."
In anticipation of catastrophic new reports on the labor market, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the National Assembly on Tuesday that one "has never done enough against unemployment," calling for "a general mobilization" to create jobs in the public and private sectors.
The government has taken a number of measures to combat youth unemployment, such as generous subsidies to companies that hire employees between 16 and 25 for at least one year. The plan was to create 100,000 "contracts for the future" in 2013, but so far only 15,000 people have benefited from the program.
Long-term Prognosis Equally Dismal
Hollande had also hoped the job market would get a boost from "generation contracts," which win subsidies for small companies that hire a younger person while still committing to keep an employee over 57 on the payroll. The scheme is meant to allow seniors to keep their jobs while passing on their skills and knowledge to younger talent. The government hopes to sign a half a million of these contracts over the next five years. It also hopes an additional 2,000 employees at the National Agency for Employment will help mediate these contracts.
In contrast to Mitterrand's time in office, the Socialists today are not facing the end of a crisis. They're preparing themselves for long-term stagnation instead. An expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris said early this year "we're standing before a tendentious worsening of the labor market with historic peaks."
A turnaround is not yet in sight, though. France will start creating more jobs only once the economy starts growing by more than 1 percent, the OECD says. But the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies projects the economy will stagnate in the first trimester of 2013. Similarly dismal are the expectations for growth in savings, investment and household purchasing power. Reports of layoffs, buyouts and bankruptcy declarations are a near daily occurrence.
In order to reach the target of 0.8 percent growth this year, France's economy would have to expand in the latter two-thirds of the year by about 2 percent -- a value economists believe is unattainable. Labor Minister Michel Sapin himself warned that unemployment "will be bad for several more months before our policies take effect."
While the government blames the general economic woes on the euro crisis, the conservative opposition accuses President Hollande of undermining confidence in the economy with a draconian "tax shock," coupled with an initial increase in public spending followed by a sudden halt.
And it's not just company executives who are critical. A poll over the weekend by the CSA polling institute found that 68 percent of the country is pessimistic about the state of the nation. "In light of this situation," CSA analysts said, "there is an emergency of spontaneous criticism of the government, whose measures appear to increase France's fears for the future."
The negative atmosphere has also hit President Hollande, whose approval ratings have reached historic new lows. He plans to increase the appeal of his government with an appearance on the France2 broadcaster on Thursday. Labeled a "conversation with the president of the republic," Hollande wants to convince the country he can still turn the economy around. But in light of near-record unemployment figures, it will be an enormous challenge.
Croatia: ‘€655m. Vukovar, Osijek, Rijeka and Porec will be first to benefit from EU money’
27 March 2013
“Finally! Congratulations to the Croats, you are ready for the EU,” announces the daily. On March 26, the Commissioner for Enlargement, Štefan Füle, declared that Zagreb has fulfilled all of the conditions for its accession to the EU on July 1.
The newspaper focuses on the European funds in the 2013 EU budget that will be made accessible to Croatia, which will likely be used for the economic development of several cities, including some that were damaged by the war.
In contrast to Bulgaria and Romania, the two most recent countries to join the European Union, Croatia will not be subject to supervision of its institutions.
Croatia fulfills all the conditions for joining the EU
Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle European Commission participated in a special session, where the government has imposed attitude EC Croatian preparations for EU membership. The report shows how Croatia has made progress in reforms, and how is ready to join the EU, where it will be received first July this year.
Leader: This is just the "end of the beginning"
At the beginning of the session Zoran Milanovic said that this was only the "end of the beginning" in the process of joining the EU. - We have the next two and a half year mission to fulfill all the criteria to become part of the Schengen - Milanovic said, adding that it is not easy and will require a lot of effort.
- I was at the weekend in Lapland. What are the dominant words "red" and "rules", and states that do this today with "the better ones." Our goal is to be in line with the most organized states - Milanovic said.
- This is a milestone in Croatia's bestselling novel - said at the beginning Füle, adding that he was honored to be cooperated with the Croats in their efforts to bring Croatia into the EU.
- It was a pleasure working with the Croatian. Croatia has met all the requirements and tasks on time.
- Croatia, we have followed a special regime - Füle said, adding that Croatia made 10 specific tasks. - I am glad that they are all completed, fulfilled or will be fulfilled - said the commissioner. In competition, all conditions are fulfilled, the commissioner affirmed and noted that it had to find a sustainable solution for the shipyards. The first six months is available at 650 million euros, make them - said Füle.
- Will - said Branko Grcic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional Development and EU Funds, when we asked him if we have projects that are ready for the (co-) financing from European funds.
Füle: A lot of work is "ahead"
- In addition, there was also the Judiciary and fundamental rights, where conditions are also met - said Füle. - We wanted to commission a conflict of interest is established earlier - said the commissioner.
- You will need to invest more effort in order to impunity resolved in an impartial manner and to address the backlog after the war - said Füle.
- We need to implement the excellent anti-trafficking measures. The conclusions are that Croatia meets the conditions for accession by all chapters - said Füle.
The commissioner said that the new strategic goals for Croatian accession to the Schengen area and the euro area and to strengthen the competitiveness of the economy. - Croatia is a great example to other candidate countries for enlargement - said Füle. He added that a lot of work "ahead."
- All the talk about enlargement fatigue, but it did not manifest itself. We had a little weary of the reforms - admitted Füle, adding that it is important that the community is not behind the EU political interests of some politicians.
- Accessing follows first July Everything is nearing completion and will soon finish. Together we have done great things - said Füle and congratulated the "excellent job undertaken, credibility and continuous efforts to be July 1, Croatia became a full member of the EU."
- This is not just an extension of the EU but also the strengthening of the European Union - said Füle.
Milanovic said that we would still be under control after the entry into the EU, but we will have a special surveillance.
Vesna Pusic Füle said that he did not think she would ever hear a word you said today. - There is no just and unjust way in the EU - said Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusic.
MP: All obligations are fulfilled
- All obligations are fulfilled or will either be accomplished by first July - Pusic said.
- For us it is important to stabilize our region - Pusic said, adding that we will do everything in our power to state candidates "go through a period of reform and qualify for membership."
- The next goal is to Schengen. I think we have mastered the technology and it would be a task that we accept with great enthusiasm - Pusic said. She said she was particularly proud of the way they resolve the issue with Slovenia.
- Our relations are substantially better than before - Pusic said, adding that the second April to attend the ratification of the accession treaty in the Slovenian parliament.
- Dear Stefan, thank you for your help. I thank your team - said at the end Pusic in English. - We know what we're in this part as partners and so you behave towards us. You and your team have done a lot. You did not get rid of us forever because we still do - said Pusic Füle.
Leader: We've got a lot of money
Füle said that Croatia was the first that went through the complicated process of negotiation and ratification. - The Commission sees no need to extend the monitoring system after it completes the ratification process - said Füle. - I congratulate you and other members of the Government - said the commissioner and submitted a report to Prime Minister Milanovic thanked everyone who participated in the process.
- This is a work that continues. Europe is complicated and it is a community of nations - Milanovic said.
- We've got a lot of money. Europe is allergic to wasting money on silly projects - said Milanovic, adding that we will ask for money to merge southern Croatian.
- No open site before ensuring money. This film will not be watching - Milanovic said closed government meeting.
Füle: Croatia was clean bill of health, but it can not rest on our laurels
After the government session, Milanovic and Füle held a joint press conference. On her Milanovic again thanked everyone who participated in the process of joining the EU. - Small nations must open the nation because if one closes, do not see anything and can not cope with the competition. Courage to Europe - Milanovic said.
Füle said that the report was positive and reiterated that Croatia has met all the requirements of all chapters of the EU accession. - We believe that Croatia will be ready to join the first July This is the result of a long and thorough process conducted - Füle said, adding that Croatia has "got clean bill of health, but it can not rest on our laurels."
- Croatia is now a different country than at the beginning of the negotiation process and enters better prepared than some other states that have joined before - Füle said, adding that Croatia is "a success story of the extension".
- Croatia is a good example for other countries in the region - said the Commissioner for Enlargement. - Thank you and congratulations to Croatia - said Füle.
Milanovic is asked if he is satisfied that the report praised the commitment of the Government for the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar, said that he was pleased that the European Commission has thus recognized that we are a constitutional state.
Milanovic: Possible scenarios Cyprus there does not exist
- I'm glad that the other side we have the representatives of the Serbian community, to be reasonable and restrained in seeking certain rights because they understand the situation. The law is good and will be implemented - Milanovic said. He also said that he believed that after this report will not be a problem with the ratification of the Accession Treaty in the German parliament.
- The possibility of the Cyprus scenario there does not exist - Milanovic said, adding that Cyprus was the state "who lived out of commission" and that it meets the EU rapid response in addressing this problem.
Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Füle European Commission in the morning he met with President Ivo Josipovic at the Presidential Palace to present his latest report on the monitoring of the Croatian.
Füle >>: You must continue with reforms, especially in the economy
21st Second 2003rd - Prime Minister Ivica Racan in Athens submitted a request for membership. In April 2004. The European Commission has adopted a positive opinion on the application
16.3.2005, p. - The delay in starting negotiations. EU Council seeks cooperation with The Hague, but also adopting a negotiating framework with the criteria for opening and closing chapters
03/10/2005. - Negotiations opened at night on the 4th October in Luxembourg. Before that prosecutor Carla del Ponte confirmed the full cooperation of the Croatian
10th 2008th - Slovenia is blocking Croatia because he believes that prejudge the border on land and sea. Tom was preceded by the entry into force of the withdrawal ZERP
Second 2009th - Several countries, led by Britain and the Netherlands blocked the opening of 23rd chapters - Judiciary and fundamental rights, because of missing artillery from the Storm or because of poor cooperation with the Hague Tribunal
4th 11th 2009th - Croatia and Slovenia signed the Stockholm arbitration agreement. Slovenia unblock negotiations. In June 2010. Croatia opens all chapters. Nearly a year later - again problem 23rd Chapter
24th 6th 2011th - The European Council made the political decision to end negotiations and the target date for the membership, 1 July 2013. Croatia closes last four negotiation chapters - which he enters the provision of monitoring. In December, the European Parliament approved the accession treaty
9th 12th 2011th - In Brussels, President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, the then signed the accession treaty. Begin ratification, and Monitoring Report. Slovenia Ljubljana Bank conditional ratification. Penultimate report gives Croatia 10 tasks. All are filled
Seven major projects ready to withdraw money
Water supply and co-financing (up to 85 percent) from the EU funds are prepared water management projects in Osijek (total value of 543 million kuna), Porec (504 million), Čakovac (277 million) and Vukovar (362 million).
Railway infrastructure and the end of the year should begin the construction of a second track railways at the Dugo Selo - Križevci. The value of the investment is 1.485 billion, and the construction will be largely funded with money from the European Union structural funds. Construction of new railways at the St. John / Zabno - Gradec should begin 2014th The value of works is 240 million, and most of the money will be provided from the European fondova.Sveučilište in Rijeka and the project is worth 145 million. Will be co-financed from European Union funds. (Mark Špoljar / VLM)
Benefits, if we know how to use them
CUSTOMS - were abolished customs duties, no more limits or boundaries for transmission over the Internet or to purchase
LOWER PRICES - Experience countries like Hungary says that falling prices due to competition. Note: we are talking about joining the eurozone, but the EU
MOBILITY - in any country will be able to study under the same conditions as nationals of that country. That means lower tuition, scholarships ...
Phone bills - cell phone users will not be left to the mercy of the phone companies: roaming prices are strictly controlled
FEATURES - The EU does not bring prosperity, but also opens up opportunities (market, projects), but the citizens and the state need to know how to use them
The negative side, we should be prepared
NEUM - The state will be divided - and not the fault of the EU, but without resolving the issue: to the south of the Croatian will travel longer and with strict control
Villagers - some will fail, but in others, is to be prepared, if they are not together and they start to grow what the market seeks
COMPETITION - Consumers will have a choice and lower prices, and manufacturers will have to make an effort to be more competitive in a market where not known
VISAS - Mandatory visas for some countries like Russia could affect tourist arrivals to these rich and yet rastrošnih
Cancel - Some jobs will disappear. For example, freight forwarders. Because out of the CEFTA some drives from Croatian moving eastward
03/27/2013 11:32 AM
'This Is Working': Portugal, 12 Years after Decriminalizing Drugs
By Wiebke Hollersen
Twelve years ago, Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for drug users. Since then, those caught with small amounts of marijuana, cocaine or heroin go unindicted and possession is a misdemeanor on par with illegal parking. Experts are pleased with the results.
Before he got involved in the global war on drugs, João Goulão was a family physician with his own practice in Faro, on Portugal's Algarve coast. Arriving in his small office in Lisbon, the 58-year-old tosses his jacket aside, leaving his shirt collar crooked. He looks a little tired from the many trips he's taken lately -- the world wants to know exactly how the experiment in Portugal is going. Goulão is no longer able to accept all the invitations he receives. He adds his latest piece of mail to the mountain of papers on his desk.
From this office, where the air conditioning stopped working this morning, Goulão keeps watch over one of the world's largest experiments in drug policy.
One gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish: These are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion. MDMA -- the active ingredient in ecstasy -- and amphetamines -- including speed and meth -- can also be possessed in amounts up to one gram. That's roughly enough of each of these drugs to last 10 days.
These are the amounts listed in a table appended to Portugal's Law 30/2000. Goulão participated in creating this law, which has put his country at the forefront of experimental approaches to drug control. Portugal paved a new path when it decided to decriminalize drugs of all kinds.
"We figured perhaps this way we would be better able get things under control," Goulão explains. "Criminalization certainly wasn't working all that well."
Much the Same as a Parking Violation
As part of its war on drugs, Portugal has stopped prosecuting users. The substances listed in the Law 30/2000 table are still illegal in Portugal -- "Otherwise we would have gotten into trouble with the UN," Goulão explains -- but using these drugs is nothing more than a misdemeanor, much the same as a parking violation.
Why set the limits on these drugs at 10 days' worth of use, though?
"Well, it's a limit, which by its nature is arbitrary," Goulão says. Now the head of Portugal's national anti-drug program and an important figure in Portuguese health policy, he still talks like an easygoing family doctor. Arrayed on Goulão's windowsill are photographs, including one of him with Richard Branson, the British billionaire and hot air balloon operator. Another shows Goulão with the king of Spain. Both these men have received personal briefings on Portugal's new drug program from Goulão.
"At the point when we designed the law, we had hardly any data to draw on," Goulão relates. "We weren't the least bit certain this would work."
The question at stake: How can a government keep its citizens from taking dangerous drugs? One way is to crack down on those who provide the drugs -- the cartels, the middle men and the street dealers. Another approach is to focus on the customers -- arresting them, trying them and imprisoning them. Legal prosecution -- as both a control mechanism and a deterrent -- is the chosen approach for most governments.
Giving Up on the Idea of a Drug-Free World
"It's important that we prevent people from buying drugs, and taking drugs, using every method at our disposal," says Manuel Pinto Coelho, 64, the last great opponent of Goulão's experiment. Pinto Coelho wants his country to return to normalcy, in the form of the tough war on drugs that much of the rest of the world conducts.
Pinto Coelho is a doctor too. He has run rehab centers and written books about addiction. Now he's at odds with former colleagues and with "the system," as he says.
His greatest concern is that his country has given up on the idea of a drug-free world. How, Pinto Coelho asks, is it possible to keep young people away from drugs, when everyone knows exactly how many pills can legally be carried around? He still believes deterrents are the best form of prevention and that cold turkey withdrawal is the best treatment method. He is also fighting the extensive methadone program Portugal began as part of its drug policy reform, which now provides tens of thousands of heroin addicts with this substitute drug.
These days, Pinto Coelho earns his living running diet clinics, but he spends his evenings writing letters and drafting presentations on his country's "absurd drug experiment." He travels to symposiums to warn the rest of the world of its dangers. At home in Portugal, his critical perspective has made him an outsider, but he says he's been well received abroad. As if offering proof, he shows a fact sheet issued by the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy, a brief and skeptically worded report on the Portuguese experiment.
The Freedom that Overwhelmed the Country
When João Goulão wants to explain why it is Portugal in particular that came up with the idea to stop prosecuting drug users, he starts with the country's Carnation Revolution.
In 1974, Portugal broke free from nearly 50 years of military dictatorship, a political shift symbolized by the carnations soldiers stuck in the muzzles of their rifles."Suddenly, the drugs were there," Goulão says, as Portuguese returning from the country's overseas colonies brought marijuana with them. Goulão, too, says he smoked pot back then. He was in his early twenties and "drugs promised us freedom."
But it was a freedom that soon overwhelmed the country. When Goulão established his doctor's practice in Faro, he soon found himself approached by parents whose children were no longer just smoking joints, but had moved on to heroin. Sometimes the children came to him as well, and Goulão had no idea how to treat them. When the first state-run rehab clinic opened in Lisbon, Goulão attended a training course there.
At that point, he says, the heroin epidemic was just beginning.
In the 1980s, cheap heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan began flooding Europe. Portugal was not the only country affected, but Goulão says his nation was hit particularly hard, because people here had little idea how to handle drugs. "We were naïve," he says.
The number of people taking illegal drugs in Portugal was low compared with other countries, but of those who did consume drugs, an unusually high number of them fell into the category that specialists in this field refer to as "problem drug users."
From the pile of papers on his desk, Goulão unearths a copy of a speech he recently gave in Paris. Flipping through it, he finds the figure he's looking for: 100,000. This is the number of severely drug-addicted people in Portugal at the height of the epidemic, in the mid-1990s. Portugal's total population at the time was just under 10 million. The number of drug addicts who became infected with HIV was also considerably higher than in most other countries.
A drug slum formed in Lisbon, at the edge of a neighborhood known as Casal Ventoso. Here junkies slept in shacks or in the garbage, in extremely poor conditions. "They shot up on the street, and they died on the street," Goulão says. Anyone in Portugal could observe this phenomenon -- on TV, in newspaper pictures or even from the nearby highway.
'Drug Users Aren't Criminals, They're Sick'
These were the conditions in the country at the point when the Portuguese government convened an anti-drug commission composed of 11 experts, including Goulão. Most of the members of the commission were not politicians.
"Drug users aren't criminals, they're sick," Goulão says. Not everyone agrees -- Pinto Coelho, for example. But the anti-drug commission quickly agreed on this position, which formed the basis for Portugal's experiment in dealing with drug users without dealing in deterrents. Goulão repeats that statement often, as do members of his staff within the anti-drug program, as well as doctors at state-run drug clinics. More surprising is that a Lisbon police commissioner, whose officers spend their days searching for drugs, says it too.
The logical extension of this statement is that people who are not criminals should not be treated as criminals. They should not be arrested, put on trial or thrown in jail. The punishment for drug possession in Portugal prior to decriminalization was up to a year in prison.
The Portuguese experiment has been in action since Law 30/2000 went into effect nearly 12 years ago, and Goulão's staff is currently calculating how much money the country's judicial system has saved, in its courts and prisons, now that it no longer has to process individuals the police catch with a few grams of drugs.
"The police still search people for drugs," Goulão points out. Hashish, cocaine, ecstasy -- Portuguese police still seize and destroy all these substances.
Before doing so, though, they first weigh the drugs and consult the official table with the list of 10-day limits. Anyone possessing drugs in excess of these amounts is treated as a dealer and charged in court. Anyone with less than the limit is told to report to a body known as a "warning commission on drug addiction" within the next 72 hours.
The Second Time Brings Consequences
In Lisbon, for example, the local drug addiction commission is housed on the first floor of an unremarkable office building. The idea is that no one should feel uncomfortable about being seen here. A 19-year-old in a white polo shirt waits in one room. Police caught him over the weekend with about a gram of hashish. A social worker has already questioned him for half an hour and learned that he attended vocational training at an agricultural school, lives with his parents and smokes pot now and then. This was the first time he was caught in possession of drugs.
"Social user, no risk factors present," the social worker notes.
Next, a psychologist and a lawyer speak to the young man. They want to know if he's aware of the dangers of cannabis.
"Yeah, yeah, from school," he says. "We had a class on prevention."
As long as he isn't caught again within the next three months, his case will be closed. "We won't inform anyone that you were here and this won't go on your record," the lawyer explains. "But if it happens a second time, there are serious consequences."
But later, asked to explain these consequences in more detail, nothing comes to her mind that sounds particularly serious. A couple days of community service, perhaps. The commission can also impose fines, but the lawyer says it doesn't like to do so for teenagers. The fines are likewise not intended for people the commission determines to be addicts -- they're already paying to maintain their habit. "Our most important duty is to invite people to participate in rehab," she explains. Lisbon police send around 1,500 people to the commission each year, which averages out to less than five a day. Seventy percent of these cases concern marijuana. Those who fail to turn up receive a couple of reminders, but coercion is not an intended part of this system.
Decriminalization, Not Legalization
Warnings, reminders and invitations to rehab -- it seems Portugal's war on drugs is a gentle one. "Humanistic and pragmatic" is how João Goulão describes the new program. It is based on decriminalization, which should not be confused with legalization. Portugal considered that path too, but ultimately decided not to take things quite that far.
When Portugal's parliament was debating the proposed Law 30/2000, representatives of right-wing parties declared that planes would start arriving in the country daily, full of people looking for an easy opportunity to pump themselves full of drugs. Our entire country will become a drug-ridden slum, these parties said. The left-wing parties in parliament held a majority, though.
Goulão sits in his office and pages through charts, tables and graphs that are just some of the great quantity of data his team has collected over the years.
The data show, among other things, that the number of adults in Portugal who have at some point taken illegal drugs is rising. At the same time, though, the number of teenagers who have at some point taken illegal drugs is falling. The number of drug addicts who have undergone rehab has also increased dramatically, while the number of drug addicts who have become infected with HIV has fallen significantly. What, though, do these numbers mean? With what exactly can they be compared? There isn't a great deal of data from before the experiment began. And, for example, the number of adults who have tried illegal drugs at some point in their lives is increasing in most other countries throughout Europe as well.
Running Out of Money
"We haven't found some miracle cure," Goulão says. Still, taking stock after nearly 12 years, his conclusion is, "Decriminalization hasn't made the problem worse."
At the moment, Goulão's greatest concern is the Portuguese government's austerity policies in the wake of the euro crisis. Decriminalization is pointless, he says, without being accompanied by prevention programs, drug clinics and social work conducted directly on the streets. Before the euro crisis, Portugal spent €75 million ($98 million) annually on its anti-drug programs. So far, Goulão has only seen a couple million cut from his programs, but if the crisis in the country grows worse, at some point there may no longer be enough money.
It is simply by chance that the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has its headquarters in Lisbon. Frank Zobel works here, analyzing various approaches to combating drugs, and he says he can observe "the greatest innovation in this field" right outside his office door.
No drug policy, Zobel says, can genuinely prevent people from taking drugs -- at least, he is not familiar with any model that works this way. As for Portugal, Zobel says, "This is working. Drug consumption has not increased severely. There is no mass chaos. For me as an evaluator, that's a very good outcome."
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
03/26/2013 06:03 PM
Merkel's Caution: Berlin Reverts to Old Timidity on Military Missions
Over the last 20 years, Germany has taken important steps towards normality, shedding its pacifist doctrine and taking part in combat missions abroad. But Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is undoing that achievement. Its refusal to join foreign deployments is undermining faith in Berlin's reliability.
There is a wedge sticking out of the building, one as brutal as the thorn of war in the German psyche. The gigantic wedge, made of steel and glass, passes through the sandstone façade of the old arsenal building in Dresden, like a projectile that has penetrated a soldier's chest, or like the phalanx of British bombers that laid waste to Dresden on Feb. 13, 1945.
American architect Daniel Libeskind reconstructed German military history with his design of the Bundeswehr Military History Museum. Nothing is intact, everything is broken. There is a gaping wound in the middle of the museum, a wound that is also a weapon.
In other countries, military museums showcase superior technology and heroic victories, as if to say: Look at what heroes we are! But how can Germany recount its military history, a history it's ashamed of? It's about defeat and guilt. "We are not trying to make sense of it," says Colonel Matthias Rogg, the director of the Dresden museum. "Instead, we ask questions."
One of the displays contains a "Wolf" vehicle used by the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, which was heavily damaged by a remote-controlled explosive device in Afghanistan. Looking at the small, poorly armored, somewhat patched up vehicle in its glass case, it's hard to imagine that soldiers were sent into battle in it. In fact, three of the soldiers riding in this particular Wolf were seriously wounded in the attack.
The voting cards of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and current Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bundestag for one of the German parliament's votes on the military deployment in Afghanistan are on display next to the vehicle. A wrecked piece of equipment, wounded soldiers, political responsibility -- what's the message to the visitor? That the Afghanistan mission has been a failure? That the Bundeswehr is poorly equipped? That politicians bear responsibility? The museum doesn't provide the answer, because it deliberately promotes ambiguity.
Strong Interest in TV Film on WWII
Almost seven decades after World War II, one still can't take anything for granted when discussing Germany's relationship with war. Last week, the German viewing public's overwhelming interest in the three-part series "Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" ("Our Mothers, Our Fathers"), shown on the ZDF television network, revealed that Germany still hasn't closed this chapter of its history.
More than seven-and-a-half million viewers watched the prime-time drama about the experiences of five friends in the war. The series set off a discussion, in families and in the arts sections of newspapers, raising questions and bringing memories to the surface. "Were German Soldiers Really That Ruthless?" the tabloid newspaper Bild asked in a front page story. It has made many younger Germans wonder how they would have behaved at the time.
It's a strange coincidence that the Bundeswehr is marking a memorable anniversary just as the nation is preoccupied with its eternal trauma once again. On April 2, 1993, the cabinet of then Chancellor Helmut Kohl approved the Bundeswehr's first international combat mission, allowing German soldiers to participate in monitoring the no-fly zone over Bosnia. It was the first war in which the Bundeswehr was involved in combat operations.
Bosnia marked the beginning of a long path to normalization that Germany has followed since the end of the Cold War. Today the Bundeswehr is involved in 11 missions that have been approved by the parliament. Some 6,540 soldiers are currently deployed on foreign missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. "The mentality of Germans has changed when it comes to the use of military force," says Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière. "We've come a long way in this respect."
It was the former coalition government of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party that led the country, in the face of the overwhelming skepticism of its citizens, into the major missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. By agreeing to German troop deployments in these conflicts, the coalition parties "almost destroyed themselves," as then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens party, which has strong pacifist roots, says today. It forced the traumatized Germans to grow up and assume the political responsibility that they had been spared during the Cold War.
Merkel Shunning Military Missions
More than a decade later, a coalition government consisting of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) is in the process of dismantling the progress Germany has made in this respect. Be it out of conviction or the fear of voters, German foreign policy, under the leadership of Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, has returned to its former insecurity and unwillingness to engage. From Berlin's abstention in the UN Security Council vote on Libya to its minimal involvement in Mali and its passive approach to the conflict in Syria, the country is avoiding military involvement at all costs.
This is doing serious harm to Germany's international reputation. The concept of a "culture of military restraint," which the foreign minister mentions at every opportunity, is vexing to Berlin's allies. Now that the euro crisis has catapulted Germany into the role of Europe's leading power on economic policy, it also faces heightened expectations in other respects. The contradiction between Germany's economic strength and its military self-doubt is bigger than ever.
The government lacks the courage to confront Germans with uncomfortable decisions. The unpopular mission in Afghanistan has reinforced German skepticism over the wisdom of military deployments, while other, successful missions are glossed over. One is in Kosovo, where there are still about 750 Bundeswehr soldiers stationed -- and fighting -- today.
The bullet holes in a previously spotless white wall in northern Kosovo are a reminder of the horrors of last summer. On June 1, 2012, Serbian hardliners and German soldiers faced off at an iron bridge in the village of Rudare.
The insurgents attacked from the side of the building, using Kalashnikovs, hunting rifles and pistols. The Bundeswehr, positioned on the opposite bank of the Ibar River and shielded by a Fuchs tank, fired about 1,500 rounds. By the time it was over, two German soldiers and several Serbs were wounded. It was 2012, and a serious military engagement had just taken place on European soil.
For a brief moment, the Bundeswehr's combat mission was at the center of public attention once again. Germany remembered that young Germans were involved in a perilous mission in a place that was only a two-hour flight from home.
Today the iron bridge over the Ibar River is open to traffic once again. Instead of tanks and rebels, there are children waving on the side of the road and young men tinkering with their cars. The German public has lost interest once again. "We're something of a forgotten mission here," says platoon commander Robert Altmann. "And yet KFOR (the Kosovo Force) is a success story." The mission consists of a plan, clear stages and a precise objective, says Altmann. Unlike the Afghanistan mission, the soldiers in Kosovo don't wonder why they are stationed there.
Kosovo Mission Broke Taboos
The decision to join the Kosovo mission in the fall of 1998 marked a turning point in German foreign policy. Bundeswehr fighter jets patrolled the skies over areas in which soldiers with Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht had committed murder less than 60 years earlier, and they did so without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. It was a mission that violated all taboos of German postwar history.
No other party was as conflicted over this development as the Greens. "I learned two things as a child: 'Never another war' and 'never another Auschwitz,'" recalls former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. "These two maxims came into conflict, and I had to give up the notion of 'never another war.'"
It was also a difficult path for many in the CDU and the SPD. But both parties were familiar with the business of governing. They had backed many important foreign policy decisions in the former West Germany. They knew that Western partners expected reunified Germany to contribute more than money to combat missions. In the critical session of the Bundestag on Oct. 16, 1998, Schröder warned that by voting no on the Kosovo mission, Germany would suffer a "devastating blow to its reputation and standing."
Fischer wasn't able to present his party with as blunt an argument. A large portion of the Green Party had emerged from the peace movement. Pacifism and resistance to nuclear power were in the party's DNA. But then, in July 1995, Serbian militias murdered almost 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, under the eyes of Dutch UN troops. After that massacre, it was clear that one could also become culpable through inaction.
At a May 1999 special Green Party conference on Kosovo, an opponent of the war threw a bag of paint at Fischer. Given the general mood, Germany's loyalty to its allies was not sufficient justification to take part in the war. Even Auschwitz was cited as an argument -- Germany's own history of genocide committed it to join in military action to prevent massacres, said supporters of a Kosovo deployment.
The fact that a party of peace activists was saying yes to war made a new social consensus possible. Politicians who were old enough to have experienced the consequences of World War II were the ones implementing it. Schröder's father was killed in the war, and Fischer's parents were forced to flee from Hungary in 1946. Schröder's predecessor Kohl, the first postwar chancellor to send German soldiers on foreign missions, including in Cambodia and the Persian Gulf, was 15 when the war ended.
The struggle to normalize German foreign policy would probably have taken longer if the Greens had not been part of the coalition government. But ever since the Kosovo decision, it was clear that future governments would no longer rule out foreign Bundeswehr missions on principle, but would consider them, albeit as a last resort.
This was increasingly the case. German soldiers were called upon to help secure the peace in countries like Congo, Somalia and South Sudan. At Israel's request, the German Navy has even been fighting arms smugglers off the coast of Lebanon since 2006.
Military Action Based on Morality
The nature of the debates and the despite-or-because-of-Auschwitz discussion, shaped the Germans' position on foreign deployments. Unlike allies like France and the United States, Germany insisted that its soldiers should not be deployed primarily to defend German interests. Their missions always had to be rooted in a higher morality.
This also applied to the biggest Bundeswehr mission to date. When the United States invaded Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Germans were at their side. Once again, Schröder justified the mission by invoking solidarity with Germany's allies. Although he could depend on the support of the CDU and the FDP, there was major resistance in the governing parties, the SPD and the Greens. In November 2001, the chancellor had to call a parliamentary vote of confidence to quash the rebellion in his ranks.
But loyalty to one's allies and fighting terrorism weren't enough. An overarching moral justification was needed, so the proponents of German military involvement in Afghanistan said that the Bundeswehr was also fighting for democracy and women's rights. When it became clear that these goals couldn't be reached, public support for the Afghanistan mission dropped. Today only 38 percent of Germans are in favor of it.
With Afghanistan, Germany had demonstrated that a German Sonderweg ("special path") no longer existed. That was why the Schröder administration could afford to say no to the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The chancellor's refusal to endorse the war plans of then US President George W. Bush was the moment when German foreign policy finally came of age.
There was every indication that a center-right government would continue that emancipated to military deployments. But Merkel's conservative defense ministers were confronted with a different problem. By the time German troops were involved in the ground war in Afghanistan, it was clear that German society was still a long way from being accustomed to the blood reality of a war.
The Return of the Language of War
Fifty-two German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, and the Bundeswehr itself became responsible for the deaths of others. More than 100 people, mostly civilians, died in an air strike on two tanker trucks near Kunduz ordered by German Colonel Georg Klein. For a war-scarred nation that aimed to become the most peace-loving in the world, this was difficult to bear.
The Afghanistan mission brought the language of war back to Germany. Terms like casualties, veterans and war were back in use. Seventeen years after the Bundeswehr's first war mission, German lawmakers began to refer to combat missions as what they are: war.
It was no coincidence that a defense minister of the grandchildren's generation, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, overcame the taboo that prohibited associating the words "Germany" and "war" with each other. "The foreign and security policy of a unified Germany must include our ability to use terms like war, veterans and casualties in a normal way," says his successor Thomas de Maizière today.
The conservative minister is convinced that an army at war needs symbols and rituals, medals, memorials and the commemoration of veterans. This too was long taboo in postwar Germany.
De Maizière wants the profession of soldiering, with all of its consequences, to become part of normal life once again. Germany now has a lobby group for soldiers returning home -- the Association of German Veterans was set up three years ago.
The association uses four words to describe its services for returning veterans: dialogue, care, camaraderie and help. It fights for better recognition, in both material and non-material ways, of the achievements of Bundeswehr soldiers deployed abroad.
So far, 100 German soldiers have died in foreign operations. In the summer of 2010, the German Defense Ministry set up its first office for the families of veterans killed in action. Social Democrat Birgitt Heidinger, whose brother and son were once conscientious objectors to military service, was put in charge of the office. Why Heidinger? "I'm no longer that young, I don't wear a uniform, and I'm a woman," she says.
She tries to help the families of soldiers killed in action after the initial period of intensive support is over. "That's when the hole opens up," she says. She makes phone calls, has conversations and organizes trips to Afghanistan, the faraway country where husbands, sons or brothers were killed. "It helps the family members regain inner peace."
Many of the veterans' survivors complain that friends and acquaintances always repeat the same argument: You should have known that a soldier could die. To them, it sounds as if they were being told not to make such a fuss about it, as if knowing that the possibility of dying comes with the territory, and as if the debt of gratitude society owes its soldiers were settled with their pay. It's a way of suppressing one's compassion and denying responsibility. "It's a recurring pattern," says Heidinger.
According to Heidinger, no other Western country has an office specifically devoted to the families of the dead. Perhaps, says Heidinger, Germany needs it more than others. "Germany still isn't a normal country when it comes to society's relationship with its own soldiers."
A Return to Pacifism
A few years ago, then-President Horst Köhler noted that society exhibited a "friendly disinterest" in the Bundeswehr. His successor Joachim Gauck recently called for giving the Bundeswehr a place in the midst of society, and he complained that the military no longer figures prominently in the public's consciousness.
De Maizière takes a different view, but few agree with him. He is convinced that foreign missions "promote the emotional bond between the public and soldiers." He argues that the tough mission in Afghanistan has enhanced the public's interest in and respect for the Bundeswehr. It sounds as if the minister were trying to conjure up the normalcy he desires.
Major General Volker Halbauer has been the commander of the international mission in Kosovo since September. He isn't someone who gets agitated easily. When asked what has changed in Germans' attitudes toward Bundeswehr missions, he talks about his soldiers first. "Things have been turned around" in the minds of soldiers, he says. And society? "The public didn't participate in this shift."
The Afghanistan mission, in particular, has provided new arguments to support the historical doubts about the value of military interventions. Germany is experiencing a relapse into pacifism, and lawmakers are adjusting to the change. It marks a shift for Chancellor Merkel, too.
When Schröder ruled out German involvement in the Iraq war 10 years ago, she opposed him and joined the ranks of the hawks. In a "letter to all Germans" Merkel, the opposition leader at the time, warned against Schröder's position and noted that it was clear that Germany "must side with the United States and its allies."
Westerwelle, by contrast, has always been a populist. He does whatever seems to promise the most votes. When his party, the FDP, was still in opposition, Westerwelle pushed it towards backing chequebook diplomacy and shunning military action. When the Bundestag decided to send warships to waters off the Lebanese coast in September 2006, at Israel's request, the FDP voted against the decision.
When he came into office as foreign minister, Westerwelle made the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from Germany one of his top priorities, prompting the Chancellery to reassure the Americans that this was not Berlin's official policy. Merkel is better attuned to the wishes of German allies, but she too is concerned that foreign missions would cost votes.
Fresh Doubts About Germany 's Reliability
Not surprisingly, Green Party politicians are the most critical of the government's hesitant approach. The morally charged discussions over Kosovo and Afghanistan have prompted some Green Party leaders to promote military campaigns for humanitarian reasons.
For instance, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the co-leader of the Greens parliamentary group in the European Parliament, is calling for arms shipments to the Syrian opposition and disparages Westerwelle as a cheap pacifist. "Germany wants the pacifist dividend, but it wants others to do the dirty work," he grumbles. Jürgen Trittin, one of the party's leading members, was one of the first to call for a strong German commitment in Mali.
The center-right government, on the other hand, is conspicuously directionless. This was especially evident in its most momentous foreign policy decision to date. On March 17, 2011, the UN Security Council voted on a military mission in Libya. All of the conditions Berlin had cited for intervention were met. Nevertheless, German UN Ambassador Peter Wittig was the only envoy from a Western country to abstain from voting.
After the vote, Merkel insisted that Germany would support its allies. In reality, however, the German navy hurriedly withdrew its ships which had been sailing off the coast of Libya to monitor the arms embargo. The question about Germany's reliability returned, even though previous governments had done their best to allay doubts.
Libya was no isolated case. When the French expected support for their Mali mission in January, Westerwelle quickly and vocally declared what the Germans were absolutely not going to provide -- military support, for example.
Lack of Courage
Germany's hesitant behavior in international politics stands in stark contrast to Merkel's actions in the euro crisis. Germany has assumed the leadership role in the EU, and this has entailed consequences. Greek protestors incensed at German-led demands for austerity are waving swastika flags, and Merkel was treated as a hate figure in the Italian election campaign and in Cyprus.
Last summer, 54 percent of Germans saw no point to the billions in aid to the euro countries, but at the same time 66 percent said that they were satisfied with the chancellor. The difference between these two numbers is what constitutes political leadership, and the courage to make unpopular decisions.
This courage is lacking in foreign and security policy. The foreign minister largely confines himself to regularly calling for restraint, while otherwise exhibiting deep concern. His boss, the chancellor, relies on a different strategy: creating peace with German weapons.
Instead of becoming involved militarily, the center-right government prefers to send weapons to volatile regions. Partner countries in troubled regions of the world are to be strengthened with arms exports. These partners include authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia.
For historic reasons, Germany will never fully overcome its scruples against military deployment. And that's a good thing. But a government that aims to avoid the necessary conflicts from the start in each individual case disempowers a nation's people. True political leadership involves letting Germans assume responsibility once again, even if it means they will not always be viewed favorably -- as in the euro crisis.
Hubert Védrine is more familiar than most with German foreign policy. He became a foreign policy advisor to then French President François Mitterrand in 1981 and served throughout Mitterrand's presidency, and he was France's foreign minister from 1997 to 2002.
Védrine regrets that German security policy became less clear after Schröder and Fischer. He believes that if an center-left government had been in power, "Germany would not have abstained on Libya and would have done more in Mali." Védrine's message to Germany is: "Don't be afraid of yourselves. That part of your history happened a long time ago."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Property developer tears down additional stretch of Berlin Wall in surprise pre-dawn move
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 27, 2013 5:54 EDT
A property developer removed more of the Berlin Wall Wednesday, police said, in a surprise dawn move amid a bitter running protest over the dismantling of the once-detested Cold War division.
Four segments were removed from around 5:00 am local time (0400 GMT) from the Wall’s longest surviving stretch, creating a gap around five metres (16 feet) wide where a gate was installed, a police spokeswoman said.
Some 250 police were at the site, according to media reports.
Opponents have rallied, at times in their thousands, along the 1.3-kilometre (nearly one mile) stretch of Wall, known as the East Side Gallery, since the beginning of March when a first panel was taken away.
Its removal was temporarily halted shortly afterwards.
US singer and actor David Hasselhoff, who gave a legendary New Year’s Eve performance of his song “Looking for Freedom” at the Wall after its fall in 1989, has even joined protesters.
Since 1990, the outdoor gallery has been covered in brightly coloured graffiti murals, including the famous “Fraternal Kiss” depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s Erich Honecker locked in an embrace.
The 3.6-metre high stretch is a tourist magnet and a must-see for history buffs retracing the dark chapter of Berlin’s 28-year-long division who are otherwise hard pressed to find remnants of the Wall to photograph.
Developers have said that plans to provide access to a 63-metre high residential development along the banks of the Spree river as well as access to a planned bridge had required a 22-metre segment of the Wall to be dismantled.
A meeting between the property company and city authorities on Tuesday about possible alternative sites for the project proved fruitless.
Thrown up in 1961, the Wall stretched 155 kilometres (96 miles) and divided Berlin until 1989, but today only around three kilometres of it still stand.
March 26, 2013 07:00 PMI Don't Like Being Lied To, Neither Did This Documentary Crew
By Diane Sweet
On Earthday, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig sank creating the worst oil spill in history. According to the global media, the story ended when the well was capped – but that’s when the real story began. By exposing the root causes of the oil spill and what really happened after the news cameras left the Gulf states, filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell uncover a vast network of corruption.
The New Orleans Times Picayune says THE BIG FIX is “a full-on, no-holds-barred bit of investigative journalism” into the dark secrets surrounding one of the largest man-made environmental catastrophes in American history.
THE BIG FIX is “a damning indictment” (Time Out New York) of a system of government and corporate collusion that puts the pursuit of profit over all other human and environmental needs. Through “smart, covert reporting that shames our news media” (The Village Voice) The Big Fix is “a mandatory-viewing critique of widespread government corruption” (LA Weekly).
Click to watch this incredible documentary film about how the very nature of capitalism corrupts everything: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KgFBciS_X0