European Affairs

Global highlights and local sidelights culled from the media (April - June 2007)     Print Email

AMSTERDAM: Dutch Reality TV on Kidney Shortage a Hoax

Three contestants were competing for a dying woman’s kidney. The Dutch TV reality-show, which received widespread criticism, was revealed as a hoax. Lisa, the 37-year-old “donor” – who was in fact an actress – was to choose her kidney’s recipient based on the contestants’ history, and conversation with their family and friends.

The real purpose of the show was recently disclosed. “We have only done this cry for help because we want to solve a problem that shouldn’t be a problem,” a producer told a news conference after the show. Indeed, while “the donor” may have been acting, the three people vying for an organ were in fact real patients in need of a kidney transplant.

Dutch Culture Minister Ronald Plasterk hailed the show as a “fantastic stunt.” Caroline Klingers, a kidney patient who was watching the program from a treatment center, praised the hoax because of the greater publicity on the issue it had raised. Nearly 200 people die each year in the Netherlands while waiting for a kidney.

- BBC News

 

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ANKARA: Turkey is World’s “Most Anti-U.S. Country”

In this year’s annual global poll by the Pew Research Center, Turkey ranked as the world’s “most anti-U.S. country.”

“The Pew Research Center said that only nine percent of Turks have favorable views of the United States. The figure for Turkish support of the United States in 2000 was 52 percent, and has since declined steadily. Pew director Andrew Kohut said… that when last year’s poll indicated 12 percent Turkish support for the U.S., he did not think the figure would fall down further.”

Furthermore, 81 percent of Turks expressed dislike for “American ideas of democracy.”

Support for the EU has also significantly diminished. The Pew poll indicated that only 27 percent of Turks had a favorable view of the EU, down from 58 percent in 2004. The proportion of unfavorable opinion has, in turn, increased from 35 percent to 58 percent.

– Turkish Daily News

 

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BELGRADE: Kosovo Outcome Likely to Turn Serbia Away from the West and Toward Russia

Serbia’s government… is deeply divided between pro-Western and nationalist forces… facing a choice between moving towards European integration or on to a more isolationist path. The government’s composition, deep mistrust among many of its members and the parliament’s nationalist majority suggest it will follow the second option. Pro-Western forces have suffered a significant setback, the government is vulnerable to manipulation by the security services and oligarchs, and [responsibilities] are divided among the security services. Although Kosovo independence could destabilize the ruling coalition, the government may surprise and last far longer and prove more stable than expected. The West should prepare for Serbia turning increasingly away from Europe and towards Moscow.

The EU and U.S. have given away most of their leverage through repeated concessions and now have even fewer policy tools with which to influence Belgrade than before...[So] Brussels and Washington should resist the temptation of appeasing Serbia further in a misguided effort to purchase acceptance of Kosovo’s independence…The real point of contention between the two [ruling coalition parties] will be foreign policy [as one party] attempts to continue nationalist and confrontational policies and [tries] to hide Milosevic-era nationalist policies behind pro-Western inclinations [of the other party], making it difficult for Washington and Brussels to confront Serbia effectively on key issues… A parliament-authorized dictatorship could become a real threat following a Kosovo status decision. The West may well have to accustom itself to a Serbia that for a number of years is anti-Europe, pro-Russia and unrepentant in its dangerously self-destructive nationalism.

– International Crisis Group

 

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BERLIN: Anti-Americanism is Free

A recent German poll revealed that 48 percent of Germans believe the United States to be more dangerous than Iran, with only 31 percent of those polled thinking the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is erroneously widespread in Germany, according to Claus Christian Malzahn. In the political arena, he asserts that “taking a swing at the Yanks” is a nearly-guaranteed way to climb up in slumping public opinion polls. He laments that today “anti-Americanism is the wonder drug of German politics.”

Malzahn labels this behavior “hypocrisy at its finest” because while Germans insult Americans, they are doing so in front of made-in-U.S.A. TV shows. He also puts forth that Germany “can claim that the Americans have themselves to blame for terrorism, while at the same time calling for tougher restrictions on Muslim immigration to Germany.” He believes that the verbal hostility and mockery of the United States is really meant “to boost German feeling of self-righteousness” at a relatively-low cost.

Malzahn recalls, in contrast, when Dutch entertainer Rudi Carell produced a short TV sketch, that aired on German TV and portrayed the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini in women’s underwear, he received death threats. Cancelled flights to Germany and the expulsion of German diplomats from Tehran followed. Malzahn concludes that “jokes about fat Americans are just safer.”

–Der Spiegel

 

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BRUSSELS: Google Agrees Changes on Privacy

For the second time in the past four months, “Google has announced changes to its privacy policy in response to pressure from the Article 29 working party, a group of national officials that advises the European Union on privacy policy” based on worries that Google searches and cookies could be used to create profiles of the political affiliation or sexual orientation of individuals.

In response, last March, Google decided to reduce its storage time to between 18 months and two years. Officials though told Google that the measures were insufficient and that the new storage period “does not seem to meet the requirements” of European law.

David Bradshaw, an analyst at the research group Ovum, said that “the really big danger for Google is not so much that relations with the EU blow up but that it will come to be seen as not very caring of privacy by the user community.

In fact, Privacy International, a UK-based human rights group, declared that Google had an “entrenched hostility to privacy,” after a six-month long study, the group rated Google as the worst of 23 sites while companies such as Microsoft and Ebay were ranked more favorably.

–Financial Times

 

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DUBLIN: Lessons for Spain

Success in Ireland inspires hopes in many countries, such as Spain, that are home to separatist demands. Parallels can be drawn between the situations in Spain and Ireland. There are however two main differences.

“The first difference is that British governments seem less exercised about any threat that a part of their country might one day break away. If a clear majority in Northern Ireland – or in Scotland, for that matter – voted for independence, most politicians in London would accept the result. In contrast, all governments in Madrid remain pathologically hostile to any such idea anywhere in Spain.

“The second difference is that support for the Northern Ireland peace process was wholly bipartisan. The Labour opposition at Westminster firmly backed the Tories in their negotiations with Dublin and with Sinn Fein, under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Similarly, the Conservative opposition has been solidly behind Tony Blair… The People’s Party (PP) has fiercely resisted Zapatero’s every move over the Basque problem. The party remains bitter about its unexpected loss of the March 2004 election, which fell a few days after the Madrid train bombings. It was brave, if perhaps naive, of Zapatero to try to make peace in the Basque region on his own. But the PP’s hostility made his task vastly more difficult. A prerequisite for future plans to deal with ETA must be that the two main parties in Spain find common ground first.”

–The Economist

 

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FLORENCE: Counter-Terrorism Changes

U.S. counter-terrorism officials are adopting a more cooperative tone, freer from previous “American triumphalism,’’ according to Karen Greenberg, executive director of the NYU Law School Center for Law and Security, and organizer of an annual high-level Transatlantic conference on counter-terrorism in Florence. U.S. officials attending the closed-door meeting declined to be interviewed, but National Public Radio quoted Greenberg saying that this year “no one said we’re not in trouble,” referring to the Iraq war.

Former White House counter-terrorism official Roger Cressey also noted the change in attitude, remarking that until recently in this field “decisions were made in Washington without any regard for how they would be felt here in Europe.” He said that “restoring U.S. credibility vis-à-vis its European allies and the Muslim world” will be a priority for the next administration.

An alarming trend in Britain was explained by Peter Clark, head of Britain’s anti-terrorism branch of the police. Home-grown terrorism has become the overriding concern, he said, especially because of a growing “disconnect between public opinion and law enforcement.” According to Clark, “the police service have been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by terrorism in order, it is alleged, to help the government justify its foreign policy.” Clarke said that Muslim communities, often doubtful that the police and government are acting for their interest, do not provide information. He warned that “the lack of public trust in intelligence is in danger of infecting the relationship between the police and the communities we serve.”

–National Public Radio

 

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MINSK: “Bring Condoms” Requirement

Poles crossing Belarus’s border must now be in possession of, not only a first-aid kit, but also condoms. Since this recent demand by Bielorussian border authorities, condom sales on the Polish/Belarus border have soared.

To the many that believe this to be a joke, Polish priest Piotr Mrozik will tell them it’s not funny. “Imagine the salesman’s face at the gas station when I arrived, with my white collar, and asked him for a box of Durex. I was very embarrassed” declared the priest, who was heading to a Polish church in Belarus.

Authorities are denying the existence of such practices, despite the complaints of several Polish travelers. “It must be a rumor, but if otherwise, I will make sure to intervene” stated Aleksander Koncki, from the Bielorussian consulate in Poland.

–Dziennik

 

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PARIS: The Gaul of it! Asterix too French?

The French comic book character Asterix is known to petits et grands as the valliant protector of ancient Gaul from stereotyped foreigners – from “Brits who drink hot water with a dash of milk” to “the Corsicans he has ribbed for being work-shy, violent and producing explosively-smelly cheese.”

Asterix’s place in today’s multicultural France was recently contested… When Asterix’s illustrator, Albert Uderzo, offered the hero’s services as illustration to the text of the UN Charter for children’s rights, some complained.

Angelique Chrisafis explains that Jean-Pierre Rozenczveig, of Defense for Children International, said that Asterix and his mission as defender of Gaul were not representative of a modern, multicultural society. The hero “resisting the invaders” was a bad choice to defend a France “aspiring to a happy and peaceful coexistence of all its diverse groups” he declared.

France’s children’s ombudsman, Dominique Versini, dismissed the brawl. “The Gauls show no sign of surrender” writes Angelique Chrisafis.

–The Guardian

 

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PARIS: U-turn on Chinese Arms Embargo Lift

Ahead of the change of president in France, the campaign marked the end of the Chirac era, notably the arms embargo on China. The three main presidential contenders (Royal, Sarkozy, Bayrou) oppose the idea of lifting the arms embargo on China, one of Chirac’s biggest diplomatic initiatives vis-à-vis Beijing.

In unison with former chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroeder, Chirac had worked to lift the arms embargo [imposed on China by the EU in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square massacre.] The Franco-German alliance failed on the issue, overpowered by the double resistance coming from other EU member states that refused to sacrifice a moral stance that would permit France to sell its arms, and coming from the United States that did not want to see their European “allies” equip a potential Chinese threat.

Schroeder’s position was already reversed by Merkel, and Chirac’s has now also been buried by the three candidates, including Sarkozy. Enough to assure nostalgia in Beijing after Chirac’s departure and to wonder what will happen after the election. Although one should note that Bayrou is the most categorical on maintaining the ban, while Royal and Sarkozy are more sensible to Chinese dispositions.

–www.Rue89.com

 

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RIGA: Baltic Unity A La Carte?

Oft-proclaimed Baltic solidarity suffered a dent when Latvia failed to give its support this spring to neighboring Estonia in the dispute that suddenly flared with Russia over the fate of a Communist-era statue in Tallinn commemorating the Soviet “Bronze Soldier.” The statue is a memorial to Russians and a past Soviet repression by many Estonians. It was relocated, along with the remains of Soviet soldiers, from central Tallinn to an out-of-town military cemetery. The move triggered outrage from Russia and among Estonia’s Russian minority (about 25 percent of the population).

When Estonia’s leader visited Latvia in the midst of the crisis, the Baltic fault lines were on display in the lukewarm Latvian support for Estonia in its confrontation with Moscow. Riga previously had always been at the forefront in defending cooperation between the Baltic states, mainly out of Latvians’ desire to avoid ever having to stand alone against Russia. But since Latvia joined NATO (and the EU) and has found new allies (outside the Baltic circle), Riga’s fears of a one-on-one face-off with Russia have lessened.

These changes in the regional balance of power seem to have altered some old reflexes. Nowadays, the Baltic states only demonstrate solidarity when unity aligns with their national interests. Estonia’s decision to relocate the statue have, and will, be an example of the new tests on the solidarity of the Baltic states – both vis-à-vis their old relationship to Moscow and also vis-à-vis their new relationships with Brussels.

–Latvijas Avize

 

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WARSAW: Polish Ultra-Conservative Dismissed (by Foes) as “Provocateur’’

In Poland, radical right-wing politician Roman Giertych, 36, has proved very successful in courting the political spotlight. As head of the League of Polish Families, a nationalist political party that is the junior coalition partner in government, he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Education last year and, since then, has repeatedly ignited controversy that has garnered the media spotlight at home and internationally – not always in flattering terms.

His latest proposal, announced in May, centered on censoring the required-reading lists in Polish schools. Among other proposed restrictions was a ban on the works of Goethe, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Gombrowicz and Josef Conrad [– a native Pole who “betrayed” his native tongue to write in his adopted language, English].

[Any such notion was promptly dismissed by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. “If this was a joke, it wasn’t a good one,’’ he said, chiding Mr. Giertych for his “exhibitionist’s desire to be provocative in order to ‘exist’ politically.”] The censorship project was shelved, but plans remain to put works by John Paul II into the curriculum to propagate among students the Christian (and patriotic) values contained in the late Polish-born Pope’s writings.

Last June Mr. Giertych stupefied Poland’s teachers by decreeing that 53,000 high-school students who had failed their final exams should graduate and get diplomas anyway because the tests were “too hard.” Subsequently, Polish courts ruled that his action was unconstitutional and outlawed any repetition of such ministerial interference.

Mr. Giertych has scored some points – including a new slogan for the school system (“order, patriotism, excellence, truth”) that resonates ominously with dark times in Europe’s recent past. Early this year high-school principals were told to report the names of all pregnant students to the education ministry as part of Mr. Giertych’s efforts to set up a special “help system” for unwed mothers.

Other initiatives of his have been well received by the intelligentsia in Poland – for example, his plans to lower the age for starting school from seven to six and to make foreign language-classes a requirement in elementary schools.

–Le Monde

 

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WASHINGTON: Muslim Immigrants Assimilate Better than in Europe

The nearly 2.5 million Muslims living in the United States are “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world,” according to a major survey of American Muslims, the first of its scope.

Muslims in the U.S., although largely foreign-born, are nonetheless notably American in their beliefs. Embracing American work ethic values, 71 percent of the United States’ Muslims agree that most people who want to get ahead in the U.S. can make it if they are willing to work hard. Overall, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, according to the survey. While 47 percent of Muslim Americans think of themselves as Muslim before American, the comparable figures for Muslims are much higher in Britain (81 percent), Germany (66 percent) and Spain (69 percent); in France, it is lower (46 percent).

Survey charts showed that American Muslims’ income and education levels closely parallel those of the general population: the percentage of low-income Muslims among the Muslim minority is two points higher than the American average whereas the percentage of low-income Muslims runs between 18 and 24 percent higher than the general average in France, Spain, Germany and Britain.

“Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Western European Muslims”, but fewer native African-American Muslims completely condemn al-Qaeda than do other American Muslims. Also, “younger Muslims in the U.S are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing can be at least sometimes justified.”

–Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 8, Issue number 2-3 in the Summer/Fall of 2007.

 

 

 
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