Subject: ON SURVIVAL IN THE ICE AGE.
30 December 2010
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Recently, sitting at the dinner table with my 14-year-old daughter, the conversation turned toward nutrition. I mentioned to her that all of the potential energy set before us, just waiting for us to bite into and for our bodies to digest, originated with the sun, that all living things were dependent on photosynthesis, the vital interaction of sun light and chloroplasts in plants, I recited; it is this that makes the solar energy digestible for all animals, including us. She was impressed; then she began to think: "What about the energy in inorganic materials?" she asked. "Everything is made up of atoms, and each atom is made up of a nuclei, composed of protons and neutrons, surrounded by electrons with a field of darting photons moving between them."
I was at a loss, junior high school is not what it used to be in South Texas. When I was her age, I had not yet discovered Isaac Newton; it was only in high school physics that the unifying law of universal gravitation was offered as an explanation of how all things are held together --from galaxies, to our solar system, to the smallest atomic structures.... I remember the discomfort in our class when our high school physics teacher presented a new textbook which mentioned the theoretical existence of electronic fields around atomic nuclei which was thought to govern the movement of electrons. We all thought the universal field of gravitation was more a tidy concept, and we were reluctant to abandon it. Then later at the university, we were introduced to quantum mechanics, and we went crazy: Different strokes for different folks, a diversity of overlapping worlds, an infinite number of intersecting waves moving in all directions, photons bumping around inside atoms causing waves of attraction and repulsion inside our bodies and everywhere else in organic and inorganic matter. It was almost too much....
The use of the sophisticated knowledge of physics to retard the forces of entropy is becoming the cause célèbre of nanotechnology. The Forces of Law and Order see science on their side, and a politics of crushing molar movements manifests an almost desperate fear of diversity and out-of-control experiences. The unified field theory of universal gravitation was a useful metaphor to create political discipline. Quantum mechanics offers a diversity of theories, but it fails to inspire an understanding of the concentration of political power in a defined location. As the rest of us seem to mostly bump against each other, instead of enjoying working together for worthwhile objectives, attraction like repulsion seems as capricious as dancing photons releasing energies that could make all the difference in the world. . . .
"You are what you eat!' my daughter announced at the end of our diner. "And you are what you don't eat," I replied, as I reached for the last piece of fried chicken.
On this New Year's Eve, the 4 items below might suggest to CEIMSA readers that the logic of social organization cannot be reduced to physical laws, even the most sophisticated of physical laws. The cultural order and the natural order are separate, though they frequently overlap. The cultural affinity for Law and Order and the cultural expression of Freedom it seems will always be in conflict. The role of science is to discover new ways to facilitate cohabitation on this planet and to reduce drudgery and misery so that human potentials can be released in new, exciting, and unexpected directions for the deep pleasure and benefit of all. Meanwhile, below we can see what seems to be the "gravitational force" of politics from the Old Year....
Item A., "The Demolition of the Yugoslav Tribunal: A review of Germinal Civikov’s Srebrenica: The Star Witness," is a powerful book review sent to us by the American economist and social critic from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Edward S. Herman.
Item B. is a letter from Amicus Iuris President Stefan Karganovic, who is requesting that letters be written to authorities in Serbia demanding that they cease and desist their government censorship of the media.
Item C., from Isabelle C., is a little-known history of the expansion of Albanian Mafia activities in Western Europe since 2000.
Item D., sent to us by New York University Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, Dr Mark Crispin Miller, is an article by Erich Follath and Christoph Schult in which the authors describe the national leadership of Hungary using the media to steer toward the crystallization of a right-wing dictatorship.
Item E. is the picture worth a thousand words, on the nostalgia for power and politics, sent to us by Professor Richard Du Boff.
And finally, we invite CEIMSA readers look at the "cultural fallout" of the Wikileaks phenomenon over these past weeks, at :
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Edward Herman ;
Date: 27 December 2010
Subject: A review of Germinal Civikov’s Srebrenica: The Star Witness.
The Demolition of the Yugoslav Tribunal: A review of Germinal Civikov’s Srebrenica: The Star Witness
[Germinal Civikov's book was first published in German in 2009 under the title, Srebrenica: Der Kronzeuge, and was translated into American English by John Laughland for publication by Srebrenica Historical Project: 2010.]
by Edward S. Herman
[This review originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Z Magazine]
This book is a devastating indictment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY, or Tribunal), showing clearly that the ICTY “does not behave according to the traditions of the rule of law”--it is a political rather than judicial institution, and has played this political role well. It is not the first work to effectively assail the Tribunal—Laughland’s own book Travesty (Pluto: 2006), and Michael Mandel’s How America Gets Away With Murder (Pluto: 2004) are powerful critiques. But Civikov’s book is unique in its intensive and very effective focus on a single witness, Drazen Erdemovic, and the ICTY’s prosecutors and judges handling of that witness. Erdemovic was the prosecution’s “star witness,” the only one in the trials of various Serb military and political figures to have claimed actual participation in a massacre of Bosnian Muslim prisoners. It is therefore of great interest and importance that Civikov is able to show very convincingly that this key witness was a charlatan, fraud, and mercenary, and that the ICTY’s prosecutors and judges effectively conspired to allow this witness’s extremely dubious and contradictory claims to be accepted without verification or honest challenge.
Erdemovic was a member of a Bosnian Serb military unit, the “10th Sabotage Unit,” an eight-man team of which he claimed shot to death 1,200 Bosnian Muslim prisoners at Branjevo Farm north of Srebrenica in Bosnia on July 16, 1995. Erdemovic confessed to having personally killed 70-100 prisoners. He was initially arrested by Yugoslav authorities on March 3, 1996, and quickly indicted, but was turned over to the ICTY at pressing U.S. and ICTY official request on March 30, 1996, supposedly temporarily, but in fact, permanently. He was himself eventually tried, convicted, and served three and a half years in prison for his crimes. This was a rather short term for an acknowledged killer of 70-100 prisoners, but longer than he had anticipated when he agreed to testify for the ICTY—he had expected complete immunity, as he told Le Figaro reporter Renaud Girard (“Bosnia: Confession of a War Criminal, “ Le Figaro, March 8, 1996). He claimed to have an agreement with the ICTY whereby “in return for his evidence he will be allowed to settle in a Western country with his family. He will enter the box as a witness, not as an accused, and will thus escape all punishment.” But his earlier arrest, indictment and publicity in Yugoslavia may have made some prison term necessary for the ICTY’s credibility. He ended up after his prison term in an unknown location as a “protected witness” of the ICTY. But even before his own sentencing he had begun his role as star witness in the ICTY’s (and U.S. and NATO’s) trials of accused Serbs. He appeared in five such trials, and from beginning to end was taken as a truth-teller by prosecutors, judges, and the mainstream media.
One of the most remarkable and revealing features of the Erdemovic case is that although he named seven individuals who did the killing with him, and two superiors in the chain of command who ordered or failed to stop the crime, not one of these was ever brought into an ICTY court either as an accused killer or to confirm any of Erdemovic’s claims. These co-killers have lived quietly, within easy reach of ICTY jurisdiction, but untroubled by that institution and any demands seemingly imposed by a rule of law. The commander of his unit, Milorad Pelemis, who Erdemovic claimed had given the order to kill, made it clear in an interview published in a Belgrade newspaper in November 2005, that the Hague investigators have never questioned him. He had never gone into hiding, but has lived undisturbed with his wife and children in Belgrade. Nor have ICTY investigators bothered with Brano Gojkovic, a private in the killer team who Erdemovic claimed was somehow in immediate command of the unit (a point never explained by him or prosecutors or judges). Civikov points out that only once did the judges in any of the five trials in which the star witness testified ask the prosecutors whether they were investigating these other killers. The prosecutors assured the judges in 1996 that the others were being investigated, but 14 years later the Office of the Prosecutor had not questioned one of them. And from 1996 onward the judges never came back to the subject.
As these seven were killers of many hundreds in Erdemovic’s version, and the prosecutors and judges took Erdemovic’s version as true, why were these killers left untouched? One thing immediately clear is that the ICTY was not in the business of serving impartial justice even to the point of arresting and trying wholesale killers of Bosnian Muslims in a case the ICTY itself called “genocide.” But ignoring the co-perpetrators in this case strongly suggests that the prosecutors and judges were engaged in a political project—protecting a witness who would say what the ICTY wanted said, and refusing to allow any contesting evidence or cross-examination that would discredit the star witness. Civikov points out that the only time Erdemovic was subject to serious cross-examination was when he was questioned by Milosevic himself during the marathon Milosevic trial. And Civikov shows well that the ICTY presiding judge in that case, Richard May, went to great pains to stop Milosevic whenever his questions penetrated too deeply into the area of Erdemovic’s connections or credibility.
In April 2004, a Bosnian Croat, Marko Boskic, was arrested in Peabody, Massachusetts, for having caused a hit-and-run car crash while drunk. It was soon discovered that Boskic was one of the members of Erdemovic’s killer team at Branjevo Farm But journalists at the ICTY soon discovered that the Tribunal did not intend to ask for the extradition of this accused and confessed murderer. A spokesman for the Office of the Prosecutor stated on August 2004 that the prosecutor was not applying for the extradition of Boskic because it was obligated to concentrate on “the big fish.” So killing hundreds, and being part of a “joint criminal enterprise” murdering 1,200, does not yield big enough fish for the ICTY. In fact, this is a major lie as dozens of cases have been brought against Serbs for small-scale killings or even just beatings, and the ICTY has thrived on little fish for many years. In fact, the first case ever brought by the ICTY was against one Dusko Tadic in 1996, who was charged with a dozen killings, all dismissed for lack of evidence, leaving him guilty of no killings whatsoever, but only of persecution and beatings, for which he was given a 20 year sentence. A number of other Serbs were given prison sentences, not for killing people, but for beatings or passivity in not exercising authority to constrain underlings (e.g., Dragolic Prcac, 5 years; Milojica Kos, 6 years, Mlado Radic, 20 years, among others). The dossier of ICTY prosecution of little (Serb) fish is large.
Thus, the Boskic case does not fall into any little-fish-disinterest category. Rather, it is perfectly consistent with the failure to bring to court Pelermis or any of the seven known co-perpetrators of the massacre. Civikov’s very plausible hypothesis is that this is another manifestation of star witness protection—the ICTY does not want his convenient testimony to be challenged. Little fish like Boskic might gum up a political project. Civikov contrasts the extremely alert and aggressive actions of the ICTY and U.S. authorities in getting Erdemovic transferred to the Hague in March 1996 with this remarkable reluctance to even question Erdemovic’s fellow killers. He was seen quickly as a man who might make proper connections to enemy targets, so no holds were barred then, or later..
Another remarkable feature of the handling of Erdemovic is his use as a star witness immediately after he had been declared mentally impaired and before his own sentencing. Following his first confession of guilt on May 31, 1996, on June 27, 1996 Erdemovic was declared by his trial judges to be unfit for questioning in his own sentencing hearing because psychiatrists found him to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the doctors urging a pre-hearing review of his mental condition in six to nine months time. But on July 5th, little more than a week after this medical report, Erdemovic was put forward as the star witness in a pre-trial hearing to publicize the current allegations against Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
This was a remarkable spectacle. The two accused had not been apprehended, so they were not present to defend themselves, nor were their attorneys. It was only the prosecutors and ICTY judges in action. The same judges who had just declared him mentally unfit for questioning in his own hearing now pushed him forward without any further medical examination. The presiding judge Claude Jorda explained that Erdemovic’s own trial and sentencing were postponed “because we have asked for some further medical information,” which suppresses the fact that the judgment of the doctors was that Erdemovic was “unfit to be questioned,” presumably not just in his own trial. But Jorda’s service to the political project runs deeper—he not only allows the Prosecutor to put on the stand a just-declared medically unfit person, and does this before this self-admitted murderer is sentenced, he even assures Erdemovic that his evidence as a witness for the prosecution “might be taken into consideration.” It was mainly on the basis of unverified and unchallenged (and unchallengeable) testimony of this sick man and mass killer still facing his own trial and sentencing, that arrest warrants were issued for Karadzic and Mladic.
What Erdemovic was prepared to do in service to the ICTY program was to help build the case that there was a line of command between himself and his co-murderers at Branjevo Farm and the Bosnian Serb high command, i.e., Karadzic and Mladic, and hopefully eventually Milosevic. He did this poorly, never showing those leaders’ involvement in or knowledge of this killing expedition, but mainly just asserting that its local commanders were under the authority of central Bosnian Serb headquarters. He claimed that immediate authority over the killing operation was held by Brano Gojkovic, a private in a team that also included a Lieutenant, and he mentions a mysterious and unnamed Lieutenant Colonel who took the unit to the killing site and then left. Erdemovic is not consistent on whether Pelermis ordered the killing or this unnamed Lieutenant Colonel. He also asserts that Colonel Petar Salpura, an intelligence officer of the Bosnian Serb army had direct command responsibility for the massacre. He vacillates on Gojkovic’s power, sometimes making him “commander” with great authority, sometimes merely serving as an intermediary. Erdemovic himself was allegedly without authority and coerced into killing, but Civikov makes a very good case that at that time Erdemovic was a sergeant, and that he had joined the team voluntarily. But he and a Lieutenant Franc Kos were supposedly bossed by private Gojkovic in this killing enterprise. This line of command is very messy!
Civikov shows that the prosecution and judges strove mightily and successfully to prevent any challenges to Erdemovic’s implausible and contradictory, and partly disprovable, claims about the line of command. This includes, importantly, their refusal to call before the court even one of those “little fish” co-murderers and higher commanders who might have clarified the facts. Instead of calling to the stand his boss, Lieutenant Pelermis, or Pelermis’s boss, Colonel Petar Salpura, the ICTY is happy to stop with “a psychologically disturbed and apparently demoted sergeant,” who makes the ties that this court is pursuing with undue diligence.
Erdemovic and a number of his colleagues in the .10th Sabotage Unit were clearly mercenaries, and after the ending of the Balkan wars served the French in Africa. Erdemovic himself had worked for a time with the Bosnian Muslim army, then with the Croatians, and then with the Bosnian Serbs. He was trained as a locksmith, but never managed to work that trade. He found military service, and eventually serving as a star (and protected) witness, more profitable, but he regularly claimed before the Tribunal that he was a good man, hated war, was coerced into participating in the Branjevo Farm mass murder, and confessed to his crimes there because he was a man of conscience. The ICTY judges believed him, never saw him as a mercenary despite his performing military service for all three parties in the Bosnian warfare, and the ICTY took pains to exclude any witnesses from testifying who would put him in a bad light. They could not avoid several awkward witnesses in other trials: Colonel Salpura, a defence witness in the Blagovic and Jokic trials, denied authority over the 10th Sabotage Unit, and gave clear evidence that the killer team was on holiday leave on July 16, 1995; Dragan Todorovic, a witness for the prosecution in the Popovic case and officer of the Drina Corp of the Bosnian Serb army, also testified that the killer unit was on leave, that Lieutenant Kos, not private Gojkovic, signed out for the arms to be used by the unit, and that Erdemovic volunteered to be a member of that unit, and was not coerced into joining it.
Except for these awkward witnesses, the prosecutors and judges were able to keep out of the court record the fact that the Erdemovic unit that went to the Branjevo Farm did so during a ten-day vacation leave, not during regular service hours. Erdemovic himself never mentioned this fact. They also successfully buried the fact that, according to an early interview with Erdemovic, he claimed that his colleagues received a large sum of gold, perhaps 12 kilos, for some kind of service rendered. This payment, which suggests mercenary service, and not payment by the Bosnian Serb army, was never explored by prosecutors or judges in any of the trials in which Erdemovic participated, and was only raised by Milosevic, who, as noted, was harshly limited in his questioning by Judge Richard May. The facts that members of the killing group were on leave on July 16, 1995, and later findings of a French secret service connection of Pelemis and several of his colleagues, and the subsequent recruitment of soldiers from the 10th Sabotage Unit for mercenary service in Zaire to fight in the war there on the side of Mobutu, are suggestive. So is the fact that this mass murder of prisoners was extremely unhelpful to the Bosnian Serb cause, but worked out very well for the NATO powers. And it is clear why the ICTY, in service to NATO, would refuse to explore these questions and linkages.
The protection of Erdemovic and the notable ICTY-NATO success in getting his problematic testimony accepted as truth in five separate trials of Serbs owes much to the media, which in the United States and Britain raised no questions and swallowed the party line intact (for a case study, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Marlise Simons on the Yugoslavia Tribunal: A Study in Total Propaganda Service,” ZNet, 2004). This applied not just to the mainstream media but to the supposedly left and dissident media, with only Z Magazine in the United States publishing reviews of serious critical works dealing with the ICTY (notably, Mandel, Laughland and Johnstone).
Germinal Civikov points out that killing 1,200 people in five hours, ten at a batch, as claimed by Erdemovic, would allow under three minutes for each batch, including getting them out of the buses, taking them to the shooting zone, shooting them, making sure of their being dead, and disposing of the bodies. There were also claimed interludes of drinking, arguing, and cavorting. Why did the prosecutors, judges and media never address this issue of timing? Why did the prosecutor sometimes speak of only “hundreds” killed at the Branjevo Farm? Could it be related to the fact that fewer than 200 bodies were recovered from the site, and no aerial photos were ever produced that showed body removal or reburial? Civikov says, “So something between 100 and 900? This lack of knowledge, incidentally, will not prevent the judges, several months later, from putting the figure of 1,200 in their judgment after all—mind you without any proof, then or now, apart from the accused’s own claim.” Once again, why did they not call any other perpetrator to discuss numbers?
One would love to know what the ICTY prosecutors and judges said behind the scenes in confronting Erdemovic’s numbers, lines of authority, role, lies and contradictions. Perhaps the ICTY insiders did discuss them, but they and the media have played dumb. A Wikileaks was, and still is today, desperately needed to deal with the Erdemovic/ICTY travesty—and in fact, a Wikileaks on the ICTY would wreak havoc in the trial of Karadzic and pursuit of Mladic. So will Civikov’s Srebrenica: The Star Witness if it gets the exposure that it deserves.
from Stefan Karganovic :
Date: 27 December 2010
Subject: Media Freedom in Serbia Appeal
A very distressing media freedom situation has just arisen in Belgrade, Serbia. It requires our solidarity and a quick and efficient response.
The director of Belgrade Radio decided on Friday, December 24, to shut down one of their best cultural and political commentary programs, “Atlantida” [Atlantis in Serbian], which is hosted by Mrs. Biljana Djorovic, a lady many of you already know because you have been guests on her show.
For a considerable period of time already “Atlantida” has been sticking out like a sore thumb within the programming scheme of Belgrade radio. I want to give you just a sampling of the caliber of guests that Mrs. Djorovic has interviewed on her show and that should give you a clue why, from the standpoint of the corrupt and servile Tadic regime, she has got to go:
Edward Herman was a guest no less than seven times. He was interviewed on such topics as the Srebrenica massacre, the “politics of genocide”, the breakup of Yugoslavia, the role of NATO as an imperial pit-bull, the “normalisation of the inconceivable,” engineering of consent, etc.;
Noam Chomsky was a guest twice, and is scheduled to be interviewed again in January of 2011. Topics: tenth anniversary of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. The transcripts of these interviews have been published;
Michael Parenti was on the program twice and talked about the revision of history and the breakup of Yugoslavia.
David N. Gibbs spoke about his book “First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia”;
Film director Robert Kane Pappas was interviewed about his films “To age or not to age” and “Orwell rolls in his grave”;
Tariq Ali, historian, author, filmmaker, on Pakistan, the colonisation of Iraq, and “conversation with history”;
William Engdahl was a guest on numerous occasions and discussed such diverse topics as A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order; Seeds of Destruction. The Hidden Agenda of GMO; Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order; Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century;
Judith Riesman talked about the politics of sexuality and Rima Laibow spoke on the Codex Alimentarius;
Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization, on the globalisation of poverty;
Vijay Prashad discussed “the darker nations” and “A People's History of the Third World”;
John Stauber offered a fantastic analysis of the media and their links with the power structure by presenting his books: “Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!”, “ Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry”, “Trust Us We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future”, “Weapons of Mass Deception”.
The sheer breadth of the topics covered by Mrs. Djorovic on her program, the eminence of her guests, and their critical anti-globalist perspective, quite understandably are perceived as a threat by Boris Tadic’s crypto-dictatorship in Serbia. The parent company of Radio Belgrade 2, Serbian Radio and Television [RTS], is owned and controlled by the state. It was therefore natural that Mrs. Djorovic should run afoul of the regime’s media Gleichschaltung and that its propaganda apparatus should seek a pretext to shut her down.
The pretext was found and it is quite comical. The director of Radio Belgrade 2, Djordje Malavrazic, informed Mrs. Djorovic on Friday that her program’s mission was confined to exploring cultural issues but that its subject matter has expanded intolerably beyond those original parameters. So instead of redefining the mission statement to accommodate a successful, intellectually challenging, and popular program, he is shutting the program down as of on January 31, 2011!
I feel strongly that all of us who are concerned about intellectual and media freedom must draw a line, and this is as good a place as any to start doing it. In the name of our Dutch-based NGO, Amicus Iuris, which was set up to monitor media freedom and respect for human rights in the Balkans, we appeal to you to take a few minutes of your time and to address an email concerning this matter to the following gentlemen:
- Djordje Malavrazic, Director, Second Program of Radio Belgrade, email: email@example.com
- Aleksandar Tijanic, Director of Serbian Radio and Television, email : firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sasa Jankovic, Serbian Ombudsman, email: email@example.com
- Ambassador Dimitrios Kypreos, head of OSCE Mission to Serbia, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr. Roland Bless, Head of the International Staff of the Office of Director of OSCE on Freedom of the Media, email: email@example.com\
- Dragana Solomon, head, OSCE Mission to Serbia Media Department, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For maximum effect, I suggest that you direct your letter to Mr. Malavrazic, and cc: to the other recipients so that they are collectively aware that all the main players have been contacted.
I realize that those of you who have not been guests on “Atlantida” may not have a direct personal stake, but all of us who share a commitment to media freedom and diversity have an interest in the principle that is being crassly subverted in this case. It is my strong belief that failure to react to the arbitrary decision of the Serbian regime’s radio outlet will demonstrate to the Serbian authorities that they can continue with impunity to suffocate independent media voices without having any political or moral price to pay.
Serbian authorities are very sensitive to the way they are perceived abroad. Your voices of protest are bound to have a significant impact and may contribute to a reversal of the decision to close down this exceptional, inspiring and – above all – intellectually challenging radio program.
from Isabelle :
Date: 25 December 2010
Subject: Background information.
This may explain the hostility you encountered on the Grenoble campus when you showed the movie, Yugoslavia, The Avaoidable War last month.
from Mark Crispin Miller :
Date: 29 December 2010
Subject: Hungary veering toward right-wing dictatorship.
The move by Hungary's right-wing government to muzzle the media is the most recent example of a disturbing political trend in the country that was once hailed as a model for post-commununist development. Should Europe impose sanctions just as Hungary is about to assume the rotating EU presidency?
The Hungarians have been Europe's heroes twice in the last few decades. The way they fearlessly faced off against Soviet tanks in 1956 and fought for their ideals remains
unforgotten. In 1989, they courageously opened the borders that separated Eastern Europe from freedom. And in the initial years following the fall of communism, many saw Budapest as a possible model for the successful development of a democracy and market economy. Hungary, the land of the Magyars, was also a land of hope.
But that seems long ago now. The rotating chairmanship of the European Union, which Hungary assumes on Jan. 1, will not represent the culmination of a successful story. In fact, the opposite could be the case. Because of its policies, Budapest could now "be in for some serious problems," Martin Schulz, the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament said last Tuesday. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn went a step further, accusing the Hungarian government of violating "the spirit and text of the EU treaties." "The question arises," he continued, "as to whether such a country deserves to lead the EU. If we don't do anything, it will be very difficult to talk to China or Iran about human rights."
A great deal of anger has been building up. The fact that Prime Minister Viktor OrbÃ¡n has just cold-bloodedly pushed through a law that muzzles the press, only a few days before he steps onto the pan-European stage, is just the final straw. It has been a last, and possibly decisive step towards autocracy.
No other European politician will have as much power to implement such drastic measures against critical media as OrbÃ¡n, whose right-wing populist Fidesz Party has a two-thirds majority in parliament. The new, 170-page law attempts to regulate all television and radio stations, newspapers and Internet sites. It even applies to blogs and
foreign media available in Hungary.
At the center of the control mechanisms is a new government agency staffed exclusively with Fidesz members. It has the power to impose fines of up to Â¤750,000 ($983,000) for articles with objectionable content -- and it alone will decide what is deemed objectionable. The staff of public media organizations will be placed under government supervision.
Outraged opposition politicians demanded to know how this differs from censorship in the days of former Communist Party General Secretary JÃ¡nos KÃ¡dÃ¡r, and demonstratively taped their mouths shut in parliament. Some Hungarian newspapers have published empty front pages in protest at the law.
Government representatives assured critics that the new law would not be applied in a restrictive manner. But when a journalist of government-owned radio station MR1-Kossuth Radio used a minute of silence to protest the change in the treatment of the press, he was suspended.
There are many reasons for Hungary's descent into the ranks of countries that are only partially democratic, but archconservatives and the radical right wing are not the only ones responsible for this adverse development. The Hungarian left has committed a form of gradual suicide. For several parliamentary terms it had the chance to
shape Hungary, most recently between 2006 and the spring of 2010. But hopeful steps were quickly abandoned as corruption and nepotism shaped the political scene.
Former Prime Minister Ferenc GyurcsÃ¡ny highlighted the dilemma in a 2006 speech, when he said: "No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have Š We have lied in the morning, at noon and at night." It was only the failure of the Socialists that enabled the triumph of the conservative challenger, a seducer of the
A Populist Who Learns Fast Viktor OrbÃ¡n, 47, is seen as an exceptional political talent. The son of lower middle-class parents from the provinces, he studied law in
Budapest and spent a year studying the history of English liberalism at Oxford. He dabbled in journalism and later worked for a government-run management-training institute. A free thinker, OrbÃ¡n did not think much of the church and despised the communist political establishment. When he and a few fellow students founded Fidesz
("League of Young Democrats") in 1988, he initially wanted the new party to admit no one older than 35.
He won a seat in parliament in 1990, but then suffered a setback in the next election. OrbÃ¡n took it in his stride and aligned the party more closely with the national
conservatives and those who did not benefit from the fall of communism. He took advantage of the inferiority complexes of his fellow Hungarians and pandered to their dreams of the return of a greater Hungary. In 1920, the Treaty of Trianon had deprived Hungary, one of the losers of World War I, of two thirds of its former territory.
OrbÃ¡n, a master of the art of power politics, quickly learned lessons from his first, relatively unimpressive stint as prime minister, from 1998 to 2002. Colleagues say he is obsessed with the media and wants to become another Silvio Berlusconi, but without the scandals. However, OrbÃ¡n, a control freak, insists on installing loyal
supporters in all posts, even those of only moderate importance. He is able to gauge public opinion and sense the moods of voters -- anti-American, anti-Zionist and anti-capitalist.
During the election campaign at the beginning of 2010, he almost completely abandoned any attempt to distance himself from the xenophobic Jobbik Party, which agitates against the Roma. The radical right-wing party won close to 17 percent of votes, or almost as many as the discredited Socialists. OrbÃ¡n's Fidesz Party won the election
with 52.8 percent of votes, which is enough for a two-thirds majority in parliament.
'Orbanization' of Hungary
The victor called it a "revolution" instead of just a strong election result. And OrbÃ¡n soon demonstrated what he was talking about, when he redrew the map of election districts to ensure that Fidesz would win 95 percent of mayoral elections after municipal elections in October. He has also approved new rules for the nomination of constitutional judges. He is apparently trying to radically change the entire country -- in what has been called the "Orbanization" of Hungary.
Those who refuse to toe the line are thrown out. President LÃ¡szlÃ³ SÃ³lyom, who dared to cautiously criticize the prime minister, lost support prior to his bid for reelection, and was replaced by PÃ¡l Schmitt, a popular but politically inexperienced former Olympic champion in fencing -- and a quiet yes-man.
Leftist professors in official positions were thrown out, as were defiant theater directors. OrbÃ¡n has had party funding rules rewritten to benefit Fidesz and the pension system nationalized, which enables him to cut pensions, even retroactively. He is offering dual citizenship to Hungarians living abroad, which is seen as a provocation by neighboring countries with strong Hungarian minorities.
The most visible sign of the new Hungary consist of 70-by-50-centimeter plaques that are now required to be displayed in government buildings, including ministries, military barracks other public buildings. "A new social contract" has developed "following the successful revolution in the voting booths," the plaque reads. "Hungarians have voted for a new system, that of national unity." The government, the plaque continues, will complete this unity "resolutely and without compromise."
'This is Dangerous'
Paul Lendvai, who lives in Vienna and is probably Hungary's best-known political author, is worried about his country. "There is currently not a single politician with so much power in all of democratic Europe. This is dangerous, because there is no one left in his circle who could warn him of the consequences of his policies," says Lendvai.
"The only real counterweight consists of the international public, the media and the financial world. Europe has to make it clear to OrbÃ¡n that he must guarantee the freedom of the press. The presidency of the European Union is not just associated with the dignities of protocol, but also with political obligations. It must be clear to the
government that in the coming months Europe will be looking at it as if it were under a magnifying glass."
OrbÃ¡n has impressed the United States, but he also triggers anxiety in Washington. One of the classified US embassy cables, which originated at the embassy in Budapest, discusses a demonstration organized by Fidesz and the party's links to "violent protestors."
"Much as we saw Viktor Viktor OrbÃ¡n at his best in a recent meeting with Ambassadors, this escapade (regarding the protest march - editor's note) shows that he is still equally liable to play with fire."
The populist sells himself to Washington as a bulwark against the Jobbik ultra-nationalists, saying: "The best defense against the extreme right is a well-functioning center-right government."
Germany Worried About Media Law
Berlin is also very concerned about Hungary's new media law. German politicians are particularly incensed over the fact that in November OrbÃ¡n issued assurances that Hungarian domestic politics would not get in the way of his country's EU chairmanship. And now the press provocation. There has already been speculation over possible
sanctions, not unlike those issued against Austria in February 2000, when JÃ¶rg Haider's xenophobic Freedom Party became a minority partner in a new government.
The suspension of political contacts with Vienna was lifted after about seven months, after it had become clear that excluding Vienna from the European family was not very feasible, and that it only strengthened radical elements. But under the Treaty of Lisbon, a "serious and lasting violation" of European basic values can lead to a
suspension of voting rights, a penalty that would deal a serious blow to Budapest's prestige-conscious premier.
But not everyone in Brussels is interested in allowing politics to spoil the seasonal calm. Last Tuesday, the day the new law restricting the media was ratified in the Hungarian parliament, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy paid an official visit to Budapest, where he also paid his respects to the prime minister. The chief European politician didn't utter a word of criticism about how his host was dealing with press freedom. Instead, he gave a somewhat abstract talk about "the power of ideas" and "Europe's values." Van Rompuy had nothing but praise for OrbÃ¡n. He congratulated him on his country's upcoming assumption of the European Union presidency and predicted "excellent cooperation." "I am here to celebrate," the affable politician from the European headquarters said. "I will return to Brussels with an excellent impression."
from Richard Du Boff :
Date: 31 December 2010
Subject: More nostalgia...
NEW YEAR'S DAY CELEBRATION !