Tag Archives: Europe

Serbia, the EU and Muslims in the Balkans

Dutch Courage

The Dutch held out but Europe, as usual, wants to have its way so after a threat to ram Serbia’s EU ‘assessment’ through by majority vote, the Dutch folded.  However, there is a provision that every step of Serbia’s accession will have to be subject to a unanimous vote.  The Dutch, we can imagine, will watch that closely.

It’s hard to know what to say at this early hour, although I’d caution Westerners to pin all hopes on Serbia.  Much analysis has mentioned that Serbia, as the largest and most populous ex-YU state, is the linchpin of the Balkans.  Well, Greece seemed to be the most well-off until recently, and it has hardly assumed a leadership role in the region.  Tadic’s government has done much, esp. in defreezing the lock over Kosovo, but remember that there are blocs — substantial ones — of extremely regressive bodies politic in Serbia that could come to power.  Would Serbia continue to enjoy this prestige of leadership if so?  The lesson is not to conflate territory and population with leadership.

And while I’m at it I’d like to point out the folly of articles like these. (The latter being far more reputable than the former.) Saudi and Iranian money in Bosnia and other Muslim parts of the Balkans (like Macedonia, which the Greek author of the International Analyst Network piece desperately tries to avoid mentioning) is nothing new and dates back to the arms embargo in the 1990s in Bosnia.  Every few years, a journalist sees a pre-fab concrete mega-mosque and wonders if the often-propagated tale that Osama is using these Muslims to try and get ‘into’ Europe is true.  It’s not.  In the mid-1990s, there was an attempt to radicalize Bosnian Muslims.  They rejected Wahhabism and its severe tenants.  A 40% unemployment rate, or even an 80% one, won’t change that.  To pretend otherwise is to toe a chauvinist line.


Bloomberg has a couple of excellent pieces out this week on what’s going on with the French and German economies. The story of how Germany lately managed to rally its growth and drive down its unemployment rate is of particular interest to the Italian observer, in that a lot of the success seems to have to do with Germany’s Mittelstand — small- and medium-size businesses similar to Italy’s — and the long-term financing that underwrites their successes. (Check out Konrad Adenauer’s grandson taking a nice swipe at those profligate Anglo-Saxons.)

Want to borrow some money?

Germany’s response to unemployment — to have workers work less hours with no reduction in pay — is redolent of how Italian managers of SMEs deal with their problems as well, but obviously more to the story than that, since Italian unemployment keeps climbing and is now nationally at 8.5%, compared to Germany’s 7%. Of course Italy has undertaken labor reform — most famously the Marco Biagi reforms in 2002 — but has not managed to introduce the level of flexibility that Germany has.

The end of the article reminds us that Germany’s export-driven growth and wage depression at home recall China. This is true, but hardly news: Martin Wolf, warning of global deflation, told his listeners this back in March.

European Stereotypes Maps

European stereotypes have been entrenched since at least the time of the first Grand Tour. But as organizational tools, maps have the power to change the way one perceives the world.  Personally, I’ve found alternate maps fascinated by maps ever since getting a Gall-Peters world map sometime in the eighties.  So for a little Saturday morning fun, let me point you in the direction of Bulgarian artist Yanko Tsvetkov’s Mapping Stereotypes website.

But... mummies are in Egypt

It’s an improvement over the ages-old “French courteous. Spanish lordly. Italian amorous. German clownish” saw or the old “in hell everything is organized by the Italians” joke.  In fact, Tsvetkov gives Italy special attention,  subtly highlighting that Italy’s North-South problem and the attendant political use of it is not something confined only to Italy.

Speaking of divided states, don’t miss the visually-funny Cyprus map at the bottom.

The Death Penalty in Virginia and Iran

Sakineh: pollice verso?

Discussing study opportunities in the US with my wife’s cousin’s 15 year old, he suddenly interrupted his excited line of questioning about the Hard Rock Cafe and eggs for breakfast to ask something more serious: “Is it true that they execute women there, too?” Teresa Lewis’ execution in Virginia (a state that I’m not exactly from but that I have many associations with) was big news here, and as if to put it in counterpoint, I was reminded of the huge banner stating solidarity with Sakineh that was draped over Verona’s Roman arena.

Whereas certain European attitudes towards modernity might seem backwards to us — see Twitter for the Gallic sniff on Chinese work habits — we must realize that to them, lethal injection in Old Dominion is not much different than a stoning in Iran. I think we lose of sight of this sometimes as a consequence of our exceptionalism.