Friday, January 30, 2009

Conflict in the Caucasus: EU shows lack of backbone in handling of Russia.

Post first published as a Letter to Editor in The Daily Yomiuri, Japan on 04 Nov. 2008.
European citizens could be forgiven if they are confused by the recent shift in European Union foreign policy towards Russia and what looks like rapprochement. This summer things seemed simpler. There was Georgia, a new democracy threatened by menacing Russian tanks with civilians caught in the firing line. The EU brokered cease-fire and its six-point-plan was acclaimed by all. For a moment it was as if the EU was going to put a show of unity and resolve against the aggressor or, in other words, to stand for freedom and democracy.

The illusion was short lived.

The resolve has gone with the global economic crisis. In Georgia, the status quo has clearly been accepted by most EU leaders and relations with Russia have resumed in earnest. After Nov. 14's Russia-EU Summit in Nice, France, one thing is clear. The French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, nicknamed "the American" ought now to be called "Sarkozy le russe"! Having put aside the Georgia issue, the energetic tandem flew to the Washington G20 summit united in the fight against the free market. Mission accomplished so to speak. President Chavez must have approved.

When Cato scholar Andrei Illarionov warns that Europeans by resuming contact with the Russian leadership have chosen a course of appeasement similar to what happened in Munich in the 1930s, he may have a point.

It strikes me as ironic that during most of the recent so-called coloured revolutions, the pro-democracy movements should fly the EU flag as a symbol of their aspiration for freedom. For freedom fighters, support will take the form of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction financial packages and elections and border monitoring teams. But security guarantees will not be forthcoming. No EU cavalry on liberty stand-by to fight the Russian bear outside the fortress. Sorry, just a lot of hyper leadership….

More on Georgia, Russia and liberty

Capitalism, the global crisis and the guillotine.

Post published as a Letter to the Editor in The Daily Yomiuri on Nov 04, 2008.
Back at home the guillotine is out again, working full time and enthusiastically operated by our nomenklatura of politicians, civil servants and union leaders who know best how to govern us, the sovereign people of France. “Liberalism is dead” says Nicolas Hulot, our ecology guru. “Laissez-faire capitalism is finished” says President Sarkozy. Capitalising on people’s fear the culprit is paraded. And beheaded. Down goes the blade of the ideological socialist consensus on the neck of the free market. And of course our supreme leaders do it again. They back down on promised reforms and promise us more “saviour” state. Equally troubling is our President’s push for his €20 billion European crisis fund and less independence for the European Central Bank. Could this be 21st Century bonapartisme?

When our youth schooled in the mistrust of all things liberal is capable of making a right wing government back down on a labour law adjustment (a small measure of contractual flexibility) after the bill was passed by both the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat, the message is clear. Street power works better than votes. A minority can hold a majority hostage. Naturally one starts to wonder if the guillotine’s blade has not also fallen on democracy’s neck. With the global crisis hitting the real economy, the “social dialogue ” à la française is likely to be hot this winter. But “Worry not” say our born-again revolutionaries “Tis the dawn of a new era. Social democracy will save us!” And who, might one ask, will pay the bill for more socialism? Well, who else but the unsung hero fighting on the frontline of the private sector. The entrepreneur, the innovator, the jobs and ultimately wealth creator, the Gallic “Joe the Plumber” prepared to take risks and be rewarded by profit. Overtaxed fraternité does the “spreading of the wealth” bit of égalité. “All animals are equal” says Napoleon the pig in Animal Farm….

When I read Orwell’s fable in the 1980s it was the Cold War. The collectivist threat was out there with the soviets behind the Iron Curtain. In 2008 the fiercest attacks come from within! Socialism is the biggest failure of the 20th century both economically and morally. Its inherent doom was then foreseen by wise economists like F.A. Hayek. The truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect world and capitalism albeit not a perfect economic system has proven to be able to guarantee individual freedoms and deliver prosperity. For a free world we need more democratic capitalism. Time to save liberté’s head from its determined executioner!

Che Guevara : looking behind the official myth.

To some Ernesto Guevara is the ultimate humanistic hero, defender of the poor and the oppressed. To others, he is a Stalinist fundamentalist who sentenced thousands to death by revolutionary tribunals and firing squads. The latest film Che the Argentine is hitting the world’s big screens and now showing in Japan. Given that it was premiered in Havana, it is essentially just another festive event on the official agenda of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution.

It is about the state sponsored myth and the cult followed by socialists worldwide. In 1960 when French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was glorifying Che’s superior intellect, hundreds of ordinary citizens were being sentenced to death by his revolutionary tribunals and executed by the firing squads he helped indoctrinate and train. Back then, Big Brother Che was watching.... In fact, he still is from the giant mural of the police force HQ in Havana. Nowadays the icon is only watching foreign tourists ushered by party faithful guides. In other words, he is doing his bit to bring into the ailing economy the much needed cash and no longer “executing out of revolutionary conviction”. In 1967 history had caught up with the island’s Robespierre in the Bolivian mountains where he died by the same method he had bragged about in his "certainly we execute" speech at the UN General Assembly (1964).

In 1959 the Marxist revolution ousted an undemocratic regime only to replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat. Nowadays unlike the Che idolizers of the free world, Cubans know better. The egalitarian utopia promised by the Soviet-backed revolutionaries turned into a totalitarian regime whose centrally directed collectivist economy has failed to deliver prosperity. Many have left the desperately poor island in search of freedom and a better life. Many died at sea trying to escape.

Maybe one day a Hollywood blockbuster will tell their stories of bravery and desperation.

In 2009 expect a resurgence of Che mania with film merchandising, the usual celebrities parading with T-shirts, western youths brandishing his stylized image in their fight against globalization. But here is another fact. Be it on snowboards, underwear or cigars, the “Che” brand name sells well. His face recently appeared on the façade of a bar in my Tokyo neighbourhood (photo right). It looks "cool" the owner says, clearly hoping to attract more clients and maximise his profit....
The "comandante" turned capitalist icon? Maybe not. But certainly evidence that the Marxist ideology the revolutionary so fervently tried to impose, has been ultimately defeated by capitalism.

Che mania? Non merci!