Iran – no Revolution but potential for Change anyway

June 29, 2009

In my previous article “Iran-Twitter-Revolution”    I had some doubts that revolution is coming soon concluding however that something historic is afoot in Iran today. I order to understand events in today’s Iran I think they should be put in wider context of Iran’s history and ruling system.  In this article I try to do so before jumping to analyze of recent elections which from my point of view are the key element while estimating the basic conditions for revolution, coup d’état, power swift or some – even historic – change in Iran’s political climate.

History of democracy in Iran

Iran is a country with one of the oldest democratic systems in the Middle East. In order to understand the background to the demands of the demonstrators it is necessary to look briefly at the major developments in Iran prior to and since the Islamic revolution.  My source which I quote here is Dr. Farhang Jahanpour, Oxford and his article “Iran’s Suppreme Leader silences the opposition”.

Over one hundred years ago, the Iranian people staged the “Constitutional Revolution” (1905-11) against the power of despotic kings, and wrote a constitution that transferred power to the people’s representatives in the Majlis (Parliament). Throughout the past century, even at the worst of times, different governments have found it expedient to hold elections, even if they were not completely free and fair. The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 was essentially a democratic revolution aimed at extending people’s freedoms and establishing a truly democratic state. Although Iran had made great material progress under the Shah, the brutality of the Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK and the lack of political freedom, forced people to rise up to achieve greater freedom and democracy. Sadly, as the result of infighting among various democratic forces and as the result of the stature that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had gained as the leader of the revolution, the mullahs ended up controlling all levers of power. Instead of laying the foundations of a more democratic state, Ayatollah Khomeini established an Assembly of Experts (dominated by clerics who were allegedly experts in Islamic law) and the novel concept of the Velayat-e Faqih, or the rule of the chief jurisconsult, emerged as the basis of the new constitution. This concept which had no precedent in the history of Islam enshrined the power of the clergy over the state and resulted in the creation of a theocracy.

The unexpected election of Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 election, with the votes of over seventy percent of the eligible voters with 80% turnout, opened a new chapter in the post-revolutionary history of Iran and provided the possibility of reform from within. However, his efforts were at every step blocked by the rightwing clergy and their agents in the judiciary and especially in the Guardian Council whose clerical members are appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i. This body supervises the elections and approves the credentials of the candidates that can run for high office. So, even in the best of times, only the candidates that are approved by the regime can run in the elections. The nation-wide student uprising in June 1999 was brutally crushed, with a number of students killed or injured. The reformers, and especially the young people, lost faith in the system and adopted a negative and detached stance towards the regime.

Some characteristics about Iran ruling system

Iran’s political system is a combination of elected and un-elected institutions.  Some unelected institutions like Guardian council has vetting powers e.g. to bills decided in Parliament and they also can bar candidates from standing in elections  to Parliament, the Presidency and the Assembly of Experts. A graphic version of Iran’s power system below:


  • The president is elected for four years and can serve no more than two consecutive terms. The constitution describes him as the second-highest ranking official in the country. He is head of the executive branch of power and is responsible for ensuring the constitution is implemented. Members of the cabinet, or Council of Ministers, are chosen by the president. They must be approved by parliament, which in 2005 rejected four of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s initial nominees for his hardline cabinet. Parliament can also impeach ministers.
  • The 290 members of the Majlis, or Parliament, are elected by popular vote every four years. The parliament has the power to introduce and pass laws, as well as to summon and impeach ministers or the president. However, all Majlis bills have to be approved by the conservative Guardian Council.
  • The responsibilities of the Assembly of Experts are to appoint the Supreme Leader, monitor his performance and remove him if he is deemed incapable of fulfilling his duties. The assembly usually holds two sessions a year and is officially based in the holy city of Qom. Direct elections for the 86 members of the current assembly are held every eight years and are next due in 2014. Only clerics can join the assembly and candidates for election are vetted by the Guardian Council. The assembly is dominated by conservatives. Its current chairman is former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
  • Guardian council is the most influential body in Iran and is currently controlled by conservatives. It consists of six theologians appointed by the Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. The council has to approve all bills passed by parliament and has the power to veto them if it considers them inconsistent with the constitution and Islamic law. The council can also bar candidates from standing in elections to parliament, the presidency and the Assembly of Experts.
  • The role of Supreme Leader in the constitution is based on the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini, who positioned the leader at the top of Iran’s political power structure. The Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appoints the head of the judiciary, six of the members of the powerful Guardian Council, the commanders of all the armed forces, Friday prayer leaders and the head of radio and TV. He also confirms the president’s election. The Leader is chosen by the clerics who make up the Assembly of Experts.
  • The Armed forces comprise the Revolutionary Guard and the regular forces. The two bodies are under a joint general command. All leading army and Revolutionary Guard commanders are appointed by the Supreme Leader and are answerable only to him.
  • The Expediency Council is an advisory body for the Leader with an ultimate adjudicating power in disputes over legislation between the parliament and the Guardian Council. The Supreme Leader appoints its members, who are prominent religious, social and political figures.

 

 

Results

One of the key questios is what was the real result of Iran elections.  Official results gave 63% of the vote to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and 34% to Mir Hossein Mousavi. The Mousavi camp say the true result — allegedly leaked by the interior ministry — had its candidate winning more than 60% of the vote.  I have not any reliable first hand source, but sc. leaked real results are claimed to be following:


Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty claim in their Washington Post –article Monday, June 15, 2009 that the election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. I quote:

Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election. Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare. Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy. By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The breadth of Ahmadinejad’s support was apparent in our pre-election survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.

Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the Internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.

The only demographic groups in which our survey found Mousavi leading or competitive with Ahmadinejad were university students and graduates, and the highest-income Iranians. When our poll was taken, almost a third of Iranians were also still undecided. Yet the baseline distributions we found then mirror the results reported by the Iranian authorities, indicating the possibility that the vote is not the product of widespread fraud.

The full report of Iran poll can be found as pdf here!

Iranian economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani – professor at Virginia Tech and guest scholar at Brookings – noted in the New York Times online evidence that Ahmadinejad’s programs to distribute income and wealth more evenly have begun to bear fruit, explaining his support in rural areas and small towns: “Once these factors are taken into account, it is not so implausible that Mr. Ahmadinejad may have actually won a majority of the votes cast, though not those cast in Tehran.

But if the Iranian election was not stolen, it does make the protest and crackdown fundamentally different political events: it fundamentally undermines the claim of the protesters to be speaking for the majority of the Iranian population, who just voted for a different candidate than the one supported by the protesters. Only a new vote with new rules and independent monitoring is likely to end the argument, and so far Iran’s ultimate rulers have refused to contemplate such an outcome.

Isolated protest?

Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated.

“Westerners love to overstate the importance of street demonstrations abroad. In our eyes anyone flashing the local equivalent of a v-sign salute represents all that is decent and democratic in the world. But we do them a disservice by raising false hopes and proclaiming their every protest as the next velvet revolution” writes Lionel Beehner in his The Guardian colum “Iran’s manufactured revolution”. Beehner continues “despite the hopes of overexcited western commentators, demonstrations in Iran are likely to change very little Regimes do not collapse as easily as we think. There were similar pronouncements that the junta in Burma was finished after hundreds of saffron-clad monks took to the streets a few years back. Well, guess what happened: not much. The junta continues to clamp down on the opposition.”

While background data informs that according to the United Nations, 68 percent of Iranians are urbanized and urban population seems to be on the streets one can get impression that the demonstrators are good representative of the country. The problem is the Iranian definition of urban includes very small communities (some with only a few thousand people) as “urban”. Tehran proper has about 8 million inhabitants; its suburbs bring it to about 13 million people out of Iran’s total population of 70.5 million. Tehran accounts for about 20 percent of Iran, but as elsewhere too the students at elite universities are only fraction of the whole Tehran population. There are six cities with populations between 1 million and 2.4 million people and 11 with populations of about 500,000. Including Tehran proper, 15.5 million people live in cities with more than 1 million and 19.7 million in cities greater than 500,000. However it seems that just the Tehran professional and student classes possess civic courage to go on the streets. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

George Friedman from Stratfor notes quite well that

The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones. The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution.

As in Iran, none of the poorer folks from the provinces bothered to show up.  Could the reason be that they like and voted their pandering president, even if the west couldn’t stand him. There just seems to be no popular support for regime change.  Ahmadinejad has helped the poor and lower middle class by increasing pensions, sometimes by more than doubling them, loans, and government workers wages, also increasing and maintaining financial support for the families of those killed or wounded during the Iran-Iraq War. The New York Times has reported that Ahmadinejad “has also handed out so-called justice shares of state firms that are selling stock to the public, and provided low-interest loans to young married couples and entrepreneurs.”

The Iran’s purchasing power parity is estimated to be about US$800 Billion, or about $12,000 per capita, in 2007.  Life expectancy is about 71 years, and literacy about 85-90%. School enrollment is 100%. Iran has the 17th largest economy in the world ahead of Australia and Israel. Iran’s oil and gas reserves are known and when the logistic location of country is not so bad, better say opposite, the country has relatively good change for sustainable development even more regional superpower than it is today.

From the media coverage we can see a lot of Iranians in towns and cities protesting, but what about the rural areas? A grassroots movement cannot succeed unless they have massive support from all segments of the populace. And while the majority of all Iranians are not actually from the middle class, not live in major cities and not have Internet access, a justified conclusion can be that the mullahs will have no problem ignoring or crushing the isolated (student) movement.

 

Foreign interference

Among typical conspiracy theories Iran’s political leadership can have some base to their claims about foreign involvement to destabilize Iran. Already years some western NGOs like the Open Society Institute, Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy have been financing, training, supporting and mobilizing opposition movements in countries that have been targeted for destabilization, often during elections and usually organized around an identifiable color. These “color revolutions” sprang up in the past decade and have so far successfully destabilized the governments of the Ukraine, Lebanon, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, among others. The only thing different is that now social media and networks are being employed to amplify the effect of (and the impression of) internal protests. One mechanism by which the U.S. interferes in the internal political affairs of other nations is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental agency with funding from both Congress and private individuals whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to U.S. foreign policy goals. In February, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested emergency funding from Congress to the amount of $75 million, on top of a previously allocated $10 million, “to mount the biggest ever propaganda campaign against the Tehran government”, in the words of The Guardian. The money “would be used to broadcast US radio and television programmes into Iran, help pay for Iranians to study in America and support pro-democracy groups inside the country.” The propaganda effort would include “extending the government-run Voice of America’s Farsi service from a few hours a day to round-the-clock coverage.”

However, there are credible reports that the CIA has been working for two years to destabilize the Iranian government. On May 23, 2007, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported on ABC News: “The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell ABC News.”On May 27, 2007, the London Telegraph independently reported: “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”A few days previously, the Telegraph reported on May 16, 2007, that Bush administration John Bolton told the Telegraph that a US military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.”On June 29, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker: “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.

The protests in Tehran no doubt have many sincere participants. The protests also have the hallmarks of the CIA orchestrated protests in Georgia and Ukraine. Several commentators have already dredged from the memory hole press reporting at the time on a presidential “finding” on Iran, which is the formal method for the president to initiate covert actions against another country. Back in 2007 — plenty of lead time for this election — the president met with the Congressional Star Chamber, the “gang of 8″ House and Senate leaders, and was granted the authorization to use some $400 million for among other things, as the Washington Post  – reported, “activities ranging from spying on Iran’s nuclear program to supporting rebel groups opposed to the country’s ruling clerics…

More about US involvement one may find from an article of Daniel McAdams on June 19, 2009 which I have used also as my source related foreign interference.

 

Battle inside Power structure

More important for Iran’s political future than street protests is the battle inside the power structure, tensions within the Iranian political elite. The Supreme Leader Khamenei also faced a stark warning from another senior cleric and onetime rival, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. “If Iranians cannot talk about their legitimate rights at peaceful gatherings and are instead suppressed, complexities will build up which could possibly uproot the foundations of the government, no matter how powerful,” Montazeri said. He called for an impartial committee to be set up to resolve the Islamic Republic’s worst crisis since the 1979 revolution. (The Guardian 25th June 2009)

In his article “The Iranian Election and the Revolution Test”on June 22, 2009 George Friedman from Stratfor claims that many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues. In my opinion Mr. friedman hits the nail on head and I quote his analysis:

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome. The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime. Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution. The two main factions used the third smaller faction in various ways, however. Ahmadinejad used it to make his case that the clerics who supported them, like Rafsanjani, would risk the revolution and play into the hands of the Americans and British to protect their own wealth. Meanwhile, Rafsanjani argued behind the scenes that the unrest was the tip of the iceberg, and that Ahmadinejad had to be replaced. Khamenei, an astute politician, examined the data and supported Ahmadinejad.

My conclusions

Putting my own sympathies – I admire people who have courage to risk their lives for their ideals – aside I would conclude following related today’s events in Iran:

  • Iran’s ruling system can be criticized especially due the powerful role of non elected institutions in the whole.  Even the system is far away from western democratic ideals I however see existing system more democratic than in most other Middle East or Arabic countries
  • During last elections there probably was some irregular acts and wrongdoings but not so massive fraud demonstrators are claiming.  Indeed the election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people.
  • The demonstrations are actually representing a small fraction of society – mainly students and middle-class in Tehran – and as such they will be isolated from other segments of society and unable to deliver any revolution in Iran.
  • There has been foreign interference for years to destabilize Iran’s regime, however foreign influence for recent demonstrations could be estimated to be minimal and not that scale what Iran’s leadership has been claiming after election protests.
  • The battle inside Iran’s power structure can lead to radical changes inside ruling clerical elite and maybe also a power shift from non elected to elected institutions.
  • The short-term effects might well result in either a harsher regime or a more liberal regime.  The first choice would probably be counterproductive the later would stabilize Iran by channeling peoples demands for democracy instead of theocracy.

Iran – Twitter – Revolution

June 22, 2009

People are on the streets in Tehran, the death toll is rising, and rumors are spreading that not only students but also some figures inside Establishment would begin to openly challenge Ali Khamenei’s legitimacy as supreme leader. Some reports claim that Hashemi Rafsanjani – head of the Assembly of Experts, a body that has the constitutional authority to anoint and remove the supreme leader – is trying to assemble a coalition of grand ayatollahs in Qom against Khamenei. It is unprecedented that Ayatollah Montazeri, who was Ayatollah Khomeini’s former heir apparent, a genuine grand ayatollah, has openly challenged both this election and Khamenei’s reign.

Social networks and their citizen-journalists are active while mainstream media can’t cover the real-time events some have already labeled demonstrations as newest Twitter revolution so is there maybe coming a new green revolution or is the picture biased and overemphasized by those who are using these modern networks as mean of modern warfare.

It is unprecedented that Ayatollah Montazeri–who was Ayatollah Khomeini’s former heir apparent, a genuine grand ayatollah, not someone who had mid-ranking credentials and was made an ayatollah overnight like Khamenei–has openly challenged both this election and Khamenei’s reign.


The Results

Results gave 63% of the vote to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and 34% to Mir Hossein Mousavi, the strongest opposition candidate, with tiny votes going to the two other contenders. The Mousavi camp say the true result — allegedly leaked by the interior ministry — had its candidate winning more than 60% of the vote. The quarrel is therefore not over a handful of stuffed ballot boxes or a few contentious provinces, but over more than ten million votes.


Since the controversial and hasty crowning of Ahmadinejad only hours after the polls closed, the numbers have been subjected to intense statistical scrutiny by experts around the world, but so far no “smoking gun” has been found hidden in the numbers, and the debate is as fierce as ever.

Ahmadinejad’s claims have some base in a phone poll carried out across all 30 provinces three weeks before the vote that gave Ahmadinejad a 2-1 lead. Also his official share of the vote on Friday was almost identical to the second round result in 2005.

(More this e.g. in Mail&Guardian online

Twitter

Events after Iran’s elections are (again) got early label of Twitter revolution. The social networking site, which allows users to post messages, or “tweets”, of up to 140 characters, has shown itself perfectly suited to a fast-moving situation where there is a thirst for snatches of information in real time.

The new trend of present decade seems to be ‘Internet revolution’. Filipinos, famously, overthrew their government way back in 2001 with the help of text messaging. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 was the moment when blogging arrived in the news and earlier this year, Moldovans used Twitter to help organize anti-government protests and now Iran is on the same way. More in my article “Twitter revolution- Case Moldova

While connected people are empowered ones and the real work of Twitter is not only gather people fast on the streets but again it to empowers citizen-journalists at a time when mainstream media reporters can’t get to the scene. Phone footage and grainy pictures were copied onto blogs and news sites, while mainstream broadcasters, their correspondents constrained, relied on user-generated footage in an attempt to circumvent the censored state broadcasts.

Twitter is also misused and or it can show a overemphasized picture of situation, it can also be used for disinformation.  Some rumours on Twitter were quickly repeated and amplified by bloggers: that three million protested in Tehran last weekend (more like a few hundred thousand); that the opposition candidate – Mr Moussavi – was under house arrest (he was being watched); that the president of the election monitoring committee declared the election invalid just after elections (not so).

However, Iran experts and social networking activists say that while Iranian election protesters have certainly used social media tools, no particular technology has been instrumental to organizers’ ability to get people on the street. Indeed, most of the organizing has occurred through far more mundane means: SMS text messages and word of mouth. Before after election riots it was estimated that there were only some 8,600 Twitter users in Iran.  To confuse counteractions the amount today is naturally higher as many supporters abroad have registered themselves as located in Iran.

Twitterers have circulated reports at breakneck speed of the violence being used against protesters in the streets of Iran to millions worldwide, complete with video and photo evidence of government forces firing indiscriminately into crowds, beating people with batons and raiding student dormitories. The Iranian regime’s efforts to block Internet access – and especially the streaming of photos and videos of the violence surrounding the protests – by decreasing the bandwidth, effectively slowing down online access to a frustrating level, tech-savvy Iranians have repeatedly found ways to bypass official restrictions using proxy sites that reroute Iran-based messages to post on Twitter.

Revolution?

So is there revolution going on in Iran?  I doubt – not yet anyway. With Twitter there is a risk that it amplifies one side while forgetting that Mr. Ahmadinejad has real support – surely majority in rural areas.  It may not be that over 60 % like showed in elections but probably as much at least than his main opponent.

However something historic is afoot today in Iran. Here I refer Karim Sadjadpour, Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who in Council on Foreign Relations interview June 18th 2009 made following analysis:

The scale of the protests is unprecedented. The depth of people’s sense of injustice and rage is palpable. People are continuing to bravely take to the streets, risking their lives, despite the fact that they’ve been told the Basij [Iranian paramilitary force] and Revolutionary Guards have been authorized to use force. This has not dissuaded them. The fissures we’re seeing amongst revolutionary elites are also unprecedented. It’s very difficult to see how the status quo ante could prevail no matter what happens.

Ahmadinejad won the recent elections thanks to the support of the rural population and the army, but the street protests are an indication that due to profound societal trends the era of the clerical rule in Iran is nearing the end. Currently the regime is able to cope with the tide of street protests which in any case are not going to last long, but the next elections will bring a revolution. The share of the young people in Iran’s population is among the world’s highest and most of the voters in the country are young. Currently an anti-clerical drive is gaining momentum in Iran. As in most countries, the tendency is most widespread among the younger people and intellectuals. It is the essence of the conflict now brewing in Iran that the Islamic clericalism has no adequate response to the challenges of modernity. The clerical regime is failing to lay out a vision of a new Iranian national identity for the country’s population.

People are not calling for a wholesale revolution as they were in 1979. I’m not hearing the word enqelab, i.e. revolution, mentioned by the protestors. There exists a political maturity now that didn’t exist then. People don’t have the same naïve, utopian dreams that they had in 1979. They want a system that is representative of the people. Many people believe that the Islamic Republic does have important institutions, such as the institution of the presidency and parliament. But what they want to see is the unelected institutions, which currently have the majority of the constitutional authority, to be either removed or their authority seriously limited.

My view

There is some similarities between cases earlier in Moldova (see e.g. my article “No coup d’etat but big drama anyway” and now in Iran:

  • Demonstrations after elections when opposition looks results as more or less fabricated
  • Use of Twitter to mobilize fast crowds on the streets
  • Use of Twitter as alternative source to mainstream (inside country and abroad) media to give real or other side of picture about situation on the ground
  • Demonstrations implemented mainly by young urban citizens while rural majority quietly is bystander or supporting government
  • Some conspiracy theories about foreign involvement occur (in Moldova government accused Romania, in Iran Israel)

Coming months will show if the outcome in Iran will follow that in Moldova where new elections are waited to come soon, not directly because of demonstrations but due the conflicting views inside establishment. What is clear is that in Iran courageous, inspiring young people are putting their bodies in front of bullets and tear gas so the real pressure is boiling on the ground.

Like expected the response of Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei’s first response was  very firm. That’s his modus operandi as a despot: Never compromise in the face of pressure, it only projects weakness and invites more pressure. The real question in Iran – as well in Moldova and Georgia – will be how the present regime will copy the unrest in near future.  Violence and oppressive measures are short term actions; the sustainable solution would be to moderate policy by taking citizens’ concerns seriously.  If the pressure on the ground will not be channeled through existing regime it is only question of time when boiling will change the regime more or less violent way.

For online follow-up via twitter I would recommend link “Iran Unrest – twazzup twitter



EU’s Community Initiatives would bring Europe closer to its people

June 20, 2009

Blogactiv.eu” –article, posted by “Challenge for Europe” on 19th June 2009  highlights the importance of EU’s Community Initiatives as most successful popular direct contacts between the EU institutions and the citizens in their local communities.

“The EU mobilized European citizens in getting together, discovering sustainable practices elsewhere, while getting involved in decision-making at home. It opened doors to similar initiatives in Member states and accession countries and made Europe tangible.”

The article also makes proposal that EU should again substantially invest into local initiatives and bottom-up support in order to bring Europe closer to its people.

I full agree with initiative made by “Challenge for Europe“.  I personally have been enjoying about the real progress on the ground while managing many international “bottom up” projects financed by EU.  I also agree that real effect can best be achieved through participatory planning methods and commitment of local stakeholders is the key element for successful project implementation. As side effect I don’t expect only EU citizens feel EU closer but also that people outside member-states could see EU as practical partner instead of colonialist administrator or mastermind.

When the project is made like desk plan in Washington or Brussels with some cooperation with state’s central government there always is a risk of more or less big gap between beneficiary needs and centralized aims. Some of these failures I  have earlier described in my writings “World Bank destroyed Albanian village in joint operation with corrupted Government…” , “UN death Camps, EU money, local negligence” and “Squandering Kosovo’s Aid Funds”.

Personally I am most interested about EU community initiatives which are improving cooperation between regions/institutions inside EU and those outside of them.  Projects inside ENPI (EU’s neighbourhood policy tool) as well Interreg and Framework programs allow some actions implemented also outside EU borders.  As the challenges and practices many times differ a lot of those inside EU the situation makes it possible to develop good and creative practices to all participants.


From my point of view new community initiatives should be more implemented especially on the fields which normally are under EU’s external relations, enlargement policy, pre-accession instruments, CFSP (common foreign policy) or ESDP (security & defence policy). Characteristic today is that huge EU funding is going through programmes, operations and missions on those fields based on centralized planning and only fraction at best is planned with local stakeholders.

The key element is the local participation, without it the results can be like in Afghanistan which is going opposite direction than originally intended (more e.g. in my article “Karzai’s administration worse than Taliban”).  Same case in Bosnia-Herzegovina where ethnic groups are building their own statehood components against EU’s efforts to strengthen centralized state. Same in Kosovo where despite high-flown statements about developing “European” standards the province is still a tribe leaded protectorate with poor administrative record, unsustainable economy and captured by crime organized crime groups.

To close the gap between centralized (Brussels, state level) aims and practice on field (regional or mission level) the following actions could according my experience be useful:

  • improvement of situation analysis,
  • developing field experience feedback during missions or program period,
  • applying “project cycle management” practice in operation/mission/program planning procedure,
  • Logical Framework Approach should be applied through the process,
  • Special need is also use Participatory Planning methods so that all stakeholders can commit to actions.

The EU funding(programs) should not be too fixed, new – and old – community initiatives should give free space for local challenges because then it is also possible to find some creative solutions, good practices for both participants in EU member-states as well outside of them.



EU’s Community Initiatives would bring Europe closer to its people

June 20, 2009

Blogactiv.eu” –article, posted by “Challenge for Europe” on 19th June 2009  highlights the importance of EU’s Community Initiatives as most successful popular direct contacts between the EU institutions and the citizens in their local communities.

“The EU mobilized European citizens in getting together, discovering sustainable practices elsewhere, while getting involved in decision-making at home. It opened doors to similar initiatives in Member states and accession countries and made Europe tangible.”

The article also makes proposal that EU should again substantially invest into local initiatives and bottom-up support in order to bring Europe closer to its people.

I full agree with initiative made by “Challenge for Europe“.  I personally have been enjoying about the real progress on the ground while managing many international “bottom up” projects financed by EU.  I also agree that real effect can best be achieved through participatory planning methods and commitment of local stakeholders is the key element for successful project implementation. As side effect I don’t expect only EU citizens feel EU closer but also that people outside member-states could see EU as practical partner instead of colonialist administrator or mastermind.

When the project is made like desk plan in Washington or Brussels with some cooperation with state’s central government there always is a risk of more or less big gap between beneficiary needs and centralized aims. Some of these failures I  have earlier described in my writings “World Bank destroyed Albanian village in joint operation with corrupted Government…” , “UN death Camps, EU money, local negligence” and “Squandering Kosovo’s Aid Funds”.

Personally I am most interested about EU community initiatives which are improving cooperation between regions/institutions inside EU and those outside of them.  Projects inside ENPI (EU’s neighbourhood policy tool) as well Interreg and Framework programs allow some actions implemented also outside EU borders.  As the challenges and practices many times differ a lot of those inside EU the situation makes it possible to develop good and creative practices to all participants.


From my point of view new community initiatives should be more implemented especially on the fields which normally are under EU’s external relations, enlargement policy, pre-accession instruments, CFSP (common foreign policy) or ESDP (security & defence policy). Characteristic today is that huge EU funding is going through programmes, operations and missions on those fields based on centralized planning and only fraction at best is planned with local stakeholders.

The key element is the local participation, without it the results can be like in Afghanistan which is going opposite direction than originally intended (more e.g. in my article “Karzai’s administration worse than Taliban”).  Same case in Bosnia-Herzegovina where ethnic groups are building their own statehood components against EU’s efforts to strengthen centralized state. Same in Kosovo where despite high-flown statements about developing “European” standards the province is still a tribe leaded protectorate with poor administrative record, unsustainable economy and captured by crime organized crime groups.

To close the gap between centralized (Brussels, state level) aims and practice on field (regional or mission level) the following actions could according my experience be useful:

  • improvement of situation analysis,
  • developing field experience feedback during missions or program period,
  • applying “project cycle management” practice in operation/mission/program planning procedure,
  • Logical Framework Approach should be applied through the process,
  • Special need is also use Participatory Planning methods so that all stakeholders can commit to actions.

The EU funding(programs) should not be too fixed, new – and old – community initiatives should give free space for local challenges because then it is also possible to find some creative solutions, good practices for both participants in EU member-states as well outside of them.

 



EU’s Community Initiatives would bring Europe closer to its people

June 20, 2009

Blogactiv.eu” –article, posted by “Challenge for Europe” on 19th June 2009  highlights the importance of EU’s Community Initiatives as most successful popular direct contacts between the EU institutions and the citizens in their local communities.

“The EU mobilized European citizens in getting together, discovering sustainable practices elsewhere, while getting involved in decision-making at home. It opened doors to similar initiatives in Member states and accession countries and made Europe tangible.”

The article also makes proposal that EU should again substantially invest into local initiatives and bottom-up support in order to bring Europe closer to its people.

I full agree with initiative made by “Challenge for Europe“.  I personally have been enjoying about the real progress on the ground while managing many international “bottom up” projects financed by EU.  I also agree that real effect can best be achieved through participatory planning methods and commitment of local stakeholders is the key element for successful project implementation. As side effect I don’t expect only EU citizens feel EU closer but also that people outside member-states could see EU as practical partner instead of colonialist administrator or mastermind.

When the project is made like desk plan in Washington or Brussels with some cooperation with state’s central government there always is a risk of more or less big gap between beneficiary needs and centralized aims. Some of these failures I  have earlier described in my writings “World Bank destroyed Albanian village in joint operation with corrupted Government…” , “UN death Camps, EU money, local negligence” and “Squandering Kosovo’s Aid Funds”.

Personally I am most interested about EU community initiatives which are improving cooperation between regions/institutions inside EU and those outside of them.  Projects inside ENPI (EU’s neighbourhood policy tool) as well Interreg and Framework programs allow some actions implemented also outside EU borders.  As the challenges and practices many times differ a lot of those inside EU the situation makes it possible to develop good and creative practices to all participants.


From my point of view new community initiatives should be more implemented especially on the fields which normally are under EU’s external relations, enlargement policy, pre-accession instruments, CFSP (common foreign policy) or ESDP (security & defence policy). Characteristic today is that huge EU funding is going through programmes, operations and missions on those fields based on centralized planning and only fraction at best is planned with local stakeholders.

The key element is the local participation, without it the results can be like in Afghanistan which is going opposite direction than originally intended (more e.g. in my article “Karzai’s administration worse than Taliban”).  Same case in Bosnia-Herzegovina where ethnic groups are building their own statehood components against EU’s efforts to strengthen centralized state. Same in Kosovo where despite high-flown statements about developing “European” standards the province is still a tribe leaded protectorate with poor administrative record, unsustainable economy and captured by crime organized crime groups.

To close the gap between centralized (Brussels, state level) aims and practice on field (regional or mission level) the following actions could according my experience be useful:

  • improvement of situation analysis,
  • developing field experience feedback during missions or program period,
  • applying “project cycle management” practice in operation/mission/program planning procedure,
  • Logical Framework Approach should be applied through the process,
  • Special need is also use Participatory Planning methods so that all stakeholders can commit to actions.

The EU funding(programs) should not be too fixed, new – and old – community initiatives should give free space for local challenges because then it is also possible to find some creative solutions, good practices for both participants in EU member-states as well outside of them.



EU’s Community Initiatives would bring Europe closer to its people

June 20, 2009

Blogactiv.eu” –article, posted by “Challenge for Europe” on 19th June 2009  highlights the importance of EU’s Community Initiatives as most successful popular direct contacts between the EU institutions and the citizens in their local communities.

“The EU mobilized European citizens in getting together, discovering sustainable practices elsewhere, while getting involved in decision-making at home. It opened doors to similar initiatives in Member states and accession countries and made Europe tangible.”

The article also makes proposal that EU should again substantially invest into local initiatives and bottom-up support in order to bring Europe closer to its people.

I full agree with initiative made by “Challenge for Europe“.  I personally have been enjoying about the real progress on the ground while managing many international “bottom up” projects financed by EU.  I also agree that real effect can best be achieved through participatory planning methods and commitment of local stakeholders is the key element for successful project implementation. As side effect I don’t expect only EU citizens feel EU closer but also that people outside member-states could see EU as practical partner instead of colonialist administrator or mastermind.

When the project is made like desk plan in Washington or Brussels with some cooperation with state’s central government there always is a risk of more or less big gap between beneficiary needs and centralized aims. Some of these failures I  have earlier described in my writings “World Bank destroyed Albanian village in joint operation with corrupted Government…” , “UN death Camps, EU money, local negligence” and “Squandering Kosovo’s Aid Funds”.

Personally I am most interested about EU community initiatives which are improving cooperation between regions/institutions inside EU and those outside of them.  Projects inside ENPI (EU’s neighbourhood policy tool) as well Interreg and Framework programs allow some actions implemented also outside EU borders.  As the challenges and practices many times differ a lot of those inside EU the situation makes it possible to develop good and creative practices to all participants.


From my point of view new community initiatives should be more implemented especially on the fields which normally are under EU’s external relations, enlargement policy, pre-accession instruments, CFSP (common foreign policy) or ESDP (security & defence policy). Characteristic today is that huge EU funding is going through programmes, operations and missions on those fields based on centralized planning and only fraction at best is planned with local stakeholders.

The key element is the local participation, without it the results can be like in Afghanistan which is going opposite direction than originally intended (more e.g. in my article “Karzai’s administration worse than Taliban”).  Same case in Bosnia-Herzegovina where ethnic groups are building their own statehood components against EU’s efforts to strengthen centralized state. Same in Kosovo where despite high-flown statements about developing “European” standards the province is still a tribe leaded protectorate with poor administrative record, unsustainable economy and captured by crime organized crime groups.

To close the gap between centralized (Brussels, state level) aims and practice on field (regional or mission level) the following actions could according my experience be useful:

  • improvement of situation analysis,
  • developing field experience feedback during missions or program period,
  • applying “project cycle management” practice in operation/mission/program planning procedure,
  • Logical Framework Approach should be applied through the process,
  • Special need is also use Participatory Planning methods so that all stakeholders can commit to actions.

The EU funding(programs) should not be too fixed, new – and old – community initiatives should give free space for local challenges because then it is also possible to find some creative solutions, good practices for both participants in EU member-states as well outside of them.

 



Global Peace Rank – Balkans & Black Sea

June 14, 2009

The results of the Global Peace Index for 2009 suggest that the world has become slightly less peaceful in the past year, which appears to reflect the intensification of violent conflict in some countries and the effects of both the rapidly rising food and fuel prices early in 2008 and the dramatic global economic downturn in the final quarter of the year. Total 144 countries was analysed in 2009.

 

The Global Peace Index (GPI) is implemented by organization called Vision of Humanity, which groups together a number of interrelated initiatives focused on global peace.  As its mission Visions of Humanity Org.brings a strategic approach to raising the world’s attention and awareness around the importance of peacefulness to humanity’s survival in the 21st century.

Indicators

Twenty-three indicators of the existence or absence of peace were chosen by the panel of experts, which are divided into three broad categories: measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict, measures of safety and security in society and measures of militarization. Measures of ongoing conflicts include e.g. number of external and internal conflicts, estimated number of deaths from organized conflict (external/internal), level of organized conflict (internal) and relations with neighbouring countries.

Some reservations:

  • Vision of humanity, its expert panel and GPI are representing mainly western methodology, approach and values
  • GPI is based to data available of different indicators and as such a compromise

With these reservations I however find GPI both interesting and useful and anyway I haven’t seen  any better global survey.

The Rank

To the table below I have collected the GPI rankings for the Balkans and Black Sea region countries analysed in 2009.  In addition I have included to table also top-3 and worst-3 countries, the BRIC countries and USA. Rankings for the mentioned countries analysed in 2007 are also included for comparison. Countries most at peace are ranked first. A lower score indicates a more peaceful country. 

Country

Rank

Score

2009

2007

2009

2007

New Zealand

1

2

1.202

1.363

Denmark

2

3

1.217

1.377

Norway

2

1

1.217

1.357

Slovenia

9

15

1.322

1.539

Romania

31

26

1.591

1.682

Croatia

49

67

1.741

2.030

Bosnia and Herzegovina

50

75

1.755

2.089

Bulgaria

56

54

1.775

1.936

Greece

57

44

1.778

1.791

China

74

60

1.921

1.980

Albania

75

NA

1.925

NA

Moldova

75

72

1.925

2.059

Serbia

78

84

1.951

2.181

Ukraine

82

80

2.010

2.150

United States of America

83

96

2.015

2.317

Brazil

85

83

2.022

2.173

Macedonia

88

82

2.039

2.170

Montenegro

91

NA

2.046

NA

Azerbaijan

114

101

2.327

2.448

Turkey

121

92

2.389

2.272

India

122

109

2.422

2.530

Georgia

134

NA

2.736

NA

Russia

136

118

2.750

2.903

Somalia

142

NA

3.257

NA

Afghanistan

143

NA

3.285

NA

Iraq

144

121

3.341

3.437


Some developments in Balkans and Black Sea region

If compared the developments between 2007 and 2009 few highlights could be mentioned:

  • Slovenia is rising also in this research to global top-level – from place 15 to place 9 close to traditionally peaceful Nordic countries and outstriping most of sc “Western democracies” and the rest of world
  • Croatia has improved its index from 67 to 49, amasing 18 places
  • It seems that the civilicised border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia doesn’t have any effect in GPI ranking
  • The rise of Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the bigest in GPI and is partly explained via UNCHR statistics about improved situation of displaced persons.  The other sources – as recent U.S. Intelligence report – are not so optimistic and also I have earlier been worrying e.g. about rising radical Islam in BiH
  • Moldova and Ukraine have a bit too high ranking (75 and 82) from my point of view if compared to e.g. Georgia (134).  While conflict in Transdnistria still stays in frozen stage the events during last election are sign about latent tensions.  Ethnic tensions and coming Presidential elections are already making situation in Ukraine unstabil.

Peaceful Societies?

Peaceful societies are characterized as countries with the Following:

Social Structures

  • Well functioning governments
  • Good relations with regional neighbors
  • Low levels of corruption
  • High enrolment rates in primary education
  • Freedom of the pressRespect for human rights

Social Attitudes

  • Do not see their cultures as superior to others
  • Place a high value on tolerance
  • Believe in free speech and respect human rights
  • Believe military action should be limited and internationally sanctioned

The Drivers of Peace and Violence

As separate analysis a further statistical analysis was conducted to understand better the structure of peace. As causes of peace the rechearcers studied some 40 different potential factors – or “drivers” of peace and some notable findings were following:

Drivers of Peace:

  • Functioning of government
  • Freedom of the press
  • Extent of regional integration
  • Primary school enrolment ratio
  • Life expectancy
  • Women in parliament

Drivers of Violence:

  • Importance of religion in national life
  • GPD per capita
  • Hostility to foreigners /private property
  • Electoral process

Statistical approach shows some suprising phenomen such as free and fair elections can increase the likelihood of violence.  The researchers explain this to be possible if a well functioning government is lacking and the drivers of peace are absent.

Second surprise to me at least was a finding that for some nations a high GPD income provides the state with the tools of conflict such as weapons, large security apparatuses and military forces. However if the economic indicators of nation’s wealth are relatively evenly distributed, e.g. through educations and health, the society will be more peaceful.

More about peace/violence drivers in GPI DiscussionPaper.

Peace and global challenge

Global challenges, such as clima change, decreasing biodiversity, lack of fresh water and overpopulation, call for global solutions and these solutions will require co-operation on a global scale unparalleled in history. Peace is the essential prerequisite because without it the level of needed co-operation, inclusiveness and social equity necessary to solve these challenges will not be achieved.



Will EP elections bring a Hamas phenomenon inside EU?

June 5, 2009

EU is the largest single market in the world and the biggest donor in humanitarian aid, providing 56 percent of assistance to developing countries worldwide.   With this background it’s sad that the foreign affairs – CFSP, ESDP – is presumably the ‘weakest link’ of the EU.  Earlier I have criticized EU too much following agenda of U.S. foreign policy interests.  In addition  blocs such as Africa Group, Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Arab Group, Non-Aligned Movement, have shown to be more united in the UN than the EU.

Inside EU the weakest link is the European Parliament.  In principle it can only slow common development policy designed in Commission and Council of Ministers.  The power still lies with national governments and the Europeans, public, is showing no will to place it anywhere else.

In going elections trend is a turning inward, a renationalisation of European politics, and a shift to protectionism.  While the turnout will probably be even lower than before my forecast about the result will be following:

  • those who have strong opinions are motivated for voting,
  • the share of those with strong opinions will be in EP bigger than in national parliaments
  • strong opinions in EU election are mostly channelled via euro-sceptics, nationalists, populist and right-wing parties
  • if UK Conservatives are leaving the biggest group in EP new coalitions new combination of ad hoc coalitions are possible
  • euroscepticism, previously a British and, to a lesser extent, a Scandinavian characteristic, is spreading even into the historical heartland of the EU, such as the Netherlands
  • also new left can gain support from mainstream social democrats

The bottom line will be more extremist politics and bye bye Lisbon Treaty, EU enlargement and cohesion.

Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr Shimon Samuels, urged the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) “to launch an investigation into the financing and promotion campaigns of MEPs who will be elected this week to the new European Parliament and who espouse anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Roma, homophobic or other discriminatory platforms.

It totally possible that apathy towards political élites, low turnout and success of anti-Europeans, extremists etc will bring Hamas phenomenon inside EU.  Democratic election went wrong at least from pro-European perspective.  The gap between parliament and other EU institutions will be wider so what’s the response – maybe blockade of EP.

My forecast does not set great hopes on some nice ideas of common Europe.  Maybe this is not big loss anyway as diversity probably is one of rare European core values.


Balkans: Stop Mastermind – give Change to Locals

June 4, 2009

In March, Mrs. Clinton – FM/USA – commented in Brussels that the Obama administration was “determined to listen, advise (European Union countries) and through agreement arrive at wise solution to common challenges.” Among the “common challenges” was that the “Balkans is in danger of becoming part of the forgotten past.” She added the ominous view that “it will not be allowed for unfinished business to remain there.”

The US vice president’s trip in Balkans on May was again evidence of a lack of European leadership. Biden’s visit to Serbia, Kosovo, and, most especially, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), was necessary due the reason that Europe is still not up to resolving its own security problems. Brussels has lost – if it sometimes had – its vision on Balkans, is divided with Kosovo case and lacks a viable policy toward BiH, leaving Washington to lobby most consistently for the steps that would bring the country into the EU.

Kosovo

A recent panel discussion on the Balkans presented by the Lord Byron Foundation at Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute (RCMI), brought together experts on the subject. The panellists agreed that recent moves indicate “reinvigoration” of the former Clinton policies, whereby then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright worked assiduously to go to war on behalf of Kosovo. That was arguably, one of the greatest errors and miscalculations of the Clinton regime. The justification was that Serbs were intent on genocide of Kosovo Albanians when, in fact, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) provoked Serbian reaction, and fabricated massacres.

Since the war al-Qaida and Muslim extremists have flooded into the Balkans: Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia. The dreaded spectre of militant Islam in the heart of Europe has become a reality, enhanced by U.S. policy and now apparently revived by Obama.

Now Europeans realize they were hoodwinked into recognizing Kosovo’s independence on the pretence it would resolve problems and bring peace. Kosovo case was not unique, like it was introduced into playgrounds of international politics, it was a precedent to numerous separatist movement on globe that violence is the right mean to achieve political aims instead of international law.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia- Herzegovina (BiH) is a country whose chronic ethnic divisions have defied one of the most intensive, multilateral nation-building efforts ever attempted. Last year, for the first time since the war ended, there was anxious worry in Sarajevo about renewed conflict. Even if the parties never pick up arms again, BiH risks permanent stagnation, a quite plausible scenario that would put the substantial American investment — and continuing American interests — in BiH at risk. Instead of an inevitable EU member, Bosnia is more likely to remain an unwelcome, dysfunctional and divided country, with an aggrieved Bosniak (Muslim) plurality, a frustrated, increasingly defensive Serb entity, and an anxious, existentially threatened Croat population.  More in my article “BosniaCollapsing”.

Mujahedeen batallion in Bosnia War

Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the stage of transition from an international protectorate to one responsible for its own reform dynamics. Scepticism is growing about the EU’s capacity to facilitate such reform, when the reinforced EU Special representative (EUSR) should replace the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

Leaders of the three strongest national – Serb, Croat, Bosnian Muslim – parties, met on late 2008, after alarming negative EU reports, with the aim of reaching an agreement over several highly disputed issues that are crucial for country’s EU membership, as well as the closure of the Office of the High Representative, OHR. In only two hours, they reached a general agreement on a process of future constitutional changes, questions that would be covered in 2011 census, as well as regulation of the status of the Brcko district and state property. More here.

Deepening talks have continued after this sc Prud Agreement, which will strengthen federation elements while weakening central state power. The Agreement states that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a decentralized country with four—as opposed to the current three—territorial units, while the changes to the Constitution would be discussed in more detail at their future meetings.

The US Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Balkans on May 2009 represents the end of the “Dayton phase” of BiH and the beginning of the new phase of upgrading the Dayton Agreement or entering into a new agreement for BiH.

“Do Something…Anything”

Presidend Obama is now in a bit similar situation in Balkans than President Clinton during 90s. Quote from Time: Do Something…Anything, May 3rd, 1993:

All the new options, Clinton acknowledged, “have pluses and minuses,” and “all have supporters and opponents in Congress.” That is a large part of the President’s problem. He is getting plenty of advice, but it is not consistent. He is being pulled and tugged in several directions at once in a * field — foreign affairs — for which he does not have his own fingertip instinctiveness. He is being asked to lead where his allies in Europe are reluctant to follow. Clinton feels the strength of the moral argument for action echoing around Washington but is unwilling to start something without knowing how he will end it.

Selection of Mr. Obama brought hope to see some change with US Foreign policy in Balkan too. However when he selected Biden as his vice I went to deep doubts about his judgment. Selecting a man on the record for stating that “all Serbs should be placed in Nazi-style concentration camps” during Senatorial deliberations in 1999 over NATO aggression on Serbia, and that United States ought to conduct a fascist, “Japanese-German style occupation” of Serbia. If Mr. Obama needs help of this kind of redneck so bay bay change.

Some background to U.S. Balkan politics during 90s see e.g.“Beyond Tragedy: NATO’s Intervention in The Former Yugoslavia/Virginia University

My view

It’s said that The Balkans are a graveyard for foreign ambitions. This could be the “lessons learned” to both USA and EU.

Some more sustainable solutions could also be implemented in Western Balkans. Withdrawal of Kosovo recognition can open real negotiations between local stakeholders with unpredicted but possible compromise can end one frozen conflict. Facilitating new Dayton could solve other crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina. With these actions U.S.and Russia together can also restore the authority of UNSC as ultimate forum of international conflict prevention.

The key question from my point of view is whether western Balkans really needs outside advice or not. The other option could be that instead to be the mastermind of Balkan policy the EU and USA should be facilitators for regional initiatives.


Votes for Sale in EP election?

June 1, 2009

A common utterance “money talks” is sometimes used also related to elections.One could suppose that if voting matters the parties or candidates are investing more to win elections.Normal marketing is sometimes not guaranteeing enough votes so in many societies more crude means are used such as election fraud/rigging, non-transparent and illegal political campaign and party financing.A simple vote buying maybe tells most about importance of elections. I wonder if there exists in any EU member state a barometer showing current price level of votes in EP elections, not only the official campaign costs but the unofficial price per vote.

Buying a polling station or enough of them could be one possibility which from my opinion is complicated to implement in EP elections. I was quite surprised while reading from BNP pages that some party really thinks this to be possible.A quote:

All British National Party members and supporters have been urged to be on the lookout for polling station fraud committed by corrupt officials who may seek to cast ghost votes in the election on June 4th, party leader Nick Griffin has announced. “We have received information that certain corrupt officials at some polling stations have devised a plan whereby they intend to vote on other people’s behalf towards the end of polling day,” Mr Griffin said. “Apparently the plan is to wait until late on polling day, and then to start crossing off names of people on the electoral register who have not yet voted and then voting on their behalf,” Mr Griffin said.

If buying votes via election organisation is difficult there is always possibility to buy them directly from electorate.In Finland there is a tradition to transport free people in rural areas from their home to polling station and maybe give them a cup of coffee and expect that they may vote “right way”;otherwise these voters would maybe stay home. Of course one can select the persons to which give free transport but it does not guarantee the “right” vote. During this EP elections I have impression that free transport services are lower level than before indicating the unimportance of coming election.

More effective way is to bay vote with money. In Finland I have not heard this to been done but in Balkans situation is a bit different or what to think about following quote from Bulgaria April 2, 2009:

Bulgarian MPs have passed a new set of punishments for anyone found to be involved in ‘vote buying’ after the second reading of a new bill Thursday. Bulgarian MPs have passed a new set of punishments for anyone found to be involved in ‘vote buying’ after the second reading of a new bill on Thursday. Anyone found to be involved in vote rigging or buying will now receive a jail term of 1-3 years and a fine of between BGN 1 000 and BGN 10 000. This new law includes anyone found threatening or conning voters during local or national elections. For more serious offences judges will be able to give a jail term of up to 6 years and a fine of up to BGN 20 000. The bill was passed soon after Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor, Boris Velchev, called on all political parties to slam vote buying practices. “Vote buying is nothing new but it has recently entered court-rooms,” Velchev stated. He expressed concerns that this practice may cast a shadow over the upcoming general and EP elections in the summer.

Modern technology helps to monitor that buyer gets what (s)he is paying for.E.g. the voter takes a picture with mobile phone about voting slip, shows it to payer and gets money. In Balkans I have heard the sum vary between 5 to 50 euro per vote;I wonder what’s the value during these EP elections.

Vote buying is one kind of political corruption – misuse of political power for private gain for preserving or strengthening power, for personal enrichment or both.A candidate can use also indirect means get power for benefits like cronyism, clientelism, nepotism, patronage, insider trading, speed money, embezzlement or abuse of public property.These indirect ways are hard to proof.

For me it would be interesting to get feedback about different variations of vote buying during this EP elections – variations which are outside normal marketing, legal, sometimes even transparent campaigns.Even in overall this EP elections seems to have low market value there maybe are candidates who want to collect their million from Brussels and are using unusual means to get it.Learning these bad practices could help to improve countermeasures for next next EP quality in future.


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