Thursday, October 13, 2011

News and analysis on the Greek economy

"Greece is smothered by its bureaucracy. Corruption and nepotism have raised a destructive wall in the midst of the country. Many young people do not have a chance. If this system is not demolished, Greece cannot be saved".

"the old Greece is fighting to survive". Excellent analysis of the social and political dynamics unleashed, or rather, revealed by the crisis.

Orthodox church appears to be exempt from austerity measures



Church funds are taboo in Greece. Its income is liable to taxation, but there are two major stumbling blocks. There is no accounting system to detail its actual income and no one really knows quite how much land it owns because there is no land register.

This situation suits both the church and the state, "because politicians are reluctant to upset the Orthodox authorities", says Stefanos Manos, an independent MP.

"The Greek church is a national church," says Polikarpos Karamouzis, sociology professor at the University of the Aegean, "which means there is a political connection between the church and the state, for the state awarded it these privileges. Its spiritual role is closely linked to its political function, muddying the distinction between its congregation and Greek citizens, a source of confusion which politicians use in their quest for votes."

 Greeks pay for economic crisis with their health


Rising demand and cost-cutting put services at breaking point, while drug addiction, HIV and suicide rates increase.

In a letter to the Lancet medical journal, a team lead by Dr Alexander Kentikelenis and Dr David Stuckler from Cambridge University and Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warns of a potential "Greek tragedy". They point to signs of a dramatic decline in the health of the population and a deterioration of services at hospitals under financial pressure. 


Greece’s unecessary crisis

20/06/2011 By


"A sensible EU bailout plan would have directed cheap funds at productive expansion rather than insisting on punitive contraction. Indeed, Greece needs concessional lending (at less than 3%) —which could be financed by means of a new E-bond, a Tobin tax, un-sterilised quantitative easing, or some combination of these and other instruments... The real lesson of the Greek debacle is not that peripheral countries should exit the eurozone (although that is now a distinct possibility); rather, it is that the current situation results from the increasingly rightward drift of Europe and the short-sightedness of our political class".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Census like no other?

After a close referendum result on independence back in 2006, Montenegro held its first post-statehood Census this spring and its statistical service started releasing the data generated earlier this week.

The 2011 Montenegro Census data were anticipated with both eagerness and trepidation as they had the potential of destabilising or consolidating the process of state building. Just prior to the Census the government and political parties had engaged in campaigns charged with nationalist rhetoric using posters, leaflets and promotional videos to promote their particular preferred outcomes. The outcome seems to have protracted a sense of societal insecurity among the Montenegrin population which seems quite split on issues of identity. 

As on Monday Monstat released the first results of the April 2011 census  various political parties and ethnic leaderships have been trying to deploy their own narratives as to their meaning.

The Croat National Council urged their potential constituency to give through the census an unambiguous message: that they are Croats, their religion is Roman Catholicism and their language Croatian.The muftija of (Serbia's) Sandžak Muamer Zukorlić and the Bosnian Reis ul Ulema Mustafa Cerić  called on Montenegrin Muslims to declare Islam as their religion and their language as Bosnian. More importantly, they called on them to identity at Bosniak (confirming and continuing a long process of rendering 'Bosniak' the default identity of Muslim Serbocroat speakers).

But the most intensely fought battle was the one to demarcate Montenegrins and Serbs as the symbolic boundaries between the two are not clear. The battle lines encompassed language and ethnic label as the majority of Montenegrins and Serbs share Eastern Orthodoxy as their religion. The results of the Census were not welcome for any of the opponents. The number of those who declared they were Serbs declined slightly and those who described themselves as Montenegrin rose marginally with all other ethnic groups remaining more or less stable. On the other hand, the government's linguistic reforms paid minimal dividends as the government's preferred option, Montenegrin is the language that only 36.97% of the population claim to speak. Serbian is the preferred language designation for 42.88% of the population while Bosnian (as urged by the Muslim religious  leaderships of Bosnia and the Sandžak) was cited by only 5.33%. 

The Census indicates that citizens are not prepared to fit neatly in the 'boxes' nationalist social engineering has prepared for them. They reveal several eloquent ambiguities such as Muslims who do not see themselves as Bosnians, Montenegrins who consider themselves Serbian speakers, Croats who do not necessarily speak Croatian. They, of course, indicate that some have started reconciling themselves with the rather hasty secession of Montenegro from its cohabitation with Serbia and, more importantly that the process of national engineering is ongoing.

Counting is a serious business in Southeastern Europe

The political forces of the countries that have emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia have been making plans, drawing up communication and campaign strategies for quite a while for 2011. No, it was not because of any special celebration or commemoration (although there are plenty of opportunities for this). And, no, it was not because of any big electoral battles coming up (although, again, there were a few elections scheduled for 2011). Simply 2011 is a population census year. And although national borders are supposed to have solidified after two decades of often violent conflict (again with a few exceptions such as the continually, though low key, contested territorial settlement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the issue of the independence of Kosovo) the census year controversies indicate that Southeastern Europe continues to experience a latent phase of the protracted conflict that led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia. 

Endless contestation of who will conduct it, what questions were to be asked, and who was eligible to answer them meant that Bosnia and Herzegovina would not be able to agree on a census and this is what has happened so far. Serbia's fiscal problems meant that the census was to be postponed until the end of the year. Croatia's Census has only generated preliminary results and more detailed data are eagerly awaited as they are going to give a better picture of the actual figures of Serb returnees in Krajina and Slavonia as well as their Adriatic communities. 

In the Republic of Macedonia the census was always bound to be a serious issue due to the question of the country's numerous minorities but it acquired additional gravity due to the Ohrid Framework Agreement which instituted specific collective rights for communities that make up a certain proportion (20%) of the population in local administrative units. And as according to the most recent Census of 2002  ethnic Albanians comprised approximately 25% of the total population, local and national authorities had to implement the OFA provisions.

And, given the Badinter principle of decision making stipulating that legislation that affects particular ethnic groups or interethnic balance and relations would require support not only by the majority of the electorate but also from representatives of non-majority ethnic groups whose numbers make up at least 20% of the local or the national population, the number of ethnic Albanians, who in 2002 represented around a quarter of the population of two millions, is controversial - I have already hinted on the interpretations of the June election for the Sobranie.

Montenegro and Kosovo are particularly interesting to watch as the 2011 Census is the first conducted since the two have proclaimed independence. It was not that surprising therefore to see the build up towards the Census resemble a hotly contested election.

In Montenegro, after a close referendum result on independence back in 2006, the Census data had the potential of destabilising or consolidating the process of state building. The government and political parties engaged in campaigns charged with nationalist rhetoric using posters, leaflets and promotional videos to promote their particular preferred outcomes. The outcome seems to have protracted a sense of societal insecurity among the Montenegrin population which seems quite split on issues of identity. As on Monday Monstat released the first results of the April 2011 census  various political parties and ethnic leaderships have been trying to deploy their own narratives as to their meaning. But I dedicate another note on the Montenegrin Census

In Kosovo, the Census is of particular interest as it is not only conducted after its declaration of independence in 2008 but also because it is conducted for the first time in over three decades. As such, its outcomes have the potential of providing an accurate figure of the country's Albanian and Serb populations as well as of the numerous smaller minorities. However, as the country's status is disputed, Serbia called on Kosovo's ethnic Serbs to abstain from the count as it saw in its organization by ethnic Albanian authorities in Priština with suspicion - it has been argued that Priština would try to under-represent  the number of Serbs still living there -  and was loth to appear to give legitimacy to the institutions of what it considers to be a separatist minority. As a result parts of Northern Kosovo have not participated in the exercise.

The Census controversies indicate that most Western Balkan countries have not yet overcome the mentality of conflict and suspicion. Despite their acceptance of the recently  established borders and the assumed security and stability they were supposed to provide Western Balkan states strive to exploit ambivalences on the part of minority populations in other territories and to draw them into their respective nation building projects. It makes you wonder if we have turned the page after two decades of conflict and disintegration.

Monday, June 6, 2011

After the election ...

After months of a bitter confrontation between Macedonia's ruling coalition and the opposition and a protracted boycott of the Sobranie by the opposition SDSM as well as the smaller NDP, NSDP, ND and LPD, voters in the Republic of Macedonia (and the diaspora where for the first time three representatives were to be elected) have gone to the polls. 

Despite declarations of success by political leaders from the major parties, the results are characterized by considerable complexity. The incumbent Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, has managed to win his third consecutive election, confirming his and his party's hegemony over Macedonia's politics. This achievement cannot be underestimated; under Gruevski, VMRO-DMPNE has indisputably become hegemonic in Macedonian politics, almost impervious to criticisms of its often authoritarian style of government. His majority however is much more reduced and a VMRO-DMPNE government is likely to have a less easy ride in the Sobranie. 

The opposition SDSM has seen its share of the vote increasing substantially but still falling short of seriously challenging the VMRO-DMPNE-led coalition. With their share of the vote and seats in the Sobranie increased, SDSM and its allies are now a more formidable opponent of the government and can have in theory the potential of challenging VMRO-DMPNE initiatives by forging parliamentary alliances around specific issues. 

SDSM has not managed to capitalise on the public unease with the style and substance of the Gruevski government and to convince of its ability to provide a viable alternative. Whereas it is clear that opposition to the VMRO-DMPNE government both within and outside the Sobranie is becoming more vociferous, it is evident that the latter has managed to present itself as a credible force that has the ability and the will to withstand international and Greek pressures on the name issue and the capacity to overcome the potential isolation the name dispute might bring about. Despite the lack of an impressive record in managing the economy or enhancing democracy, VMRO-DMPNE, has yet another term in office ahead of it.

The poll has probably further entrenched the polarised political arena that has been in evidence over the past two decades as alternative voices and political forces have not managed to effectively challenge the duopoly of the VMRO-DMPNE and SDSM.

The Albanian parties have seen their share of the vote fall considerably, partly because the very low turnout of Albanian voters. Having attracted just over 16% of the total vote, they are now much weaker potential partners in a government coalition. More importantly, their poor performance has provided the opportunity to critics of the established power-sharing system to doubt the usefulness, necessity or practicality the various power-sharing institutions and practices. The electoral showing of the Albanian parties has reopened the debate over the actual size of the country's Albanian population and has cast observers' eyes on the forthcoming 2012 census which will seek to provide answers to such questions that are crucial for the continued 'success' of the Ohrid agreement and the consociational arrangements it has put in place. 

However, the poor record of the Albanian parties in the 5 June election needs to be carefully read. It definitely reflects a degree of loss of faith on the part of the Albanian electorate; loss of faith in the Albanian elites and their ability to deliver but also loss of faith in the Macedonian political system. It may suggest that the consociational model of the Ohrid Agreement has not got the capacity to integrate the Albanian community to the Macedonian body politic as it has perpetuated a parallel society system whereby Macedonians and Albanians do not share spaces of interaction, deliberation and meaningful daily coexistence.

Despite the reasons for celebration the election has brought to the two major Macedonian parties, this may not be time for jubilation but rather a call for contemplation of how a genuine system of coexistence can be built.