Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘hungary’

Edward Lucas, the Central and Eastern European correspondent of The Economist recently narrated a video on The Economist‘s website, in its multimedia library. (I posted the video earlier click here to view it)
Lucas explained how in his opinion the concept of “Eastern Europe” which is used to describe all of ex-communist Europe is a messy concept that doesn’t make sense and should not be used any more.

This narrated video follows a TED Talk that Lucas gave at the TEDx event in Krakow. (To watch it on YouTube click here) During the talk he explained why calling the whole ex-communist region of Europe as one entity by using the name “Eastern Europe” is wrong, confusing and far from the truth. It is a messy concept that does not make sense. I shared this video via Twitter and other social media websites.

Lucas gave that TED Talk back in December 2011 and now months later he narrated a video with the same message. I noticed it and think that Edward Lucas is trying to make a serious point so I decided to make a post about it in my Blog.

It also concerns me since I’m originally from Slovakia, a country which gets caught in this messy concept as well with many other countries.

Edward Lucas is perfectly right. This concept does not even make sense geographically. If the Czech Republic is in Eastern Europe then why should Austria not be in there too. I know, for example, that French geography tex books divide Europe exactly like that and include Greece in “Western Europe”. That is close to insane.

In the two videos Edward Lucas proposes two new concepts: “Baltic Europe” and “Danube Europe”. These two make perfect sense geographically and culturally.

A term that I believe should be used more often from a geographical point of view is “Central Europe”. Not that there is anything wrong in being from the East or being Eastern European, but calling half the continent Eastern Europe is not correct.

“Central Europe” is ideal to describe Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and perhaps even Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia and Lichtenstein.  However, I do not think that the term “Eastern Europe” should be abandoned completely. I think it is ideal to use it to describe the countries that constitute the territory of the former Soviet Union: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and maybe the 3 Baltic States. The 3 Baltic states, however, would rather be included in “Northern Europe” among countries such as Finland and Sweden or they should be part of what Lucas calls “Baltic Europe”.  Sometimes according to some classifications the Baltic States along with Romania and Croatia also fall into “Central Europe”. To see the various ways of how “Central Europe” is classified view this Wikipedia entry here.

The term “Central Europe” should be used more often in international media. For example we commonly use  “Central European Time” or “CET” to describe the time zone that runs from Spain through most of Europe all the way to the Baltic States, Romania and the former USSR. That concept is also untidy and the time zone itself is confusing, but that is a different topic. I’m not going to get into that.

The ex-communist countries of Europe are far from being homogenous. Yes, they were all communist during almost half of the last century but that is all. Most of them are Slavic, but not all of them. In only some of them is the Eastern Orthodox Cristinatiy the dominant religion . The others are mostly Roman Catholic. ( Not to mention that two of them: Czech Republic and Estonia are among the most atheist countries in the world.) A common misconception abroad is that they all use the Cyrillic alphabet. Most of them actually use the Latin alphabet.

If you watch these two videos (it will not take a lot of your time) you will find out more about this part of Europe and what the countries of this region are like. Most of them are integrating deeper and deeper into the European Union and are also becoming important on the world stage. The recent EURO 2012 tournament for example was held in Poland and Ukraine.

Edward Lucas deserves thanks and  a lot of credit. The website of The Economist where his video is posted is visited daily by millions of people all over the world. Thanks to his video everyone who sees it will hopefully stop using the old concept of “Eastern Europe” and will recognize the ex-communist countries of Europe for what they really are.

Thank You Mr. Lucas

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Back in October 2011, I wrote a rather long and very critical blog post about how Slovakia’s Government collapsed. In that post I partly blamed the EU Bureaucracy for that collapse.

(So in a way you can consider this Part 2 or a Following of that post. You can read it here.)

Since then, many months have passed and the early elections held past week-end confirmed what everybody knew. The current pro-market and very courageous government is out and the old one is back in. Although only one of the 3 parties is.

———————————————————————-

Slovakia’s former  Prime Minister Robert Fico is back. His left-wing social democratic party replaced the previous center-right coalition of 4 parties that were known to be very pro-market and progressive. They were appreciated in Brussels, Berlin and Washington DC. Fico’s party has received over 44% of the votes (over 1 million votes) and has more than 50% of the parliamentary seats. This means that they can govern alone as one party without a need for a coalition partner.

This is interesting, scary and exciting  news for Slovakia.  Many, however, say that it is very bad, because since 1989 we haven’t had a single party in power (Before 1989 it was the Communists). But it still isn’t the same. Back in the pre-1989 times we had no such thing as an opposition. This time there is one and it is in a democratically elected parliament. Luckily enough, Fico does not have a constitutional majority as does Viktor Orban in Hungary. No one single party should ever have that much control. But Slovakia in its democratic history has always had at least 3 or 4 parties in a coalition. Never a single one. That’s why so many political commentators in Slovakia and in Europe are worried.

In the past in years from 2006-2010 when Robert Fico was the Prime Minister for the 1st time, he was in coalition with 2 other parties. Those two were involved in  most of the scandals. Some hope that Fico’s party won’t do as badly as his previous partners did. This will only be found out in the future.

Fico has a high percentage also due to the fact that many voters from the other parties decided to vote against the right-wing parties that are involved in a big corruption scandal known as the “Gorilla”. (Click here to read the Economist’s article about it). So a 45% vote is not genuine. His preferences are high because the preferences of other parties are low. Fico’s party always obtained more percent in every other election gradually  since 2002, (2002: 13,46%; 2006: 29,1%; 2010: 34,79%; 2012: 44,41%) but this is his peak and I predict that from here he will go only lowerBut he will not go away easily. The Right will have a tough job to do if they want to get back in power.

The Slovak Right, in a way,  killed itself. It has partly itself to blame and that is why Robert Fico can govern alone. Let’s hope that this “Slap in the Face” or this “wake-up call” will bring the right-wing parties closer together  will finally force them to get their (excuse my language) “shit” together. Many people who should have left a long time ago, stayed in power, among them Mikulas Dzurinda the former PM and FA Minister. He will always be remembered as a reformer and the man who put Slovakia into the EU and NATO. I respect him for that. But he will also be remembered as a man who did not know when to stop and partly weakened the Right and eased Mr. Fico’s return to power.

Many young in Slovakia are skeptical and very critical to say the least, and I look at this with caution too. Having just one party in power is dangerous. It is democratic but still can be dangerous. Yes in the US there is, or a couple of years ago in the UK, there was a two party system where one party rules the 51%+ majority. But in those countries this system has existed for quite some time and democracy has also been there for longer time.

Nevertheless, at the same time, this is also an opportunity for Slovakia. I think either of the two things will happen: Either Robert Fico with his party will truly do as they wish and he will leave Slovakia in a worse shape and with lots of new scandals. Or, Mr. Fico in order to try to be reelected will try not to lose the public’s trust. But here the opposition’s activity is crucial. Although it is small it must be a fierce opposition and must check the government every single time. One more reason or one more way for the Right to come closer together. Investigative journalists and media are also important. They helped uncovered the scandals of all previous governments. This time they must be even more vigilant.

Finally, I respect Robert Fico, people voted for him clearly after all. Although I’m not a big fan of “social state” or big government economic policies and I don’t always think that progressive tax is legitimate, I think that in these difficult times it could be applied. But, I would insist on returning to a flat tax once economic growth is restored, unemployment is lowered and poverty is lowered as well. I do agree with him that a higher VAT Tax that was proposed by the Right will actually hurt the poorest.

However, I still am cautious of Robert Fico for his populism, the way he criticized the media and  some of the scandals that involved his previous government.Let’s not forget his stance towards Hungary.

Finally, let’s hope again that he won’t become like Vladimir Meciar (Slovakia’s 1st PM and an autocrat) to whom he is often compared to or like Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban. Now he and his party will have the entire responsibility. They won’t share it with anyone else. If anything goes wrong Fico and his party will be the only ones to blame. This  should make him govern more carefully and hopefully also more responsibly especially with the budget.

——————————————————-

Here are links to articles that have wrote about the election result, in case you’re interested: The Economist, Washington Post, NY Times.

Finally, as always I added a cartoon from Slovakia’s Newspaper SME that shows the election result. (The 5 tiny guys rolling the carpet are the heads of the 5 other parties that got into the Slovak parliament, they are rolling it for Robert Fico, the giant winner whose social democratic party’s color is Red, thus the red carpet)

Read Full Post »

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone today that Europe or more specifically the European Union (EU) is in trouble. Everyday new events linked to this crisis are being reported in the media from all over the world. In this post I would like to express my opinion about what is going on and maybe clarify the whole issue a bit.

What the EU is starting to resemble more and more these days is actually a loose Confederation of Nation-States rather than a real European Federation that speaks with a unified voice as it was supposed to after the Lisbon Treaty that passed in December 2009. Only 4 months after the treaty was passed and 18 months after the start of the Global Financial & Economic Crisis began, this whole European economic mess started. It all started in the same place where the current European Civilization did very long ago, in Greece.

I named this blog post the Holy Roman Empire of the European Nation(s), because the EU today is starting to look more and more like the very old state called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation which existed between 962 to 1806. (To find out more than just the Wikipedia page, you can also click here.)

The EU is not a federation because it doesn’t speak with one voice. Nobody can really figure out who (if anyone, really) is in charge of the EU. Is it the European President Hernan Van Rompuy, Head of the EU Commission José Manuel Barrosso or the French-German duo “Merkozy”? Nobody really knew who was in charge of the Holy Roman Empire either.

I remember that during one history lesson our teacher told us that the position of the Holy Roman Emperor, (the ruler  who was formally in charge of that Empire) was just a representative figure and somebody who would not hold any real power, but only a prestigious post. She then went on to mention that it was a position best compared today to the office of the Head of the European Commission (José Manuel Barrosso). She said it before the Lisbon Treaty was passed and before Hernan Van Rompuy became the EU President. Today I’m sure she would say that one of the two men ressembles the Holy Roman Emperor the most.

The Holy Roman Empire was, in reality, a loose confederation of smaller German States, where each had a good degree of independence. The German Princes were interested in exactly that. Today, the EU is becoming more loose and loose. Until 2008/2009 it seemed that Europe was moving more and more towards an eventually unified entity. That was the trend. These days the trend is opposite. Previous national and regional agendas and tendencies are becoming more obvious. The biggest problem of the EU today is the Eurozone Crisis, but the fact is that not all the EU members actually use the common, Euro, currency. The EU has within itself a free travel area called the Shengen Area. This allows European citizens to travel freely and easily within Europe without a need for Passport. However, not all the EU members are a members of this group either.

The European Union can thus be divided into the countries that have the common currency (Eurozone) and those that don’t and into countries that are members of the Shengen Area and those that aren’t. Some countries aren’t members of either (UK, Romania, Bulgaria, the last two are supposed to join eventually). The latest British decision to VETO another EU Treaty meant that UK will be out of future EU agreements. Some countries such as Poland and Czech Republic announced that they aren’t interested in joining the Eurozone in the foreseeable future.

The EU, thus, looks more confusing and loose and non-united than ever. But, this does not mean that before it was more united or that it is less united today. It is just no longer moving towards unification as it was until 2009. The EU is just as united as it was in 2009. New problems and challenges, however showed differences which were always here but were not apparent. The Eurozone Problems are being solved by Germany & France, while other problems such as the question of Democracy in Hungary is solved on the EU level from Bruxelles by the Commission. This shows again a duality of leadership. Some things are decided on the nation-level, some still on the EU level and some countries (i. e. UK) remain more or less independent.

But, today there is still a talk of a common European identity or at least of an EU-Identity. So, since Europe still is unified through the EU but loose within it into nation-states and other groups it can really be considered a unified confederation but which is loose and whose members are rather independent. Exactly a kind of a Holy Roman Empire of European Nations. Or for those who strongly believe in a European Identity, of a European Nation.

Concerning the Eurozone Economic Crisis and the Greek Economic problem, based on my economic knowledge and common-sense, I think that Greece will eventually default. In the end, I do remain cautiously optimistic about the EU’s and the Eurozone’s Future. The Euro will survive 2012 and the future in tact. It will however be different.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

For those who are interested in the coverage of these issues, a very good source is The Economist’s Website on Europe News and its Charlemagne Blog.

Another good source and a way to see Canadian Perspective on these issues is the Broken Europe Section at The Globe and Mail.

I wrote 2 previous posts that do touch the EU issue. One about Poland and the other about Slovakia.

Finally I thought I would add some Cartoons showing this European Crisis.

Enjoy!

Read Full Post »