President

Ilir Meta, elected President in April. While elected by a majority, the Presidential election was marred by a continued effort on the part of the Opposition to disrupt the parliamentary process. That said, Meta was as much connected to the Democratic party as he was to the Socialists, and arguably, now he is out of the running for parliamentary jobs, he is no longer a serious opponent for Edi Rama.

Ilir meta by TIM.jpg

 

Here is a view of the Ottoman bridge in Tirana:

ottoman bridge by TIM

 

What Syriza wanted

What Syriza wanted back in 2015 was debt relief and that is what it has got, with reservations, this week in a guarded 8.5 Billion deal from the EU with the IMF making debt relief, “a debt haircut” part of the overall deal and Germany claiming that nothing hd really changed at all. Tsipras has wanted debt-relief for some time: “ the debt has to be rescheduled so the economy can breathe and markets can restore their confidence”. The deal comes, though, on the back of a raft of tax, labour and pension reforms long demanded by Germany, and unlikely on their own to make the country more competitive while the doom of financial constraint continues to bind Greece and more importantly while the powerful in the EU block continue to treat Greece, a soverign state as the southern European poodle or as Papadimitriou termed “a sacrificial lamb”, obliged to obey whenever the more-powerful Northern block commands.

What is interesting, however, is that the deal, as it now stands, goes some way to vindicating the position adopted by Yianis Varoufakis during the initial negotiations. The EU hated Varoufakis and I gather insisted on his dismissal as a price for their agreeing anything at all with Syriza, but it is a story that we in the UK would do well to heed: The EU hates to be backed into a corner and whether the recipe is right or wrong, the EU is likely to delay rather than surrender to threats and bombast. “No deal is better than a bad deal” is the sort of threat the EU will take seriously.

As far as the Greeks are concerned, the EU has never played fair. Only a few days’ ago, the German finance Minister, Wolfgang Scheauble, was castigated in the press for repeatedly moving the goalposts: Dimitris Papadimitriou simply called him “dishonest”. Scheauble claimed rather bizarrely that the EU policies had “had a positive impact on Greece in the end, because it is now on a better path and, if it continues, we can all be satisfied.” I think he has never spoken to Greek pensioners who have seen their take-home pension dwindle over the last 8 years and a further cut is now promised well after the current government is over.

As far as Tsipras is concerned, however, it has all been a game of political posturing – he may have won some of the headlines, and he may have spun some of the deals to square with his socialist agenda, but he is pretty well no more than back where he started. For all his commitment to social reform Tsipras has presided over massive unemployment, over-taxed his people and driven up the cost of living.

wolfgang scheauble by TIM.jpg

 

 

Arlene Foster

Many things worry me about the prospect of an alliance with the DUP, -or with ulster unionists at all but then, if the Ulster Unionist party was good enough for Enoch Powell, and for many years took the Conservative whip in the Commons- well…

Of course by the 1980s, Powell was fighting the newly formed DUP as well as other parties in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisey was particularly scathing, I think, about his “anglo-Catholicism”. And indeed what remains of the UPP would see itself as quite distinct from the DUP. The UPP has recently refused to get involved with power-sharing in Stormont anyway and in this last election lost its last two seats. It could be argued then that the public voted for people who might come together and negotiate, rather than grandstand and abstain.

Enoch Powell is greatly eclipsed by his own rivers of blood speech, and his departure from the Conservatives in 1974, when he endorsed the labour party over his own. But I recall him as a genial and highly articulate man.

I think his speech was provocative rather than as the Times called it, “evil” and while he sued the Sunday Times for calling him “racialist”, I think, on reflection, he had certainly lapsed into the language of racism. But his speech is a benchmark against which today we can judge what is and what is not acceptable. I think also (a) his speech spurred our country towards greater integration and (b) he was not himself racist or prejudiced. As for his views on Europe, well, the country seems to have caught up with him. His campaign against the EEC in the fisrt Referendum would endear him to many today.

But I would hold him to be one of the great orators of teh 20th Century and a great thinker. It does not mean I agree with what he said, but it does mean that I am less inclined today to dismiss the DUP deal than I might have been …

But their views worry me,

And I wonder quite how a British Government can remain impartial as the peace deal in Northern Ireland plays out if it is so tied to one of the main parties.

Arlene Foster by TIM

EDI RAMA

When I was last in Tirana, I tried to make a record of the buildings coloured in what appears to be Dazzle Camouflage by their Mayor, Edi Rama, elected at 36 in 2000. Since 2013, he has been the Socialist Prime Minister and now I believe is taking advice from Alistair Campbell as he seeks re-election and entry to Europe.

EDI Rama by TIM.jpg

The picture below showing the Mayor’s offices was finished a few weeks’ later as I was recovering from a botched Appendectomy in Oxford. I stepped off the plane from Tirana complaining of food-poisoning by BA. Instead, my appendix burst and I had to deal with peritonitis. I went back a couple of times after this I think and there should soon be enough sketches to complete our EDWARD LEAR film about a journey from Istanbul to Albania in 1848. The film will copmpare the views Lear drew with the smae views drawn over the last 15 years. The views of the various sketches will be interrupted by musical numbers based on Lear’s poems and set by David Watson in a style that should recapture the spirit of the 19th Century music hall. Throughout the film, an animated Edward Lear will deliver some sort of commentary… I hope this will end up as the very first fully-animated documentary.

One of the first things Edi Rama did as mayor was to restore the Ethem Bey Mosque which can be glimpsed here. Lear drew at least two views of the Mosque, then surrounded by trees.

Tirana-Skanderbeg square and etham Bey by TIM

woodrow wilson and edi rama by TIM.jpg

 

President Aleksandar Vučić

Here is a quick picture of the absurdly tall Aleksandar Vučić, long-time PM in Serbia and just recently elected President to succeed his mentor Tomislav Nikolić, with a huge majority that would have made our own PM proud! He was sworn in about 10 days’ ago in a ceremony attended by the Serbian Patriarch in Belgrade’s Andrica Venac so this picture is a bit late. That his friends and enimies both make reference to him as assuming the mantle of Tito should worry the West, but it does not seem to have done so far. And anyway, he has impeccable english! I hesitate to mention a number of scandals, from a misplaced loyalty to Ratko Mladic and a savage attack on the journalist Slavko Ćuruvija who was then murdered in what his wife alleged was some sort of state-sponsored assassination. He even managed to divorce his first wife (mother of Danilo and Milica) and marry his second just in time for her to give birth to his son. Well, this is the man who had famously implemented State censorship for Slobodan Milošević. But he assures the West that his views have changed.

While he has a good relationship with Angela Merkel, playing a very positive role in Kosovo, he seems to be alone in the EU area resisting sanctions on Russia, and in return he has options to invest in new Russian missiles. Missiles aside, what he says he wants is EU accession and greater regional stability.

serbian PM by TIM

Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach

Here is a picture of Leo Varadkar who is set to succeed Enda Kenny and become Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister. In 2015, he came out as gay, boosting the yes campaign for same sex marriage. His father is Indian and his mother Irish and the whole family, including his rather dashing partner Dr Matt Barrett, all seems to be involved in Medicine. Indeed, Leo was a GP before he went on to become a councillor and stand for election to the parliament. Assuming the opposition does not block Leo’s accession to the Taoiseach, he will be the second openly gay Prime minister in Europe. His party’s power is fairly fragile but we need friends in Ireland if we are to make the Northern Ireland border work following Brexit.

leo VARADKAR by TIm.jpg

 

Indy 2

Nicola Sturgeon enters a fantasy world

nicola sturgeon 2 by TIMBritain’s first referendum was held on June 6th 1975 to approve or reject the EEC agreement reached 2 years’ earlier by Edward Heath. Clement Attlee said that referendums were “a device for despots and dictators.” In the 1970s, Mrs Thatcher thought Lord Attlee was probably right. Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III) used 2 referendums just over 12 months to overturn the fragile French Republic in 1851 and confirm his December coup d’état as legal and constitutional. Hitler held 4 referendums in 1933 (to leave the League of Nations),  1934, 1936 and 1938 (they were then banned for 60 years), so did Mussolini in 1934 (ostensibly an election, it was seen as “the second referendum of Fascism”) as did Pinochet in 1980 and Ferdinand Marcos (who used 3) and JR Jayawardene in Sri Lanka who used a referendum to prolong parliament by 6 years. Colonel George Papadopoulos and the Greek Generals seized power using a referendum in 1973 to legitimise their rule. Putting too much trust in Referendums, in other words, is to cosy up with some very disturbing bedfellows. We have just had two referendums in two years. Surely that is enough for now.

Today, when we might have expected the news to be dominated by the final stages of the Brexit bill going back through the Commons, the First Minister of Scotland said she planned to trigger Indy 2.

While I think there is a case to be made for a version of Brexit that recognises the 62% vote for remain in Scotland, and while I think a compromise approach may well give the UK overall some access to the EU, however we pursue Brexit, I also think that now is not the time to be discussing these details. More than that, Nicola Sturgeon demonstrates today that she is prepared to pick and choose which referendums she accepts and which she rejects. Either we accept in principle what is returned in a referendum or we do not hold a referendum at all. I am not a fan of the referendum as a concept-I think it is a very clumsy tool, but we cannot keep rerunning referendums until we get the result we want. Isn’t that what is done in Europe? Isn’t that why we have rejected Europe?

In 2016, Greece voted in a referendum by 61% to 39% to reject the Austerity measures. No one paid any attention. In 2008, Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty by 53% but it was ratified nonetheless after Ireland held a second referendum (as it also did in 2001 when it rejected the Nice treaty and had to try again). The Lisbon treaty was a replacement for the TCE which was roundly rejected by referendums in France and the netherlands in 2005. Significantly, Lisbon was not the subject of a second French referendum.

As for the actual substance of Indy 2, this is very confused. The first Minister might have a case that the Brexit decision represents a “significant and material” change and chimes in with the SNP manifesto, but the practice of holding another referendum and getting the result she wants is by no means certain. More than that, even if she gained a “Yes” for independence, which is far from certain, there is no guarantee that Scotland would even be allowed to stay in or moreover re-enter the European family as a separatist state. The Spanish, for instance, mindful of their own Catalonian issues, might well be reluctant to reward such displays of independence.

Travel bans

The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.

Gert Wilders by TIM

A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,

“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”

What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:

In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.

“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.

“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”

However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”

Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2017/03/dutch-look-at-legal-options-to-stop-turkish-referendum-rally/

It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.

More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.

It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,

“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland” 

Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!

Deeply uncomfortable

Today the Dutch authorities denied entry to the Turkish Foreign Minister who was to address a rally in the Netherlands in support of proposed changes to the Turkish Government. This comes on the back of a denial for a similar rally in Germany.

This makes uncomfortable reading. Today’s action was apparently taken directly by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself who said that, as Holland is approaching a General election on Wednesday in which “the immigration issue” plays a significant role, a the visit of The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, was “a threat to public order”.

Cavusoglu by TIM.jpg

While authorities may disagree with the proposals presented by Mr Erdoğan’s government, what appears to be a prolonged demonstration of pique by Europe’s ruling elite is almost unprecedented. Other countries, admittedly, like Russia (which banned 89  EU politicians from entering Russia in 2015, among them Nick Clegg and Uwe Corsepius) have also denied senior politicians from visiting their counties, but this sets a foolish precedent and one that the EU itself protested about in 2015. It causes offence, inconvenience and, more importantly, it closes opportunities to engage these people in meaningful conversation. If the Foreign Minister is coming to speak to a rally in Holland, it stands to reason that he should make time to talk to the Foreign Minister in the Netherlands. It makes no sense that his plane should be re-routed.

Our future rests on an ability to talk to one another. It is talking that has kept world peace for 70 years and if we abandon that, we are taking a very uncertain step in a new direction.

The Presidential system

If we think the changes proposed by President Erdoğan threaten democracy in Turkey, then we should engage with the Turkish leaders. Personally, I think the proposals will enshrine in law a constitution that finally pushes the army into its proper place. There is much to commend in that fact alone. Moreover, there seems little point in having direct elections for a President who is then denied the appropriate executive power of a democratically-elected leader. The change to the Presidential system simply recognises what is already happening.

The Language of Europe

Of course, there have been some high profile incidents in Turkey where journalists have either been detained or denied entry. While the arrest of Daniz Yüzel who is currently held in Silivri prison is by no means straightforward, despite the rather glib reports in the media, he is certainly not alone and that is worrying. Again, this runs in the face of free speech and the chance to engage and inform. But there is, I am afraid, a big difference between turning away, for example, Rod Nordland, a New York Times Journalist, and turning away a senior leader of a Democratic country and Nato ally. And for EU leaders to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense about security or to treat fellow leaders so casually and repeatedly is concerning. The EU is here being less than honest because the repeated problem suggests an overall policy to stop Turkish leaders from addressing their own people. So this is not so much about a threat to democracy from Turkey- it is a demonstration that democracy is itself threatened in Europe. You cannot have it both ways!

At a time, then, when Europe needs the voice of reason, we are packing our bags and planning to leave. Maybe we are going too soon- because we cannot leave Europe in this mess, where mendacity has evidently replaced diplomacy.

To make matters worse, this comes across in the Turkish media as something of an EU agenda. An event in Zurich scheduled for yesterday was cancelled as also rallies in three other Austrian towns. In the south German town of Gaggenau, the Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was to address a rally organised by EETD (the Union of European Turkish Democrats).  At the last minute the event was cancelled by the local mayor who cited security concerns about on-site parking. Later, the authorities in Cologne said that a meeting scheduled for 5th March when the Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was to have addressed a rally  was cancelled because the appropriate permission had not been granted “There was no agreement for March 5, and there will not be”.

This might have been dismissed as some sort of bureaucratic mess-up but that Germany’s opposition party is already on record in advance of the Gaggenau rally demanding that their government deny the Minister entry. There are 2.3 million Turks living in 57 countries outside Turkey and legally entitled to cast a vote in the forthcoming referendum. The largest community of expats is in Germany and came to Germany at Germany’s request. Cologne’s decision about the visit of the Turkish Economy minister looks political whatever excuse is provided. More than that, it is the same city which prevented President Erdoğan from addressing supporters by video link after the FETÖ coup last year, and that had meanwhile allowed a senior PKK commander Murat Karayılan to address a rally at a culture festival. PKK is a group that both the EU and the US label as a terrorist organisation and yet it still able to raise nearly £12 million in Germany alone. The EU approach is inconsistent and insulting. It is not calculated to win hearts and minds.

Mr Erdoğan has already reacted with fairly fierce rhetoric but his real response may well be to “open the gates” allowing migrants back into mainland Europe. Already, the EU has indicated that Turkey does not meet the requirements agreed last year for visa-free travel in Europe. Turkey has already shouldered the migrant-burden and should get something more than snubs for its goodwill.

Ex-pat votes

Is it wrong for one country to appeal to expat voters by holding rallies in another country? The present Papacy, for example, has built its entire ministry on the principle that it can hold rallies anywhere in the world. But certainly, when Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yildirim spoke to 10,000 countrymen in Oberhausen in February, a debate was sparked across Continental Europe.

Yet rallies to support foreign groups take place all over the place- indeed, there is a german anti-Islamic group called Pegida, led by Lutz Bachmann, which has now launched its own political party (FDDV with links to AfD) and which has held rallies here in the UK – rather pleasingly, while it commands rallies of up to 25,000 in places like Dresden, only 375 people marched to support the group in Newcastle, and an estimated 2000 Brits staged a counter-demonstration. That’s surely the way democracy should work!

Dr Fatma BETUL Sayan Kaya by TIM

Coda:

This evening the family minister, Dr Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, already in Germany for other talks, was denied access to the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. The Consular staff are not allowed to meet her and she is also so far not allowed into her own Consulate. Instead, the Dutch authorities have invited her to be escorted out of the country. Presumably, she was not stopped on the German border: none of this makes alot of sense but it most certainly raises tension; already Geert Wilders has gone public with a cry to “Clean our country” referring to the Turkish protestors as “500 allahu akbar screaming Turks in Rotterdam”. This was action calculated to play into the hands of Right wing bigots and it has. I am deeply shocked. This is not the sort of Europe I think we should be seeing. It is certainly not the sort of Europe I could ever or would ever support.