Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bulgarian Vote Barometer On 'Reforms'

Little doubt the coven of Informant readers will ho-hum about the topic I'm about to raise: a runoff for the mostly ceremonial post of president in the faroff East European land of Bulgaria. So why raise it? Because I have nothing else to write about. Just kidding.... kinda. Seriously, the vote may seem insignificant at first, and second, and third glance (alright time to get serious), but there is something deeper brewing here that I mention in my catchy headline. Georgi Parvanov, is a 49-year-old historian, who holds a pretty much ceremonial post of president in Bulgaria. Bulgarians admittedly admire the guy for raising the country's image on its path to joining NATO in 2004 and its invitation to join the EU on January 1, 2006. Parvanov also will go down in history as heading the reform of the Socialist Party following Bulgaria's 1996 economic meltdown from a hard-lined communist to a more European model. But all is not well in Bulgaria, the birthplace of yogurt. Voters are frustrated. Their purchasing power is less today than it was before the 1989 fall of communism. Half of its 7.8 million people live on less than $2.5 a day! Its economic output is about a third of the EU average. Enter, Volen Siderov, a former hack and the leader of the Attack party. His second-place showing in the first round of voting was totally unforeseen. But his anti-everything from the IMF, the EU, NATO and the U.S., resonated with enough of those Bulgarians fed up with Western-styled economic "reforms." The story of the 'losers" of reforms is one largely not told in the Western press, which focuses mainly on progress, and there is much, largely concentrated in cities and enjoyed by the young, and well-educated. Those struggling in the countryside are largely ignored. Siderov has been dismissed by diplomats and mainstream parties and commentators, as a xenophobe and ultranationalist. He has himself to blame in part for statements he's made against Bulgaria's large minority communities of ethnic Roma and Turks. Siderov may be no hero, and his chances are nil of winning on Sunday, but his candidacy is just the latest reminder that sweeping reforms in Eastern Europe may have dismantled the old Communist system, but have failed to meet the needs of many.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Romania Does Little To Investigate CIA Rendition Flights

The Informant brings you the latest details of the ongoing soap opera of CIA "rendition flights" and other skullduggery in Europe. Romania has gotten low marks for its efforts to investigate whether CIA flights were flying in and out of their country, carrying 'terrorist suspects" destined for torture sessions in distant lands. In other words, Romania did little to figure out if Romania was doing anything dark. Surprising, isn't it? Here's how the head of the European parliament investigation, Claudio Fava, put it: "The way the authorities conducted the investigations on the alleged CIA flights in Romania seems superficial. We are talking about more than 20 flghts." He was speaking in Bucharest on October 19, after a fact-finding mission, that evidently didn't turn up many facts.... again. To remind my brilliant and very very select readers, Romania and Poland have been accused of housing CIA detention centers by the Council of Europe and Human Rights Watch. Fava also said it was unclear whether the CIA was using the Kogalniceanu base for its dirty work. The Black Sea base was used by the U.S. military during the 2003 Iraqi invasion. So, it doesn't take a leap of logic to assume the CIA would use the base, although figuring out 'which' base the U.S. was using seems secondary to nailing the Romanians for letting the CIA use their country to abet tourture. Just my thoughts. Carlos Coelho, president of the EU parliament commission investigating the flights, said a final report will be ready next year. The Informant will be there....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hungarian Goulash

After more than a decade's worth of Western-prescribed economic reforms, people in Eastern Europe are saying they've had enough. On the day Hungary marked the 50th anniversary of the Soviet crushing of their uprising against the then Communist regime, thousands took to the streets. This was no reenactment. Hundreds were arrested, and a like number injured as police used rubber bullets, batons, and water canons to hold back a crowd trying to reach the parliament building in Budapest on October 24.

Hungary has been on edge for nearly two months since the country's prime minister was caught on tape, admitting he had cooked the books to paint a rosier economic picture. The lie helped win reelection in April for Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, a socialist in name, but uber capitalist in practice, who made millions, like other ethically-challenged go-getters in Eastern Europe, during the firesale privatization drives of the early 1990s.

Victory assured, Gyurcsany dropped a bomb, telling his compatriots the state of the economy wasn't that good after all, (in fact, the deficit was close to 11 percent, the highest in the EU), and belt-tightening reforms were needed to save the state's finances. Rosy became rotten.

More state cutbacks were to come, meaning gloomier prospects for many already reeling from reforms that have dismantled much of the old command economy system, but created little, outside of pockets of prosperity centered around the cities. Hungarian anger and disillusionment may be unchallenged in the region, but the underlining sentiments are not. Poland and Slovakia have booted out their "reformers", and in Bulgaria a relatively unknown journalist made it to a runoff vote for president, largely by campaigning against the reforms that have left most Bulgarians with lower purchasing power than before the 1989 fall of communism.

In Poland after years in the political wilderness, the Kaczynski twins came to power last year with pledges to weed out corruption and what they called "cliques" of former secret service agents, ex-communists and businessmen. They also preached a hodgepode of economic "populist" measures from i.e., boost social spending.

In Slovakia, a populist government has gained power by making a pact with two right-wing parties, one of whose leaders has opined that Hungarians living in Slovakia should be shipped back home across the Danube. Talk like that has fueled a feud between the two neighbors, marked by an attack by Slovak skinheads on a girl caught speaking Hungarian on her cell phone.