November 22, 2010

From the Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog:

Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria’s pint. Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit because there are splashes on its trouser leg. Germany expresses its support for Austria’s point of view. Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.

Serbia points out that it can’t afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria’s trousers. Russia and Serbia look at Austria. Austria asks Serbia who it’s looking at. Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone. Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so. Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that this is sufficiently out of order that Britain should not intervene. Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it?

Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action. Britain and France ask Germany whether it’s looking at Belgium. Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper.

When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone. Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium. France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other. Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it’s on Britain’s side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria.

Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Australia do it. France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change. Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway.

Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting. America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself. By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered. Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany’s fault. While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.

July 22, 2010

From The Economist:

MOST victims of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact are pretty clear about what happened to them in 1940. But Moldova, once a province of Romania (and before that part of Czarist Russia) has taken a low-key, some would say muddled, approach to its history since 1991.

Last month the acting president, Mihai Gimpu, designated June 28th  ”Soviet occupation day”. That infuriated Russia, which prefers to highlight Soviet sacrifice in liberating eastern Europe from fascism, rather than the Stalin-era carve-up with Hitler that preceded the war. Vladimir Socor at the Jamestown Foundation summarised the reaction:

'In a commentary issued on June 25, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs characterizes the Moldovan decree as “pseudo-history” and a move “directed against Russian-Moldovan partnership, harmful to the [Moldovan] state’s national interests.” Condemning the decree as “sacrilegious” (a term previously applied to Estonia’s relocation of the Red Army monument from downtown Tallinn), the Russian MFA warns of possible “confrontations in Moldova’s multi-ethnic society” in this connection. Instead of a “so-called occupation,” Moscow advises Chisinau to speak about “the history that we and the Moldovan people share.” The document puts Moldova’s governing Alliance for European Integration (AEI) on notice that Moscow “expect[s] pragmatic approaches to prevail in the Moldovan leadership and the AEI” (Russian MFA Commentary, Interfax, June 25). 

'The Duma’s international affairs committee chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, characterized the Moldovan presidential decree as “idiocy” and “historical illiteracy.” Kosachev also insinuated that Ghimpu was contradicting the “international community’s” position on the Russian troops in Moldova (Interfax, June 25). Well-known Russian Television pundit Vladimir Solovyov proposed calling on a “psychiatrist, to assess this document as part of Ghimpu’s medical history” (Moldova Suverana, June 25).'

Officials in Moscow impounded Moldovan wine imports.  Russia’s chief sanitary official Gennady Onishchenko said it was only good for “painting faces”. He threatened a total ban on the wine, Moldova’s most important export.

Moldova hastened to negotiate. And on July 12, the country’s constitutional court cancelled the presidential decree, saying that Mr Ghimpu had “no authority” to institute the day.

The row comes in the run up to the referendum on September 5th which will introduce a direct election for the presidency, ending the year-long constitutional deadlock in parliament, where neither the government nor the opposition has enough votes to get a head of state elected. Keeping the economy afloat until then probably matters rather more than symbolic and divisive gestures about history, however justified and overdue some on the centre-right of Moldovan politics may find them.