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Caesar crosses the Rubicon

Paul Hilder
21 March 2003

#32 – 21.03.2003
Thorns in Berlin

Today, Die Zeit’s Michael Naumann paddles through the apothecary-infested streets of Berlin, remembering Gerhard Schröder’s unknown-soldier father, Konrad Adenauer’s rose garden, the Holy Alliance of 1815, and East Germany’s stubbled lady swimmers. Harshly depressed, he savages his countrymen’s resistance to reforming the Sozialstaat.

Yes, Europe goes on. To where?

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#30 – 20.03.2003
Futures of Europe, Councils of War

Today and tomorrow, the European Council are meeting: sixteen prime ministers and presidents, all in a room. They had a full agenda planned. They were going to talk about the “Lisbon agenda” for competitive Europe. They had invited Convention president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to discuss the new European Constitution with them.

Only, the oil wells in southern Iraq are burning; and the Kurds are eyeing Kirkuk; and the roofs of Baghdad are burning; and the tanks are rolling in.

Though they’ll make necessary decisions on aid, the US is calling the post-war shots, these sixteen won’t come up with a single new thought between them. Still, is their engulfment by the war’s morass any reason for us to avoid thinking?

Just as the European Union takes on its first collective military responsibility in Macedonia, the end of such action for the foreseeable future is mooted. Giscard suggested earlier this week the European foreign policy clauses might need to be excised from his draft Constitution. It feels like we’re entering a freeze. More cold war signifiers: phone-taps discovered in the European Council HQ, targeting France, Germany and Britain.

A bad moment for us to relaunch our Future of Europe debate? There could be no better time. Intelligence, grit and creativity are desperately needed on the future. Giscard’s Convention is barrelling on – even if the Constitution it is drafting looks further and further removed from today’s political realities.

In the openDemocracy debate, Dutch representative Frans Timmermans reports increased factionalism in the convention as the Iraqi dust descends. He rejects the two-president idea, but suggests a European Security Council could provide the tools to fix the Heath Robinson engine of Europe. Danish Eurocritic Jens-Peter Bonde is more pessimistic. For him, the Convention is crafting a new, undemocratic State of Europe run by voter-free governments.

Which vision of Europe do you want? Explore our new interactive map, and decide for yourself. Meanwhile, the Convention will keep on brawling over words like “God” and “federal”, unless more formal or informal discussion groups emerge to break it down; an EU tax is mooted again, just as agreement is reached on harmonising energy taxes; the UK have sent up flares for an "anti-Americanism summit"; Belgium, France and Germany prepare a joint defence summit (more twinklings of a federal core to Europe?); and a major conference took place Wednesday on Giscard’s favourite topic, space exploration.

The future is still there, even if we can’t see it.

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#30 – 20.03.2003
“Iacta alea est”

The Stealth bombers are aloft. “Let the dice fly high”: Roman-European Caesar’s words on crossing the Rubicon, breaking his world’s law, and marching on his own capital.

Now our new Rome is on the march, and shock and awe are promised.

The stones of our New York senate, the UN, shiver. Will our world let its fractured, corrupt, phantasmal republic slide under the yoke of monarchy, as Romans did?

Can democracy grow from the hot ashes of force?

openDemocracy’s editor Anthony Barnett heralds the birth of a new, second superpower: “world opinion”. Not a movement or a lobby, but a public space that is a power in its own right. “How will it balance emotion or reason? Is it really beyond fashion and the moods of the mob? Is there just one world opinion?”

With power comes responsibility. Here are more, and harder, questions: Can this public space wield its power for good? Can it act? Say: can it limit US empire, free Iraq?

Anthony sees Euroleaders Chirac and Schröder ventriloquised by “the magnetic force of an extensive world opinion which exists in different ways in different places, which they found themselves giving voice to… they began to represent it. They discovered the energy and popularity which it generated. This started to hold them to it.”

Is there no danger that presidents, chancellors, and their fellow-icons of opposition are instead ventriloquising this opinion? Permitting it to remain a phantasm? Holding it to them? Preserving it from real action?

Does this gangly, adolescent world opinion yet want the responsibility of helping Iraqis to self-rule? Or is it busy checking out its reflection in the mirror of the bargain basement politics bazaar? In a punk falsetto, the graffiti on the wall of my jejune inner city yowls, “WAR IS SO LAST CENTURY!”

Okay. So how will we – not Europeans, but all of us – make this century? It’s time, now.

“The Roman tribune Curio forced a vote in the Senate, which fell resoundingly in favour of peace; by a vote of 370 to 22, it was agreed that Caesar should retire.”

Our New York World Senate, the Security Council, never did vote. Instead it vanished in a puff of recriminating smoke. Why no vote? Why did no one dare propose their own second resolution, for renewed inspections or multilateral regime change in thirty days? Such a resolution could, perhaps, have secured a majority. Who then would have unreasonably vetoed? Who then would have taken responsibility?

Caesar borrowed iacta alea est (‘the die is cast’) from one of his favourites, the Greek poet Menander: high priest of New Comedy, the ancient Greek sitcom, where the lovers always made up in the end. Menander, unlike Aristophanes, couldn’t write political satire. It was prohibited by the Macedonian emperors under whom he lived, 2,300 years ago, in Europe.

Caesar was murdered by his own senators.

And now it’s late, so late it is early; and we Europeans are sleepwalking into an unknown future. “In dreams begins responsibility,” wrote Irish-European poet Yeats. English-European Anthony Barnett had a dream this week. It was not that of Martin Luther King, nor – yet – that of Yeats; only, today, as the dice fly high, who among us sleepwalkers can get beyond it? “I was trying to get past a wide staircase and for some reason was finding it hard. It started to rain blood. Gently at first, the drops got heavier. I often dream in colour, but this was in black and grey. I awoke, listening for the bombers.”

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#29 – 17.03.2003
Finnish leaders, Polish peasants

After a campaign sliced by Iraq and unemployment rates topping 8%, Anneli Jäätteenmäki may become the first female Finnish prime minister. Her Centre Party beat eight-year prime minister Paavo Lipponen’s Social Democrats – just – to the top slot, by 55 seats to 53 and 6,300 votes. But Jäätteenmäki’s position for coalition-forming in the 200-seat chamber is far from commanding: the Social Democrats could yet team up with smaller parties to squeeze her out.

If they do not, will Lipponen’s brilliant, popular foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja replace his boss at the head of the Social Democrats? Tuomioja, a prominent critic of the Third Way, called for Europe to face globalisation on openDemocracy almost two years ago. If it’s up to him, Finnish membership of Nato, off the agenda until at least 2004, will be postponed for longer.

Polish prime minister Leszek Miller signed up more Peasants – the Peasant Democratic Party – to replace his lost Peasant Party partners, but he’s still 13 seats short of a majority. Even so, he defeated a League of Polish Families motion to dissolve the Sejm on 13 March by a majority of two-to-one; but he is looking weaker by the day, as he prepares to send troops to the Gulf against the wishes of 76% of Poles.

Meanwhile, the Peasant Party and the Law and Justice party appeal to President Kwasniewski to present Poland's EU accession treaty to Poland's Constitutional Tribunal for review. According to Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski of Law and Justice, “One of the basic conditions for preserving Poland's independence in the EU will be ensuring that constitutional law has priority over international law, particularly in the case of treaties that cede a part of our sovereignty to international organisations, in this case the EU”. Both the draft European constitution, and current norms, say the opposite. Will there be fireworks in Poland before this June’s referendum?

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#28 – 13.03.2003
Death in Belgrade

“Here is the time to demonstrate
That man's own dignity yields not to gods on high…
To struggle toward that pass whose narrow mouth is lit
By all the seething, searing flames of Hell;
Serenely to decide this step and onward press,
Though there be risk I'll float off into nothingness.”
– Faust, by German-European Goethe

There is a history of Serbian assassinations: Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo is only the most famous, Dejan Djokic reminds us. His brief and frightening piece anatomises Serbia on the day after prime minister Djindjic’s assassination, noting rumours of a Faustian pact with Milosevic’s former commando Legija.

Serb-European Djokic wants his fellow democrats, nationalist and progressive alike, to link arms against the mafia and the revenants of Milosevic. This horrid killing is no portent on the scale of 1914; but for just that reason, let’s hope Serbia is not forgotten.

If the Middle East burns, do southeast Europeans not bleed?

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#27 – 11.03.2003
Cypriot melancholy

The UN special envoy to Cyprus is packing up and going home. Denktash stopped talking; Papadopoulos was stubborn. Referenda by the end of the month look impossible. As suggested, Greek Cyprus will sign the accession treaty alone next month.

Two months ago, a third of Turkish Cypriots were on the streets demanding their referendum.

It’s a melancholy day.

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#26 – 11.03.2003
“Whatever the resolution says, the answer is…”

France-Germany-Russia have become the Axis of Power-Balance, approaching the absolutism of the US. Last Wednesday, they stated, “We will not let a proposed resolution pass that would authorise the use of force.” (Prettily, Syria and China are their allies.) Schroeder, looking heavier every day, is prepared to substitute Joschka Fischer to thunder a popular “No” in the Security Council.

US-UK-Spain are the Axis of War – but their revised resolutions are dropping like flies (even if Bulgaria keeps on tagging along), and their democratic and international legitimacies look equally shaky. They like the date of 17 March for war.

Yet there are more poles and alliances: once Europe-colonised Pakistan, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Chile and Mexico are talking up a loosely-affiliated storm, pushing specified disarmament menus and extending the deadline. The Axis of War is listening at least to the first idea.

Paralysed Europeans: let’s keep our minds alive. This may not be the Week Before War.

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#25 – 10.03.2003
Malta says Y€S

Or at least the majority of the 91% who voted in their referendum do (53.6% Yes, 46.4% No). Opposition Labour leader Alfred Sant ingeniously attempted to invert reality and construct a virtual “No” majority: he abstained himself, promoted No votes, abstentions and spoiled ballots, then claimed all these diverse decisions for a majority against the EU.

What really matters? This referendum is non-binding; but the Maltese government has called snap elections for 12 April, 4 days before the signing of the Accession Treaty, to solidify it. Stupidly, there was no formal support for the No campaign. An avalanche of funds descended on the Yes side, from the EU, NGOs, business and scarily-named (according to the Eurosceptic UK Telegraph) – “pro-EU front organisations”.

One Yes ad promised: “What you will save (if Malta joins the EU): 15c on every kg of meat, 10c on eggs (per dozen), 81c on every kg of tomato polpa, 25c on every litre of beer… On certain products, Malta will have to adjust to higher EU prices. But consumer prices will not be affected because compensation, partly funded by the EU, will be given”…

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#24 – 10.03.2003
War fever

Everyone is fleeing, to one side or the other. Yes! War! Now! / No! War! Stop! As Michael Rebehn sharply observes, this rent has extended even to the FT Deutschland/Europe.

Can the axis of ambivalence propose another project? Is there an alternative to this grisly divide-and-conquer?

Speaking of which, US unilateralists like John Hulsman must be dancing in the streets of Washington. International law is staring a new demise in the eyes: there is no law when the police become judge, jury and executioner… but is there law without them altogether?

Why have we framed no serious alternative? Do we prefer, as over Kosovo, to let the US set the agenda, to react mostly with intransigence or assent? (Dejan Djokic, a Serb who did not march then and marches now against war, recalls the parallels in agonising detail.)

The window is not yet shut. I suggest elsewhere that we make the US choose: illegitimate hegemony, or constrained liberation. Others, like Mary Kaldor and Paul Hirst, have their own ideas.

The total spectrum dominance of the military-diplomatic world outlined by Michael Naumann in “Bush: home alone” is not a foregone conclusion. Yet.

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#23 – 05.03.2003
Governing schisms: Vienna to Warsaw to Tallinn to Prague…

Coalitions are seldom easy to coalesce – as Europe knows all too well:

Friday it’s Austria
Last November, the centre-right Austrian People’s Party won its biggest victory for 36 years, surging from 27% to 42% of the vote, as Joerg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party (which brought on early elections) crashed from an equal share of the vote to a paltry 10%.

For the last three months, though, People’s Party leader Wolfgang Schüssel has struggled – and failed – to establish coalitions with first the Social Democrats (37%), then the Greens (9%). Finally, on Friday 28 February, he formed a new government – once again with the chastised (but still Eurosceptic) Freedom Party. An unstable coalition, doomed to another collapse?

Saturday it’s Poland
The next day, Leszek Miller of the Polish Democratic Left Alliance ejected the more Eurosceptic Peasants’ Party from his coalition. He now holds only a minority in the Sejm, and the Poles’ EU accession referendum is scheduled for 8 June. A number of factors could precipitate early elections: a less than 50% turnout invalidating the referendum, a budget crisis in autumn, or meat in the bubbling pot of the Adam Michnik/ Gazeta Wyborzca/ government bribery scandal…

Sunday it’s Estonia
The Estonian Centre Party (centre-left) won the most votes in the general election, but the new Res Publica (centre-right) received as many seats in parliament: a virtual tie, and one likely to lead to a Res Publica coalition with Siim Kallas’s smaller Reform Party and others. But if anyone’s Eurosceptic here, it’s the Centre Party: their leader (and former tape-recorder ) Edgar Savisaar has “doubts”, and plans only to reveal an official point of view on the September referendum in June, after the party congress, and when, post-Convention, the character of the future EU may be clearer…

Monday it’s the Czech Republic
Czech Social Democratic prime minister Vladimir Spidla called a vote of confidence scheduled for 11 March, in the wake of the Communist-supported election of opposition leader (and Eurosceptic) Vaclav Klaus to replace Vaclav Havel as President. Spidla shored up his three-party coalition with a similar confidence vote in late 2002, won by a razor-thin margin; the opposition want to delay this one until after his party conference at the end of March, to encourage schism.

Meanwhile, parliament is establishing a constitutional commission to look at direct elections of the President; and standing in the footprints of the past, another young man made a fatal human torch of himself in Prague’s Wenceslas Square.

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#22 – 05.03.2003
Turkey $ays No

Or rather, ‘Turkey says Yes, but disqualifies itself on a technicality.’ A slim majority of those voting in Parliament on Saturday wanted the deal hammered out with the US (which rose to $30bn in aid and guarantees, all dependent on Congress, and included okaying Turkish operations in northern Iraq to keep down Kurdistan); but twelve abstentions meant only a minority of parliamentarians present had supported letting up to 60,000 US troops into Turkey to open the northern front.

US materiel continues to roll from Iskenderun, though apparently it is all for the previously-approved facility upgrades. Some Iraqis mutter that it’s all a Turkish-US stitch-up to justify the necessary delays. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan was supposedly shocked by the vote, which included many Nos from his own party’s southeastern Kurdish stronghold abutting the Iraqi border – the region where he stands for parliament this weekend.

Reasons for the motion’s collapse are many; but public opinion against the war, refusal of the mercenary label, and the nebulous nature of the US promises may have been uppermost in minds.

What now? The US mutters about airborne insertions into northern Iraq, and some of its ships turn for the Suez Canal. The prospect of a many-cornered mess in northern Iraq – Kurds, Turks, US, Iran-based Shia, Saddamites – is growing. And as the US raps Turkish knuckles, a divided Europe refuses to praise this conflicted exercise in democracy. General Ozkok emerges to comment, sphinx-like: “I wish that the move we have chosen to avoid war will not force us to make some moves by taking those who fight against us.”

Erdogan’s Islamic democrats may say Yes, perhaps after a second UN resolution. But, caught between their people and the US, they may even secretly welcome the generals’ shadows creeping up to lift this heavy burden…

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#21 – 03.03.2003
The Gaulles in Africa

“Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word” - Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Chirac flew into Algeria with 17 corporate chieftains, 5 cabinet ministers and a Maghrebian ballet dancer. But no worms. He was greeted with “showers of confetti and flowers”, adulation, and cries of “Visa! Visa!”: only 180,000 Algerians a year get French visas, but far more feel the pull of French universal humanism (and pay).

Glance back at Patrice De Beer and Kirsty Hughes to remind yourselves of the case for France. If you read Victor Youmbi on Cameroon, follow his links illuminating France’s colonial legacy (yes, few Euro-nations are innocent). Remember the recent “childishness” of the Eastern Europeans. Then, for a dark chuckle about the strange unity of French exceptionalism and universalism (not to mention the Foreign Legion), you could read Dominic Hilton's “We’ll Always Have Paris!”

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#20 – 24.02.2003
The Croatians are coming

On Friday, 21st February, Croatia applied to enter the EU membership ‘race’ (a race of tortoises and hares, on both sides of the fortress wall). It won’t receive a preliminary answer before mid-2004, after the current wave of entrants; it wants to be next in line with Bulgaria and Romania in 2007.

The longer-term Yes to EU membership for all of southeast Europe, which many want, and which the Greeks and the Commission are trying to sponsor, nonetheless still looks elusive…

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#19 – 25.02.2003
The Axis of Ambivalence: Europeans on the War

Re-reading openDemocracy, these European souls jump out:

José Saramago, Portugese-European writer: “Once the conflict is created, the process of mobilisation starts with patriotic appeals, rallies, demonstrations, hymns, speeches, stunning sounds, multiplied images. The first shot hasn’t been fired, but the war is already holy, just, necessary… wars have always been declared in the name of lasting peace…”

Alexander Rondeli, Georgian-European analyst: “We see Saddam’s Iraq in dark colours, stemming from our own, very negative experience of being a small nation under constant pressure from a giant neighbour - Russia. It is a horrifying responsibility to start any war, especially when it is hard to predict all its consequences, whether humanitarian, political or cultural. But if the decision is made that Saddam should be eliminated from the political screen of the world, this goal should be based on normative imperatives and not on the national interests of any particular country.”

Donald Sassoon, English-European historian: “The actual outcome is likely to be between the two poles; the precise point impossible to predict. But then, if we knew the outcome, there might never be wars. We certainly would not have had the first, perhaps not even the second, world war. So war is risky. But before you cast your vote, think seriously: who is risking? Whose children? Whose future?”

Hazhir Teimourian, Kurdish-European analyst: “When the full extent of the gassing of over 280 Kurdish villages and small towns became clear in the summer of 1988, after the end of the war with Iran, surely there was then no excuse to tolerate the vile regime any longer… If resort had been made then to the 1948 Geneva Protocol on Genocide to overthrow Saddam, perhaps more than a million people would not subsequently have lost their lives: in the deportations and disappearances of some 180,000 Kurds, the eviction of the Iraqi army from Kuwait, the massacres of the Shia in the south of Iraq, the destruction of the Marsh Arabs, all those dead Iraqis who were deliberately deprived of food and medicines supplied by the UN in order to blame their deaths on sanctions.”

Gunter Grass, German-European writer: “They promise that once the dictator has been overthrown, they will bring democracy to Iraq. However, the dictator’s neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – Western allies which are being used as military bases – are themselves ruled by dictators. Will they become the target of more wars to be waged in the name of democracy? Of course, these questions are pointless; in its arrogance, the superpower can answer them all. But everyone knows, or at least has an inkling, that the real issue is oil.”

Friedemann Müller, German-European analyst: “I would like to ask those who are – like me – against the war: how do you want to get rid of this threat? By continuing the sanctions, which have wrought so much suffering on Iraq because Saddam used them against his own people? I do not have an answer to these questions…”

Timothy Garton Ash, English-European writer: “I can’t remember an issue on which I’ve been more torn. The Iraqi desert runs through my living room… I know what I wish had happened last September, when the Bush White House, for its own very mixed reasons, pushed Iraq to the top of the world’s to-do list. I wish that all of old Europe, from London to Moscow and from Helsinki to Athens, had got together and said to Washington: ‘We agree that we face a terrible threat… Let’s now work together for the disarmament of Saddam, reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The democratisation of the Middle East is our great common interest. Let this be the new transatlantic project.’ I blame Europeans and Americans equally for the fact this did not happen.”

John Berger, English-European writer: “Shame, as I’m coming to understand it, is a species feeling which, in the long run, corrodes the capacity for hope and prevents us looking far ahead. We look down at our feet, thinking only of the next small step…

“The precondition for thinking on a global scale is to see the unity of the unnecessary suffering taking place. Any such vision is bound to be, in the original sense of the word, political.

“I write in the night, but I see not only the tyranny. If that were so, I would probably not have the courage to continue. I see people sleeping, stirring, getting up to drink water, whispering their projects or their fears, making love, praying, cooking something whilst the rest of the family is asleep, in Baghdad and Chicago. (Yes, I see too the forever invincible Kurds, 4000 of whom were gassed – with US compliance – by Saddam Hussein.) I see pastry cooks working in Teheran and the shepherds, thought of as bandits, sleeping beside their sheep in Sardinia, I see a man in the Friedrichshain quarter of Berlin sitting in his pyjamas with a bottle of beer reading Heidegger and he has the hands of a proletarian, I see a small boat of illegal immigrants off the Spanish coast near Alicante, I see a mother in Mali, her name is Aya which means Born on Friday, swaying her baby to sleep.

“Democracy is a proposal (rarely realised) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed…

“This is written in the night. In war the dark is on nobody’s side, in love the dark confirms that we are together.”

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Why we're suing over the £23m NHS data deal with 'spy tech' firm Palantir

Right as the NHS battles 'vaccine hesitancy', why is the government giving a CIA-backed firm – whose spyware has been accused of creating ‘racist’ feedback loops in US policing – a major, long-term role in handling our personal health information, and in England's cherished NHS?

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Join us for this free event on 4 March at 5pm UK time/12pm EST.

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