Archive for June, 2009

A Swedish-led listening tour of the East

The Swedish EU presidency, which starts on 1 July 2009, is getting a lot of advice on what to do during its presidency. But here is one idea more idea for the Swedish EU presidency (contained in our recent ECFR report on the Eastern neighbourhood). The Swedish Presidency should convene a “listening tour” of the Eastern neighbourhood – a Troika visit by the Swedish foreign minister, Javier Solana, the Commissioner for External Relations, and the future Spanish EU presidency to each of the six Eastern neighbours of the EU: Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia). Here is why such a tour is needed and why the Swedish presidency is the best actor to initiate it.

To begin with, the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, judged by its attendance list, was a near-failure. If the objective of the Eastern partnership was to relaunch the neighbourhood policy and raise its political profile, its start was not impressive. The Swedish presidency-led “listening tour” would help relaunch politically the neighbourhood policy in the East. It would repair some of the political damage done by the unimpressive Eastern partnership summit in May 2009. But the purpose of such a tour should not only be symbolic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ikea and the Abkhaz paradox

As promissed, more impressions from my recent trip to Sukhumi. In Abkhazia, the economic imperative of rebuilding the region and attracting investments (predominantly Russian) clashes with its political project of staying more or less independent. Abkhazia might face the following paradox: until August 2008 Abkhazia was de facto independent but unrecognised; now it is recognised (by Russia and Nicaragua only), but not de facto independent anymore. The closure of the UNOMIG mission (anounced today) will also leave Abkhazia more internationally isolated than ever before.

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Compared to my previous visit there in March 2006, now Sukhumi was livelier. There are more renovated buildings, more expensive cars, more people on the promenade by the sea, and the cafés are fuller. This is both a sign of some economic progress, but also the fact that summer is always livelier than the rest of the year (because of the tourists).

In the hotel I stayed (Ritsa) – very central and right by the sea – there were three wi-fi networks in the range of my laptop. The local GSM operator “Aquaphone” boasts with its 3G network. On one of the formerly abandoned piers in Sukhumi – a café was opened that serves sushi (and where the local authorities took Solana and Lavrov on their recent visits to Abkhazia). I even saw a yellow Hummer (!) (I also saw another one in Tbilisi –apparently that is trendy). A recent spat between the Georgian government and Benetton is also telling. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the meanings of “war”

Wars are defining moments in the life of states and nations. Throughout history wars often gave birth to nations, or caused the disappearance of states. Most nations had fought many wars, but almost every nation has one war to which they refer to as “the war”. For a German, Greek or Serb the term “before the war” means entirely different things and different periods.

I just spent a few days in Abkhazia and Tbilisi. I will write more about the trip in the following days. But it was interesting to see that the word “war” refers to different historical events. For the Georgians the phrase “after the war” means “after the August 2008 war”. Read the rest of this entry »

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