April 2010Are we better than priests and the Pope?
They want powerful and confident Slovakia in the EU
The town where roses blossom…
Will it be a Jewish or democratic state?
Why the euro is not on course to dislodge the dollar?
Libya Joins the Jihad Against Switzerland
Will the USA supremacy be replaced by China?
What is Christian Humanism?
A chauffeur’s Testimony in Sarajevo
It hurts, that is why I am laughing…
Atelier Tri Kamene
Slovak cyclist in the race Paris- Nice
Are we better than priests and the Pope?
If the plane with a Polish President Lech Kaczyński had not tragically crashed in Pečorsko near Smolensk on 10 April, 2010, media would have continued bothering Europeans, and Slovaks as well, with the criticism of the Roman- Catholic Church and the Pope Benedict XVI in terms of paedophile crimes of some priests and monks. Senseless death, solidarity and mourning for some representatives of Polish political, economic and religious lives, finally, stopped scandalizing the Vatican for a few days. Paradoxically, all these scandals were culminated just before Easter when Christians remind of crucifixion and celebrate resurrection of Jesus Christ. Moral panic of the Vatican’s critics, spread mainly from the USA, Ireland, Germany and Austria. Predominantly, it pointed out at not solving and hiding the cases of paedophile in the Church and defended the victims that the Vatican had not compensated. Religious and atheistic Europeans had again dealt with an issue, which, let’s face the truth, no one can sort out. Paedophilia was invented by people, not by the Church or the Pope. It is probably as old as homosexuality, promiscuity, prostitution, alcoholism, thefts and murders. And more people are on our planet, more crimes of those kinds will be committed. In other words, we can get upset with the cases of paedophilia in the Roman- Catholic Church and of course mainly because of morality and spiritual innocence of a human being- a priest or a monk as well as from the point of view of criminal responsibility. However, we have to show the same “disappointment” with other people and other churches, associations, organizations, groups and movements. And also with atheists and non- religious people, gays and lesbians, with politicians, bankers, editors and others who do not follow Moses´s Ten Commandments and Lord’s Laws but also temporal laws, social morality and ethics. If we asked an academic question, where more paedophile cases are- in Christian Church or somewhere else, we would say the second one immediately, i.e. in the general society. And that is it. Simply said: why secularized, atomized and also global society attacks the Christian Church through paedophilia and other human crimes? Why don’t the media pay attention to secular moral and ethical crimes, declines and falls? If a Christian commits a crime, he will search for remedy and changes in his life though penance. He will search for it being helped by a priest and monks (nuns) at God and in prayers because he is aware of it that he has committed a crime and that he has failed because he was weak and imperfect. And what should an atheist or not religious person do? Is a penalty, a verdict, imprisonment and then a psychologist or psychiatrist enough? Though, is he expected to get better? Has he really changed and got better? Or is it a final solution that the society isolates him in special institutes?
People are often ridiculous. We are ridiculous. On the one hand, we are critical to the Church, priests and monks, but on the other hand, we tolerate so many things that have damaging influence on us on behalf of freedom, democracy and human rights. Secular media do not pay any attention to everyday lives of churches, priests, monks and laymen apart from paedophilia, their moral crimes, Christmas and Easter. They neither see nor are curious to know more about their spiritual and social work, their sacrifice; they do not search for examples and ideals for the society and young people among them.
They push them aside, creating an image of old- fashioned tradition and custom which has already been overcome by the mankind. And a part of them, both Europeans and Slovaks, who have Christian roots, rather pays attention to non- Christian religions for example in Asia. And on the contrary, more people believe in them as they think they are more tolerant, free and more spiritual than Christianity. How weird! If such Europeans and Slovaks are able to accept different religion, its spiritual discipline including martial arts, why are they not able to understand Christian religion and its spiritual discipline?
editor in chief
They want powerful and confident Slovakia in the EU
„We need to change Slovakia, “sweep it“ and make free from various stereotypes, myths and legends including negative influence of financial and logistic groups that have a harmful impact on it,“ claims Antonio Parziale, a Chairman of the European Democratic Party in Slovakia.
Photo: Jozef Veselý
Although he was born in Italy, he has been living in Slovakia for 29 years. He considers Slovakia his step family that accepted him as its citizen. He decided to leave Italy in the 1980s when first signs of political and social changes appeared in Central and East Europe. He has never regretted his decision. Nowadays, he feels like a part of the Slovak nation, its mentality, thinking, hard- work and education. In October 2009, he introduced the European Democratic Party in Slovakia, which is a Slovak and affiliated party of the European Democratic Party established in December 2004. This non- parliamentary party attempts to achieve gradual unification of capable, educated and modern citizens in Slovakia who trust Slovakia, its potentials and uniqueness as well as feel to be European.
Mr Parziale, you were given Slovak citizenship at the time when Rudolf Schuster was the president of our country. Devín, a high-quality wine from the Italian Vineyard of Peace reminds you of this event. Why exactly this wine?
I have always had a love relationship to Slovakia. I like reminding myself how I managed to help Slovakia to become a more popular country after disintegration of Czechoslovakia. I managed to do one thing that I am really proud of. There has been a vineyard “Della Pace” (a vineyard of peace) in the Italian village of Cormons. Powerful states grow their vines there and make wine of a very high quality. Every year, this wine is poured into special bottles that have been decorated by great artists. Bottles are then given to the Pope, all spiritual, religious and state representatives of the states all over the world like a symbol of keeping peace. After disintegration of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic, Slovakia had no representative in this vineyard. That is why I decided to take an action. I managed to convince Rudolf Schuster, as he was a president at the time, to bring and plant Slovak species Devín in the vineyard of peace and thus contribute to presentation of a new state. And as you can see, it all went great…
What motivated you to establish the European Democratic Party?
Well, there were many reasons, though. There are many people who are disappointed and fed up with the current development in Slovakia. They concern about weak use of potentials of economy and society by which Slovakia was enriched so much. Contemporary political scene has been stagnating so far, it keeps following the same ways and stereotypes. Contemporary politicians are neither capable to overcome themselves nor their political direction. Slovakia cannot afford stagnation and rely just on political parties that do not have any influence away from Slovakia. Nevertheless, citizens of Slovakia think progressively, they are ready to fight for better future perspective. I know exactly what I am talking about. I have observed Slovakia and all uneasy and tough ways it has already gone through. I am convinced that it really deserves its chance; I know, we have plenty of trumps in our hands; we just need to use them appropriately.
Which trumps do you mean?
Slovakia joined all the biggest international organizations. In a very short time, it started up its economy, overtook its neighbours and deals with the nation with many specialists. These people manage international firms, majority of young people speak a few foreign languages. In addition, Slovakia also has a very good geographical position. These and other trumps have not been used for over the past five- six years. In other words, Slovakia still does not use its potential for opportunities and advantages having been offered. It has needlessly “been stuck” by political parties overcome by time and development. The society has moved ahead and requires the change of its contents.
You speak like leaders of other new political parties and coalitions having been established on purpose as they are always founded before the parliamentary election. If they do not succeed, they will fall apart or disappear. Is the European Democratic Party a project just for the parliamentary election held in June?
No way. The European Democratic Party will also introduce its candidates in regional election in December 2010. Our party is not a marketing product. It is the only non-parliamentary party that is established internationally. We are a member of the international European Democratic Party that operates in the European Parliament- in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe which is the most powerful political group. The European Democratic Party is a strong group; political parties of 11 states are its establishing members. Having an international background, this political party believes in having strong support, political know- how and possible cooperation in selected areas.
Who did you establish this party for?
The European Democratic Party is an alternative for all who care about the future of Slovakia and its position as a strong, equal and respected player in Europe. The party was established to provide a so- called roof for all capable, modern and clever people who feel to be not only citizens of Slovakia but also Europeans. The party offers new opportunities but also a new way of thinking for all who are not yet trapped in apathy and still believe in Slovakia which is able to compete other powers in the world and keep up with them as a part of strong Europe.
And what are your purposes?
We would like to pursue significant changes in political thinking in Slovakia and in political life, too. We would like to get our citizens together and not to separate them ideologically. For twenty years, Slovak citizens have been divided ideologically, have been flooded by useless political struggles, non- conceptual and short- term solutions which are condemned or changed, we would like to motivate all citizens with new visions and cooperation, not political fights which are dominated by personal hatred, political idling away and poor political culture. The European Democratic Party offers new opportunities, new ways of thinking and cooperation for all those who believe in the future of Slovakia and in the future of Europe.
I expected you to say that the European Democratic Party will mainly pursue the “europeization” of Slovakia, i.e. pursuing the European standards?
Yes. It is necessary to europeize Slovakia as it seems rather provincial and isolated in some areas. European standards are clearly defined rules, ethics, and living standard, infrastructure, and environment, opportunities for entrepreneurs, workforce, families, youth, school and educational system. They reach a very poor standard in many areas in Slovakia; I will set up a very easy and clear example: the city of Bratislava is geographically only 3-hour journey from the Italian borders, three hours from Prague by car, an hour and a half from Budapest, and 50 kilometres far from Vienna. Bratislava has no borders any more, it has the same currency (euro), the same opportunities but, for example, on Saturdays and Sundays and during holidays, its streets are empty as tourists have nothing to do there. And what does Bratislava have in common with Vienna which is a very lively city? Just prices! But what is the quality of culture, infrastructure, education and health care like? Tailing away.
Is it true that Austrians or Europeans are anti - Slovak?
It is about us, Slovaks; we are unable to find the way or a system which we live in, which is against our interests. Our development is definitely not blocked by Austrians or other Europeans; it is the other way round. Thus, we have to change the system and begin to trust our own capacities.
Your party was established in a very simple way-by re-naming a former liberal party Nádej (Hope). Why did you decide to carry it out like this?
At the time, having judged all the analysis and possibilities, we decided to go for the fastest way- renaming an inactive political party. Neither then nor now had we time for confrontation. What is essential is the fact that over the short period of time, we managed to build up the structures throughout Slovakia and that we represent and alternative for all citizens both central- right and liberal voters.
What is the main political vision of the European Democratic Party?
Our long-term vision is stability, progress, efficiency and professionalism. Slovakia faces a great challenge. After passing the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union and its institutions have bigger influence on everyday life of Slovak citizens. National governments have to respect limits of practical politics more and more, they are, however, formed and defined by Brussels. It is necessary to cooperate with Brussels and defend our own national interests there. And how do Slovak politicians and citizens face this fact? What is modern and European Slovakia supposed to be like? Do political parties discuss these matters with citizens? We would like to have strong Slovakia in strong Europe. It is in favour of all citizens of the Slovak Republic, it is a long-term statesman’s and international political goal. In order to achieve them, we need to change Slovakia, get it cleaned and make free from various stereotypes, myths and legends including negative influence of financial and logistic groups that have a harmful impact on it. Finally, we have to lead politics in a different way-behaving nicely and civilized, openly, without fear and with a professional approach. We have to give the truth a go-the truth about Slovakia, its nation, its economy, culture, education and young people. Politics is a sophisticated profession, a service for citizens and state, it must not just be a tool of a few individuals and groups which can do whatever they like- choose leaders, own political parties, tell people how to think and live and perceive people just like goods in the global market. Or use media to present what is cool and in.
Who do you focus on?
We would like to come up with creativity. We do not have fixed structures that would be bounded by procedural processes and party hierarchy. We introduce a new ideological approach in the politics. We would like to do it… simply different! We think that this procedure will address younger generation and people with higher education mainly. Many young people are not searching for idols, old personalities, they do not show respect to authorities. Nevertheless, they will be addressed by young people who have already achieved something. They can present their results not just show forcing self- presentation. These intensions led us to form an independent platform within the European Democratic Party called Young Europeans. Apart from young and educated people, we would like to address other potential supporters and voters (such as agricultural topics, issues connected wit entrepreneurship, school reform) - all disappointed and fed up. We would like to address women and give them more space for presentation. Our party has the largest number of women (in percentage) - candidates to the parliament, though.
What do you offer your voter and supporters?
To make thing a bit simpler, I will mention four basic pillars of the agenda of our party. First of all, we want to pursue Slovakia to become an integral part of Europe. However, it does not mean it will be subordinated to Brussels, no way. On the contrary, Slovakia will participate in European processes; will defend Slovak interests in Europe. The result of these attempts should result in bringing European advantages and standards in Slovakia. The second pillar of the agenda is the economy. I am an entrepreneur myself and I know very well how to support small and medium- sized businesses in Slovakia. We would like to accelerate tourism, offer particular solutions to problems such as unemployment in forms of agro- tourism, private farms, etc. Our party would like to attract young people; we are the only party that has its platform called “Young Europeans” directly included in the charter. Thus, we would like to provide young people with education of a high quality which will give them presupposition to succeed in life. As reasonably thinking people, we want to save. That is why we propose the reform of civil services, its digitalization, making it more efficient and putting it closer to citizens. Our reform includes the proposal of electronic voting.
You claim Slovakia needs people whom it can trust and who will be able to assure equal development… What specialists do you offer?
The ballot of the European Democratic Party contains personalities that are specialists and experts from various spheres, people who used to be strictly apolitical. I believe that thus, we have given them opportunity in politics, we want to show that politics can be done differently- no confrontation, briefly and creatively, using their great scientific potential. The second groups of people I believe in are young people. As they have an opportunity to create new, modern and European Slovakia, they have a more significant position in the ballot of the European Democratic Party than young people do in case of other political parties. To prove that, the average age of our candidates to the National Assembly of the Slovak Republic is the youngest out of all political parties- it is the age of 38.
Does the European Democratic Party address Slovak specialists abroad and want to be a political party of Slovaks who live abroad, too?
Slovakia has a lot of clever, educated and intelligent people at home as well as living abroad. There are many people who have not been in politics yet. Their personal and professional profile is of a great potential to attract voters. Although the European Democratic Party is a part of European political structures and thus it has enough opportunities to use contacts abroad, our main goal is to create space for domestic specialists who have already achieved much in their careers; however, they are not famous so much.
Does the European Democratic Party support European conservatism or liberalism? What are the attitudes of the party to registered partnerships and terminations of pregnancy?
As a democratic party we praise and esteem all citizens equally. Our aim is to eliminate and get rid of discrimination tendencies in general. Our world has born developing, opinions have are being changed, so we might not exclude any issue whose political solving would have been absolutely impossible 15 or 20 years ago. Topics that you have mentioned in your question are not being discussed specifically in or agenda. Nevertheless, we will welcome any specific discussions concerning these issues.
However, the European Democratic Party does not appear in any opinion polls or surveys. It seems as if someone had sentenced this party to loss instead of giving it chance to exist. How do you comment that?
Opinion polls are a specific issue in Slovakia. Based on our experience, the results of pre-electoral surveys and polls rather differ from the results of the election. New non-parliamentary parties are discriminated in Slovakia as they are not automatically involved in the public opinion polls. It can hardly be changed. Our party was established just a month before the election to the self- governing regions held last year when our party received more than 40,000 votes without a campaign. No agencies had involved the European Democratic Party to its pre- electoral opinion polls. We are really pleased to find out that some citizens who ask them about their preferences of the political parties demand for our party to be involved in these polls. Finally-in the recent parliamentary election held in Hungary, two non- parliamentary parties got to the parliament.
Regional election held in November 2009 proved that the European Democratic Party has increasing support in Central and East Slovakia where your party gained most votes and has the biggest number of supporters and activists. And it is the same in nationally mixed regions. Does it mean that these citizens trust the European Union more than Slovakia or its current system?
The European Democratic Party is a new chance for Slovakia and Europe is our new opportunity. At present, Slovakia is on the periphery of the European Union in both ways- not only its borders but also its political importance. If Slovakia wants to show that it belongs to the centre of Europe- and not only geographically, it has to lead the society of citizens with moral values, capable and, hardworking and ambitious. Our vision is to create “the European Democratic Party of the third millennium” which will help its stable development. It is supposed to stand on its own work, solutions to real problems of citizens without cases, amoral attitudes, without searching for inner enemies and making the society fall apart.
How do you evaluate present use of the EU funds in order to support the development of Slovak economy and agriculture? Where do you see our biggest mistakes?
The EU funds are a significant financial source which represents an outstanding chance to strengthen competitiveness of Slovak economy, increase of living standard and eliminating impacts of the financial and economic crisis. Any government has to pay an appropriate attention to these funds and consider them as a top priority.
However, the biggest faults can be found everywhere. Just read evaluating reports. According to the European Commission, Slovakia belongs to the weakest in the European Union in terms of using the European funds. The main reason is politics that wants to control and manage insufficient preparation and professionalism in the process of project preparation. However, Slovak reality proves that the funds are used by only organized groups and individuals. Entrepreneurs and self-employed people know just a little about the funds, they are informed about the funds very poorly and they do not have professional project organizations.
Do you pursue revival of domestic production and branches that senselessly disappeared in the Slovak regions in Slovakia?
Our main pillars are the European opportunities in the Slovak economy. Unfortunately, almost 90 per cent of Slovak economy is in hands of ten companies that mostly focus on automotive and electro-technical industries. The status is unbearable. The statistics within the entire Union say that it is supposed to be the other way round- economy should be in hands of small and medium- sized businesses, entrepreneurs and self- employed people. They employ 66% of workforce within the EU. In Slovakia, no one wants to talk about it. Our aim is to change this disproportion because small and medium- sized entrepreneurs, trade people and family businesses are the national pillars.
If Slovakia wants to survive in terms of economy, it has to support domestic production and renew those branches in which we used to achieve the top quality- predominantly agriculture, mechanical engineering, electro-techniques, animal production, and processing industry. The development of the country and country tourism is not possible without domestic production, small- sized processing enterprises. Neither without the development of apprentice schools.
No government has dealt with the regional politics in Slovakia for a very long time. According to politicians, regions are supposed to be saved by the European funds. As we know, bureaucracy decides about their use in two ways-at the ministries and regions. An uncompleted reform of the civil organization and lack of competences hamper the development of regions. What kind of regional politics does the European Democratic Party want to purse?
Most of all, the regions lack political marketing. Counties and regions do not use huge European opportunities. For example, micro- regions have an opportunity join into consortiums with other micro- regions from other states and prepare common projects that are directly funded by the European Commission. This system of support of regions is poorly used although they are comparable to those in the Alps, Pyreneans or in Croatia. Those forgotten and deprecated regions can also have their micro- economy, domestic production, agro-tourism, employment and the sense of life for young people developed there.
Your ballot to the parliamentary election contains 135 members of the parliament. Is it the first step of the European Democratic Party to reform the civil administration in Slovakia?
Surely, yes. We are convinced that if politicians really want to save money, they should start from themselves. Many people talk about shrinking the government, there are discussions held about closing down or joining ministries. We have come up with another proposal. We would like to start with the legislative power. If the parliament has 150 chairs or fewer, its performance and function will not be changed. And it will certainly bring a lot of cost savings. We counted that the possible savings could reach up to 1,400,000 Euros, which might be used to solve other necessary things in our society.
You enter the election with the drawn number one. Do you feel obliged?
We do not consider number one as a coincidence. It is also a great obligation. Before the drawing lot we used to approach all the topics at 100 per cent, now it will be at least for 450 per cent. According to this number, we are a leader and we have to behave like a leader in each situation which our political life will bring. I believe that a happy lot will bring us good luck in the election. Therefore, I would like to invite all of you who are for a new, working system. I believe that you will get carried out by our common enthusiasm and together we will fulfil the words by a writer Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and dedicated citizens can change the world.”
Who is Antonio Parziale?
He was born on 30 August 1952 in the district of Avellino, approximately 100 kilometres from Naples, in the south of Italy. His father farmed the land to earn living for his family. After finishing his studies of geodesy and agronomy, he worked in the civil administration at the prosecution at the Italian Ministry of Justice. After the political changes in Central Europe, he decided to stay in Slovakia in 1989.
He really loves agriculture and development of the country. He runs his own business in Slovakia. He is an executive in a few firms, for example the company AP Invest which deals with agriculture and real estates. He is a co-founder of the Association of Italian Entrepreneurs in Slovakia which is an establisher of the Italian- Slovak Trade Chamber. Moreover, he was a director and he was an editor-in-chief of the magazine issued by the Association for 15 years. He gained Slovak citizenship in 2003. He speaks Italian, Slovak, French and Russian.
The town where roses blossom…
Varaždin is a medieval European baroque attraction and a symbol of Croatian and Hungarian- Austrian aristocracy. The town has been watched by a Varaždín Civil Guard for 260 years.
Photo: the author, the archive
It is an administration and economic centre of the Varaždin County in the north of Croatia, near the borders with Hungary and Slovenia. It spreads on the right bank of the river Drava. It belongs to the oldest towns in Croatia. In 2009, the town celebrated the 800th anniversary of having been given the privileges of a free royal town by Andrew II of Hungary (Andrij II Arpadovič). This king enabled the town to develop its economy as well as to be used as a military and defensive fortress against the Turkish attacks. And that is why Maltese knights (Ivanovci in Croatian language) settled down there in the 13th century. They built a church and a monastery there. Between the years 1756 and 1776, Varaždin was the capital of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. If there had not been a great fire which destroyed two thirds of the town, Zagreb might not have become the capital city.
Before the great fire, Varaždin flourished and went through an outstanding period of its development, which had been built since the second half of the 15th century when the citizens managed to stop the attack of Turkish attacks from the Slovenian and Hungarian territories. Citizens of the town built a solid fortification system around the old fortress- a system of wooden fences, walls, ditches and dams. Thanks to that defensive system, the Turks had never managed to seize the town and Varaždin became a part of the list of very few towns in Central Europe that had never been occupied by the Turks.
Apart from a perfect geographical location and advantages having been taken from its status of a royal town, the Croatian noble family of Erdödys contributed in the development of the town. The town and its fortress, which remind of a castle these days, were gained by Tom Bakač Erdödy, Earl and Croatian Ban, a famous warrior against the Turks. In 1607, Caesar Rudolf II Habsburg appointed him Varaždin district administrator and gave him the Old Town and the fortress for his contribution to the defence of the monarchy against the Turks near Varaždin. The members of his family owned 318 years until 1925 when the family rebuilt it into the Town Museum.
During the 16th and 18th centuries, The Croatian Assembly met there for a few times. However, the town reached its biggest social, political and economic development between the years 1756 and 1776 when it became the seat of the Croatian Ban Francis Nadasdy (He moved there all administration bodies from Zagreb), a Croatian Assembly and Croatian Royal Council which was established by the Austro- Hungarian queen Maria Teresa. For twenty years, Varaždin was the most attractive place for royal and Croatian nobles. There were noisy and noble balls, rich dinners were being held there, cultural and artistic lives were flourishing there. At the time, the town was called “Little Vienna” because of its glory and hedonism.
In the 18th century, the town was significantly influenced by Jesuits who built the most admirable baroque building within the anti- reformation period-Cathedral of Mary Virgin’s Assumption (1656), a college and a secondary grammar school. Other churches were constructed by Ursuliness, Capuchin and Franciscans. Many palaces were built by the noble Croatian families in the town as they had chosen Varaždin as their residence.
After destroying fire, the administration bodies returned to Zagreb. Varaždin was entirely rebuilt and enlarged until the end of the 19th century. New parks, harmonic palaces and mansions were erected including the neo- classical building of the Croatian National Theatre (1873) according to the project of Harman Helmer, a famous architect from Vienna. Emmerich Kalmán, a Hungarian composer, described glamour and beauty of the town, which was negatively influenced by the disintegration of the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy and the formation of a Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians, in the aria called “Come to me to Varaždin where roses blossom” from the operetta Countess Marica.
Its extraordinary historical and cultural heritage makes Varaždin so special and different from other Croatian cities. It is the best preserved the most colourful and compact baroque urban unit in Croatia. More than 200 famous Croatians participated in the development of the national heritage, culture and literature- many scholars, writers, librarians, lexicographers, poets, painters, sculptors, musicians and editors have left the town everlasting values.
The Old town, a fortress of Varaždin, sacral architecture, many museums, galleries and collection, Špancirfest-a festival of street artists held at the end of August and Baroque Evening held in September are the most popular and attractive attractions for tourists visiting this Central European baroque town.
Will it be a Jewish or democratic state?
There are more than 30 laws discriminating Arabs in Israel which has not recover from Zionism, and tragic ethnical purges.
Why the euro is not on course to dislodge the dollar?
U.S. residents to borrow worldwide in their own currency and on better terms than others, thus financing huge public and private deficits. Europeans find it difficult to speak with one voice.
Charles Wyplosz, Europe’s World
Photo: the archive
China’s central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan has expressed his displeasure with the U.S. dollar; he is not the first one to do so and certainly won’t be the last, but as he sits on top of a cash pile of some $2.3bn, people noticed. Many others around the world have also been displeased with the dollar, and they have seized on Governor Zhou’s outburst to try feverishly to usher in a world where no one currency will rule the world. And it’s only fair to say that Mr. Zhou’s remarks led the G20 to promise a new issue of SDRs, the Special Drawing Rights that are the currency unit created by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Outrage at the dollar’s supremacy is understandable. Being able to print a currency that everyone instantly recognises and that most want to hold, as the irritation of the People’s Bank of China so clearly illustrates, is a privilege that some consider ‘exorbitant’. It allows the U.S. to raise seigniorage, a tax-like levy that central banks obtain by selling bank notes that cost them virtually nothing to print (nowadays central banks often don’t even print bank notes, they just grant loans, but this is a minor technicality that detracts from the powerful and accurate image of seigniorage).
Even better, it allows U.S. residents to borrow worldwide in their own currency and on better terms than others, thus financing huge public and private deficits that many see as the root cause of the global financial crisis and the probable cause of the next meltdown. It allows U.S. financial institutions to act as bankers to the world, a privilege that they have so far severely misused in this century, while Governor Zhou - or his predecessor - was busily stocking up China’s reserves with more dollars every day. More profoundly, perhaps, there is a sense of unfairness. The dollar’s role was enshrined in 1944 at the Bretton Woods conference, three generations ago, so how far should the shadows of the past extend and is it not time to move on? Dumping the dollar may be a fine idea, but we nevertheless need an international currency-like instrument for settling international payments. Governor Zhou is well aware of that, and quickly followed up on his outburst with a more sedate statement that the People’s Bank of China was definitely not about to sell its dollar mountain, but from now on would be acquiring other reserve assets than U.S. dollars, Euros for instance. That of course raises the question of whether the euro could displace the dollar in the vaults of central banks around the world? Unlikely though it is, let’s assume that it could happen and ask ourselves what would change?
Not Enough Government Bonds
The first thing to change would be the seigniorage business. World international reserves amount to some €4,000bn and are likely to keep on rising fast if China and other emerging-market countries insist on accumulating ever greater foreign currency holdings. Would that mean the instant enrichment of the European Central Bank (ECB)? Hardly, as reserves are mostly held in the form of government bonds which pay interest. Governor Zhou and his colleagues would have to fish for bonds from governments they perceive to be as safe as that of the U.S., and which are also able to issue enough bonds to meet the needs of central banks. The total debt of the eurozone governments currently amounts to about €9,000bn, but not all of that is considered to be top quality. The supply of euro-denominated instruments that are adequate to be held elsewhere as reserves is not that large. The German government, which issues the Bund futures contracts, could of course oblige by running large budget deficits for as long as the euro were to remain the world’s reserve currency, but it is far from sure that this would be a very welcome development.
London instead of Wall Street?
Still, some seigniorage would be earned as people around the world store banknotes, whether for good reasons as a safe-haven for cash, or for bad (illegal trade) reasons. The euro has in fact already won a significant share of this market, with some €100bn worth of banknotes shipped abroad by the ECB, which compares to about $400bn in U.S. banknotes circulating outside the United States. Some additional benefit would accrue to eurozone governments because their borrowing costs in what would have become the leading world currency would decline, but the overall effect is unlikely to be massive. Over the last decade, European interest rates have not been systematically higher than American ones. Where the U.S. really made a profit was by borrowing from the likes of Governor Zhou at short maturities and low interest, and then lending elsewhere at long maturities and higher rates. Lending is the business - and profit - of banks, and that’s a reflection of the towering role of Wall Street. If the euro were to gain a truly international status that could help challenge Wall Street, but that would also require serious changes in the way European governments deal with their financial markets and financiers. My own bet would be on London, already the leading market for euro assets, to reap the profits rather than Frankfurt or Paris.
Political Power is the Issue
Why, then, do so many people in the world want to see the end of the dollar’s supremacy, and why do some in Europe get excited at the prospect of seeing the euro become currency supremo? If the economic advantages are limited and financial domination unlikely, what’s left is political power. The dollar is often seen as America’s wonder weapon and the source of its dominance in international economic and financial negotiations, so the question is would Europe capture that role if the euro were to become the main reserve currency?
A first answer concerns the IMF. Power within the Fund is formally determined by quotas and, for the time being at least, the quotas do not directly acknowledge a currency’s reserve role. Indirectly, however, if countries wanting to borrow from the IMF were to insist on borrowing in Euros, that could have some effect, albeit a tiny one, on the complicated formula. The only way the euro area could wield more power has nothing to do with the role of the euro itself but relates to the “balkanisation” of Executive Directors in the IMF’s Board. Eight of the 24 board members are European, each with a smallish voting power. The case has long been made for all eurozone countries to merge into a single constituency with a single Executive Director, who would then have more voting power than his U.S. counterpart. It has yet to happen, though, because no EU country is willing to give up its own seat for the common good.
Eurozone does not have a single Executive Director at the IMF
It is also far from clear what the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency confers in practical term on the U.S. in international economic and financial terms. America’s GDP is in any case by far the highest in the world, and will be for many years to come. The euro area’s overall GDP is close to that of the U.S., but there is nothing like a single eurozone voice, no more than there is a single eurozone Executive Director at the IMF. And Wall Street is by far the single largest financial centre in the world, with the City of London only a distant second. And if U.S. banks do not necessarily top the world league in terms of size (it used to be Japanese banks, then Swiss and British banks), the truth is that nowadays big banks may be more a curse than a blessing. In financial as in economic matters, therefore, America’s domination is towering and this may much more explain U.S. influence in world affairs than does the special status of the dollar.
As noted earlier, the euro’s accession to international currency status could open a window of opportunity for European financial markets. To reap this advantage, however, continental Europeans would need to start developing a love affair with their financiers, even though this is certainly not the direction in which they have been moving of late. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has even expressed the opinion that the U.S. model has been shown to be deeply flawed. It is of course, and although the solution she proposes might perhaps make it safer, it would certainly not make it better-performing. Nor does French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s berating of “financial capitalism” suggest that Paris is about to mount a convincing challenge to New York, not least because the Paris Bourse now belongs to the New York Stock Exchange, just as do those of Amsterdam and Brussels. For the foreseeable future, continental Europe is unlikely to provide fertile ground in which finance can flourish.
Europeans find it difficult to speak with one voice
Finally, could the ECB one day challenge the U.S. Federal Reserve? In a way it already does. Financial markets around the world pay nearly as much attention to ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet’s utterances as to those of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. The reason is that ECB policies determine developments in an economic area about as big as the U.S. economy. And it is less and less the case that the dollar’s depreciation is seen as an appreciation of all the other currencies. Nowadays, public comments and perceptions recognise that for one currency to go up another must go down and the euro is often the other one. Nor is it that commodity prices blindly follow the fate of the dollar. Sure, oil prices are still formally set in dollars but that does not mean that they are fixed. In fact, commodity prices now tend to rise when the dollar depreciates, and OPEC even uses a formula that automatically adjusts oil prices to track the average performances of the dollar and the euro.
So what should we make of all this? First, that U.S. power in international economic and financial matters is only tenuously linked to the dollar’s supremacy, contrary to appearances and to the beliefs of many. Second, that the euro is a long way from over taking the dollar. Europeans could nevertheless wield considerably more financial and economic power if they were to speak with one voice, but that seems at least as difficult for them as dislodging the dollar.
Libya Joins the Jihad Against Switzerland
West is afraid of Tripoli. Billions of dollars, oil, Swiss banks and trading with Qaddafi´s Empire are involved. The last Bedouin suggested at the U.N. General Assembly in September that Switzerland be dismantled and its territory given to Italy, France, and Germany. Berlusconi was kissing Qaddafi’s hand…
Olivier Guitta is a security and geopolitical consultant based in Europe (The Weekly Standard)
Photo: the archive
Normally placid, neutral Switzerland has been going through a rough couple of years. First there was financial scandal, when Swiss banking giant UBS was caught helping U.S. clients evade taxes. Then came intense international pressure to overturn the country’s banking secrecy laws. It didn’t help when Swiss voters last November endorsed a ban on minarets, drawing international criticism, notably from Muslims. Two months ago, none other than Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi joined the notorious Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and fanner of flames during the Danish cartoon controversy, in calling for jihad against Zionism, foreign aggression, and—Switzerland.
Speaking in the Libyan city of Benghazi, Qaddafi declared: Switzerland is an infidel and sinful country, which destroys mosques. Jihad with all possible means should be declared against it. They portrayed the Prophet Muhammad in their newspapers in the most abominable way. Boycott Switzerland, its products, its planes, its ships, and its embassies. Boycott the sinful infidel community, which attacks the mosques of Allah. Any Muslim anywhere in the world who deals with Switzerland is an infidel against Islam, Muhammad, Allah, and the Koran.
Reaction of Tripoli
It can be argued this was merely the latest twist in the tit-for-tat going on between Libya and Switzerland since the arrest of Qaddafi’s son Hannibal and his wife for alleged physical mistreatment of two servants at a luxury hotel in Geneva in July 2008. After two nights in jail, the Qaddafis were released on nearly $500,000 bail and allowed to leave the country.
Tripoli retaliated by arbitrarily arresting two Swiss citizens, canceling all visas to Swiss nationals, shutting down Swiss multinationals on its soil, reducing the number of flights to Switzerland, and ceasing oil deliveries there. Nearly a year later, after the Swiss foreign minister visited Tripoli in a conciliatory gesture, Libya turned up the heat, withdrawing almost $5 billion from Swiss banks. Before the incident, Libya had been Switzerland’s largest African trading partner; in a year, Swiss exports to Libya plunged 70 percent.
Apologies for business sake
Qaddafi’s pique, however, was still not assuaged. He used the G8 summit in Italy in July 2009 to attack Switzerland as a “mafia and not a state” and accuse it of “financing international terrorism.” The following month, Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz apologized to Libya for “the unjustified and unnecessary arrest of Libyan diplomats by the Geneva police.” But Merz too failed to appease Qaddfi, who suggested at the U.N. General Assembly in September that Switzerland be dismantled and its territory given to Italy, France, and Germany.
And on it went. This past February, Switzerland barred 188 top Libyan officials including Qaddafi from entering the Schengen zone, the passport-free grouping of 25 European states. The next day Qaddafi cancelled all entry visas for Europeans except Britons. And on February 25 he issued his summons to jihad.
In the West, reaction was muted. The head of the U.N. mission in Geneva called Qaddafi’s declaration “inadmissible.” A spokesman for the EU’s foreign affairs czar described it as “unfortunate.” And by the end of March, at a summit of the Arab League (held coincidentally in Libya), Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, representing the EU, announced that the ban on the 188 Libyan officials had been lifted and expressed his regret for any inconvenience. He made no mention of the Swiss hostage still held by Tripoli.
Americans also on retreat
In the United States, Qaddafi’s rant was viewed largely as a joke. Asked about it, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley likened it to a previous Qaddafi speech involving “lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense.” Libya instantly demanded an apology, threatening to cancel contracts with American oil companies. And since U.S.-Libya trade is now worth $4.5 billion, up from just $60 million in 2004, Libya got its way. TV stations in Muslim lands proceeded to broadcast Washington’s apology nonstop and hailed Qaddafi as a hero for making the West bow down.
The fact that Libya has currency reserves of over $100 billion gives it leverage not only over the EU and the United States but over large international players like Russia and China as well. So it is that Libya gets a free pass at the U.N., just as, earlier, it collected $5 billion in reparations from Italy for colonial rule.
Many experts refuse to take Qaddafi seriously and see Libya as isolated on the international scene. But not all. The French scholar and analyst of Islam Malek Chebel challenges the wisdom of tolerating Libya’s bad behavior. In particular, he said, “One cannot let this call to jihad spread without doing anything. One cannot measure the damage that such a call can do in the Muslim world, and also in Europe. This is irresponsible.” The West was seen as siding with Libya rather than with Switzerland. Libya, naturally, was applauded by the 17 countries of the Arab League, which accused Bern of being “racist.”
Another worrisome sign: In late March, Libya freed over 200 members of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, whose goal is to install an Islamist regime in Libya. It is not a stretch to speculate that these experienced terror operatives, despite their supposed rehabilitation, could be used to target Switzerland or its interests abroad. In fact, in light of Qaddafi’s history of terrorism in the 1980s, the threat against Switzerland should not be taken lightly.
By failing to condemn Libya’s call to jihad, the West hands a cheap moral victory to Muslim extremists. An image from the Arab League summit sums it up nicely: Italian premier Berlusconi kissing Qaddafi’s hand.
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It hurts, that is why I am laughing…
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Atelier Tri Kamene
Photo: Richard Guzman, the archive of the author
Martin Pala, the founder of the atelier, was born in 1975 and is a mate of Ondrej 4th from the Secondary School of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. He studied at the Department of Wood Forming and Curving. In 1999, he received a diploma in sculpturing at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava at Professor Juraj Meliš. Ondrej 4th studied at the Secondary School of Fine Arts and Design until 1993. Andrej Rudavský (born in 1933) was his teacher. Later, Ondrej 4th graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in 1999 at Professor Jozef Jankovič (born in 19937). Stanislav Kiča (born in 1981) is the youngest in this trio. He graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava in 2006 at Professor Meliš and later, after the previous cooperation with Andrej Rudavský, he joined his friends in the atelier Tri Kamene (Three Stones).
Their common ambition is to get their ideas across to experts as well as the general public. Realistic method of depicting is a sensible anti-pole of fantasy and natural beginnings of each creative experiment. The process of searching remains clear, humanly simple and still understandable. Young sculptors are encouraged by Tibor Bártfay (born in 1922), one of the Nestors of Slovak sculpturing, a sincere friend, educated consultants and the author of more than two thousand sculptures. Atelier Tri Kamene does not long for earning the respect and recognition of critics. Copper from euro-coins and tin reality of busy streets, it is bronze from the first decade of our millennium.
Sculptors from the atelier Tri Kamene are obsessed by desire of a smith to reach the ancient essentials of materials. They cast their bronze statues themselves and thus strengthen reciprocal relationship between the material and a creator of the artefact. At the times of historical battles, two thousand years before Christ, producers of swords and ironmasters of buckles for beautiful women used to proceed in the same way during the peace. Tri Kamene evoke stability and power of pre- historical and genuine materials. They settle harmony in the whirl of conflicts and misunderstandings. And as eternal materials exist, thus there have always been the same old topics, permanent and unchangeable. The most important of them are friendship, work and beautiful art.
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