Tag: Enlargement

Budapest, we have a problem: #Censorbán

And it is a major problem:  Hungary’s new media law.

Bloggingportal.eu launched a European Blog Action against Censorship in Hungary and also provides a good round-up of reactions and some background documents (just go through the comment thread!)

I don’t want to repeat the points that were made elsewhere. It is never a good idea to pass a law that can be used (even if nobody wants to use it in a specific way) to increase political control over the press. Even the slightest possibility of a a problematic legal clause needs to be addressed. Press and media freedom are too important for democracy in Europe. Simple as that.

cc by-nc-saAs you know Hungary will take over the Council Presidency of the EU in January 2011. And there is even a new blog by the HU presidency.  So feel free to voice your concern about the new law. Obviously they are not amused about the critical reactions and claim that the Council Presidency has nothing to do with Hungarian politics. But the new media law seems  such a major problem that I think it is a legitimate thing to do.  And anyway, the Council Presidency is organised by the Hungarian government… It would be a major embarrassment if the Council presidency was overshadowed by the media law…

So let’s take a picture of Viktor Orbán and transform him into Viktor #Censorbán  (yes it is inspired by  schäublone, #zensursula & #censilia). Basically it is a wordplay of Viktor Orban and Censorship. In other languages one could use Zensorban or Cenzorbana… the idea is quite flexible. Feel free to use, remix and share the picture (cc by-nc-sa).  As you will notice, I am not a professional photoshop/gimp user and I did not have a good picture of Orban in the first place. So any quality improvements are much appreciated. Not sure whether this also makes sense in Hungarian as I do not speak the language. (so if you speak Hungarian leave a comment with improvements!) I know that it should rather read “Censorban Viktor” but well, let’s say it is designed for an international audience.

But there are a couple of things that we should think about in more detail:

First of all: It seems to me that media freedom and internet freedom are increasingly attacked by democratic governments around the world and Europe is following the trend. There are two principal strategies:

Option No 1:  A government wants more control over the press or the internet. It is interesting to think about why this happens more frequently ( – and not understanding the internet is a big part of it)  Usually it is framed as a security problem: “We need to know more about terrorist networks” or it is about the children: “We have to protect our children” .  It can also be the  result of intense industry lobbying to “protect customers and offer a better product” or it is connected to copyright issues.  All these claims are very difficult to challenge in any campaign. (but it is not impossible!) Just think about the French internet blocking law, a couple of German internet laws (from “zensursula” to “JMStV”) or even international negotiations that include internet related articles such as ACTA. The debate on net neutrality can also be cited in this context. But the Hungarian law seems to go one step further as it us  includes all types of media plus a governmental media watch dog…

Option No 2:  A toxic combination of private and public interests mixed with strange business models, corruption and media monopolies. For example Murdoch in the UK, Berlusconi in Italy or the general level of corruption in Bulgaria that also affects the media. This is usually a gradual but equally dangerous process. (but also a topic for another blog post…)

The main question for the EU:  What to do with those countries? The accession process is a straight forward process: Copenhagen criteria and conditionality prevent countries to adopt certain laws.  However, once a country joined the EU there are not many possibilities to interfere with laws that might not be in the “spirit of the EU”. Italy or France can get away with laws that would not be allowed under a strict accession regime. And it is similar in the case of Hungary.  So what could be done? Ignoring certain people  in Council meetings (it did not work with Austria), reduce or stop payments of the cohesion funds/CAP or a suspension of voting rights in the Council? To impose a supervisory mechanism (mixed results in Romania and Bulgaria)?  I am not convinced any of this would have an effect. But  do we really need a new legal tool regarding fundamental freedoms?

The main question for the blogosphere: How to campaign against the various laws and legal practices that restrict press freedom  (not only Hungary)? Media freedom in other (European) countries  should be of concern for the (European) blogoshphere(s).  So the question is whether this topic could potentially become a pan-European topic?  There have been great blogging campaigns in Germany and France relating to press and internet freedom. We need to learn from successful campaigns in other EU countries and replicate the most efficient tools. And especially for  smaller countries  support from the rest of the EU might be crucial to run effective campaigns. In fact, it is one of the few topics that resonate with all national (political) blogospheres in Europe -  which is not a surprise as every blogger can identify with the potential problems of a proposed law.

So what should be done with the Hungarian media law? Let’s  keep the topic on the agenda, use the Council presidency to get  EU wide media coverage – and embarrass the Hungarian government.

Update 27/12: Now you  can also follow @censorban on twitter…

Update 30/12: SME Dennik, one of the biggest daily newspapers in Slovakia, mentions the bloggingportal campaign alongside the Censorban pic (although attributed to bloggingportal.eu which is not a problem – but a factual mistake) Anyway, the article can be found in the print (e-paper) and online version of the paper!

EU Enlargement: Enjoy the process!

The Economist has quite a good commentary about EU enlargement and the limited influence of the EU once a country has joined the club:

A common feature in all these tales is the limited leverage of Brussels. It is often said that the EU‘s enlargement policy has been the most potent tool yet devised to entice its neighbours along the road to free-market democracy—far more effective than anything the United States has found to wield over its southern neighbours. But the corollary is a loss of influence after a country actually joins. The pattern of intensive reform to qualify, followed by a let-up in the process once membership is achieved, is too common to be mere happenstance.

(…)

There is another big problem with this game: the behaviour of old EU members. Mr Rehn notes that, if one took the worst features of every old EU country, one could easily come up with an amalgam that would barely meet any of the criteria for EU membership. To take just one example often cited by new members, Italy can hardly claim to be free of organised crime.

Click here to read the whole article!

While reading the article I remembered a very good comment made by Osman Topcagic, the Director of the Directorate for European Integration for Bosnia and Herzegovina whom I met a few weeks ago. He was fully aware of the above mentioned problem and instead emphasized the importance of the enlargement process in itself. Basically he said something along these lines (unfortunately I did not write down the exact words of the statement): It is not important when Bosnia joins the EU, it is important that we reform our country which is the most challenging task ahead of us. The EU helps facilitating this process and therefore we should enjoy the process because this is the time of improvements. And ultimately everyone would like to see improvements.

So, I guess the times are changing. The EU has learned from its mistakes and introduced stricter benchmarks, that can trigger restrictions also after EU accession. At the same time, politicians, especially in the Balkans (Turkey is indeed a different case), see EU accession as a chance to reform the respective countries.

Now only the old EU member states should start thinking about the issue…

Remixing the Balkans

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to introduce a new (hopefully regular) contributor to this blog: Tanchi

This is the first round of enlargement (to use some EU speak) for the Kosmopolit blog. So stay tuned and witness some more accessions in the near future. But now let’s welcome Tanchi with her first post (ever!) on a piece of Balkans in Brussels.

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The hall of queuing people, an echo of the music coming from different directions, the smell of the spices that dive my memories into the long forgotten nostalgia, and of course women skilled in belly dancing remind me of my own belonging and are a promise for an amusing night. I cannot decide which direction to take and what to do first. Should I try the wine which reminds me of home or should I go straight to the movie? But wait a minute, the concert just started…The cacophony that appeared in my head brought a smile on my face: “Welcome to the Balkans!”

Balkan

Balkan Trafik, the festival that took place at the Bozar in Brussels between the 27th and 29th of March 2008, was the reason for writing my first blog post. The meaningful name gave the impression that the place is a perfect spot for the traffic of music and culture which reminds me that there is not only one, but rather many Balkans. This post combines only a few of the impressions and leaves an open space for the parts which are not intentionally forgotten, but rather left for future writing…

The difficulties of coexistence in the former Yugoslavia seems to be a well-known fact. However, the struggle for a more positive image of the split territory turns many times only into a nice try. But everyone who has lived, even for a short time, in any of the former republics, can guarantee that, despite the problems (which are mostly politically created), people easily find a way to connect with each other. Sometimes I get the impression that humor, parties and of course songs were born in this part of Europe. In this sense, the traffic of music was for me a promise for traveling to some parts of the no longer existent state. I opened the door of the first hall and started my journey with:

Sevdah. A music genre that originally comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina was a bridge that survived. The almost 450 years old bridge of Mostar which was destroyed in 1993 by the side of the Croatian Council of Defense (HVO) was a symbol of the remarkable history, as well as a reminder of the attempt to erase everything which might be considered as a part of the Ottoman legacy and today connected with Muslims. However, the ones who demolished it, forgot that the heritage carried also their own memories, pieces of their own identity and they did not think that the traces of the past cannot be forgotten by simply destroying the material…This is one side of understanding Mostar Sevdah. The bottle of people’s most hidden feelings which can express all the bitterness and joy in melancholic melodies which touch the listener’s ear regardless his/her origin and even if he/she never put a foot into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Even though the musical genres from the South-Eastern part of Europe seem to be clear and distinguished, I would claim that they totally mirror the variety of cultures and ethnicities that have always been coexisting there. Only this combination is a guarantee that average turns into the extraordinary. The example can be seen in the combination of the above mentioned Sevdalinke in the performance of Mostar Sevdah Reunion and deep voice of one of “the gypsy queens” Ljiljana Buttler. The woman, who cleans for living, turns to the singing diva as soon as the music begins. The analogy is more than obvious: even though the Roma rights are often not properly recognized nor highly violated, everyone has a big respect regarding their music. And again, even though there might be no declarative equality among different ethnic/national groups, the music makes us forget about borders and shows us how great the difference is. We connect, like puzzles do…

And yes, for all of you who thought that trumpets are not popular anymore and that Guča beats inspire only bored tourists looking for exoticism: Dejan Lazarević proved the opposite. People almost in an ecstatic mood made temporary friendships by holding their hands and imitating a kind of a kolo style. The selection of songs, which were during the 1990s successfully exported by Kusturica’s movies and the performance which awakes every single cell in people’s body was a guarantee that the night was even shorter than usual.

I decided to leave. There was still so much to explore and to enjoy, but I left when the party was at its best. I did not want to lose the feeling of differences I went through – I felt too rich to stay :)…

Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for enlargement emphasized recently in a speech at the European Parliament that the phrase: “Don’t expect that something will change; that’s how it is in the Balkans” should finally disappear from people’s common vocabulary. The Commissioner referred to the political path(s) which will affect the future of the region. As he put it in a rather witty way, “the Balkans might become as boring as Western or Northern Europe is.” I do agree it is necessary to overcome the cheesy phrase, which in many cases contributes to the unchanging discourses in many of the former republics. But I want to emphasize that Europe sometimes forgets that its richness lies in the variety it offers. People in the region just have to respect each other, and they will realize that the Balkans can be beautiful and boring.

Written by: Tanchi

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