Thursday, May 26, 2005

Consequences made easy re US Treasury Chinese exchange rate report

The Chinese Connection

By Paul Krugman

The New York Times Friday 20 May 2005

Stories about the new Treasury report condemning China's currency policy probably had most readers going, "Huh?" Frankly, this is an issue that confuses professional economists, too. But let me try to explain what's going on.
Over the last few years China, for its own reasons, has acted as an enabler both of US fiscal irresponsibility and of a return to Nasdaq-style speculative mania, this time in the housing market. Now the US government is finally admitting that there's a problem - but it's asserting that the problem is China's, not ours.
And there's no sign that anyone in the administration has faced up to an unpleasant reality: the US economy has become dependent on low-interest loans from China and other foreign governments, and it's likely to have major problems when those loans are no longer forthcoming.
Here's how the US-China economic relationship currently works:
Money is pouring into China, both because of its rapidly rising trade surplus and because of investments by Western and Japanese companies. Normally, this inflow of funds would be self-correcting: both China's trade surplus and the foreign investment pouring in would push up the value of the yuan, China's currency, making China's exports less competitive and shrinking its trade surplus.
But the Chinese government, unwilling to let that happen, has kept the yuan down by shipping the incoming funds right back out again, buying huge quantities of dollar assets - about $200 billion worth in 2004, and possibly as much as $300 billion worth this year. This is economically perverse: China, a poor country where capital is still scarce by Western standards, is lending vast sums at low interest rates to the United States.
Yet the US has become dependent on this perverse behavior. Dollar purchases by China and other foreign governments have temporarily insulated the US economy from the effects of huge budget deficits. This money flowing in from abroad has kept US interest rates low despite the enormous government borrowing required to cover the budget deficit.
Low interest rates, in turn, have been crucial to America's housing boom. And soaring house prices don't just create construction jobs; they also support consumer spending because many homeowners have converted rising house values into cash by refinancing their mortgages.
So why is the US government complaining? The Treasury report says nothing at all about how China's currency policy affects the United States - all it offers on the domestic side is the usual sycophantic praise for administration policy. Instead, it focuses on the disadvantages of Chinese policy for the Chinese themselves. Since when is that a major US concern?
In reality, of course, the administration doesn't care about the Chinese economy. It's complaining about the yuan because of political pressure from US manufacturers, which are angry about those Chinese trade surpluses. So it's all politics. And that's the problem: when policy decisions are made on purely political grounds, nobody thinks through their real-world consequences.
Here's what I think will happen if and when China changes its currency policy, and those cheap loans are no longer available. US interest rates will rise; the housing bubble will probably burst; construction employment and consumer spending will both fall; falling home prices may lead to a wave of bankruptcies. And we'll suddenly wonder why anyone thought financing the budget deficit was easy.
In other words, we've developed an addiction to Chinese dollar purchases, and will suffer painful withdrawal symptoms when they come to an end.
I'm not saying we should try to maintain the status quo. Addictions must be broken, and the sooner the better. After all, one of these days China will stop buying dollars of its own accord. And the housing bubble will eventually burst whatever we do. Besides, in the long run, ending our dependence on foreign dollar purchases will give us a healthier economy. In particular, a rise in the yuan and other Asian currencies will eventually make US manufacturing, which has lost three million jobs since 2000, more competitive.
But the negative effects of a change in Chinese currency policy will probably be immediate, while the positive effects may take years to materialize. And as far as I can tell, nobody in a position of power is thinking about how we'll deal with the consequences if China actually gives in to US demands, and lets the yuan rise.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Background to the start of the Military Action in Iraq

The Secret Way to War

Mark Danner

New York Review of Books June 9, 2005

13 page article on the background to the start of the Iraq military action by the USA and other Forces and comment on the Secret Memo below from the UK Government

The Secret Downing Street Memo


DAVID MANNINGFrom: Matthew RycroftDate: 23 July 2002S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August. The two broad US options were:
(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.
The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were: (i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons. (ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition. (iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.
The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.
The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: selfdefence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.
The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMDwere linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.
On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions. For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You [i.e., David Manning] said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.
The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN. John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.
The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.
(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.
(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.
(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.
(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam. He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.
(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.
(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

Mark Danner has been reporting on and writing about foreign affairs for twenty years. A longtime staff writer at The New Yorker and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, Danner has covered Central America, Haiti, the Balkans and Iraq, among other stories. He is the author of The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War and The Road to Illegitimacy: One Reporter's Travels Through the 2000 Florida Recount. His work has been honored with a National Magazine Award, two Overseas Press Awards, and an Emmy. In 1999, Danner was named a MacArthur Fellow. He is Professor of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College. Danner divides his time between New York and San Francisco. His work is archived at

Friday, May 20, 2005

Public Libraries closed in Turkmenistan

IFLA protests closure of libraries and violations of human rights in Turkmenistan

Media release Friday, 29 April 2005

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) strongly protests the closure of libraries in Turkmenistan and its impact on freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in the country.
While the World Summit on the Information Society debates how best to safeguard access to information and freedom of expression in the information and knowledge society, the Turkmen government takes steps to keep the Turkmen population in isolation and ignorance by exercising one of the most profound onslaughts on intellectual freedom rights we have witnessed in many years, said IFLA President Kay Raseroka.
Closure of libraries
The President of Turkmenistan, Mr Saparmurat Niyazov, has ordered the closure of libraries on the grounds that "nobody reads books or go to libraries". Central and student libraries will remain open but the remainder will be closed. The President has stated that additional libraries are unnecessary as most books that Turkmen need should already be in homes, workplaces and schools. IFLA/FAIFE is monitoring this situation with alarm.
It has proved difficult to get an exact status of closure of libraries. While the National Library appears to have escaped closure, the Open Society Institute has confirmed the closure of the libraries in the Dashoguz province. Other analysts report that libraries have been out of favour with the president for a long time. The supplies of books of university libraries have not been updated for ten years and many works on history, literature and biology have been removed and destroyed.
Censorship and blocked Internet access
The closure of libraries is a recent example of violations of intellectual freedom in the country. The government makes access to the Internet as difficult as possible and blocks access to online information resources. The educational system is deeply affected, the curriculum concentrating on the study of the president's Rukhnama ideology, which denies any influence by civilisation, science or culture on the development of the Turkmen people. Human rights organisations report on widespread censorship of information and media that do not support the Rukhnama ideology. Import of foreign literature, newspapers and magazines are prohibited, while state bookshops only sell books that support the ideology. The remaining bookstores and libraries are already emptied of books - which makes closure of libraries even easier. Book burning, banning of libraries, banning of cultural institutions and ballet, opera, circus and concerts and foreign cultural associations, along with harassment and imprisonment of intellectuals and other opponents of the government, are all examples of the severe oppression experienced by the people of Turkmenistan.
Violations of human rights
The elimination of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression will deeply affect the development of the country and its people. Access to information, knowledge and lifelong learning is central to democratic development and active participation and influence in society. It is a fundamental human right as specified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
State control over Turkmen lives keeps citizens in a state of ignorance and prevents communications with the outside world. Human rights organisations report the abuses to include violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Those opposing government policy are imprisoned and subjects of torture and summary trials and their families harassed. What is happening in Turkmenistan is an abuse of unheard proportions of the rights of its people.
International protest
The International League for Human Rights, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Memorial Human Rights Center are appealing to the UN Commission on Human Rights to address the continuing human rights violations in Turkmenistan.
IFLA declares its support for this appeal and urges the Turkmen Government to reopen libraries, restock them and provide free Internet access and support their staff in order to provide unrestricted access to information in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
American Library Association
Amnesty International
Eurasianet, Turkmenistan project
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Index on Censorship
Institute of War and Peace:
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
International League of Human Rights
International Relations and Security Network (ISN)
Open Source Initiative (OSI)
Pravda Rumania
Prima News
Reporters without Borders (RSF)
Soros Foundation

Above from:

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press, 2004

The [Turkmenistan] Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, in practice, the Government restricted freedom of speech and did not permit freedom of the press. Persons expressing views critical of or different from those of the Government were arrested on false charges of committing common crimes. Criticism of the Government could also lead to personal depravation and abuse, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment, and harassment.
In February, retired citizen Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital after requesting permission from authorities to conduct a peaceful demonstration against President Niyazov's policies (See Section 1.c.). Durdykuliev remained incarcerated at year's end.
In the spring, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media criticized the country's "absolute lack of any freedom of expression." The President, in response, was critical of the OSCE and its interference and supposed misrepresentation of the situation in the country. In July, the Government expelled the OSCE Ambassador by not renewing her mandate, although the OSCE maintained its mission in the country.
The Government funded almost all print media. The Government censored newspapers; approval from the Office of the President's Press Secretary was required for prepublication galleys. There were 22 newspapers published in Turkmen and only 1 official newspaper in Russian; the only major daily newspaper was printed in Turkmen and Russian. The major stories were identical in both papers while advertising and some content varied. Foreign newspapers, including Russian-language publications, from abroad were banned. To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the Government required all publishing houses and printing and copying establishments to obtain registration licenses for their equipment. The Government required the registration of all photocopiers and mandated that a single individual be responsible for all photocopying activity.
All publishing companies were government-owned, and works by authors of fiction who wrote on topics that were out of favor with the Government were not published. The government controlled Union of Writers expelled members who criticized government policy, and libraries removed their works.
On August 19, the President dismantled the Ministry of Culture and Information to create a new Ministry of Culture and Television to promote the Government's cultural agenda, and a Radio Broadcasting and National State Press service, to supervise print media bodies. Observers feared the changes would allow more intense Government control of the media.
In February, two men were arrested for allegedly smuggling books into the country. They were sentenced to 5 years' probation.
The Government completely controlled radio and local television. There were four Turkmen TV stations, but satellite channels were prevalent. Owners of satellite dishes had access to foreign television programming, and use of satellite dishes was widespread.
In July, the Government shut down the only Russian language news and radio service available and the country's main source of credible international information, Radio Mayak (Russian-owned), citing technical difficulties. A Turkmen language station quickly replaced Radio Mayak.
The Government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation.
During the year, journalists were subject to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence, reportedly by government agents.
In January, members of the MNB forcibly abducted and beat an associate of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent. The assailants repeatedly beat the man, threatened to kill him and demanded he cease contact with foreigners.
Journalists associated with RFE/RL were arrested. On February 28, 78-year-old Rakhim Esenov was arrested and charged with instigating social, ethnic, and religious hatred. On March 1, Ashyrguly Bayryev was arrested for smuggling novels into the country. He had previously been warned by authorities to end his relationship with RFE/RL. Former film director Khalmurad Gylychdurdyev was also detained and questioned about his work with the Radio. RFE/RL correspondents have been subject to arbitrary arrest and abuse in the past, including the 2003 abduction and torture of Saparmurat Ovezberdyev. In July, Ovezberdyev was released; he requested asylum overseas and was permitted to leave.
On April 30, Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center reported Radio Liberty correspondent Mukhametgeldy Berdyyew was brutally beaten by the MNB after he filed a lawsuit against President Niyazov, charging that the President had plagiarized large segments of the Rukhnama. His apartment was ransacked, as was that of his son. The incidents took place in Moscow.
In June, the MNB detained a local correspondent for 3 days and demanded he sign a confession stating that he was passing government secrets to foreign powers.
The Government prohibited the media from reporting the views of opposition political leaders and critics, and it did not allow criticism of the President. Domestic journalists and correspondents for foreign news services engaged in self censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
The government-dictated focus of the media on the achievements of President Niyazov and his love of his people continued during the year and amplified his cult of personality. Criticism of officials was only permitted if directed at those who had fallen out of favor with the President, and public criticism of officials was done almost exclusively by the President.
On numerous occasions early in the year, the Government warned its critics and foreign diplomats against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners wishing to discuss human rights problems.
Intellectuals and artists reported that security officials instructed them to praise the President in their work and warned them not to participate in receptions hosted by foreign diplomatic missions. The Ministry of Culture's approval was required before plays opened to the public, ensuring against antigovernment or antipresidential content. Though classical music was still taught and performed throughout the country there was little or no government support for non Turkmen music.
While Internet access was available, government-owned Turkmen Telecom was the sole Internet provider. Internet access was prohibitively expensive for most citizens and service was poor. The Government worked with NATO's Silk Highway Project to introduce Internet services to a limited number of universities and allowed the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) to operate throughout the country. In June, the Turkmen Telecom began blocking customers' access to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service website (; access was not restored by year's end.
During the year, the Government increased its already significant restrictions on academic freedom. It did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the President in academic circles, and it discouraged research into areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, or ethnic relations. No master's degrees or doctorates have been granted in the country since 1998. Government permission is required to study abroad and receive acceptance of foreign degrees earned. Since 2000, universities have reduced the period of classroom instruction from 4 years to 2 years in accordance with President Niyazov's declaration that higher education should consist of 2 years of classroom education and 2 years of vocational training. Governmental restrictions on instruction in non-Turkmen languages, limited availability of Turkmen language textbooks, and ongoing downsizing of secondary schools contributed to the declining quality of education.
In February, the President criticized correspondence courses and foreign diplomas, called for cleanliness and ethics in education, and announced plans to release a book of ethics for curricula in higher education.
Since September 2002, each child was required to bring to school a personal copy of the Rukhnama. Teachers were discouraged from bringing alternative viewpoints into the classroom. The works of several writers, poets, and historians were placed on a blacklist and withdrawn from public schools and libraries because their portrayal of Turkmen history differed from that of the Government. In September, a Rukhnama Volume II was published and teachers reported having to set aside more time examining the Rukhnama rather than traditional academic subjects.

Above from : Turkmenistan
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and LaborFebruary 28, 2005
On the website

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Chinese Exchange rate policy - US Treasury view

Monday, May 16, 2005

Focus reports in The Times

Saturday, May 14, 2005

No books in a sub-library of the U of Texas

College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age

Ralph Blumenthal

New York Times May 14, 2005

HOUSTON, May 13 - Students attending the University of Texas at Austin will find something missing from the undergraduate library this fall.
By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library's 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.
In this information-seeking America, I can't think of anyone who would elect to build a books-only library," said Fred Heath, vice provost of the University of Texas Libraries in Austin.
Their new version is to include "software suites" - modules with computers where students can work collaboratively at all hours - an expanded center for writing instruction, and a center for computer training, technical assistance and repair.
Such digital learning laboratories, staffed with Internet-expert librarians, teachers and technicians, have been advancing on traditional college libraries since appearing at the University of Southern California in 1994. As more texts become accessible online, libraries have been moving lesser-used materials to storage. But experts said it was symbolic for a top educational institution like Texas to empty a library of books.
The trend is being driven, academicians and librarians say, by the dwindling need for undergraduate libraries, many of which were built when leading research libraries were reserved for graduate students and faculty. But those distinctions have largely crumbled, with research libraries throwing open their stacks, leaving undergraduate libraries as increasingly puny adjuncts with duplicate collections and shelves of light reading.
Mr. Heath said removal of the books had raised some eyebrows among the faculty and anxiety among the library staff. But he said the concerns were needless. "Books are the fundamental icon of intellectual efforts," he said, "the scholarly communication of our time."
So, Mr. Heath said, speaking of the library, "if you move it, there's a pang, a sense of loss." He added that the books were merely being moved within the university's library system, one of the nation's largest, home to some 8 million volumes and growing by 100,000 a year. Basic reference books like dictionaries and encyclopedias will remain.
The move, Mr. Heath said, would free about 6,000 square feet in the four-story Flawn Academic Center, which opened in 1963.
Students at Texas, interviewed as they studied or lounged at the library tables, said that they would welcome extra computer space and that they got most of their books anyway at the far larger Perry-Castañeda Library. But some said they liked the popular selection at the undergraduate library and feared the loss of a familiar and congenial space.
"Well, this is a library - it's supposed to have books in it," said Jessica Zaharias, a senior in business management. "You can't really replace books. There's plenty of libraries where they have study rooms. This is a nice place for students to come to. It's central in campus."
Library staff members said they were taken by surprise when told last month of the conversion, which is how the news first emerged. At a retreat just weeks earlier they had brainstormed about ways to improve service and save money. They said they had been promised reassignment after the conversion and feared speaking out publicly at the risk of jeopardizing their jobs.
Many specialists said Texas was going along with an accelerating trend.
"The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared," said Geneva Henry, executive director of the digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston, where anyone can access and augment course materials in a program called Connexions. "It's having a conversation rather than homing in on the book."
"We're teaching students how to do research," Ms. Henry said. "Their first reaction is to Google. But they need to validate their information and dig deeper."

Carole Wedge, president of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, an architecture firm in Boston that has redesigned dozens of college libraries for the computer age, said most were built "as boxes to house print collections." The challenge, Ms. Wedge said, is to adapt them to what she called "the Barnes & Noble culture, making reading and learning a blurred experience."
Rarely do today's students hunt for a book in the stacks, she said. Now they go online and may end up with a book, but also a DVD or other medium. But, she said, "it's unlikely there will be libraries without books for a long time."
Significantly, librarians are big supporters of the trend.
"There's a real transition going on," said Sarah Thomas, past president of the Association of Research Libraries and the librarian at the Cornell University Library in Ithaca, N.Y. "This is not to say you don't have paper or books. Of course, they're sacred. But more and more we're delivering material to the user as opposed to the user coming into the library to get it."
Southern California, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of its electronic center, called Gateway, last October, keeps about 80,000 books at Gateway, although millions more are available at the university's 15 other libraries, said Lynn O'Leary-Archer, director of the university libraries.
Similar digital library centers have been built at Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Georgia, the University of Arizona and the University of Michigan. The University of Houston, which is doubling its library space, specializes in the publishing of scholarly material online.
"This is a new generation, born with a chip," said Frances Maloy, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries and leader of access services at Emory. "A student sends an e-mail at 2 a.m. and wonders by 8 a.m. why the professor hasn't responded."
Ms. Maloy praised the initiative at the University of Texas as signifying "that a great university with a fabulous library collection recognizes it's in the digital age."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A future VE Day....

Forward to VE Day

Our memory wars will never end, but a common future is possible

Timothy Garton Ash in Warsaw

Guardian May 12, 2005

After a continent-wide round of commemorations to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe, it's clear that the peoples of Europe have a shared past, but not a common one.
Sixty years on, the memory of war here in Warsaw is still irreconcilable with that in Moscow. But it's also utterly different from London's low-key festival of "We'll meet again" nostalgia. Only in the recollections of former inmates of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps does British memory approach the horrors of daily degradation that are the stuff of everyday Polish or Russian memory.
For Russians, the war began in 1941; for Poles and Brits, it began in 1939. For Vladimir Putin, May 9 1945 marked the end of the Great Patriotic War, when the Red Army almost single-handedly liberated - yes, liberated - most of Europe from fascism. For most Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians, it marked the transition from one totalitarian occupation to another, Nazi to Soviet.
Really, we should talk about second world wars, not the second world war. The plural applies inside as well as between countries. I am staying here not far from where the Warsaw ghetto used to be. The wartime memories of a Polish Jew and a non-Jewish Pole can still be bitterly contrasting. So can German memories. Last weekend there was a small neo-Nazi demonstration in Berlin. The former leftwing terrorist Horst Mahler, now an extremist at the other end of the spectrum, said the moment of German surrender in 1945 marked "the day of the death of Europe". But Tuesday's opening of the Holocaust memorial in the very heart of Berlin spoke for the great majority of today's Germans. They are struggling to find a just balance between a sense of collective historical responsibility for nazism and a proper respect for the sufferings of their own compatriots, including those who died as a result of Anglo-American bombing or were expelled from their homes by Russians and Poles.
Only by a great effort of collective myth-making have the French combined the memories of the resistance France of Charles de Gaulle and the collaborating France of Marshal Pétain. Step across the Mediterranean for a moment, and you find the Algerians marking May 8 1945 as the anniversary of the Sétif massacre, when a VE Day demonstration turned into a manifestation for Algerian independence, which rapidly descended into bloodshed and a brutal crackdown by French security forces.
A common past? Forget it! The memory wars began the day the second world war ended. They have continued ever since. With the entry of central and east European states into the European Union and Nato, they are being played out in a new way. Central and east Europeans are now articulating their versions of the past through the main organs of what we used to call "the west". In making Putin's Red Square victory parade a mere stopover between Latvia, the Netherlands and Georgia, George Bush has signed up to their reading of history rather than Putin's. Even the usually timid European commission issued a statement saying, among sentiments more comfortable to the Russian leader: "We remember ... the many millions for whom the end of the second world war was not the end of dictatorship, and for whom true freedom was only to come with the fall of the Berlin Wall."
On these warring accounts of the past, futures are built. "Who controls the past controls the future" was the Orwellian formula for a totalitarian regime. In Europe, we no longer live in totalitarian times - even in an increasingly undemocratic Russia and the grim dictatorship of Belarus. So today's milder version is "Who shapes our view of the past can influence the future".
What is to be done? First, we should recognise that it will always be so - even when every last survivor is dead. So long as there are historical memories, they will be contested memories.
Second, we must insist that there are historical facts. When any body politic starts denying or suppressing historical facts, that is a warning sign, like the spots indicating measles. The Soviet Union had historiographical measles for all its life. Russia after 1991 got better. Many Russian schoolchildren had access to a history textbook that taught them, as is only right, about the extraordinary sacrifices of Red Army soldiers and the civilians of cities such as Stalingrad, where, 60 years on, they are still digging up the skeletons. But it also mentioned Stalin's occupation of the Baltic states, his wartime deportations of Balts and others and the contribution made by US lend-lease equipment to the Soviet victory. Now that schoolbook has been withdrawn.
That every citizen of Europe should have full access to the facts about our barbarous past is a precondition for the political health of this continent. The interpretation of those facts is then free. Historians such as Richard Overy and Norman Davies have argued persuasively that the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Hitler has been consistently underrated in most Anglo-American treatments of the subject. But Russia does not help its own case by trying to suppress uncomfortable facts.
Thirdly, while we will never agree on a single version of the historical truth about these events, we can agree on a lesson from them. This lesson for 2005 is the promise of 1945: Never again! In order to keep that promise to ourselves, we need to shape not a common past but a common future. A Polish student from the town of Oswiecim - that is, Auschwitz - explained on German television the other day, in excellent German, that his Polish-German-Jewish bridge-building work was aimed not at the old-fashioned goal of "reconciliation", but at building a "common future". Exactly so. And that's what we are doing, with the spread of freedom and the enlargement of the European Union.
The trouble is that we Europeans are leaving it to President Bush to tell this story for us. And he spoils it, both because of the crude Manichean tones of his rhetoric, and because his advocacy associates the great story of the spread of freedom in Europe too closely with the policies of a particular US administration. So why don't we tell it for ourselves?
The Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili - leader of his country's "rose revolution" in 2003 - has said we are witnessing a "second wave" of liberation, inside the former Soviet Union, starting with Georgia and Ukraine. Speaking on CNN the other day, he corrected himself, suggesting it was really a "third wave". I make it the fourth. The first wave rolled over western and northern Europe in 1944-45; the second swept through southern Europe, starting in Portugal in 1974; the third liberated central Europe, starting in Poland in 1980 and reaching the Baltic states in 1991; now the fourth wave, if wave it is, may be building in eastern Europe.
I remember seeing in Berlin, the day after the Berlin Wall came down, a fresh graffito: "only today is the war really over". Now we are waiting for the day when we read those same words scrawled on a Moscow wall, in a democratic Russia finally liberated from the weight of the past. That would be the ultimate VE Day.

Monday, May 09, 2005

European digital library

EU leader backs European digital library to ward off US dominance


EU officials Tuesday backed calls to put European literature online amid fears that Europe's cultural heritage could be lost to future generations if US Internet giant Google pursues plans for a global virtual library.
"We have to act," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told a meeting of culture ministers and 800 artists and intellectuals in Paris who drew up a European charter for culture.
"That's why I say 'yes' to the initiative of the French president (Jacques Chirac) to launch a European digital library. I say 'yes' because Europe must not submit in the face of virulent attacks from others."
Six EU members -- France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain -- on Thursday asked the bloc to launch a European digital library, after 19 national libraries signed a motion urging action against the plans by the huge US search engine Google.
In December Michigan University and four other top libraries -- those at Harvard and Stanford universities, the New York Public Library and the Bodleian in Oxford -- announced they had made a deal with Google to digitise millions of their books and make them freely available online.
The entire project, which will mark a revolution in the information age, is expected to take up to 10 years, with cost estimates ranging from 150 million to 200 million dollars (115 million to 155 million euros).
Among the historical books held by the participating libraries are a 1687 first edition of Isaac Newton's "The Principia," owned by Stanford, and Charles Darwin's 1871 classic "The Descent of Man" in the Bodleian.
But many in the European cultural world are worried that such a move will favour works written in English and ignore the wealth of literature to be found in other languages.
France's National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney has acknowleged that the digitising of some 4.5 billion pages of text would help researchers and give poor nations access to global learning.
But he said recently: "The real issue is elsewhere. And it is immense. It is confirmation of the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world."
Juncker stressed in his speech at the Comedie Francaise on Tuesday that such a project could be realised only if enough funding was made available, criticising the 0.12 percent of the EU budget devoted to culture as "mediocre" and "insignificant."
At the end of the two-day meeting in Paris, European culture ministers signed a joint declaration to make culture a priority within the European family.
The so-called charter, signed by the 16 ministers present in Paris, reaffirms that EU policy must support "the recognition and specificity of cultural and audiovisual goods and services, which are not just ordinary goods."
Referring to the policy of subsidies and aid to the cultural sector, the text said that states had the right "to implement policies and measures which they judge are appropriate to preserving and developing cultural and artistic expression."
Some of the artists who took part in the two-day debate privately lamented that the discussions had been too academic, within the intimidating corridors of the house of Moliere.
"Too much hot air," said Polish writer and filmmaker Andrej Zulawski, who would have liked the artists to have been given more opportunity to make their case.