Archive for the ‘EU’ Category

US torture disclosure dilemma: film versus facts

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage vest, sitting in the courtroom in Guantanamo in October. Former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Morris Davis has demanded that testimony be made public.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage vest, sitting in the courtroom in Guantanamo in October. Former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Morris Davis has demanded that testimony be made public. (Graphic: AFP)

You’ve probably noticed I don’t, generally, hold positive opinions about the moral high ground of the USA, in all respects. It’s not to do with American people (several of whom I know, and admire, personally); it is, rather, about the official attitudes those people in power display and their arrogant (supply your own favoured adjective) behaviour.

So, here’s a vexed one! Disclosure, or not? Transparency, or not? The truth (unvarnished), or not?

A report from Spiegel Online International (SOI) gently, but meticulously, unpicks a moral and operational dilemma faced by various US “big suits”. Some, including Obama, come out of it quite well (he’s so frequently accused of not being able to achieve anything during his first term as President). Others – as patronising, inimical individuals who, basically, have no regard for democratic responsibility or respect.

So, I urge you to take a couple of minutes to read a most perceptive article – before you all rush to the cinema to see “Zero Dark Thirty”. And note what Senator McCain (remember him?) has to say!

Two quotes from the SOI article

“There is currently a confluence of events that will focus attention on America’s post-9/11 record of torture: a trial, a congressional report and a movie. Will they end up contributing to a more accurate accounting of what happened over the past decade? Or… ”

“On Dec. 6, 2012, Colonel James Pohl, the judge in the military commission trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) and four others charged along with him, ruled that anything an accused says in court about his treatment while in US detention is classified information that must be shielded from public disclosure. He upheld the continued use of a 40-second audio delay so such information does not get into the public domain. So much for the transparency part of the Office of Military Commissions motto: “Fairness — Transparency — Justice.”[1] [My emphasis]

Meanwhile, let us not forget that several European governments (including the UK) have been shown to be involved in ‘secret rendition’ and other such miserable – disgusting – activities.

[1]: Spiegel Online International

Image:  Spiegel Online International/AFP

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, wearing a camouflage vest, sitting in the courtroom in Guantanamo in October. Former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Morris Davis has demanded that testimony be made public.


Sofia Sunday snippets: finding grace

Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxim

Patriarch Maxim.

Bulgaria’s day of mourning

Bulgaria observed an official day of mourning on 9th. November, as Orthodox Patriarch Maxim was buried at Troyan monastery.

His body had lain in state in Sofia following his death three days earlier, at the age of 98.

On Friday, following a liturgy at Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the cortege travelled to Troyan, near to Maxim’s birthplace of Orashek, and where the young man had entered the priesthood.

Maxim (real name Marin Naidenov Minkov) had ruled the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for 41 years. He was possibly the last senior cleric to have lived through three successive Bulgarian political regimes: monarchy, communism, and republican democracy. He was the spiritual ruler of the more than 80% of the population who declare themselves as Bulgarian Orthodox.

Now is not the occasion to delve into alleged, negative events that may have casts shadows on Maxim’s long life at the heart of the church and the nation.

His successor will have to be nominated and appointed within the next 4 months. Meanwhile, the faithful mourn his passing…

… as millions around the world observe Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, to honour the members of their armed forces who died in the line of duty.

The dismal daily headline

One of my regular English-language news sources, Focus Information Agency, invariably carries a depressing headline. This is Sunday’s version:

31 injured in road accidents in Bulgaria in past 24 hours

For once, no deaths.

Saturday’s lugubrious version read:

4 die, 25 injured in road accidents in Bulgaria in past 24 hours

And Friday? “Only” 2 deaths.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to work to an approximate annual death and injury toll by noting a week’s worth of such information.

The good news is that the final annual statistics for 2011 showed a continuing downward trend  in road fatalities in Bulgaria. That year, there were 657 fatalities and 8,300 injuries. Casualties have dropped by 11% over the past three years (to end 2011). However, looking at statistics on a different basis – fatalities per 100,000 of population, Bulgaria still registers about 8.7 persons, compared with the UK’s 3.0.

Sofia police are currently engaged in a safety blitz. I haven’t yet seen this happening but, apparently based on a Dutch police method, our Best in Blue are carrying out multiple safety checks on vehicles, even while cars are stationary at traffic lights on busy intersections.

“Multiple” means up to 10 instant checks, including driver documents, windscreen wipers, tyres, and lights.

While welcoming this intensive initiative, I reckon as a driver I’d be terrified to be swarmed over by a police posse while patiently waiting for the lights to turn green!


Rezovo, Bulgaria-Turkey border town

Rezovo: the border between rumour and fact.

Rumbling rumours

The past 18 months have seen a number of Bulgarian media reports, even while the business of Belene and the forthcoming referendum sparked and raged, that Turkey is going to build a nuclear plant near the Black Sea coast, 5 kms south of the Bulgarian border.

The rumoured site, Igneada, is a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, and would have been Turkey’s third NPP – the first two projects are underway.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu assured a Bulgarian MEP last week that there would be no nuclear plant built at Igneada, and an official government note to the same effect has been sent to Bulgaria and Brussels.

Local Bulgarian communities had voiced environmental concerns, predicting adverse effects on the property market, and a negative impact on tourism and the fishing industries.

The governor of Burgas, the coastal resort situated only 75 kms to the north of the border, also stated that, whereas there would be no Turkish NPP, they were planning on “only” a thermal power plant.

If that’s true, then all our needless worries evaporate, don’t they?

Wind and weather

Almost the middle of November, and the autumn is beautiful – and kind. True, the days are noticeably shorter, and we suffered several days of severe winds; but today, for example, we’ve enjoyed blue skies and sunshine once again.

Yes, it’s nippy at night, but not bad at all, even though Vitosha had a sprinkling of overnight snow.

Our neighbour has just mowed his lawn this afternoon, probably its final cut of the year. We are also gardening, clearing up before winter sets in. We are certainly being spoilt, this year – so far!


Thracian gold horse Sveshtari Bulgaria

The gold of the Getae.

Bulgaria strikes gold – yet again

Over the past several weeks, there have been a few astonishing archaeological finds in various regions of Bulgaria. Last week, there was yet another.

A team led by Prof. Diana Gergova, one of the country’s foremost experts on Thracian archaeology, discovered fragments of a wooden box containing charred bones and ashes, along with 4 spiral bracelets, numerous decorations, 100 buttons, and a beautiful component of a harness or bit – a miniature sculpture of a horse’s head on a base decorated with a lion’s head.

All these are solid gold, and are dated to the end of the fourth, or beginning of the third century BCE, and were crafted by Thracians, who inhabited a wide area of present-day Bulgaria and part of what is now Romania.

The site of these latest finds, one of a complex of 150 tombs near the village of Sveshtari, some 400 kms north-east of Sofia, is particularly associated with the Getae (or Getes) tribe.

“These are amazing findings from the apogee of the rule of the Getae,” said Gergova, with considerable understatement.

The Sveshtari burial complex was discovered in 1982, in what UNESCO describes as “one of the most spectacular archaeological events of the 20th century. The tomb itself is a unique artistic achievement with its half-human, half-vegetable caryatids enclosed in chitons in the shape of inverted palmettes.”[1]

Unsurprisingly, the unique burial complex is already one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.


predicted spending 2012 US presidential election

Unlimited budgets, limited policy debate

We can never escape them, can we…

Politicians, I mean.

Somehow, at long last, we are now free of an extremely prolonged, acrimonious, non-constructive US presidential election. To the relief of most senior European politicians, Obama won. The prospect of having to endure Romney, with his foreign gaffes and his downright ignorance of geography (see cartoon below), must have caused our political élites some sleepless nights. After spending an amount estimated to be in excess of $6 bn on this 2-horse race (including the hugely ignored Congressional elections, to be fair), it’s status quo for Europe.

Romney foreign gaffe Iran

Romney all at sea (again).

So, all sympathy for Israel’s PM Netanyahu, who’s had a rocky year with Obama, and apparently favoured Romney for his (declared) aggressive Middle East “policy”. It seems Benjamin backed the wrong horse this time; now, to mix my metaphors, he’s got some transatlantic fences to mend, especially if he hopes to win the next election.


Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader

Stanishev getting personal.

Back to domestic politics

Speaking of which, next year Bulgarians will vote in their own parliamentary election. The war of words (and deeds) is already warming up.

Sergei Stanishev, leader of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), addressed the Bulgarian Social Democrats on Saturday, and launched a virulent attack on the present Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.

“Today, constitutionally Bulgaria is a democracy, but in practice it is ruled by a one-person authoritarian regime that on a daily basis deprives citizens of their political rights, crushes democracy, and treats the state as its own property.”

Strong words! But, objectively speaking, even non-socialists (apart from one BB) would heartily agree with this withering assessment. Roll on, spring 2013!

[1]: UNESCO Thracian tomb of Sveshtari


Patriarch Maxim

Rezovo, Bulgaria-Turkey border 

Thracian gold

US election spending 

Romney: Facebook


Caustic perspectives on you-know-what

Madeleine Albright wades in on Romney's foreign policy

Madeleine Albright: still sparky at 75.

On the eve of the US Presidential election, Spiegel Online International has a withering sequence of stories and commentaries. Ouch! No wonder the 5th. November is called Bonfire Night…

Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation

1 of 3

Romney has a 'Shallow Understanding of Foreign Policy'

2 0f 3

America Has Already Lost Tuesday's Election

3 of 3

Click on the images above to go directly to the items.

Sources: Spiegel Online International

Yes/No: just answer the question – but please don’t mention Belene

helene nap

Yes/No? – not such a clear-cut answer.

I’ve been struggling for a while with drafting a post on one of the developing hot topics in Bulgarian politics and society. It’s been difficult to absorb and understand all the local machinations and the possible motives behind them as they develop on almost a daily basis, while putting the entire question in a larger, more long-term perspective for the whole of the country.

Mercifully, a professional journalist – Andrew MacDowall – has solved my problem, by setting out the broader story (and some of the undoubted short-term, internal political games) in the UK’s Financial Times.[1]

The interminable background to this ambitious / out-dated project is there. This year’s socialist opposition motivation of a popular petition in reaction to their perceived (and real) vacillation by the present majority party (GERB) is reported. The most recent reactions of parliamentarians are noted, with some suggested motivations.

Popular petition provokes populist referendum

The petition succeeded in provoking the holding of a national referendum which, by all accounts, may be held within 3 months. Parliament has the constitutional power to amend the wording of any original question in such a petition, and has exercised its prerogative to do this: the referendum question (very cunningly) drops all specific reference to the Belene nuclear power plant (“unconstitutional, according to Article 42” of the Bulgarian Constitution – a baffling reason for me, after checking the official English translation).

This undoubtedly sows confusion about what the petitioners signed up to, and the future policies of the present government – particularly if it gets re-elected next year.

If you want a quick, intensive and perceptive insight to this referendum and the wide-ranging questions it raises among politicians, interested parties and lobbies, and (dare I mention it) the electorate, this is the article for you.

Some observations

Achieving a clear, accurate question to which voters can unequivocally answer Yes or No, is a fraught and, perhaps, perverted process – technically, constitutionally, politically.

The consequent emotive discussion surrounding a referendum tends to mask all objective and rational discussion of the reason behind it.

For example, I’ve seen no cogent explanation of why Bulgaria may need a new nuclear power plant (wherever it may be situated within its territory), and what benefits the Bulgarian citizen may reasonably expect (except for political promises of  “cheap electricity” – that depends on how you present the figures).

According to one recent statement by PM Borisov, Bulgaria already has enough electricity – but he has a tendency towards making wild, uninformed,ignorant, impromptu pronouncements on all kinds of subjects. Mind you, he’s also repeatedly said that the country just can’t afford the costs of construction and commissioning such a plant. Not much help from him, then!

The opposition socialists, on the other hand, have ‘made hay’ in galvanising over 500,000 signatures for their own, specific question that named Belene, probably hoping to erase their own lamentable record in advancing this leviathan project that goes all the way back to the 1970s. (What’s the active life of a nuclear power plant, these days  – as much as 40 years?)

One of the significant players ‘in the shadows’ of all this, is Russia. The general and energy-based relationship between Bulgaria and the Kremlin is murky, ill-defined, over-reliant (on Bulgaria’s part), and never sufficiently clarified to the public.

The EU, meanwhile, has been very quiet about this business. A reminder – one of the pre-conditions of Bulgaria’s accession to the “mighty 27” was that it decommissioned 4 of the 6 existing units at Kozloduy, built to the same basic design as the ill-fated Chernobyl plant.

So, here’s a (reasonable) translation of the referendum question to be put to an apparently largely uninformed, and definitely politicised, Bulgarian electorate:

Should Bulgaria develop nuclear energy through the construction of a new nuclear power plant?

Seems an OK question on the surface, doesn’t it? Well, doesn’t it?

And for the referendum to  succeed, 60% of the electorate (a technicality based on turnout at previous elections) need to turn up with a pen on the allotted day –  about 4.25 million out of a population of 7.3 million.

We’ll see who wins…

[1]: Financial Times

Image source: Reuters

Another non-ethical social monster


The going rate for 1 million Facebook entries? $5! (By the way, a great signature!)

“The Bulgarian blogger and digital rights activist [Bogomil Shopov] who made headlines on Tuesday when he reported acquiring more than one million Facebook data entries for just $5, said Friday he is cooperating with Facebook as it conducts an internal investigation, but won’t comply with the company’s request to remove blog posts or not talk about the investigation.”[1]

I recommend the article (link below), and urge you to follow on to Shopov’s own site to read the latest news he has about his contact with that wonderful institution, Facebook. (Some of the comments to his article are fun, too!)[2]

I suppose (given my previous little rant about Google) that we all have ourselves to blame: we imagine we are all part of a large, benevolent, joined-up online community, while some businessmen take a hard-headed, exploitative attitude to [a] making money out of us; [b] using us purely as indiscrete treasure troves of marketing information, with all normal protective rights waived, once we sign up to their “services”; or [c], both.



Image source:

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