IPS Blog

Expand Nuclear Weapons Programs to Protect Missileers’ Tender Psyches

On May 8 we posted about an article by Robert Burns of the Associated Press, in which he reported that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

In a follow-up piece, Burns asks Is There a Morale Crisis in the US Nuclear Force? He reports:

Inside the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape, two officers stand watch, authorized to turn the keys enabled by secret launch codes if the presidential order ever comes. … Publicly, the Air Force insists that its missileers, as they are known within the service, are capable, trustworthy and committed. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also acknowledged in congressional testimony that he worries that talk of further shrinking the nation’s nuclear force is having a “corrosive effect” on his troops.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said at the same congressional hearing that it’s understandable that young missile officers may be demoralized by the realization that theirs is a shrinking field.

“You say, ‘My goodness, there’s only three (missile wings in the entire Air Force). There’s no opportunity there,’” Welsh said. “That’s actually not the case, but that’s the view when you’re in one of those units.”

While “That’s actually not the case” might be true technically, any opportunity may just be a higher rank and more responsibility in a field that’s, nevertheless, “shrinking.” (Not fast enough to our liking!)

Though it may not be exactly what they mean, one could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Secretary Donley and Gen. Welsh are recommending expanding our nuclear-weapons program to prevent missileers from growing discouraged and help them keep their heads in the game.

I know what you’re thinking: would that their jobs oppressed them because the fate of the world lies on whether or not they push a button. (Or toggle a series of switches or whatever.) But, hey, you’ve got to be pretty hard-hearted towards missileers and their sensitive psyches to deprive them of more nukes.

Burns reports on the real reason for their bleak career prospects (emphasis added).

Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer and now a national security scholar at Princeton University, said Friday that morale has dropped in part because the ICBM mission that originated in 1959, deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. or Europe, is less compelling than it was generations ago.

“This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago and because so few senior commander jobs exist within the missile specialty,” Blair said. “Most crews can’t wait to transfer out of missiles into faster-track careers such as space operations, but the Air Force doesn’t make it easy.”

While they wait for those transfers, maybe the Air Force can take a cue from “the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape” and dole out Prozac to their missileers. It’s a lot cheaper and less risky than expanding our nuclear-weapons program to boost their morale.

Spirit of Boondoggle Departs Quashed Los Alamos Project, Finds New One to Possess

Thanks in large part to lawsuits filed by the Los Alamos Study Group, last year the Obama administration halted the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The research for which it was earmarked was on plutonium pits, which is where the chain reaction of a nuclear weapons occurs. Even if you believe in nuclear weapons, the need for new pits is nonexistent because they’re noted for their longevity.

How difficult it is to discontinue researching and manufacturing plutonium pits is a microcosm for how the nuclear weapons-industrial complex itself endures. In February at Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman reported that, without the CMRR-NF, Los Alamos would

… instead permanently parcel out work to an array of smaller buildings. [The] institution’s director said. … “I’m concerned that in the current fiscal crisis, it may no longer be practical to plan and build very large-scale nuclear facilities,” Charles McMillan, who heads the New Mexico research site, said at a three-day conference on nuclear deterrence in Arlington, Va. “A new path forward is needed.”

On May 7, a Los Alamos Study Group [LASG] press release stated:

After more than a year since a halt to new funding was announced for [the CMRR-NF], a few details about the latest plan to construct a large-scale “pit” factory complex have begun to emerge.

Note that McMillan’s use of the phrase “very large-scale nuclear facilities” referred to the two main buildings of the planned CMRR-NF. The complex that LASG refers to is smaller buildings, as Ms. Grossman reported. More from the press release:

It is now clear that the “interim” “plutonium sustainment” plan [in lieu of the CMRR-NF – RW] of last year is but the first part of a much larger, multibillion dollar plan spanning approximately two decades, which could easily exceed CMRR-NF in final scope, cost, and possibly in size.

The new plan aims not just to replace the capabilities once envisioned for … CMRR-NF but also to supplement or replace some the most dangerous and demanding capabilities of LANL’s large main plutonium facility.

This year’s plan is certainly much larger than the … “interim” plan … in pit production capacity, physical scale, environmental disruption, cost, and duration [and] includes everything in the “interim plan” plus construction of underground laboratory and production “modules” connected by “tunnels” to the [large main plutonium facility].

Furthermore, states LASG Director Greg Mello:

“There are as yet no firm mission requirements, no project definition, no total estimated cost, no requested line item, no analysis of alternatives, no environmental impact statement [EIS], and no schedule for this project. Despite these deficiencies, despite wasting $500 M and ten years on the last plan, and despite NNSA’s abysmal management record, the agency now claims that hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent each year, starting right now, to get this ‘non-project project’ going.”

Mello then hints at how difficult it is to put the nail in the coffin of these projects. Like monsters or slashers in horror movies, they have a discouraging habit of rising up like phoenixes just when you think you’ve killed them dead.

“No U.S. warhead requires new pits, so none of this is about maintaining warheads. Pit aging is not even mentioned in the April 8 letter as a driver for this project.”

What purpose would new plutonium pits serve then? From the press release again.

The need for new pit production is tied to these two proposed Life Extension Projects (LEPs), which congressional and administration officials have described to us as, essentially, new warheads:

• A proposed W78/W88 “interoperable” Air Force/Navy warhead for land-based and sea-based missiles. Depending on the design chosen and the size of the “build,” [it] might require pit production.

• The proposed “Long-Range Stand-Off” (LRSO) missile warhead [which] too might require pit production.

The spirit of boondoggle flees the dying host of one project, only to seek out another to possess. We can never truly drive a stake may never be drive into nuclear weapons until the Unholy Trinity of waste, pork, and campaign financing is exorcised from the body politic.

Portugal Struggles to Meet Troika Conditions

As the dust settles on the Cyprus bailout, a recent court ruling places the so-called Troika—the European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC), and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—back into the headlines as it finds itself at odds with another Eurozone country.

After months of deliberation, on April 5th the Constitutional Court of Portugal struck down four of nine proposed budget cuts that would have raised 4 billion euros over three years as part of payment plan for a 78-billion-euro bailout.

This includes a ruling against the government’s plan to eliminate one of two extra “bonus” months in the summer and its decision in January to cut sickness and unemployment benefits. This court decision will cost Portugal around 1.2 billion euros in savings.

Following the court’s ruling, foreign creditors decided to withhold further loan payments until the situation resolved itself. In order to qualify for the next loan installment, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho must convince the European Union and the IMF that he can raise the funds lost by the court’s ruling through other means.

The IMF has continued to call for a reduction in state-provided health services and state pensions based on its determination that these sectors resulted in the largest increases in government spending. The IMF also found that there is “excess employment” in the education and security sectors. In order to meet this demand, Coelho has requested that the constitution be revised to shrink the state, thus allowing the originally prescribed cuts.

The opposition Socialist Party has resisted this move, making it unlikely that Coelho will secure the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament to amend Portugal’s constitution. Instead the Socialist Party has called for an early election, convinced it would gain control of the country despite failing to oust Coelho’s center-right government through an earlier vote of no confidence. Once in power the party could then begin negotiations for a new bailout.

Possible Respite

In a surprising show of leniency, the European Union finance ministers agreed to extend the maturity dates of Portugal’s loans by an average of seven years. This decision grants Portugal enough flexibility to issue a 10 year-bond, a move that will once again grant the country access to European bond markets.

However, the plan was still conditional upon approval from the Troika. The ruling by the constitutional court and the subsequent Portuguese scramble to secure funds has caused concern for the Troika. Because of fears that Portugal might not be able to bring its budget back in line, the Troika delayed their approval pending further discussions with the Portuguese government.

Prime Minister Coelho has announced that while he will not raise taxes, he will institute new spending cuts totaling 1.2 billion euros. Although he did not reveal the specifics, Coelho did announce that half would still come from the health and education sectors, cuts in social security and pension benefits, and cuts in other government offered services. The other half would come from cuts in ministries’ budgets.

The Portuguese government met with the Troika on Monday April 13th to discuss the specific cuts it plans to make to meet its 2013 budget. After this meeting Coelho announced that the government plans to raise the retirement age and make public sector employees work an extra hour daily. The government also plans to lay off around 30,000 government workers. The Troika returned to Lisbon this week to determine if this latest round of proposed cuts are enough to once again disburse rescue funds.

The Troika has somewhat relented during the early days of these meetings, granting Portugal permission to sell its 10-year bond. Thus far bond sales have raised around 3 billion euros. However, negotiations to see if the Troika will once again begin to disburse bailout payments are still ongoing.

Underlying Problems

Up until this point Portugal had been an obedient pupil in the Troika’s austerity regime. The Center Right Party was able to push through tax hikes and cuts in social services. Unlike other struggling eurozone countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Cyprus, Portugal merely suffered from years of low growth and private sector investment—not questionable fiscal policies.

And there were brief signs of improvement following structural reforms, at least by the Troika’s standards. For example, unit labor costs have fallen, exports have risen, and the current account balance is moving in the right direction.

However, other economic indicators tell quite a different story. The budget deficit has widened from 4.4 percent of GDP in 2011 to 6.4 percent in 2012, the economy shrank by 3.2 percent, and unemployment is expected to reach 19 percent.

Augusto Praca, international relations advisor for Portugal’s largest trade union confederation, the CGTP, emphasizes that “most of our economy has disappeared. Companies are going bankrupt. There is no investment, and the government is only interested in paying back our loans.” And similar to Cyprus there is a youth brain drain, with one in 10 graduates now leaving Portugal for Brazil. This is not surprising considering how hard young people have been hit in Portugal; the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 24 is 42.1 percent.

Even if the Troika agrees to Portugal’s proposed 2013 budget, most economists and many European officials agree a second bailout may still be necessary.

So what are the implications for the rest of the Eurozone now that one of its star pupils has stumbled? However unlikely it may be, hopefully the situation in Portugal serves as a wake-up call for the Troika. Unless it begins to focus on policies that stimulate demand throughout the entire Eurozone, Portugal may not be the only country lining up for another bailout.

Bryan Cenko is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Syria: Great Game or Just a Tug of War?

John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad in better times.

John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad in better times.

The visit by US secretary of State John Kerry to Russia earlier this week gave hope that an imminent diplomatic breakthrough in Syria is on the horizon. The reason for this hope is the realizationthat a military solution in Syria has proven much more difficult than expected. The Syrian army and the opposition are unable to deliver a decisive victory against one another after three years of battle that cost over 70, 000 Syrian lives and millions of refugees.

The Syrian conflict is much more complex than expected because it quickly evolved into a regional and international tug of war between great powers like the US, Russia, China, Iran, and Israel, and minor players like Jordan and the Gulf States. Each of those countries is vying for its own interests in this important regional country.

For China and Russia, the real issue is not just to prevent the US and Israel from dislodging an important ally and converting Syria from an important regional player into a US satellite state, but to challenge the US policies and hegemony around the world as rising super powers.

For Iran, the loss of the Syrian regime would end its historic expansion in the Levant and would isolate its Hezbollah colony in Lebanon. It is very important for Iran, moreover, which views itself as a regional powerhouse with regional interest and allies, to maintain its foothold in the Mediterranean and at Israel’s doorstep.

Its historic alliance with the Syrian regime gave Iran a much-needed Arab face that it used to increase its presence and influence in the region. More importantly, however, Iran uses the Syrian regime as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, as a first line of defense against its arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, in the meantime, sees the Syrian conflict as an important element in its wider conflict with Iran. Moreover, deposing the Damascus regime is a strategic imperative for Israel to ensure its supremacy over all of the Arab states especially after converting Iraq from a powerful Arab state with regional ambitions into an Iranian satellite and failed state.

Within the conservative American and Israeli movements Syria and Iran were supposed to be the next target after the war in Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. Having powerful unfriendly Arab states in the Middle East can pose a future danger to US and Israeli hegemony in the region and is something that should be addressed according to the neoconservative thinking in the US and Israel.

The war against Iraq that saw the establishment of the Bush doctrine of “preemptive war” was supposed to start the remaking of the Middle East and create surgical chaos before new weakened and fragile states emerge. Such states would depend on the US for their survival and pose no threat to Israel for decades to come.

The administration of President Barack Obama came in to power with the intention to roll back the Bush doctrine of preemptive wars in the Middle East and prevent Israel and its neoconservative allies from completing their overarching strategy of remaking the Middle East into chaotic and fragile states. Ironically, what made this strategy so successful was none other the Arab dictatorial regimes themselves. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Bashaar al Assad were brutal and oppressive dictatorships and inherently inflexible toward more democratic reform and allowing their citizens breathing space outside their suffocating control. Demolishing such regimes that lack basic legitimacy in the eyes of an oppressed citizenry proved much easier than expected.

Obama’s cautious approach toward Syria put a stop on the US and Israeli drive to remake the Middle East and forced the Israeli leadership to halt its war plans, for now, at least, against Iran.

The biggest prize for Israel is Iran, not Syria, but Syria is a necessary step toward defeating Iran by defanging its Syrian and Lebanese allies. This explains why conservative and powerful American lawmakers like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pushing the Obama administration toward more active military involvement in Syria that goes beyond diplomatic and financial support for the opposition and the refugees.

While the Obama administration also views Iran, and, to a lesser extent Syria, as a major threat to its interests in the region, its approach toward dealing with it is less confrontational and definitely not through military means. The irony of this is that the Obama administration ended up becoming a lesser threat to Iran and the regime of Bashaar al Assad because it considers clandestine operations, diplomacy, and containment as the best approach toward containing Iran and its Syrian ally. Kerry’s meeting with the Russian leadership is clear evidence that the Obama administration is hoping to coax the Russians and the Chinese to support an international conference to end the conflict in a manner acceptable to all concerned. Unless different kind of variables emerges on the ground, such as a military confrontation with Israel, or large-scale use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, the Obama administration is content with a management approach to the Syrian conflict.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.

Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?

It’s debatable how much nuclear weapons add to national security. But what’s undeniable is that they add layer upon layer of complexity, sprinkled with convoluted and even counterintuitive thinking (such as how missile defense systems are seen as an offensive act), to national defense. By way of example, on April 30, in the Times of India, Indrani Bagchi, wrote:

India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons against it. [It] will protect its security interests by retaliating to a “smaller” tactical attack in exactly the same manner as it would respond to a “big” strategic attack.

Two questions immediately arise.
1. Why did Pakistan develop tactical nuclear weapons?
2. Why would India respond disproportionately to the use of what’s often referred to as “battlefield” nuclear weapons? (Not to diminish their power or, by any means, condone a state’s possession of them.)

First, we’ll quote Ms. Bagchi, who quotes Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. Speaking for nuclear-weapons policymakers in New Delhi, Mr. Saran “placed India’s nuclear posture in perspective in the context of recent developments, notably the ‘jihadist edge’ that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability have acquired.” (No, jihadis haven’t – yet anyway – insinuated themselves inside Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.)

Answering question one, Saran said that Pakistan hopes (according to Indian policymakers), by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

You can see how nuclear weapons have the power to cloud men’s minds. Pakistan (if the Indian policymakers are correct) thinks that it can keep India from retaliating to yet another terrorist attack. With the same dearth of commonsense that Pakistan exhibits in the above passage (if true), India then declares that it won’t just retaliate with tactical nukes, but with strategic nuclear weapons.

Never mind that the best way to keep India from retaliating is, obviously, to refrain from attacking. Of course, that beggars the question of whether Pakistan can keep its militants from attacking India (except for when it wants them, too).

Providing an answer to question two, Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”

Re what’s emphasized: ever notice how often bravado and black humor intersect? To buttress his argument, Saran claims:

“A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In any event, another answer to question one may exist. Ms. Bagchi writes that Pakistan may – also? primarily? – have developed tactical nuclear weapons

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

Western policymakers might be inclined to shoot down this line of thinking as a conspiracy theory. But, as historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, writes in a recent ebook

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

This Week in OtherWords: May 8, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Jason Salzman makes the case against the Koch brothers’ potential purchase of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune Media newspapers while Jim Hightower weighs in on the larger context behind the recent garment worker tragedy in Bangladesh.

Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. Turning Journalism into a Joke / Jason Salzman
    Obama’s serious comments about the value of journalism stand out as the Koch brothers consider buying the Los Angeles Times.
  2. Ohio’s Poorly Performing School Assessment / Chris Schillig
    Test scores don’t tell the whole story.
  3. Fighting the Foodopoly / Wenonah Hauter
    Only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat.
  4. Middle Eastern Re-Run / Donald Kaul
    Unless you have something better that can replace a brutal regime like Assad’s government in Syria, what can you accomplish with military intervention?
  5. How We Pay for CEO ‘Performance’ / Sam Pizzigati
    A gaping tax loophole pads executive pay and the federal debt.
  6. Hollow Bee Hives May Threaten Our Lives Too / Jill Richardson
    The United States should follow Europe’s example and ban pesticides that may be wiping out these key pollinators.
  7. Fashion Victims / Jim Hightower
    The gravitational pull of corporate greed makes clothing factories prone to disasters like the recent tragedy in Bangladesh.
  8. Our Stake in Guatemala’s Genocide Trial / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    Thirty years after Ríos Montt’s atrocities, U.S. military policy in Latin America remains a human rights disaster.
  9. Made in Bangladesh / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Made in Bangladesh, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Made in Bangladesh, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Minot’s Launch Control Fail: Reason #532 Why Nuclear Deterrence Is a Fragile Foundation for Peace

Robert Burns of the Associated Press reports that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

The tip-off to trouble was a March inspection, which earned the equivalent of a “D” grade when tested on its mastery of Minuteman III missile launch operations. … In addition to the 17, possible disciplinary action is pending against one other officer at Minot who investigators found had purposefully broken a missile safety rule in an unspecified act that could have compromised the secret codes that enable the launching of missiles. [Emphasis added.]

Human error when on nuclear launch duty is serious enough. But willfulness only further increases the degree of difficulty of managing nuclear risk.

You could tell it was bad. The deputy commander of the 91st Missile Wing, Burns reports, wrote in an email:

“We are breaking you down, and we will build from the ground up. … It takes real leaders to lead through a crisis and we are, in fact, in a crisis right now.”

He told his subordinates, “You must continue to turn over the rocks and find the rot.”

The deputy commander’s name, by the way, is General Jack D. Ripper, I mean, Lt. Col. Jay Folds. But what exactly turns these officers into slackers? Burns asked Bruce Blair, the co-founder of Global Zero and one-time launch control officer.

“The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago. … Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force’s culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles.”

In other words, they’re sulking. But how can the Air Force maintain a nuclear command without officers who aren’t immune from making mistakes or obsessing over their stalled careers? By replacing them with robots! Hey, “smart,” autonomous drones are starting to seem inevitable. Why not adapt them to nuclear launch control?

Of course, that would be Reason Number 533 Why Nuclear Deterrence Is a Fragile Foundation for Peace.

High Times in Yugoslavia

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Branko Franceschi

Branko Franceschi

In 1968, protests erupted around the world: Chicago, Mexico City, Paris, Warsaw, Tokyo. The protestors, most of them part of a new generation untouched by World War II, demanded an end to war, dictatorships, economic follies, and the culture of death promoted by sclerotic leaders in the East, the West, the North and the South.

Yugoslavia participated in the global events of 1968 from a different vantage point. It was not in the Soviet bloc, nor was it an American client state. It was north of the equator, but it also sought common cause with the South through the Non-Aligned Movement. It promoted a third path — of worker self-management and a limited private sector — between communism and capitalism. But it also generated the same communist elite that Milovan Djilas decried in his 1957 book, The New Class.

Yugoslavia experienced youth protests in 1968 as well, though they too proceeded along a different trajectory. In Belgrade, as in Warsaw, the protests began around a theater production. Students at the university were incensed that the administration booked a popular theater group at a small venue, with seats reserved for the Communist youth elite, instead of at an open-air amphitheater. The demands eventually grew to encompass a larger critique of Communist privileges and economic inequalities, and 10,000 students occupied the philosophy and sociology faculty at the New Belgrade campus for a full week. The Yugoslav leader Tito, addressing the nation on television, supported the student demands and temporarily resolved the crisis (he would later mitigate his enthusiasm).

What also made the student protests in Yugoslavia different was that they took place in an atmosphere of relative cultural freedom. Through music, movies, theater, and visual art, artists in Yugoslavia operated with fewer constraints and greater access to Western culture than their counterparts elsewhere in the region. It wasn’t quite a situation of “anything goes.” In 1963, Tito dismissed abstract art as quasi-art and a waste of money, and Yugoslav films attracted the close scrutiny of censors in the first half of the 1960s. But by 1968, Yugoslavia was a haven for the avant-garde: the Black Wave film directors, the Music Biennale in Zagreb, the International Theater Festival in Belgrade. And Rock music was everywhere.

I’ve drawn this information on the Yugoslav avant-garde from the essay “High Times” by curator Branko Franceschi that accompanied his recent exhibition at the Stephan Stoyanov Gallery in New York. In Tune in Screening: Psychedelic Moving Images from Socialist Yugoslavia, Franceschi pulled together examples of the psychedelic films produced in Yugoslavia in the 1960s. The Village Voice picked the exhibit as one of the year’s best.

The title was a good marketing idea since it combined psychedelia, socialism, and Yugoslavia, but it was also very interesting intellectually,” Branko Franceschi told me in an interview in his apartment in Zagreb in October. “These experimental films were inspired by the music coming from West, like for instance The Rolling Stones and similar bands. In the essay I made a point of mentioning the famous song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie, who recently died. This was a huge hit here. In the rest of the Eastern Europe it was sort of a hymn, which they were singing in the demonstrations. Here in Yugoslavia, it immediately became the first hit for the young, up-and-coming pop star Miso Kovac. The verses were translated so that he sang it in Croatian. Thus it was stripped of any political power. It became just another hippyish song. I guess this is a metaphor for what happened to Yugoslavia.”

Franceschi has curated some of the most provocative art from ex-Yugoslavia. He and multimedia artist Kata Mijatovic were recently selected to represent Croatia at the 55th Venice Biennale. You can go to their page on Facebook, Arhiv Snova (Dream Archive), and contribute your own dream. In this project, “a large number of participants will create a global ‘pool’ of dreams; open a space to explore what it is that people dream about today, and ask questions to which we still don’t have the answers – why do people dream, and what is the function of the unconscious in the construction of reality.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, we talked about his early experiences with music in Yugoslavia, his memories of war, and the state of the art world.

The Interview

Do you remember where you were when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

I was in Zagreb watching it on the television. We were thinking, “Okay, now that’s done we’ll be able to do what we want to do.” Which is basically what happened. I guess we all shared the same feeling of celebration of liberty, that the world will become an easier and better place for everyone. Since our society here in Yugoslavia was much easier, much softer, and much more open than the rest of the socialist bloc, my friends and I really believed that we could all go our separate ways peacefully. During those 40 years, we thought we’d created a more peaceful and more reasonable society. The level of violence that occurred – really, it was something no one thought possible. Now when you look backwards, you see that it could not have happened any other way.

I recently read a review of a book by Dushko Bilandzic, the historian, and he claimed that already as early as the beginning of the 1950s, Tito and Edvard Kardelj – the key Party leaders — believed that Yugoslavia had no future as a state and a society. I don’t know if that’s true…

They created a constitution in 1974, which…

That actually established the democratic right for the each republic to decide whether to stay or leave the federation, which was exercised in the 1990s.

I recall from my history lessons this Croatian concept, from the great revolutionary time of the mid-19th century, that all the Slavic peoples throughout Europe who were ruled by someone else should create a super state from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea – imagine that! And that these people, who had been oppressed for so long by other people and shared this painful history, would be able to understand what brotherhood – and later they added unity – really meant. Then, Yugoslavia was formed in 1919, and it proved the opposite. The problems almost immediately became obvious.

So, we have this strange and beautiful dynamic here. We are very similar and yet very different. Every little difference counts, which sharpens you intellectually. You have to find your standpoint among all these conflicting ideas that surrounded you and you’ve been aware of it from a very early age, whether or not you were politically active during the socialist period, whether or not you were a member of a political party. The other option was dissent.

I was not overtly political, and neither was my family at the time. Not having been involved in politics, you didn’t have the perks of membership in the Communist party. But you also didn’t have those difficulties. So basically, you were engaged in a bit of opposition by not accepting membership when you were invited, and you were invited of course if you were good in school or at your job or when you went into the army. For my generation it was easy to say something just so that you didn’t get drawn into the Party.

I actually just made an exhibition in New York about the decade from 1966-1976. It was called Tune in Screening: Psychedelic Moving Images from Socialist Yugoslavia, and it was a great success. The title was a good marketing idea since it combined psychedelia, socialism, and Yugoslavia, but it was also very interesting intellectually. These experimental films were inspired by the music coming from West, like for instance The Rolling Stones and similar bands.

In the essay I made a point of mentioning the famous song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie, who recently died. This was a huge hit here. In the rest of the Eastern Europe it was sort of a hymn, which they were singing in the demonstrations. Here in Yugoslavia, it immediately became the first hit for the young, up-and-coming pop star Miso Kovac. The verses were translated so that he sang it in Croatian. Thus it was stripped of any political power. It became just another hippyish song. I guess this is a metaphor for what happened to Yugoslavia.

What was exciting for me about the exhibition was to see how an American audience that knows the songs would react to these moving images made in a different system at the same time, 50 years ago on the other side of the world. And it went great actually. There’s always a chance that the films we think are great will look stupid to people from a different culture. But they didn’t. One critic from the Village Voice even called the exhibit one of the five best exhibits of the year.

Where was the exhibition?

The Stephan Stoyanov Gallery. It’s our Bulgarian connection. You should talk to that guy. He’s funny. He has a very interesting exhibition space. It’s a commercial gallery, but having this kind of program where you can’t sell anything, it’s almost suicidal

It’s a public service.

Maybe since he was brought up in Bulgaria, he is still in the hold of this idea of “the public.”

Between 1966 and 1976, the period of time covered in the exhibition, was also the rise of nationalism in all these republics.

Yugoslavia was never actually as cohesive as it seemed. So for instance the artists in Vojvodina were prosecuted for promoting change in society, and they ended up in jail. In 1971, Lazar Stojanovic was thrown in jail because of his film Plastic Jesus [which looked at ethnic hatreds among south Slavs]. In Croatia, the Croatian Spring raised nationalism as an issue. In the beginning of the 1960s, Slovenian artists were arrested. Then in the 1980s, there was the Slovenian industrial music group Laibach. They would be banned in one republic, so then they’d go to another republic. They’d be banned there, so they’d go to a third republic. They were masters of playing the system, the federal system of Yugoslavia.

Laibach parodied the system, with their brown shirts and over-the-top propaganda rhetoric.

They have recently had a retrospective, so I had a chance to relive it while I was watching it. Today it looks much crazier than it looked then. They really knew how to put out these totalitarian, bureaucratic statements, and their appearance was so remote. Back then, as I recall it, it was a new wave, punk type of angry attitude. But today it really looks surreal and scary.

So, this political period was marked by the introduction of elements of the free world and economy into our system, and it ends with the constitution in 1974. This could have been a step toward the peaceful dissolution of Yugoslavia, which unfortunately did not happen.

Did you see that documentary about musicals in the Soviet bloc?

No.

East Side Story. It’s a great documentary. There are a couple of East German musicals, a Romanian one, something from Bulgaria. They were made in that brief period of time when a musical was possible. They look like Beach Party Bingo from the United States, but of course the content is very different.

This is very curious stuff. People were trying to think of ways to manifest what they were thinking about. I remember when I was a teenager in the 1970s and I heard about these Slovenians living in a commune promoting a back-to-nature movement. It was legendary. For the film program I used one of the sayings of the Slovenian artist Marko Pogacnik, who was a leader of the group. I asked him why they made their films with the Rolling Stones music, which was Marko’s favorite band. He said, “When you build a fire you need matches. And the Rolling Stones were the matches that started our fire.” They were aware that it was a tricky line. They knew that this freedom through pop music could be swallowed by the system, which actually happened very fast. If you’ve never come across this group, the OHO Group, you should really look into them. They were really amazing.

I interviewed a member of the Bulgarian rock group Tangra, from the late 1970s, early 1980s. They started out as heavy metal then they turned to new wave. But they were very influenced by Yugoslav rock, and they looked wistfully at what was going on here.

I am from the coastal city of Zadar. I went to a grammar school with a very general type of program, but still you had to learn Latin and ancient Greek. At the end of school, there was a tradition to go to Greece. I was 18 years old. I remember the discotheques and clubs. During the daytime we were sleeping at the ruins, at Delphi, at the Acropolis. We were spaced out most of the time. So I remember this from the photographs we took! Anyway, on the way, we went to Belgrade, which was the first time for me. We took a bus to Nis, which was completely exotic for me. Then we switched buses for Bulgaria, which to us looked like a place where time stood still. It was grey. Well, we weren’t very bright. We were 18 years old, we were just trying to find where the fun was, and we ended up having to make our own fun. Then we went to Greece. When we crossed the border it was as if the leaves started to move again. We were joking, but I remember that vividly.

We were young and carefree. We really realized at the time how lucky we were to live in Yugoslavia. But we received our bill in the 1990s. You always pay. That is a huge lesson in life.

Our avant-garde artists at the time were not inspired by the local rock music that existed from the 1960s onward here. They said that they didn’t feel that anything made here had any revolutionary potential compared to the music created in the West.

Was there a point in the 1980s or earlier when in the art world you realized that Yugoslavia was not going to last as a unit?

I was an outgoing party person. I had a great time throughout the 1980s. In the 1970s there were shortages, and then of course when Tito died in 1980, that was the first thing. We were already aware of the tensions. Every 10 years there was some sort of upheaval here. So there were these centrifugal forces in the society. But then somehow you always believed that humans would find a way out, would negotiate their future in a logical and reasonable way. Unlike what history has told us, of course.

You could feel this neurosis in society. It got tough here with the troubles in Kosovo, which became such a big issue, and the different republics felt differently about how it should be handled. From the Slovenian and Croatians standpoint, we had this constant frustration that we were bringing the most economically to Yugoslavia. Basically our interests here were more to the west than to the east. So, for instance, I went to Belgrade for the first time on that trip to Greece, and I even had relatives there! That was also the first time I went through Macedonia. I had been maybe once in Sarajevo. In the 1980s, I went for the first time to Montenegro, to Budva. In the 1980s, I was a sort of film fan, so I went to Belgrade for the huge international film festival, which I believe is still happening there. There was also a very lively rock scene, so I used my relatives to go to see that stuff. Other than that, I didn’t have any interest in going there.

In the 1980s, the explosion of new wave music and pop culture was actually really amazing. We had such a powerful scene. It was really international and you could love this music even more than something coming from England or the United States. Especially the new wave bands from Belgrade. They rocked much more than the bands from Zagreb, which were mellower. We were very concentrated on what was going on here and in the West.

And then came the magical moment with [Yugoslav President] Ante Markovic, one year before the war, when there was the international attempt to save Yugoslavia. They equalized our wages, dinar for deutschmark. Before that we went through the stages of hyperinflation. Then, one year our living standard improved dramatically overnight. That’s when we realized that it doesn’t really mean anything. We went from eating at the diner to eating at the restaurant. We went from smoking local brands to smoking international brands. We quit drinking rakia and switched to whiskey. It wasn’t about the quality but about the branding.

You know the expression “swan song.” So that was it: our swan song. We were young and reckless. We were just joking that this was the end of it all. There was no actual authority. At that moment, in terms of the level of democracy, you could do anything. There was no control. It would have been great if it could have remained that way. There were all these new radio stations starting up. There were lots of initiatives from a young generation full of vision. We felt that we had already become part of the so-called democratic free world. But of course we weren’t.

This was 1990-1991?

This was 1989, as I recall. The best was when Miles Davis had a concert in Ljubljana, which I believe was his last tour. And the cost of the tickets was for the first time probably on the international level. It was a lot of money, but I wanted to see him, so what the hell. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ljubljana was much more exciting than today in terms of culture. And it was always beautiful to travel from Zagreb to Ljubljana. Sometimes you had more fun in the car, of course, than in the concert! For many reasons, this concert was sort of a cosmic experience for me. And in the middle of the concert, I was thinking, “My god, if I had been a little stingier, I wouldn’t be having this experience.” I realized that this is something that no money can buy. You cannot name the value of that experience.

I saw Ravi Shankar in Moscow in 1985. I had that same experience.

Despite all these hardships that we lived through, especially the economic changes like the shortages and hyperinflation, actually the social life was better in a way because we still didn’t have any concept of the value of money. On a personal level, I believe it is good. But unfortunately without that concept, society has a lot of problems!

We used to go to restaurants with piles of bills in order to pay for the food. We were young and we were very cocky in comparison to the rest of the Eastern bloc. Everything was cheap for us whenever we would go to Budapest, to Brno. We would, of course, get drunk, insult people, throw money around. Now I’m a bit ashamed of this.

But as I told you, we really got it in the 1990s. That was payback time.

Zagreb experienced the war. And a huge number of refugees went to Zadar.

In Zadar, my parents were under siege for two years. This is actually an untold story. Internationally, people know about Dubrovnik and Vukovar. But they don’t know about cities like Zadar and Karlovac, which were bombed daily. They were left without water and electricity for two years. Zadar is a city with 100,000 inhabitants including its suburbs.

The Serbs were masters of psychological warfare. Zadar was a city without electricity, on a constant general alert. Then, as the sun went down, they would drop a bomb or two. It was a good night type of thing. For my parents, this was the second war they experienced after World War II. Once, when my father needed surgery, they came to Zagreb for three weeks. They couldn’t wait to go back to Zadar! They had bonded so much with all their neighbors. They were constantly phoning them. I remember before the war, they would always talk about their experiences from the Second World War, and these were always hilarious, funny stories. This is again the optimism of memory. And this is what I remember now from the war: their stories of Zadar and how they dealt with the hardship.

During the war Croatia was completely schizophrenic because parts of the country were not affected by the war since they were not included in the area that the Serbs wanted to cut away — like Zagreb and Istria and the northern islands. In these places, tourism and everyday life was going on like everything was normal.

Thanks to culture, I did not have experience of the front. Two times I received a notification to report. Then they asked me what I do and I was running the gallery. In a war, there is always this political goal to create the pretense of normality. So everything has to be running like normal. But you had one half of the country under siege, which you could watch on television. You would be watching a program and it would say underneath, “General alert proclaimed for the city of Zadar.” Or: “There was an air raid on the city of Zadar.” This news was basically for us, because the people in Zadar didn’t have electricity so they couldn’t see this information.

My parents didn’t have a shelter to go to, so they would stay home during the air raids. They didn’t have electricity, so they would go early to bed during the winter and keep each other warm. Then I would give them a phone call because I knew that most everyone else was in the shelters so I could get a free line. And we would talk and talk. Then I would hear something like “fffhh” and I thought, “Who is sighing like that?” And they said, “No, no, it’s just a bomb that fell nearby.” The street below my house was basically the only road that connected Croatia and the rest of Dalmatia. So sometimes they were hit pretty hard.

In a way, I’m one of the lucky ones who actually didn’t have any losses in my family. Of course, this is probably why I am able to talk calmly about it.

I still vividly remember when during the summer I would go to Zadar. We had a summer house a few kilometers north. I would go there and see how nature recovered from the tourism. There were more fish in the sea, and the sea was clear. There was no electricity, so you had these starry, starry nights. Beautiful. And then occasionally you’d hear the sound of machine guns in this quiet, in this endless darkness, or remote artillery fire like “doon doon doon.”

I was curating an exhibition by an artist from Zadar on the island of Losinj, which is close to Istria. We went there by boat and passed by the island of Silba where there were boats and tourism, everything was normal. At Losinj, we did the show, and there were lots of Italian tourists there. Everything went great. We stayed one more day and then we sailed back to Zadar. And at a certain point, near the islands of Silba, it was as if we had passed some invisible line. Suddenly we were alone at sea. There was no one. And then in the direction of Zadar, which we still couldn’t see, against the clear blue August sky were two enormous plumes of black smoke. We just looked at each other and said, “We’re going there?”

There was a concert of Siouxsie and the Banshees that I wanted to see in Ljubljana. The war was already on. It had ended in Slovenia and moved to Croatia. There were alerts in Zagreb of air raids, and there was a curfew. We were thinking, “Okay, there are people being killed. Is it ethically wrong to go to a concert in Ljubljana?” And then someone said, “Okay guys, we can be shot down any day. What do they care?” So we went to the concert, and it was a beautiful experience. But we were late because we forgot that there were new borders, and it was very slow because everything was still getting organized. The concert was great. We were going back to Zagreb and again traveling back through Slovenia. And there were fewer and fewer lights, and it’s getting darker and darker. And you feel like a lid is coming down on you. The only lighted spot was on the frontier. Then we asked whether there were any air raids in Zagreb, and they said, “No, everything is fine tonight.” And so, this was the normal situation and we went all the way home.

I recall my cousin telling me about what she was doing during the Second World War. She talked about these travels: “We went from Split to Osijek. And then we went from Osijek to Zagreb.” And I said, “You were traveling, but wasn’t there a war going on?” And she said, “War isn’t like how you would imagine. War does not happen all the time, everywhere. There is a fight here, a fight there, and then you try to live normally.”

So, that’s what it exactly was like. Of course, in Zagreb, there were no shortages. There was plenty of everything. But I also remember, near the end of the war, when Zagreb was hit by these long-range missiles from Banija, the part occupied by Serbs. I was installing an exhibition. I was just running around like crazy to get the stuff that I needed to install by the next day. And then I heard this boom that was actually five blocks away from the gallery where I was working. But you just don’t pay attention. Later, in the evening, I watched it on television.

Did artists at that time produce art that reflected on the war?

Yes, that’s the usual question. Yes and no. There is this sort of pathetic art that is normal to understand. As a professional in the field, you always feel like it should be something better than that. But then you can maybe think of it like the Americans have great movies about the Vietnam War that were also completely pathetic. It was this sort of situation where emotions take over. People were organizing exhibitions all over the place, and there were a lot of auctions to help the people I was involved with.

In certain ways the artists have been criticized for not creating a great piece of art. No one created a Guernica. No one wrote a Naked and the Dead. Where is the greatness, they asked? I believe this tells you a lot about the Croatian mentality in general.

I made an exhibition that first opened in Sarajevo about the ambient art of the 90s. They were such sad art pieces, art pieces about crying, huge black cocoons, escapist paintings. People were so sad and disillusioned. So, in that sense, my answer would be yes, the art reflected what was going on. The art was more subtle and refined, which of course didn’t mean much to the people that voted in favor of imposing figures and flags and all this bravado. So I made this exhibition of Croatian artists in a Sarajevo gallery, thanks to the Center of Contemporary Art and Dunja Blazevic. We actually met at a conference about the wars and the galleries and museums after the war.

Then I organized basically the first exhibition of the great new Bosnian art in Croatia. Dunja managed to create an internationally significant scene there during the late 1990s, an explosion of video art and neo-conceptual art. We exhibited artists like Maja Bajevic and Danica Dakic, who both later became internationally important and famous. I presented the program in the gallery in Zagreb and later brought it to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka.

Before that I remember being in Graz, in Austria, for a manifestation on the topic of transgender, and after that I was heading to a conference in Sarajevo. In the tower of Graz, there’s a brass plate showing the distance in kilometers to Belgrade, to Athens, to Sarajevo. It was a completely different world. Here I am in Graz and the topic is transgender and tomorrow I’ll be in Sarajevo and the topic will be museums and art after the war.

By the way, did you know that they closed the museum in Sarajevo last week, Zemaljski Muzej, the National Museum of Bosnia Herzegovina?

Why’d they close it?

They closed it because they were working without wages for one and a half years. The financing was not organized. There are supposed to be seven institutions of national importance that should be supported by all the political entities in Bosnia. But I understand that the Republika Srpska doesn’t want to support this accord and has been blocking it forever. The museum staff made the point that museum was not closed even during the war. But they as professionals cannot take responsibility for the art that’s displayed there because they cannot protect it. It is very, very, very sad.

There is a character in Dubravka Ugresic’s novel who says that, before the war, she read all sorts of critical works and avant-garde novels and very interesting things. But during the wars she only read the most sentimental things like fairy tales. Her ability and her interest – whoosh — went like that. I’m curious whether you encountered that phenomenon as well, not in your life but in society in general.

In a certain way it reflects what I told you about good art production. It was basically about this very personal sense of grief. You felt helpless and frustrated, and you wondered how it could happen and why. And then you also realize, as I guess this person in the novel realized, the futility of any knowledge of history. Because that knowledge actually didn’t prevent anything. It was just a repetition of what happened in the 20th century. We had three wars and three revolutions. That’s a little bit too much for a small society! So you got disillusioned about progress and humanism and the evolution of human society, about the avant-garde thinking and intellectuals. They are always making these mental constructions that don’t get realized, and it’s usually because of the weakness of those same intellectuals.

So I kept myself busy working. In Croatia the fighting went on for six months and then it was the dreading of the war. This dread actually had a much bigger impact on society than the fighting itself. This seven years of dread was like a limbo: no war, no peace. And then there was all this killing going on in Bosnia, this bleeding in our backyard all the time. You just watched it, and part of you was thankful that our destiny was not as hard as theirs. But it is so close, only half an hour away.

This created the space in our society for all the things that we are now trying to get away from, this horrible economic and political transition. Everyone was focused on the war and on survival, and then some smart guys used the situation to get ahead. It is pretty universal, not just a Croatian thing. If we had been capable — or been allowed, some might say — to liberate ourselves sooner, we would be in much better shape today. The prolongation of the war, the extension of hatred and frustration, prepared a fertile ground for all those negative aspects we are fighting today.

Have you encountered this phenomenon of Yugonostalgia?

Of course. It is a part of nostalgia for being young: the chemistry, the hormones, the feeling of being more vivid and alive. Everything was more intense in a way. Even now when we are swamped with consumerism you sometimes think, “I just want to buy a pair of jeans. Don’t fuck me with these 60 varieties! I don’t have the time, I don’t care.” That’s when you recall the simplicity of socialism.

Of course, it is easy now to idolize Tito. I curated one exhibition in Rijeka on his yacht, Galeb. It was on avant-garde art that fought the system and we installed it in the symbol of his rule. Because Galeb was not just the symbol of Tito, it was equally the symbol of Yugoslavia, of its hedonism, and elitism. Yugoslavia’s leadership in the movement of non-aligned countries gave us the feeling that even though we’re this tiny population, we have international impact. We always have to be the most important in the world: first in football, first in tennis, first in skiing, first in culture. We had to uphold a certain standard. Tito gave to the people here this sense that we are important internationally, that we are different, smarter. Though it was proved, even in his time, that this was not so. But we believed it for a long time.

Personally apart from being generally nostalgic about my youth, I am not nostalgic about Yugoslavia. Now, thanks to contemporary technology, we can have all the perks of being able to follow the media from our different neighbors because we are familiar with the mentality and we can understand the languages. That’s something that comes with any satellite package, with cable TV. So, that’s something we can work on, how to collaborate together, and I think it’s for the better. Then again, there is the Yugonostalgia, but I wouldn’t treat it like my grandma used to think that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was the best empire in the world. There are people who tend to think that life was easier during Yugoslavia. But now when you look at the photographs from the socialist period and see how low the standards were at that time…

As I told you before, even during Yugoslav times, my interests were much more inclined toward the West. We were more Western in a way than the others. Basically there was this element of the Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Serbian culture and mentality that for us was exotic in a way. It was exotic folk music, exotic food. Even their way of partying – it was more passionate. We were much more reserved.

When I talk to people in Serbia, they view Croatia very positively form a political sense because they believe that basically political parties here, HDZ and others, engaged in a kind of auto-lustracja, a kind of political self-cleansing. That hasn’t happened in Serbia or in Bulgaria either. I’m curious whether you think that really is the case in Croatia?

Yes, definitely, Croatia is dynamic in that sense. It’s what happened with HDZ as one of the strongest parities. They moved to the center and now they are leaning again more to the right with the new leadership. But it is also the part of the natural political life of the parties. There was a strange conversion of politics here. The social democrats were promoting liberal capitalism and the conservative parties were promoting a softer, more populist approach toward the current crisis. Though, of course, we are living in a perpetual crisis here. Maybe they say the same thing in Serbia: that nothing ever functioned here so the crises wouldn’t either.

The new developments in Serbia are scary in a way, a throwback to the past. We’re interdependent: if their parties are tougher, it will make our parties tougher. We still feel this sense of danger. And this is one reason why we want to finally enter the European Union: to feel safer. And also maybe even in psychological terms to separate ourselves from this sort of mentality that we believe is destructive but that is also a part of our own mentality.

In fact this is why I believe we don’t like that Croatia is connected with the term “Balkan.” Because, for us, “Balkan” has a very negative connotation in psychological terms: aggressive, destructive, non-creative, non-constructive. The “Balkan” mentality is all about the most basic hedonism, what we call “in yourself, on yourself, and under yourself.” In other words, the big three: food, clothes, and fucking. We feel that this is the Balkan mentality: it’s all about this and nothing else. This sort of worldview is of course not intellectual. It’s about corruption. It’s about cheating. Everyone wants to distance themselves from this Balkan mentality. For the Austrians, it starts in Slovenia. For the Slovenians, it starts with Croatia. For the Croatians, it starts south of the River Sava in Bosnia. For the Serbians and so on and so on.

But we also like the pleasures of it too. We like the food and the drinking and the mindless hedonism, which is very appealing especially to the young.

Croatia has been on the list to be a member of the European Union for God knows how long and you are supposed to enter in six months or so.

But of course we are not yet sure.

Of course, the EU is in an economic crisis. But you could say that Croatia will be the first country to enter the European Union with a realistic understanding of what it means to be a member. Bulgaria and Romania had widely unrealistic expectations….

We were disillusioned a lot, but we still believed in the EU. And we still promote that idea. Our politicians warn, “It’s going to be hard.” But it’s still believed to be part of the solution, which creates unrealistic expectations among the people. So, the people believed that all the problems of Yugoslavia would be resolved once we claimed our independence. Now basically Croatia has the same problems that Yugoslavia had: unemployment, huge debts, a not very functional state. For really understandable reasons, we are not very good at administrating: because we didn’t have an independent state for 700 years and our elite was wiped out lots of times during our history. But by some miracle we managed.

I believe that some politician here should use the public media to soothe Croatians. The politician should say on television, “People of Croatia! Touch the screen. Relax. You are doing fine. You are good. You managed. You have to believe in yourself. And you can make it better.” Of course no one is doing that. The media is always about negativism. And today all the Croatians treat their country like it’s their stepmother: “Bitch, she’s not giving us enough! But ya, give me more.” It’s insane.

With the European Union, we need to realize that it’s all about how we manage ourselves. In the long run, I’m optimistic, but it will be very hard. There are so many things that we can improve! Starting with my room.

People ask me many times why didn’t I go overseas. But I like it here. It is full of possibilities. You just have to deal with it and fight and do, do, do and everything can be done. You can say that about everywhere, I guess, but with our goals, our ideas, and our ambitions we can really make this a great place for four and a half million people.

I believe it was Heidegger who said that where there’s danger, there’s also the possibility of salvation. You just have to focus on it. The difficulties actually bring out the best in you. We have had, in terms of democratic politics, a few critical moments that were dependent on the general vote. And no matter what you think, especially if you are an intellectual and you despise everyone else and you tend to perceive the majority of Croatians as illiterate, lazy, stupid, ignorant, and passive bastards, they voted for the best option. So this gives me confidence in how it’s going to end up.

When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed since then until today how would you evaluate that on a scale from one to ten with one being most disappointed and ten being most satisfied. What number would you give it?

7

And in your own personal life from that same period of time?

12

12? Excellent

I did a lot, I really did.

And then when you look into the near future how would you evaluate the prospects for the country on a scale to 1 to 10 with one being most pessimistic and ten being most optimistic?

I would say 10, but I am a sort of optimist by nature. I feel very energized. I went through a lot of professional changes and crises. But that gave me optimism regarding myself and this country.

Zagreb, October 11, 2012

Next Step for Assad — Exile to a Rump State?

“A Syrian official called an attack Sunday on the nation’s military research facility a ‘declaration of war’ by Israel,’” reports CNN.

In an interview with CNN, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said the attack represented an alliance between Islamic terrorists and Israel.

He added that Syria would retaliate against Israel in its own time and way. [Emphasis added.]

Yeah, like it did when Israel bombed its alleged nuclear reactor that Israel bombed. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but after a certain point it’s just frostbitten. Needless to say, Syria is in no position to wage war on another front besides the domestic against rebels.

This latest attack came on the heels of, an airstrike, reports the New York Times:

… that Israeli warplanes carried out in Syria overnight on Thursday … directed at a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles from Iran that Israel believed was intended for Hezbollah, American officials said Saturday

Meanwhile, reports the Times:

Iran and Hezbollah have both backed President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war [but] they also have a powerful interest in expediting the delivery of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in case Mr. Assad loses his grip on power.

On the other hand

… some analysts said they believed that a strong Hezbollah could also emerge as a powerful ally for Mr. Assad if he is forced to abandon Damascus, the Syrian capital, and take refuge in a rump Iranian-backed state on the Syrian coast, a region that abuts the Hezbollah-controlled northern Bekaa Valley.

“The relationship between Hezbollah and the Assad regime is stronger now,” said Talal Atrissi, a professor at Lebanese University in Beirut who has good relations with Hezbollah. If Mr. Assad falls, Hezbollah knows the axis of Syria, Hezbollah and Iran will be greatly weakened, he said.

But what use is Assad to Iran, not to mention Hezbollah, if he’s exiled to a “rump state”?

Venezuela’s Presidential Elections: The Battle Continues

Increasingly violent challenges to the legitimacy of the recent Venezuelan presidential elections have resulted in 7 deaths and 61 injuries since the April 14th election.

The “stolen votes” claimed by narrowly defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles and his supporters as the reason behind (and excuse for) their encouragement of the deadly protests have no discernible factual basis, yet the United States continues to back Capriles in hopes that he will unseat Maduro and put an end to Chavismo.

Event panelistsOn April 22, 2013, at the Institute for Policy Studies, official election observers Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Dan Kovalik of the National Lawyers Guild described their personal encounters with the reliability of the sophisticated Venezuelan election system – and with the persistence of anti-leftist U.S. interference in Latin America. The discussion between Main, Kovalik, and a diverse 30-person audience composed of community members, government officials, policy analysts, and students produced several key insights, all of which are conspicuously absent from the narrative constructed by Capriles-leaning mainstream U.S. news sources:

Venezuela’s election system is excellent.

Last year, Jimmy Carter described the Venezuelan election system as “the best in the world” for its multiple layers of safeguards against error and election-rigging. Venezuelan voters register at polling stations by thumbprint, cast their ballots electronically, and then receive a paper receipt listing the name of the candidate for whom they voted. Before leaving the polling station, voters must leave the paper receipt in a designated box.

54% of polling stations then undergo an auditing process, during which these paper receipts are separated by candidate, counted by hand, re-counted, and then checked against the electronic polling results. This 54% audit has already been completed for the April 14th elections.

Further legitimizing the results produced by the well-honed election process is the remarkably high voter turnout: an impressive 79% of the eligible voting population cast ballots in the 2013 Venezuelan presidential election.

The oppositions’ claims of fraud are blatantly fictitious.

During the IPS presentation, Main described how Capriles supporters have published pictures Audienceof sealed ballot-receipt boxes from past elections being destroyed, claiming they are un-audited boxes from this election.

Main also noted the sudden spurt of destructive attacks on health clinics by the opposition after false but widely circulated rumors suggested ballot-receipt boxes were being horded in the buildings to prevent the completion of a 100% audit.

A report released Saturday by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council dismisses all of Capriles’ claims as false, and notes that “there is no single record of irregularities in the signed records that were endorsed by all witnesses.”

The U.S. call for a re-count builds upon decades of anti-leftist U.S. meddling in Latin American affairs.

Maduro’s victory represents a continuation of Chavez’s leftist administration – and chavismo represents the liberation of Venezuela from U.S. dominance. The United States’ support for Capriles, and its refusal to recognize the reliability of Venezuela’s lauded election system, is a bold-faced display of its willingness to re-establish American influence in the United States’ “backyard”, as Secretary John Kerry recently – and tellingly – referred to Latin America.

The slim margin by which Maduro won the Venezuelan presidency highlights intensifying ideological divisions within the country. But whether Maduro will be able to maintain political continuity as Chavez’s standard-bearer is a question to be decided within Venezuela’s own borders, by its own highly reliable electoral system – and not by U.S. interference.

Listen to the opening presentations.

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