Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Poland & Ukraine Win UEFA 2012 Bid

Poland and Ukraine today won the bid to host the UEFA EURO 2012 Soccer Championship. The decision by the UEFA Executive Committee came as a most welcome surprise for two nations currently mared by political crisis. Beating the odds against favourite contender Italy, UEFA in a seminal decision opted for development instead of profit. By this brave and strategic decision, UEFA clearly showed that soccer is a concern for all or Europe, and not merely a concern of mighty nations of the EU.

Sport is politics. This has been evident ever since the 1933 Berlin Olympics. Who gets to host a major international sports' event has enormous profits to gain economically and in terms of goodwill. However, it is also a big gamble, as the opposite is equally true if organisers fail to successfully go trough with the event. Then, it involves great losses in both profit and prestige for the states concerned.

Faced by such considerations, the UEFA Executive Committee still decided for the Poland-Ukraine joint candidacy. The main contender and favourite was Italy, which already has the necessary infrastructure in terms of arenas, airports, roads, etc. However, what in the end seems to have turned the tide against Italy, are the recent bribery scandals and hooligan riots that so has tarred the image of Italian soccer internationally. This was not the case with with Poland and Ukraine, but this positive image may also prove an unwelcome blessing for Warzaw and Kiev.

Without the necessary infrasctructure, Poland and Ukraine now face the gigantic task of forming the preconditions for a successful event, e.g. building eight new UEFA standard soccer arenas. The championship finals are intended to take place on the Kiev Olympic Stadium, which now has to undergo fundamental renovations in upcoming years. All these efforts will, of course, take enormous amounts of money, and it is exactly here the entire project may backfire on both Warzaw and Kiev. Without an extremely transparent tender process for the fat contracts to build arenas, develop infrastructure or sell Championship paraphernalia, organisers may face a constant media nightmare in founded or unfounded allegations of foul play and bribery in the process up till the 2012 UEFA Championships.

If this would become the case, two states with already politically tarred reputations, might end up with an irrepairable loss of status in European affairs. If, to the contrary, Ukraine and Poland would use the Championships as a vehicle to rid themselves of corruption and power abuse, they could both stand to win not only the laurels of sportmanship, but also the benefits of societal fair play. Consequently, the 2012 UEFA Championships may prove if Poland may fully assume its role as a major European power and if Ukraine will become a full-fledged member of the European Union family. Today, sport truly is politics, and who skilfully manages to exploit sports, will also win at politics.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Presidential Termination

In July 2010, some 2,000 researchers from all over the world will gather in Stockholm for the VIII ICCEES World Congress. For a week, issues related to Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia will be discussed at over 400 seminars and panels.

The International Council for East and Central European Studies (ICCEES) is the academic world organisation of analysts within this field. The ICCEES World Congress is a quintennial event, which last took place in Berlin in 2005. Since then, Germany and its national organisation - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde - hosts the ICCEES Information Centre, at University of Münster. Previous congresses have e.g. taken place in Helsinki in 2000, and in Warzaw in 1995.

The history of the organisation originates from 1974, when the International Committee for Soviet and East European Studies (ICSEES) was formed at a first congress in Banff, Canada. Due to the revolutionary political developments in Central and Eastern Europe from the mid 1980s, the name was altered in 1990 to International Council for Central and East European Studies (ICCEES) at its IV World Congress in Harrogate, England. Today, ICCEES consists of 20 national organisations, and an additional 4 associate members.

As ICCEES now has passed its third decade of existence, the Swedish Society for the Study of Russia, Central & Eastern Europe & Central Asia is undertaking increasingly intense preparations for the VIII ICCEES World Congress in Stockholm in 2010. Reflecting an expanded regional scope, the congress theme will be “Eurasia: Prospects for Wider Cooperation”.

The decision to let Sweden and its CEE Society host the congress was made by the ICCEES Executive Committee at the 2005 Berlin Congress. However, since then, preparations have admittedly been complicated by a presidential change in the Swedish organisation briefly after the decision was made, a consequent loss of instutional belonging, and a protracted interim period.

In March 2006, I was elected president of the Swedish Society for the Study of Russia, Central & Eastern Europe & Central Asia. The task set before the board was tremendous, with high demands on forming the financial and institutional basis for the 2010 ICCEES Congress. Thus, the ensuing work was very tough on the board, and many of us at times doubted that we would succeed. Still, at year's end, we had managed to get the backing of the Swedish government, key academic instititutions and major research foundations. This very satisfying result was due to the dedicated and determined voluntary work of the board and individual members of the Society. Now, I think that belief is strong among our members and the academic community that we will be able to carry through with the 2010 ICCEES World Congress with the quality such an event deserves. This is a very gratifying result indeed, even if it also has taken a tremendous amount of hard work and a deep toll on the commitment and time of those involved.

Concerning my own role, leadership is the art of making oneself obsolete. As president, I had set the task before me to form the financial and organisational basis of the ICCEES Congress. Having succeeded with this, I realised that the next stage in the process was to start filling the congress with relevant and solid academic content. Here, I was simply not the right man for the job, not because I could not successfully solve the task, but because I understood that other people could do it even better. As a consequence I made it very clear that the next step in the process needed professional academics, who could formulate the tasks from their experience and work with the dedication that their trade motivates. This requires the commitment and concerted efforts of the academic community. My decision was therefore to step aside to let other people in and find a solution that would better serve the interests of the Society and further preparations for the VIII ICCEES World Congress. Consequently, I recently left the presidency of the Society, confident that a very competent and professional new board will be successful in carrying on the work. So, with my mission completed, I can only say that it - despite all the hard work - has been a privilege and an honour to head the Swedish East European community and cooperate with the board and individual members in our joint efforts to further our interests and positions as an academic community nationally and internationally. I can now but wish the new board the best of luck in its further work.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ukraine Right or Wrong

Was Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko right to call for parliamentary elections? This is a question that in recent days has been the subject of intense debate. Constitutionally, he seems to be on the slippery slope. Still, his argument that "it is not only my right, it is my obligation" might prove valid if he acted in the spirit of the constitution as its supreme patron. The core question is though how advisable it is for state to have a constitution, which allows for such a situation to occur.

Imagine, for a moment, that the US Congress would act not only to impeach the president, but also actively prepare to abolish the office of the president itself.

For an American this would be absurd, as the fundamental idea of the founding fathers was a system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judical powers, as inspired by Montesquieu. This separation of powers' system is also the foundation of most modern democracies, and usually there are elaborate mechanisms to avoid situations that risk jeopardising the stability provided by the checks and balances of independent centres of power. Paradoxically, this seems not to be the case in the Ukraine, as recent developments demonstrate.

The 8 December 2004 deal ending the Orange revolution involved changes to the Ukrainian constitution to limit the great powers of the presidential office, previously enjoyed by Leonid Kuchma. This was the price the leaders of the Orange revolution paid to get the fraudulent presidential 23 November elections invalidated. However, the changes did not enter into force until 1 January 2006.

As the Ukrainian constitution now works, the parliament has the right to override presidential vetoes if a qualified majority of 300 out of 450 deputies so decides. Such a majority also has the option to make constitutional changes, and even abolish the office of the president itself. Thus, article 155 of the Constitution reads:

Introducing Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, previously adopted by the majority of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, is deemed to be adopted, if at the next regular session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, no less than two-thirds of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine have voted in favour thereof.

Still, the provision of decisions by two separate parliamentary sessions with elections in between, seems somewhat obscure, as the changes made in December 2004 appear to have entered into force before the March 2006 elections. It is therefore possible that the Verkhovna Rada may change the constitution by a single decision of a two-third's majority.

A further mechanism to counter quick and unpredictable changes between elections may be § 83 of the constitution, which can be interpreted as preventing deputies to change loyalties between parliamentary fractions, as a coalition is to be formed by fractions and not individual deputies. This reasoning seems both obscure and ambiguous, but has been a key argument for the president to protest against the fact that an increasing number of MPs from his party, Our Ukraine, have changed allegiances in favour of the Party of Regions. As votes were thus added to the anti-presidential coalition in parliament, the situation eventually became desperate, as Yushchenko's enemies were closing in on the 300 deputies margin. If this was allowed to happen, a qualified parliamentary majority could deal with the president as they saw fit, and eventually even depose of him.

Then, in which situations is the President actually allowed to call for new parliamentary elections? The answer given by constitutional article 90 set three provisions:
  1. If the parliament cannot reach a majority (coalition) to form a government within thirty days after the first meeting of a newly elected parliament.
  2. If a coalition cannot reach a majority to form a new government within 60 days after the resignation of a prior government.
  3. If parliament during session has not met for a period of 30 days.

It is quite obvious that Yushchenko did not fulfill any of the above criteria when signing the decree to disband parliament and call for new elections. Consequently, if reading the Constitution to its letter, Yushchenko had no right to do this. So, does that mean that he was completely off his rocker when he decided to make this move? Not necessarily. The argument that he acted in the spirit of the constitution as its supreme patron is certainly valid. As president, Yushchenko may perceivably have "the right and the obligation" to act if a situtation occurs, which threatens the constitutional order.

When such a case is applicable is however unclear. One prerequisite might be if parliament had a clear and expressed intent to jeopardise the constitutional order. The requirements to be fulfilled in meeting the prerequisite of intent is however very obscure. Thus, the matter has been referred by parliament to the Constitutional Court for a ruling.

Until recently, it was very uncertain whether the Constitutional Court would choose to address the matter. According to its statutes, it has 15 days to decide whether it at all will deliberate on an issue raised by parliament. Then it was declared that the Court would make its ruling on Wednesday this week. However, today five of the 18 judges said that they considered resigning due to public threats against them, and asked for police protection. Now, the court ruling has been delayed until 17 April.

Reviewing the composition of the Court, it consists of eigtheen members: 6 judges, 6 parliamentarians and 6 presidential appointees. The five now concerned represent all three groups. Still, the Court could also choose to make a ruling even without the participation of the five members, as it only needs 10 of its members to make a ruling. That the Court could get a majority decision in this way is still very unlikely. Essentially, the question is whether the Court will make a ruling at all. That is highly questionable, as the developing crisis may render its opinion obsolete even if it could finally reach a verdict.

All in all, President Yushchenko seems to stand on weak ground as for his decision to disband parliament and call for new elections. However, this does not mean that he may not stand his ground in the battle over its legitimacy. As events are evolving, new elections on 27 May seem to be the only sensible option to end the current conflict democratically. Consequently, the question whether his decision was right or wrong may never really be legally addressed. In terms of politics, his choice was a "catch 22" and whatever choice he made - be deposed by parliament or call for new elections - it was to come out bad for himself. The political verdict on Yushchenko may therefore be hard, as he for too long walked an increasingly thin line in exercisising his presidential duties. Still, whether Yushchenko was right or wrong is not the core issue. The important thing is whether his decision will eventually turn out to be right or wrong for Ukraine and its people. After all, that was what the Orange revolution was originally about - giving a voice to the people.

Update: According to the BBC, Yushchenko would now be "willing to suspend his decree dissolving parliament and ordering an early 27 May election." This would constitute a postponement of parliamentary elections, so that parties can prepare for an election campaign, and not a change of opinion in that elections should be held. Thus, it is a signal that Yushchenko might be willing to compromise on the date for elections, but still carry through with the process. How it all ends up is very uncertain and it remains to be seen how Yanukovich supporters and other parties will react to this feeler.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Chicken Kiev Race

Chicken race was a perilous game among youngsters in the US during the 1950s, said to originate from East European immigrants. The game models two car drivers, both headed towards each other at high speed. The first to swerve away yields to the other. If neither player swerves, the result is a potentially fatal head-on collision.

Chicken race is an influential model of conflict for two players in game theory. The principle of the game is that while each player prefers not to yield to the opponent, the outcome where neither player yields is the worst possible one for both players.

Chicken Kiev is a dish of boneless chicken breast pounded and rolled around cold unsalted butter, then breaded and fried.

Chicken Kiev is also the label used by the media for a speech made in Kiev in 1991 by then U.S. President George H.W. Bush. It was drafted by Condoleezza Rice and cautioned Ukrainians against "suicidal nationalism". A few months later, Ukrainians voted to withdraw from the Soviet Union.

Source: Wikipedia
As Ukraine's "Easter Crisis" continues, further comments seem superfluous. Instead, I wish all friends, colleagues, and readers out there a Happy Easter.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Shootout at the Ukraine Corral?

Will Viktor Yushchenko remain president of Ukraine? This is what is currently in the balance in the ongoing political crisis in Kiev. In what seems as a final showdown between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych, the president on Monday dissolved parliament and called for new elections on 27 May. By doing so, Yushchenko may well have signed his own political death warrant. There is little chance that his Our Ukraine will survive elections as a leading player in Ukrainian politics, making the president a lame duck for the remainder of his term.

The current shootout revolves around a battle over life and death for the presidency. Since last year, Yanukovych has won over an increasing number of parliament deputies to the point where he threatened to blow Yushchenko's position to smithereens. Yanukovych was quickly approaching the 300 out of 450 votes in parliament - Verkhovna Rada - necessary to change the constitution and override presidential vetoes. This might also have included abolishing the very office of the president.

Yushchenko's move now forces Yanukovych to take the fight to the high-street, instead of the back alleys where he until now has battled for parliamentary votes. The showdown has been underway since Saturday, when nearly 100,000 people demonstrated in central Kiev in support of the two combattants. As usual in Kiev, the orange forces took centre stage, gathering some 70,000 demonstrators calling for dissolving parliament and new parliamentary elections. Nearby, about 20,000 of Yanukovych's followers met in support of the current government. The stage was thus set for the country's biggest political duel since the 2004 Orange revolution.

Proclaiming elections by a televised speech on Monday evening, Yushchenko said: "My actions are dictated by the strict necessity to save the state's sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is not only my right, it is my obligation." Parliamentary elections would thus curve the "Deliberate efforts [that] are being made in parliament to worsen the political crisis, posing a threat to our country and people."

Crisis has become the hallmark of Ukrainian politics since last year's March parliamentary elections. Even though Yanukovych and his Party of Regions stood as the clear election victors, the Orange forces of Our Ukraine and the Timoshenko Bloc did their utmost to form a coalition government barring Yanukovych from power. After months of negotiations and under the threat of new elections, the Orange coalition was proclaimed dead and Yanukovych became Prime Minister. Ever since, President Yushchenko has fought a losing battle to balance an increasingly powerful Yanukovych government.

The question now is who will form the biggest posse for power in the upcoming 27 May fight between orange and blue forces in Ukraine. Yanukovych's power base is solid, with massive financial backing from several mighty oligarchs. In contrast, Yushchenko is badly armed for elections, with a party deemed to become the first victim of this political duel. In essence, Yulia Timoshenko will stand the most to gain from an election campaign, establishing her role as the undisputed leader of the orange forces and the only real alternative to Yanukovych.

For Yushchenko, the choice was between being removed as president or calling for new elections, where he is bound to become the first victim. His choice was to accept the challenge as he was called out into the street by the orange forces on Saturday. Thereby, the only thing left for Yushchenko is to witness his own political death struggle for the remainder of his presidency. Still, calling for new elections was not only his right - it was his obligation. This is perhaps also what will be written on his political tombstone: "He had the right and - finally - rose to his obligations."

Update: In response to Yushchenko's decree for parliamentary elections, Yanukovych's supporters have now called for presidential instead of parliamentary elections. They refer to Yushchenko's decision as an attempted coup d'état and have declared that parliament will not grant the financial means necessary to go through with parliamentary elections. It is not unlikely that Yushchenko's decision to dissolve parliament will serve Yanukovych's interests in winning over the remaining votes necessary to gain the qualified 300 out of 450 qualified majority to make constitutional changes and eventually depose the president. A parliament dissolved by the president would thus decide to remove Yushchenko from his office or abolish the presidency as a whole. The complications this would cause are immense, and it is diffcult to foresee what further ramifications it would involve. Furthermore, the conflict has been referred to the Constitutional Court, consisting of 18 members: 6 presidential representatives, 6 parliamentary, and 6 judicial. What will happen if the Court does not reach a decision within the stipulated five days is hard to determine at this point. It is also said that the Election Commission, which was so hated during the Orange revolution, will be reconvened.