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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Michael's Afternoon 7 - 4 June

NOTE: This speech is pivotal, and the importance attached to it makes it even more so. Here is the text as prepared for delivery, provided by the White House, via USA Today, June 4 -- with comments interspersed: "I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning," ...whose Grand Sheikh, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, has given his approval — on Islamic grounds — to suicide bombing. "...and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum..." "I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." No word, of course, of the Sharia laws that impugn the dignity of human beings who are women or non-Muslim by denying them various basic rights.

President Obama recently said of Iraq, “What we will not do is permit the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.” It would be a major step forward if this same approach was applied to Bosnia and Kosovo. In both those countries, we have become trapped in policy “boxes” that make it impossible to achieve stability or long-term solutions, despite enormous investments of personnel and resources for almost two decades. This is because we continue to insist that it is possible, with enough pressure and encouragement, to establish fully functioning multiethnic societies in Bosnia and Kosovo with no change in borders. And we have consistently ignored all evidence to the contrary and branded as obstructionist anyone who speaks openly about alternative approaches. The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control. The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole. In Kosovo, the reality is that most of the Serbs have already left and will not be coming back. Many of those still remaining do so only because they hope or believe that they can ignore the central government of independent Kosovo and continue to look to Serbia for political and financial support. Those Serbs living north of the Ibar River in particular act as if they are in fact living in Serbia. President Boris Tadic and his moderate government are trapped into supporting the Kosovo Serbs to prevent a nationalist backlash while trying to move toward the E.U. Bosnia is more complicated.

A Russian historian blamed Poland for the start of World War II in 1939 when Warsaw rejected Adolf Hitler's territorial claims. War historian Col. Sergey Kovalov, in an article on the Russian Defense Ministry's Web site, said Poland refused to satisfy Germany's moderate claims to incorporate the city of Danzig, now Gdansk, on the Baltic Sea coast, into Nazi Germany and build the ex-territorial motorway and railway through Poland. He said the Soviet troops attack on Poland in September 1939 was acceptable because dictator Josef Stalin had to sign a non-aggression deal with Hitler to delay war with Germany, Poland's Web site reported. On May 21, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev formed a committee of Russian politicians, historians and state secret service agents to rectify alleged historical distortions made by foreign historians about Russia.

Shipping association BIMCO has appealed for greater urgency and stronger action from the international community to stamp out piracy in the Gulf of Aden, with the emphasis on initiatives on land rather than on the seas off the Somali coast. The need for more serious attention to the problem has been sharpened by fears that the scourge could mutate to other regions and other groups, the leadership of the Copenhagen-based organisation said at the end of its general meeting in Greece this week. The industry sought new, stronger resolutions from the UN Security Council and more international political muscle devoted to Somali piracy.

The question of how to calm the waves of illegal migration sweeping into Europe across the Mediterranean Sea reached the European Union's upper levels on Thursday, even as 18 migrants were reported lost at sea off Spain. In recent months, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus have repeatedly called on other EU members to help them deal with the rising tide of illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean to land on their shores. The European Commission, the EU's executive, wants to set up a "pilot project" based on a "voluntary effort of solidarity ... involving a resettlement of persons under international protection." But ministers from other EU states stopped short of offering to take large numbers of migrants from the Mediterranean, instead calling for a holistic and long-term solution to the problem. The debate came even as Spanish officials said that 18 African migrants were feared drowned in a bid to cross illegally to Spain.

Serbian President Boris Tadic stated that UNESCO General Director Koiciro Macura supports Belgrade’s stance that nobody has the right to usurp the Serbian cultural heritage in Kosovo. During the break at the summit of heads of the Balkan states in Cetinje, Tadic specified that Macura convinced him that at the next UNESCO session in Seville, it will be defined that the Orthodox cultural heritage in Kosovo is the heritage of the Serbian people. Serbia will always insist on it which is why I underlined in talks that the so-called state of Kosovo exists in Pristina’s plans for 13-14 months, while the cultural heritage of the Serbian people in Kosovo has been existing for centuries, said Tadic. He pointed that the Serbian state existed in Kosovo even at the time when its cultural heritage was generated in that region and which became part of the global cultural heritage. According to Tadic, the Serbian cultural heritage should have positive impact on all that want to accept it, but that nobody has the right to usurp it as if its their property.

In a world full of endless negative headlines we can look to Estonian church views on the crisis and whether people need to re-evaluate their lives. Father Aleksander, a leading member of the Estonian Orthodox Church, whose parish is in central Tallinn, said negative perceptions of the current economic crisis were blindsiding many people. “Crisis what crisis? I don’t like the use of this word and I genuinely feel this ongoing negative commentary is a big part of the current problems,” he said. “I consider a starving man to have a crisis. If you have some money, relatives, friends and good health, then to characterize this as a crisis is wrong,” he said. Happiness could still be achieved, he added by learning to appreciate the positives in life. “It is important for society to help one another and I feel we can set an example,” he said. “Ultimately for people to be happy they need to change their view of the world. This is an opportunity to do this.  If people just look at the sad past or believe happiness is only in the future then they will not see any improvement in their lives. They have to realize that happiness is here and now.”