Valentine’s Day

In fact we go out for dinner quite a lot, so today instead we had a romantic couply trip to the Royal Museum of Art and History at the Cinquantennaire Park and wandered through the medieval and renaissance sections after sampling the cafe. Unlike some I’ve always been a sucker for Valentine’s day.

On that basis I am also very happy to support the campaign below (while also fully accepting that some people may well choose other ways of life than marriage, I believe that everyone should have the option):

           
Marriage is love.

Posted in Uncategorised

February books 4) The Daily Telegraph Book of Military Obituaries

4) The Daily Telegraph Book of Military Obituaries, ed. David Twiston Davies. A rather surprising addition to my bookshelves, since I am a typical lefty liberal whose gut instinct is against war (though Kosovo and Afghanistan were special cases) and indeed my day job is with an organisation devoted to preventing conflict. But it was given to me last month as a thank-you from the Daily Telegraph‘s chief leader writer in return for picking my brains on Northern Ireland elections for his forthcoming biography of David Trimble, and I’ve been gradually going through it over the last week.

It’s a collection of 100 obituaries of soldiers, sailors and airmen, published between 1987 and 2002. They are printed in order of publication, which is understandable but also a little confusing – it would actually have made a more interesting read to put them in chronological order of birth, to tell the story of the wars of the last century in sequence. (I am intrigued by the occasional mentions of the Waziristan campaign, for instance, but never found out when or why it was fought.) As it is, the last two entries in the book were born in 1920 (claim to fame: parachuting mules behind enemy lines in Burma in 1944) and 1896 (claim to fame: taking command of his company in 1915 after all the officers were killed).

There are some very interesting stories here: Colonel Merrylees and his successful dowsing for water; Major Pringle, who escaped six times from POW camps; Sir Walter Walker, who attempted to organise against civil disorder in the 1970s. There are also a couple of authors whose books I have at least leafed through, General Sir John Hackett and Lord Carver. But the overall impression I was left with was quite a different one: how easy it is for one’s whole life to be defined (and afterwards remembered) by a crucial period of a day, an hour, or even five minutes in which you are put to the test. Thank God, I am unlikely to have to make decisions in a situation where lives depend on my choice.

Of course, even for us lefty liberal types, the military are not very far away. My father, born in 1928, was just old enough to have done National Service, though he rarely talked about it; his father, born in 1880, was a younger son of faded gentry stock, and had “no option” but to join the army. He fought in the Boer War, survived Gallipoli in 1915, won a medal from the Serbs for the Macedonia campaign later that year, moved to Malaya to try (and fail) to make a living as a rubber planter, and finally dropped dead beside my father in church one day in 1949. Reading this book has made me feel closer to the man I never knew, who gave me a quarter of my genes and my surname. But I must finish up now, as his great-grandson wants another turn at the computer.

Posted in Uncategorised

Nebula Nominations

The Nebula Award nominees have been published. Below is the full list, with my (for now somewhat scrappy) observations. I’ve printed off those of the shorter fiction candidates that are available; will read over the weekend and report back.


Best Novel:


Diplomatic Immunity, by Lois McMaster Bujold (read it, and though I’m a Bujoldian myself, I wouldn’t support this for the award – the weakest of Bujold’s books since The Vor Game)
The Mount, by Carol Emshwiller (got rather negative reviews from both infinity plus and the SF Site)
Light Music, by Kathleen Ann Goonan (seems to be part of same series as Crescent City Rhapsody, which I enjoyed; reviewers appear baffled)
The Salt Roads, by Nalo Hopkinson (sounds rather like her Midnight Robber only perhaps better)
Chindi, by Jack McDevitt (only male on the list; I haven’t really enjoyed his stuff before, found it too dry)
The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon (fantastic book, I hope it wins)



Novellas


Potter of Bones, by Eleanor Arnason: online here
The Empress of Mars, by Kage Baker: online here (FictionWise) or here
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (very creepy, though perhaps not quite about to replace Alice in Wonderland)
Stories for Men, by John Kessel: online here (FictionWise) or here (I thought this was very good)
Breathmoss, by Ian MacLeod: online here (also good but I prefer the Kessel)


Novelettes


Mask of the Rex, by Richard Bowes: online here
“Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs,” by Adam-Troy Castro: online here
0wnz0red, by Cory Doctorow: originally published online here
The Empire of Ice Cream, by Jeffrey Ford: originally published online here
The Wages of Syntax, by Ray Vukcevich: originally published online here


Short Stories


Knapsack Poems, by Eleanor Arnason: online here
“The Brief History of the Dead,” by Kevin Brockmeier (published in the New Yorker, 8 September 2002)
Goodbye to All That, by Harlan Ellison (his first nomination since he won both Hugo and Nebula with Jeffty is Five, 26 years ago)
Grandma, by Carol Emshwiller: online here
What I Didn’t See, by Karen Joy Fowler: originally published online here
Lambing Season, by Molly Gloss: online here (an accidental Hugo nominee last year, rather low key but worth reading)
The Last of the O-Forms, by James Van Pelt: online here


Scripts


Minority Report (the only one I’ve seen, but I liked it)
Where No Fan Has Gone Before (Futurama, Apr02)
Spirited Away
Finding Nemo
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Posted in Uncategorised

My good deed for the day

Had lunch with Senior European Figure (and about ten others). Mentioned this in advance to Balkan journalist. Journalist tells me that his good friend, leader of small but important Balkan political party, had been expecting to see Senior European Figure this month but was still waiting for invitation. I passed the message on to Senior European Figure’s aide, who promised to get on it immediately. A stitch in time saves nine…

Posted in Uncategorised

Darn it

One of my heads of office has given notice; his girlfriend moved out to be with him, but can’t stand it and so they’re returning to the West so that he can pursue what will doubtless be a stellar academic career. I can’t blame him, having decided to leave the Balkans for Brussels myself back in 1998 for similar reasons (though in fairness the crucial moment came when I decided I couldn’t stand it either). And he’s given us three months’ warning, which I think I have managed to persuade him to stretch to four months. Still I’m sorry to lose him.

Finished a major chunk of writing this evening on the Rise and Fall of the Albanian National Army. It may be weeks before it sees print but it’s good to have got it out of my system.

Posted in Uncategorised

More from the press conference

Q Second question: The Vice President took Supreme Court Justice Scalia on a duck hunting trip to Louisiana while the Vice President had a case pending before the Supreme Court. Does the President see this as appropriate behavior, taking a Supreme Court Justice to a duck hunting trip while he has a case pending?

[No coherent answer given.]

Posted in Uncategorised

A difficult press briefing

It’s worth reading the entire thing at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/02/20040210-3.html, but some choice extracts:

Q …when Senator Kerry goes around campaigning, there’s frequently what they call “a band of brothers,” a bunch of soldiers who served with him, who come forward and give testimonials for him. I see, in looking at our files in the campaign of 2000, it said that you were looking for people who served with him to verify his account of service in the National Guard. Has the White House been able to find, like Senator Kerry, “a band of brothers” or others who can testify about the President’s service?

MR. McCLELLAN: [fails to answer question]

Q Actually, I wasn’t talking about documents, I was talking about people — you know, comrades-in-arms —

MR. McCLELLAN: Right. That’s why I said everything that came to our attention that was available, we made available at that time, during the 2000 campaign.

Q But you said you were looking for people — and I take it you didn’t find any people?

MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, obviously, we would have made people available. [but fails to explain why they didn’t.]

Q Scott, can I follow on this, because I do think this is important. You know, it might strike some as odd that there isn’t anyone who can stand up and say, I served with George W. Bush in Alabama, or in Houston in the Guard unit. Particularly because there are people, his superiors who have stepped forward — in Alabama and in Houston — who have said in the past several years that they have no recollection of him being there and serving. So isn’t that odd that nobody — you can’t produce anyone to corroborate what these records purport to show?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, we’re talking about some 30 years ago. You are perfectly welcome to go back and talk to individuals from that time period. But these documents —

Q Hey, we’re trying. But I would have thought you guys would have had a real good handle on —

MR. McCLELLAN: – these documents make it very clear that the President of the United States fulfilled his duties —

Q Well, that’s subject to interpretation.

MR. McCLELLAN: No. When you serve, you are paid for that service. And these documents outline the days on which he was paid. That means he served. And these documents also show that he met his requirements. And it’s just really a shame that people are continuing to bring this issue up. When —

Q I understand —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no, no. People asked for records to be released that would demonstrate he met his requirements. The records have now been fully released. The facts are clear —

Q Do you know that a lot of these payroll records are —

MR. McCLELLAN: — the facts are clear —

Q — you can’t read them. Have you looked at these? You can’t — how are we supposed to read these?

And a bit later on:

Q Scott, two questions, one on the documents, one on the issue. There seems to be a discrepancy now in the President’s record that I wondered if you could help me with. These documents that you’re holding up show that the President showed up for duty in October and November of ’72, January, April and May of ’73. But the President’s officer effectiveness report, filed by his commanders, Lieutenants Colonel Killean and Harris, both now deceased, for the period 01 May ’72 to 30 April, ’73, says he has not been observed at this unit, where he was supposed to show up and earning these points on these days. How do you square —

MR. McCLELLAN: You’re talking about which unit?

Q The Texas — at the Ellington Air Force Base.

MR. McCLELLAN: From ’72 to ’73?

Q Correct. And certainly by — the President said he returned to Texas in November of ’72. So some of these dates of service, which are in these records, ought to have been noted by his commanding officers, who, nevertheless, said, twice, he has not been observed here. Can you explain that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not sure about these specific documents. I’ll be glad to take a look at them. But these documents show the days on which he was paid for his service. And the President — as I’ve said, and we previously said during the 2000 campaign — recalls serving both in Texas and in Alabama during the time period you’re bringing up.

Q So he served, but his commanding officers didn’t know it?

And a final sally by the irritated reporters:

Q Okay, so then, do they specifically show that he served in Alabama during that time?

MR. McCLELLAN: They show payments in October; they show payments in November.

Q But just because he’s paid doesn’t mean that he served and worked there, does it?

Q Come on.

Posted in Uncategorised

Bah, humbug

So two of my favourite lunchtime restaurants have closed this week, the Tex-Mex place on Rue Defacqz, which had awfully slow service but yummy food, and the Japanese place on Rue Lesbroussard, which produced sushi that was tasty and not too overpriced.

As long as the cheap and cheerful Vietnamese opposite where the Tex-Mex used to be stays open, I won’t be too upset. When I found the sushi place was closed today I went across the road to the Caribbean restaurant, which is nice but a bit pricier.

I think I’m putting on weight…

Posted in Uncategorised

Embarrassing emails

So I get this conference invitation, but can’t attend, and reply to the organisers, copying to our head of office in the region, and suggesting they invite him instead.

Our head of office replies to me, saying “We have always attended these conferences in the past. From the knowledge point of view they are useless, but from the point of view of schmoozing and showing the flag, they are indispensible.”

Unfortunately he hit “reply all” which meant his email also went to the conference organisers. They’ve now sent a reply to him, copied to me, saying “Thank you for your interest in our conference. You are most welcome to attend (for both schmoozing and showing the flag…) I am also including a copy of the draft programme, hoping that (in case of participation) you will perhaps change your mind about the usefulness of our conferences.”

Rather graceful, under the circumstances. Of course now he will have to attend!

Posted in Uncategorised

New Hampshire analysis

Josh Leinsdorf’s one-man Institute of Election Analysis has a typically numerical analysis of this year’s New Hampshire primary. The most interesting point:

“The Republican primary was uncontested. Even so, George Bush managed to receive only 77.9% of the vote. This compares with the 86.4% of the vote Ronald Reagan received in 1984, when Harold Stassen was on the ballot against him; and the 82.1% of the vote that the unopposed Bill Clinton received in 1996. The Democratic candidates for president received 11.9% of the Republican vote on write-ins.”

So, Kerry performing better than any candidate from the challenging party since Carter in 1976 (ie better than Reagan in 1980 and Clinton in 1992 who both, like Carter in 1976, defeated incumbent presidents); and Bush doing notably worse than the only incumbent presidents to win re-election in the last thirty years. Cause for optimism, no?

Posted in Uncategorised

Kerry to Win?

Going on historical precedent, it is hugely likely that Senator John Kerry will be the Democratic Party candidate in this November’s presidential election. Since the primary system was introduced in 1912, only two candidates have won seven of the first nine primary contests and then failed to get the nomination. Also, the four candidates in more recent decades who equalled Kerry’s performance at this stage of the primary season all went on to win the general election, two of them defeating incumbent presidents.

I’ve written this up in full at http://explorers.whyte.com/kerry.htm – comments welcome.

Posted in Uncategorised

Venus

I happened to catch sight of Venus as a brilliant -4 magnitude evening star this evening as I made my trip to Pizza Hut. It set me thinking; Venus does almost exactly 13 orbits for eight of the Earth’s, so every eight years we see Venus in the same place over again. So what was I doing the last time Venus was a bright evening star in the spring?

In Spring 1996 my political career in Northern Ireland peaked, with the IRA bombing Canary Wharf, elections called to start the negotiation process, and suddenly my knowledge of matters psephological became hugely relevant to politics; I flew for a day to London (accompanied by the then party chairman) for a meeting with Sir Patrick Mayhew and Michael Ancram to put the Alliance Party view, and had the weird experience of returning a call from a minister in the Dublin government from a payphone in Heathrow airport. My Ph D thesis, in contrast, failed to progress much. Anne and I started talking seriously about babies.

In Spring 1988 my long relationship with my then girlfriend was lurching to a close; we were still going out but no longer sleeping together. It took me until December to pull the plug, but I was finding myself thinking about my good friend Anne in new ways that took several years to work through to their conclusion. My political career in Cambridge was just getting started as I got elected to the college JCR committee as external officer in April. I was president of the Cambridge University Diplomacy Society; my predecessor, who had founded it, is now Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Turkmenistan.

In Spring 1980 my family was living in the Netherlands for a year. I was about to hit puberty and consumed with lust for Vera who sat next to me. I’ve completely lost touch with everyone I knew then, apart from one friend whose father had a sabbatical at the same institute as mine; he (my friend that is) is now a lawyer in New York. As far as I can tell from Google the lovely Vera appears to have become a doctor. My two best friends from school are also trackable: one has gone into his father’s carpet business and the other has moved to Scotland where she is a social worker running the local athletics club.

In Spring 1972 the worst months of the Troubles were raging between Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday, but I was pretty much unaware of it and more concerned with my baby sister born in October. It’s funny, people sometimes ask me if I was affected by growing up in Belfast when I did, but to be honest it seems a rather stupid question because everyone is affected by the place where they grow up. I suppose it is a euphemism for asking if anyone close to me was killed or hideously maimed, which is not something I would usually discuss with casual acquaintances anyway. Funny to reflect that F is now about the same age I was then, since I was 32 when he was born…

So what were you doing 8, 16, 24, 32, 40 years ago? Post it to your lj and let’s see if we can make this the next meme!

Posted in Uncategorised

Plaxo update

So, a month after joining Plaxo, I think it’s been really useful for me. I signed onto it basically because three old friends, one running international aid programs in Africa, one deputy head of an OSCE mission in the former Soviet Union, and one former ambassador who is looking for a big international job, had all signed up and I got pinged by their Plaxo accounts asking to update my contact details and inviting me to join.

Then I joined up and discovered that other people I vaguely knew who were also members included a raddled Brussels journalist, a Balkan presidential adviser, a retired Serbian colonel, a senior Belgian diplomat, and a couple of millionaires.

Four people have joined Plaxo because I pinged them with update requests – my former assistant, a distant cousin, a friend in Montenegro and an old acquaintance recently renewed in Brussels. Several others have joined and I got updated automatically because they were in my contacts folder, including a Macedonian playwright and a Daily Telegraph journalist.

But I am beginning to wonder: is Plaxo uniquely useful to those of us involved in politics type stuff? Are there other networks which are useful for, say, fossil fuel traders, or social workers, or academics (none of my Plaxo contacts is in full-time academe although such people are probably over-represented among my contacts)?

And yes, there have been a few people who have replied by sending me their updated details but not through the Plaxo form – all of them lefties who have infiltrated the system (eg my BBC friend). That’s OK. Plaxo is a time-saver but one has to appreciate that not everyone likes interacting with it.

Posted in Uncategorised

February books 1) The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits 2) Memories of the Irish Israeli War

1) The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits, by Emma Donoghue. A fascinating set of short stories with a theme of how we live in our own bodies. I bought it because I had spotted her as an Irish author of occasionally sff-type stuff, and asked her which if any of her work fitted my list. The last story in this collection, “Looking for Petronilla”, does turn out to have fantasy elements and to my great annoyance takes an idea for a short story I have been working on recently and does it much better than I could hope to. The whole collection is excellent. The true story of Caroline Crachami will linger with me, as will the tale of Effie’s wedding night, and the Cambridge book-burning (this last told with a love of the geography of the city with which I completely agree).

2) Memories of the Irish Israeli War, by Phil O’Brien. This came to me for similar if slightly stranger reasons, explained in an earlier post. In fact I’ll have to take it off the list as it has no sf or fantasy elements at all, and is set not in Ireland but in a London kebab restaurant populated by various middle eastern blokes. The narrator is a woman from Belfast and tells the story in a beautifully captured idiomatic stream of consciousness; presumably the other characters’ accents are reasonably authentic too, though since I’ve spent the grand total of one long weekend in the Middle East I can’t be sure. The verve and energy of the language is very absorbing; but I was never quite sure what was actually happening.

Right, the baby has finally gone to sleep in my arms so I will do likewise.

Posted in Uncategorised

My brother is great

Got home yesterday to find a nice big parcel containing two volumes of U.S. Presidential Candidates and the Elections: A Biographical and Historical Guide by James T. Havel. Wow. That was me gone for the evening. I never knew that:

  • Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) stood as an Anti-Doughnut candidate in 1880
  • Lyndon B Johnson got an honorary degree at the age of 35 from Southwestern University (I would be very easily bribed with a similar offer).

OK not everyone’s cup of tea but it will give me a number of happy evenings between now and November.

Incidentally I note that Clinton won only one of the first six primaries in 1992 so that may be good news for Edwards or Clark. Of course Clinton then lost only two of the remaining primaries, so I suspect that Kerry has a pretty good chance. Also it’s notable that if the party as a whole makes its mind up fast then there is a much better chance of winning.

Posted in Uncategorised

Career update

And one of the commission officials I saw earlier today is the one whose job I would like to get come the great reorganisation later this year. He reckoned that there would probably be a grand senior commissioner with general external affairs responsibilities, and then Balkans, plus Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and maybe Russia and northern Med would fall in the hands of a junior commissioner for the “Wider Europe”. He actually though that might turn out to be Gunther Verheugen, currently the commissioner for EU enlargement, but I must say I would expect him to get a more senior post if he is re-appointed. The interesting thing will be if it turns out to be Peter Mandelson, who is apparently sniffing after the Trade portfolio; I must say I think he’d be disastrous there, whatever his other talents.

Posted in Uncategorised

Syldavia again

Well, another Syldavian journalist came around this morning to get the story straight, on camera, and (thank God) in English. I made sure to blame the poor quality of my own grasp of French for the original story and subsequent media storm. As he was packing away his stuff he said to me quietly that the reason my criticism of the Syldavian government had got so much coverage and been so distorted by the media there was that Syldavian journalists were frightened of directly criticising the government, but were much more comfortable quoting (and maybe exaggerating) someone else’s criticism. So the “Whyte Speaks Out Against Syldavian Government” headlines were actually code for what the journalists themselves thought. Which puts a different light on things.

I then had two meetings with senior European Commission people who confirmed that everything I suspected about Syldavia was true. Hmmm…

Posted in Uncategorised

Awards

Those of you who have seen my occasional rants on this subject on rasfw will be aware that I don’t take the Nebulas seriously, take the Hugos a little more seriously, and always find the winners of the Arthur C. Clarke and BSFA awards worthy of note.

This year’s shortlists for the two UK-based awards are now out, and I’ve read only one book on either short-list. I would very much like people’s feedback if they have read any of the following:

on both shortlists
Pattern Recognition
, by William Gibson; I’m not really a Gibson fan but got this for my brother’s girlfriend for Christmas and reports were positive.
Midnight Lamp, by Gwyneth Jones; was a bit underwhelmed by Bold As Love though impressed by its first section, “The Salt Box”.
Maul, by Tricia Sullivan – I know nothing about the author or the book!

on BSFA shortlist only
Felaheen
, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood – on my “must buy” list based on first two in series
Absolution Gap, by Alastair Reynolds – not so overwhelmed by Revelation Space, but should I give him another go?
Natural History, by Justina Robson – much enjoyed her Mappa Mundi.

on ACC shortlist only
Coalescent
, by Stephen Baxter – I usually find Baxter’s flat, detached style very irritating with occasional exceptionsDarwin’s Children, by Greg Bear – I thought Darwin’s Radio, the first in this series, was unimpressive.
Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson – the one book on either list that I have read; gosh, I hope the second book in the series has a plot! The Claire Tomalin bio of Samuel Pepys, set at the same time and covering some of the same events, was much more fun.

Posted in Uncategorised

Slow start

A fairly relaxing start to the day; I have to be at the European Parliament at 9.45 to talk to some Danish politicians and there’s no point in struggling back and forth over the heavily congested east of the city, so I’m going straight there from here.

OK, shower, shave, clothes…

Posted in Uncategorised

Something from work

A (long) piece I’ve written for a Kosovo political journal attempting to draw parallels between Kosovo’s future and Ireland’s past.

Conditional Independence: An Irish Angle

The concept of “conditional independence” for Kosovo was first described by an independent international commission, co-chaired by South African judge Richard Goldstone and Swedish analyst Carl Thamm, and further elaborated by ICG in our 2001 book After Milosevic: A Practical Agenda for Lasting Balkan Peace. We proposed that Kosovo’s recognition as a sovereign, independent state should be made conditional in three different ways:

First, it is reasonable to insist that proper standards on minority rights be met for a period of time before all the benefits of international recognition (including membership of international organisations like the UN, and full access to international financial institutions, trade arrangements and the like) are awarded.

Secondly, Kosovo could be required as a condition of recognition to permanently renounce some kinds of action which would normally be within the competence of a sovereign independent nation. While ICG believes that an independent Kosovo is unlikely to be a threat to its neighbours, the international community would also be in a position to require a binding commitment that it would not seek to expand its boundaries or unite with Albania.

Thirdly, a form of trusteeship could be imposed on Kosovo by the UN, under which, for the duration of that arrangement, its government – while exercising all normal day to day government powers – would be subject to the exercise of veto powers by the trusteeship representative, either at large or in certain defined areas. Such powers would be exercised with a lighter touch than under the present protectorate arrangements in both Kosovo and Bosnia.

Our proposals have sometimes been met with the argument that “conditional” independence is unheard of; that, as with pregnancy, sovereignty is something you either have or you don’t. But in fact special arrangements in the transition to full independence are not at all uncommon, and one particularly interesting example is presented by the state which currently holds the European Union presidency, the Republic of Ireland.

The movement for Irish independence was born out of the repeated frustration of Irish hopes for autonomy within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the period up to 1914. In 1916, a pro-independence rebellion in Dublin was crushed after a week of resistance, and most of its leaders were executed. Pro-independence candidates, including survivors of the 1916 rebellion, won a majority of the seats in the 1918 election to the British parliament in Westminster; they set up their own parliament (the Dáil) in Dublin, passed a declaration of independence, and sought recognition from the international community.

Like the Kosovo parliament between 1990 and 1999, the Dáil was not recognised by international actors as the legal authority in Ireland, and Irish representatives were excluded from the Paris peace conference that rearranged Europe’s frontiers after the first World War. Peace negotiations only began after almost three years of military struggle, in which the British attempted to impose their rule on Ireland through the use of paramilitary units (the “Black and Tans”) whose brutality in fact resulted in even greater support for independence.

The peace treaty itself was agreed in December 1921 between an Irish team led by Michael Collins and a British team led by the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George (who had described Collins as a terrorist only a few months earlier). The Irish went into negotiations looking for a fully sovereign republic including the entire territory of the island; they came out with Treaty establishing an Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth, not including six north-eastern counties which remained under British rule (though with an autonomous local government).

This provoked bitter debate in Ireland. The leader of the independence movement, Éamon de Valera, repudiated the terms of the Treaty, and a civil war ensued between pro-and anti-Treaty factions, lasting almost a year. The pro-Treaty side won both the civil war and the battle for public opinion, though their leading personality, Michael Collins, was killed in the conflict.

It is interesting that the debate on the Treaty centred not on the partition of the island, but on what could be called the conditional aspects of Ireland’s independence. The Irish Free State had a Governor-General, appointed by and representing the British King, and members of its Parliament had to swear an oath to obey the constitutional order including the British connection; both of these were unacceptable to hard-line supporters of an Irish Republic.

In addition, the British navy and army were to retain use of three military bases on the Irish coast (the United Kingdom retains such bases even today in Cyprus, which are not part of the sovereign territory of the island). And there were provisions for minority rights too, in the form of special representation of Protestants in the Irish Senate during the initial period and protection for their cultural and religious heritage.

In the course of time, almost all of the elements of the 1921 treaty which hardliners had opposed were removed. De Valera won elections in 1932, and over the next few years abolished the parliamentary oath, replaced the Governor-General with a directly elected President, and reshaped the Senate to his own liking; by now, however, Britain had come to accept the reality of Irish independence, and no serious objection was made. The military bases were also withdrawn as Britain reconsidered its military priorities in the late 1930s.

Minority rights had become less of a problem after independence, and De Valera supported a Protestant candidate who became the first directly elected President, and instituted state funding to a Protestant-dominated university in Dublin. De Valera had considerable electoral success, but lost power in 1948; the new government declared Ireland a Republic and withdrew from the British Commonwealth.

The lesson for Kosovo from this story, so far, is that any resolution of the final status issue will almost certainly include elements that will be difficult for many in Kosovo to accept. Politicians should however look at the long term perspective, and ask if the terms on offer can provide what Michael Collins called “the freedom to achieve freedom”. For instance, it’s possible to imagine Belgrade retaining some rights of supervision over important religious sites (as has been the case in other parts of the former Ottoman Empire), and Serbs in Kosovo demanding the right to fly their own flag (as do Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia).

These issues will present huge difficulty for those who have to negotiate them, but it is important to remember that after the passage of time some will simply be accepted as normal (as with minority rights in Ireland) and others can be changed through legal, constitutional and democratic means, as with the Governor-General, the parliamentary oath and the British military bases. The hard-liners in the debate on Ireland’s treaty brought chaos and disastrous defeat on themselves by resorting to violence; but inside the next twenty years, most of their aims were achieved peacefully.

The exception, of course, was the partition of the island. By the time the treaty negotiations started in 1921, an autonomous Protestant-dominated government had already been set up in the six counties which became Northern Ireland. The Treaty would have given the Irish Free State government certain border adjustments and a small input into Northern Ireland legislation in a few areas. In the end, though, attempting to implement that part of the treaty caused a major political crisis in Dublin; the border was left unchanged and complete British sovereignty over Northern Ireland continued.

This was basically because none of the pro-independence Irish politicians had developed a strategy for addressing the problem that a fifth of Ireland’s population did not want to be part of an independent Irish state, and there had been no serious debate about how to reassure them. Kosovo is in a slightly more fortunate position with respect to Mitrovica and the northern municipalities – and of course there is always the possibility that an independent Kosovo could agree a border rearrangement with Serbia – but the possibilities of disaster are still there.

It’s possible to imagine a final status deal for Kosovo which includes some kind of special arrangement for the northern municipalities within an independent state. This, rather than outright redrawing of the borders, may be what Zoran Djindjic had in mind when he talked about the precedents of the Republika Srpska and of the arrangements proposed by the UN for Cyprus. Indeed, the 1921 Treaty left this possibility open also for Northern Ireland – that it might remain an autonomous region, but under Irish sovereignty – but nobody seriously pursued that prospect at the time.

We are still a long way from that position (and ICG certainly doesn’t put it forward at this stage as a recommendation), but Kosovo’s ethnic majority needs to consider what it can offer the other ethnic communities, both now (as we argued in a report last year, Kosovo’s Ethnic Dilemma: The Need for a Civic Contract) and in the future as negotiations come close.

There will be some in Kosovo who will draw the wrong lesson from history, and who will argue that Kosovo should simply try and get whatever independence is possible through the use of violence against anyone – Serbia or the international community – who opposes them. It is possible that such a strategy could work; if it did, it would deliver independence to a diminished and economically devastated Kosovo, without friends in its own neighbourhood, dependent on assistance from friends abroad – rather like Israel, but without the tourist potential of the coastline and with much less hope for American support. Kosovo’s leaders have to decide if they would rather see their children grow up in a country like Israel or in a country like Ireland.

One final point. There will be enormous reluctance in Belgrade as well as in Pristina to start, never mind finish, negotiations on Kosovo’s final status. The 1921 Treaty obviously had huge consequences for Ireland. It is often forgotten that it also had a massive impact on the political scene in the rest of the United Kingdom. The abandonment of the British claim to sovereignty over most of Ireland led to the fall of David Lloyd George’s government, and since then his Liberal Party has been perpetually in third place in British elections. Lloyd George’s right-hand man, who had personally negotiated many of the most difficult points with the Irish, was consequently excluded from the front rank of politics for most of the next twenty years. His name was Winston Churchill.

Posted in Uncategorised

The five questions meme

I’ve seen this floating around, but part of the problem is catching it at the right moment and also finding someone whose questions you think you would like to answer! Thanks to for these; I had to think quite hard about some of them. Even though he actually asked seven questions rather than five…

1: If you were to be doing a job radically different to the one you’re doing, what would you like it to be?
I enjoyed my time as an academic working on medieval astrology and would go back to that like a shot if the money and job prospects were better. I also quite enjoyed my stint as an archaeologist at rather low level. But neither of those is radically different from what I do now. What I’d really like to be is a science fiction writer. I don’t know if I have the talent, I suspect I don’t have the application, but that’s what I’d really like to be.

2: Has doing the website, Science Fiction and Fantasy set in Ireland: a checklist had any unexpected results?
Well, getting to know you and was one of them! Also at the moment I’m reading an obscure book called Memories of the Irish Israeli War which I had put on the list because the title seemed appropriate. Someone emailed me a few months back to ask if I had ever seen any reviews of it so far; when I replied that I knew nothing about it other than the title, she revealed that she was in fact the author and sent me a copy. I’ve nearly finished and will post a review here in due course.

3: Your job seems, at least to me, to be enormously exotic and fascinating. What are the best and worst things that have happened to you because of it?
That is two questions for the price of one!
i) The best thing: Difficult to choose. I get a real kick out of the high-level meetings I go to, and that despite my relative youth and non-governmental status I am mixing it with foreign ministers (as I did ten days ago) and so on on equal terms. The biggest one in terms of the hidden circles of power was a World Economic Forum panel I chaired on organised crime and corruption last year, with the Serbian finance minister and the Macedonian deputy prime minister among the panelists (as well as my two favourite Balkan commentators). I was very nervous in the run-up to that event but it went OK.
ii) The worst thing: I was very sad when Zoran Djindjic was assassinated and it was clearly a “bad thing” for him and his country, but it seems excessive to classify it as also a “bad thing” for me personally. The worst things about this job are the management headaches, rather than anything political. Long-running and pointless sagas like how to dispose of vehicles which were acquired by field offices in, er, less formal times and could not then be sold because we had no proof that we owned them. Editing poorly-written reports. Telling staff that we are laying them off.

4: If you could bring back two people from the dead, one of whom you knew and of whom you didn’t, who would they be?
Again, two questions for the price of one!
i) someone I knew: without question, this would be my father. He would have been fascinated by my work and also by his grandchildren. Also I keep on finding out more about the family history, much of which I am sure he knew.
ii) someone I didn’t know: More tricky, but I think it would be Roger Zelazny. OK, his later books were not as consistently good as his earlier ones, but he was only 58 when he died, and was on form sufficiently often (like, for instance, the first half of Lord Demon which must have been the last thing he wrote) that one really wants to send Lucien hunting around the library stacks to see what else is there.

5: What makes you happy?
Going out for dinner with my wife. Playing with the children. Reading a really good book. Travelling to a new country. Talking to/communicating with people who share my interests. Listening to good music. Lying in bed at the weekend with the children crawling over me. (Seven answers for one question!)

If you want me to ask you 5 questions, just comment here asking me to do so.

Posted in Uncategorised