The Alternative Italian Job: Disbanding the Army that Never Was

The Guardian had a wonderful short article last week. Apparently, Italy invented a 300,000 strong army in the 1950s as part of the great game that was the Cold War. And apparently they assumed that the first thing the Soviet spies would watch out for were neither tanks nor barrackes, but an active bureaucracy (something both the Russians and the Italians were familiar with), so they created tonnes and tonnes of fake files relating to this fantasy army. Today, these files clog the real army’s warehouses: since the imagined 3rd corps was disbanded in the 1970s, it cannot declassify its files. And while they are not declassified, they cannot be destroyed. Se non e vero, e molto ben trovato.

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Austrian Extreme Right Leader Jörg Haider dies in car crash

Jörg Haider 1950-2008

“Colourful” did not even begin to describe him. If Bill Clinton was America’s first rock&roll president, Jörg Haider, who died in a car crash early on Saturday morning, was Austria’s first pop politician. Apt for a future right-winger, Haider was born into a national-socialist family. A gifted public speaker, he was active in right-wing circles and in Austria’s national-liberal party FPÖ from an early age on. In 1986, he rose to international prominence when he won (with the support of the party’s nationalist wing) a leadership contest against the FPÖ’s liberal figurehead Norbert Steger. Within months, Haider transformed the slightly dusty FPÖ into one of the most modern, controversial, populist and electorally successful parties of the European Extreme Right.
Under his leadership, the party went from strength to strength. In 1999, the FPÖ won over 20 per cent of the popular vote and entered a coalition with the Christian Democrats, thereby bringing Haider one step closer to his life-long ambition: to become chancellor (prime minister) of Austria. However, his involvement with the Austrian government triggered international backlash and the European Union’s ill-advised “sanctions” against Austria. Subsequentially, the party lost much of its support.
Haider retreated to subnational politics (he was “Landeshauptmann” (minister president) of the state of Carinthia from 1989-91 and then again from 1999 on). In 2005, he and a group of supporters left the FPÖ and formed a new party, the BZÖ. Considered a one-man show by many, Haider and the party garnered almost 11 per cent of the national vote in the general election two weeks ago, and Haider seemed destined to return to the forefront of Austrian politics.
Like many politicians, Haider was many things to many persons. His remarks on the “reasonable” economic and social policies of the Nazis predictably led to an international outcry. He was famous for political gaffes and insults but was described as courteous and friendly once the cameras were switched off. He also played an instrumental role in a referendum campaign against a nuclear power plant in 2002. Of course, he claimed the plant was insecure by definition because it was Czech, allowing Haider to play the national card and to exploit animosities that go back to the days of the Hapsburg Empire. Oddly enough, he also supported Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union.
Haider carefully controlled his public image. Papers haven been written (and published) on his attractiveness for both male and female voter. Back in the 1980s, Austria’s other international pop star Falco quipped that people liked Haider because he was sexy and right-wing. At 58, Haider still projected the image of a youthful sportsman, which might explain that Austrians are so shocked by his sudden death. Politicians from all political parties are now praising his more positive qualities. Carinthia, where he was genuinely popular with large parts of the population, is rife with conspiracy theory.
Oddly enough, the death of its most prodigious leader might make Austria’s Extreme Right even stronger: without him, the BZÖ is an orphan that might soon be brought back into the FPÖ fold.
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How Nancy Pelosi could become president

Today, the BBC has a rather amusing piece by Larry Sabato (Virginia) on the “The US election nightmare scenario“: an equal split of the “toss-up” state leads to deadlock in the Electoral College. Enter the unit rule, a constitutional provision which stipulates that the House will select the President in a vote where each state delegation has a single vote. Sounds bizarre? Certainly. Unlikely? Not entirely. And yes, apparently Pelosi could become the next President of the US. Read it yourself.
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Student of radical Islam must not study al-Qaeda documents

Weird, sad but apparently true: at Nottingham University, a PhD student who works on islamic terrorism and an administrator were arrested (though released without charges) because they were in possession of an al-Qaeda manual downloaded from the internet. The twist: the manual was part of an MA dissertation and had been re-submitted as part of a PhD application. Now this is clandestine. THE has the full story, and boing boing has lots of comments on it. All of the sudden, the whole point of urging students to provide proper references and go back to the sources seems rather moot.

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Running the Numbers

Via Simon Jackman’s blog: Chris Jordan found an intriguing way to visualise some very large, mostly scary national statistics, such as the as the number of plastic cups used on flights in the US every six hours (one million), or the number of cell phones retired every day (426,000). Amazing and aesthetically pleasing in a most disturbing way.Technorati-Tags: , , ,

Indiana congressional hopeful woos American Neo Nazis

This is hilarious: Tony Zirkle (the chap behind the lectern) is obviously a man who knows how to sink his own campaign before it has even taken off. As part of his bid for a house seat in Indiana, he recently addressed a meeting of American Neo Nazis who were commemorating Hitler’s birthday (have you spotted the neat hand-made “happy birthday” garland in the foreground?). Respectful Insolence has the full story, complete with links to Zirkle’s homepage on which he blames the great porn dragon for the publicity fallout (I kid you not).

In a strange way, the whole scene looks a bit like the set of a slightly less than funny movie. If you grew up in the 1980s, you will get the impression that you have actually seen this film: remember the “I hate Illinois Nazis” moment from the original Blues Brothers movie?

Germany: Extreme right party leader charged with inciting racial hatred

Udo Voigt, the leader of the NPD, has been charged with inciting racial hatred. During the 2006 World Cup, the party published a pamphlet that questioned the right of non-white players in the squad to represent Germany in the tournament. The NPD is the oldest amongst the three relevant extreme right parties in Germany. Founded in the early 1960s, the party was successful in a number of Land elections but could not overcome the 5 per cent threshold in the General election of 1969. For more than three decades, the party that once had tens of thousands of members and even set up its own student organisation barely survived as a political sect but played no role in electoral politics. If you can read German, here is a chapter on extremist parties and their voters with lots of fascinating details on Germany I wrote for a handbook on electoral behaviour.

Voigt was elected as party leader in 1996 and quickly modernised the party. His aggressive and dynamic stance persuaded the Federal government to apply for a ban of the party in the Federal Constitutional Court in 2003. The case was thrown out on procedural grounds, and for the first time in 40 years, the party managed to win seats in two state elections in 2004 and 2006.

However, the charges against Voigt are just the latest political blow for the party and its current leadership. After 2006, there have been no more electoral successes. Moreover, the party is involved in dubious financial transactions. The party treasurer was taken into custody in February, and the party must repay huge amounts of money it had claimed under Germany’s state-sponsored party-funding scheme. Voigt stands for re-election as party leader in May, and there might well be a leadership contest.

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