E.L. (Edward Lucas)| Eastern Approaches, Economist.com
THE YEAR'S end is time to offer bouquets and brickbats to the stars and flops in the lands between the Baltic and Black Sea.
The True Grit award for steadiness in the face of national catastrophe goes to Poland. After the plane crash in April which killed President Lech Kaczyński and dozens of the country’s top officials, Poland’s state machinery showed not the slightest wobble, but moved with dignity and efficiency to fill the gaps and keep the wheels of state moving.
The Ray of Sunshine award goes to the anti-corruption campaigners in the Czech Republic—“Vyměňte Politiky ” and “defenestrace.cz”. More important than the elected representatives who benefited from their efforts this time round is the sentiment they tapped and stoked. Impatience with corruption and bad government was the most hopeful feature of the region’s politics this year. May it flourish and spread.
The Foot In Mouth award for unfortunate public utterances goes to Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė. After a stellar record as EU budget commissioner, she has nonplussed observers by her behaviour as head of state. She refused to show up to dinner with Barack Obama, and then denounced the START nuclear treaty, infuriating the administration further. She also seemed to praise the autocratic president of Belarus, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in the run-up to that country’s highly unfair elections. “The only way she’s coming to the White House is as a tourist,” an official at the National Security Council remarked.
Georgia wins the Golden Fleece prize for reform, by again displaying a remarkable ability to do well in international indices of business-friendliness and fighting corruption. The choice of Gabriela von Habsburg as Georgian ambassador to Berlin gets a separate prize, for out-of-the-box diplomatic thinking.
Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian leader, gains the Black Box—a special award for unpredictable behaviour. Hungary has stepped back from the brink of economic disaster this year, but its dreadful PR, ill-considered stunts in domestic policy and vendettas against those seen as too close to the previous regime have provided too many unpleasant surprises already.
The Houdini award for political survival goes to Valdis Dombrovskis, the prime minister of Latvia, who imposed the most swingeing austerity programme seen anywhere in Europe in past decades—and got reelected. Should he tire of Latvian politics, he faces a warm welcome in Ireland.
The Janus bust for hypocrisy goes to France, for its racist approach to its Roma immigrants. Dealing with crime is one thing; tarring an entire ethnic group as criminal is quite another. The Roma (Gypsies) of Europe gain their own award, a (Harry Potter style) Invisibility Cloak for managing to remain off the political agenda in the countries that should be most concerned with the continent’s most deep-rooted and severe social problem.
Continuing the Harry Potter theme, the Magic Wand award for outside intervention goes to the Obama administration, for pushing through the Eagle Guardian contingency plans at NATO, which provide for the defence of Poland and the Baltic states. They were revealed on this site in January. That has largely solved the continent's only remaining real hard-security problem.
The Silver Migraine Pill prize for the region’s biggest headache goes to the judicial system, which in countries such as Romania and Slovakia is constitutionally untouchable, yet tainted by sleaze.
And finally, Estonia wins the Golden Swot award as country of the year. From January 1st, when it joins the euro, it will be one of only two countries in the single currency area that actually meet its debt and deficit rules. The other is Luxembourg. But if you add another filter, the willingness to meet NATO’s target for defence spending of 2% of GDP, Estonia (at 1.9% next year) beats Luxembourg (0.7%) easily. For a country that emerged battered and blinking from Soviet occupation not quite 20 years ago, being the only country to meet the main rules of the continent’s main clubs is a triumph. Häid jõule ja head uut aastat!
Bouquets and brickbats