September 13th, 2011


Delicious LiveJournal Links for 9-13-2011

  • What a load of nonsense!
    (tags: children)
  • Notes from my radio appearance on Sunday.
  • 1)  Military peacekeeping has grown in scale … yet lost operational impact. 2)  Peacekeeping is cheap …  but it is also still too expensive. 3) All peace operations are political … but not all are guided by credible political strategies and few peacekeepers are good at politics. 4)  Peacekeepers promote democracy and justice … but democracy and justice don’t always promote peace. 5) Emerging non-Western powers play a major role in peacekeeping … but may not want it.
    (tags: war peace)
  • A modern constitution needs to be legitimate in the eyes of the people, but achieving this is a challenge. Often national and international constitution-makers feel out in the cold as there has been no comprehensive resource on the options for constitution-making and reform. The design, implementation and management of these processes, in an inclusive way, create the foundations for lasting peace. The stakes are high. If the process goes wrong the seeds of future conflict and violence will be sown.
    (tags: war peace)

Northern Ireland: the new constituency boundaries

Here is my projection of the three most recent election results in Northern Ireland - the 2010 Westminster election, the 2011 Assembly election and the 2011 local council elections - onto the sixteen proposed new constituency boundaries. For each constituency I note the old constituencies from which its voters have been drawn, the changes proposed, the projected results and the likely consequences for Westminster and Assembly representation.

(See also my BBC commentary here.)

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So, I give the DUP 7 Westminster seats (down 1), SF 5, the SDLP 2 (down 1), Lady Hermon 1 and Alliance 1 (just). At Assembly level, while there is much more margin of error to my calculations, I put the DUP on about 33 seats (down 5), SF on 27 (down 2), the UUP on 14 (down 2), SDLP 13 (down 1), Alliance 7 (down 1) and Greens and TUV keeping their single seats; I think David McClarty is in trouble. (Edited to add: I may be wrong about the TUV seat in North Antrim being salvageable - certainly Jim Allister seems despondent.)

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth to come, I think.

Balkan reading list

A friend of mine recently asked me for recommendations of books on the Balkans - not textbooks on history or politics, but more interesting stuff, novels for preference. This was my reply.
Dear X,
When we were on the phone earlier, I strongly recommended the classic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West - not really fiction, and madly pro-Serb, but the Macedonian and Bosnian bits are very good - and Bosnian Chronicle/The Days of the Consuls by Ivo Andrić. A few other thoughts:

Contra my hasty statement on the phone that there is no worthwhile fiction about the conflicts of the 1990s, Joe Sacco has written two excellent graphic novels about the Bosnian war: Safe Area Goražde and The Fixer. Also Bosnian, not quite fiction but rather unusual, is Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipović  - she was 11 when the war started and is of course now almost 30 and living in Ireland.

Kosovo politician and intellectual figure Veton Surroi wrote a novel looking forward to the independence negotiations called Azem Berisha's One and Only Flight to the Castle - you won’t find it in shops but I can lend you my copy (which I will want back, as it is autographed). It’s very short.

I’m a big fan of the world-famous Albanian writer Ismail Kadarë, and have read his Three Elegies for Kosovo, The General of the Dead Army, The Successor, Chronicle in Stone, and particularly recommend The File on H.

I’m also a big fan of the Serbian magical realist writer Zoran Živković, whose books are more difficult to get hold of than Kadarë’s (though Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue always seems to have them in stock); see especially Impossible Stories and Hidden Camera. Unlike Kadarë, there is not much overtly about his country in his work (though I think it’s always there implicitly).

Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy takes place in Romania and Greece so I suspect is no good for you.

Lawrence Durrell wrote several not terribly good books about Serbia (his muse was better inspired farther south); I have read his comic short story collection Esprit de Corps, which is set in the British embassy in Belgrade in the 1950s, and a James Bond ripoff called White Eagles over Serbia.

On similar lines a rather dim CIA agent wrote an account of spying in Macedonia during the 2001 conflict, Lindsay Moran’s Blowing My Cover. Harvey Pekar wrote a graphic novel about the same conflict simply called Macedonia but to be honest the main interest for me was spotting the characters based on friends of mine.
I still can't think of any mainstream fiction based on the more recent Balkan conflicts (even Veton Surroi's book has magical realist elements), at least none that is worth reading; any suggestions?

Edited to add: kulfuldi rightly suggests Fitzroy Maclean's Eastern Approaches in comments; kicking myself for forgetting it. Over on Facebook, a Croatian correspondent has the following suggestions:
Sarajevo Marlboro, a short story collection by Miljenko Jergović. Amazon has it. Just like his novels Ruta Tannenbaum and Buick rivera. Haven't read any of them, but he won awards for the books. A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, a short story collection by Danilo Kiš. "A portrait of a country and a people in turmoil, a portrait of how Communism both creates and devours its sons." Read it a long time ago, don't remember anything except that it was great. Also on Amazon. BTW, there's also a SSC by Andrić on Amazon, Damned Yard and Other Stories. That might be more accessible than The Bridge. The stories are really good. That's for mainstream. Fantastic... Possibly Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife. Then, there's Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić on Amazon. They also have her The Ministry of Pain, a novel about exiles from Yugoslavia in Amsterdam, which obviously is not fantastic.
I take "not fantastic" in that last sentence to mean "not sfnal" rather than "bad". I also endorse Andrić's The Damned Yard and Other Stories ahead of Bridge on the Drina. And I seem to remember reading a recommendation from Stephen Schwartz for A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.