Global vignettes poles apart

By June 1, 2009Atlantic Eye

BUCHAREST, Romania, June 1 (UPI) — My cigarette in hand, I glimpsed what I thought was a U.S. Army Combat Uniform. After security, I saw the first of them — our sons and daughters. “Where are you being deployed?” I asked a specialist. “Afghanistan.” “Thank you for your service. Be safe,” I said. A wry nervous smile crossed his lips. “Thank you, sir.” This was a fitting exit from the fifth Euro-Russian Forum, one of five forums I spoke at over five weeks from Istanbul, Ankara, Montgomery and Prague to Bucharest.

My day began at breakfast with former Slovak Prime Minister Jan Carnogursky. We were joined by Werner Fasslabend, the former Austrian defense minister. Carnogursky and I know each other from the ant-communist dissident days and Global Panel’s Board. Carnogursky and Fasslabend are friends.

“Europe is moving away from Russia. The rhetoric is more strongly negative. It is a bad sign.” A Russophile, Carnogursky is sensitive to the rhetoric used towards Russia. I had used conciliatory language a day earlier on my panel — a panel Fasslabend had chaired — with several Duma members. I could have been hostile to some of what was said, but I chose to find common ground. It is still not easy these days.

The afternoon was split between the forum, held at Nicolai Ceausescu’s Palace of the People — now Romania’s Parliament — and interviewing former Presidents Iliescu and Constantinescu. I met with Gen. Constantin Degeratu, the state counselor on national security to President Basescu, and former Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca — who leads Global Panel’s Black Sea Initiative. I had met HRH Prince Radu of Romania — who is running for president — the previous day. Constantinescu was especially concerned about Romania’s lack of leadership in Europe.

Iliescu was on his way to kick off the Club of Bucharest, his brainchild whose goal is to deal with crisis, the conflict between cultures and to help Romania take the lead on European issues. Iliescu also spoke to me about what it was like 20 years ago as Ceausescu was deposed. It was captivating and off the record. All the gentlemen I met were concerned about Romania’s European role and security parlance. Why not redeploy a U.S. Air Force squadron to Romania from Germany and Italy?

I called the DIA’s Gene Smith to congratulate him on completing his degree at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. He had been one of my minders at the 56th Air College National Security Forum two weeks earlier. We covered some of the main points in Seminar No. 9.

Cyber-threats and counter-measures were heavily debated. Our technology infrastructure is bombarded daily by millions of hackings. Many are successful. We are not up to par in combating cyber-terrorism. President Obama’s proposed Cyber Security Council is a good idea. Let’s hope it isn’t just all talk and hyperbole.

A senior international air force officer said it seems a hard sell to explain why U.S. forces expect to give orders to foreign soldiers in fields of operation but are unwilling to take orders from non-U.S. senior commanders — even within war-time command structures and even from commanders within the Anglo-sphere. This engendered heavy discussion. Within Air Force circles there is a general consensus that cuts in defense spending will disproportionately affect the air services.

At the Marmara Foundation’s 12th Annual Euro-Asia Economic Forum in Istanbul the big message was that nine sitting and former presidents and numerous ministers essentially signaled the death knell for free market capitalism. I disagree. Of course companies cannot have it both ways. If we are going to have socialism and government intervention — and I am generally not a big fan — then governments should guarantee worker salaries for two years and pension payment contributions — enabling workers to get retraining on full salary — while letting their companies and incompetent management go bust.

Weeks ago, I flew early morning by helicopter to Pilsen with Deputy Defense Minister Smerda and the MoD’s Chief of Staff Martin Moulis. They were inspecting the Czech Armed Forces MEDIVAC unit — the only MEDIVAC unit in the Czech Republic not to have been privatized. Pressure is growing on the government to privatize this last unit. A briefing by LTC Michal Marecek, the unit Commander, made it clear why this unit is important as part of the Czech Republic’s obligations to NATO — whose officials by the way have told the Czechs that privatizing this MEDIVAC unit is a bad idea.

Moulis and I visited with Principal Sonja Pavelkova of Terezie Brzkove School No. 15 where I am patron — she wants to set up a Waldorf School. During the day we had a meeting with Deputy Mayor Vladimir Duchek — who has come out strongly for Missile Defense, as has the Pilsen City Council. Finally a tour of the remarkable Patton museum, a VIP tour led by CEO Michael Short of the Pilsen brewery and an intense dinner with youngish managers of companies in the region in which corruption was the main topic rounded out my day.

I close my vignettes with the International Congress of Journalists which I addressed in Antalya, Turkey on May 9. My host, Vsevelod Bogdanov — despite being a thorn in the side of the Russian government — was the first of the Russian Federation of Journalists to be received by President Medvedev.

Over the past years 15 years, 300 journalists in Russia have been murdered including the still unsolved high-profile cases of Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya — both of whom I knew and who carried U.S. passports.

Only 10 percent of the cases of murdered journalists in Russia have been solved.

President Obama, it is high time to call the Russian authorities to task.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He was joined intermittently at the forums by Global Panel Board members former Minister Henrikas Yushkiavitshus of Lithuania; Minister Hassan Abouyoub of Morocco; former Minister and current MP Kurt Bodewig of Germany and US Congressional Advisor Yossef Bodansky.)