The CSS Blog Network

Shopping in Sarajevo

Stylin' in Sarajevo/photo: sarajevo-x.com

Stylin' in Sarajevo / photo: sarajevo-x.com

Bosnians are not really into protesting. Clearly, it requires too much mental and physical energy that is better spent … well, in the Bosnian fashion: living life, seizing the day (with coffee and cigarettes, but nonetheless).

Every now and then small groups of war veterans and pensioners will gather in front of a government building to protest not having received their funds, and once, last year, there was a protest when a teenager was stabbed to death by another teenager, but it was entirely unclear against whom the protests were directed (presumably God). Other than that, the only protest to note was when a down-on-her-luck female education official attempted to distract herself from her personal problems by causing a Christmastime uproar, proposing the sacking of Santa and his replacement by some previously unknown Muslim version of the jolly fellow. This time, a few handfuls of people (representing all ethnic-religious-secular groups) gathered in protest outside the main cathedral in the city center.

In the past few weeks, however, a new target for potential protest is a newly opened shopping center. Though the protests are unlikely to develop beyond the verbal complaint and tacit boycott phase, the shopping center is the latest exciting controversy and the main topic of call-in radio and television talk shows. The problem: Well, the shopping center is Arab built and run and refuses to sell pork in its supermarket or to allow the sale of alcohol or the presence of betting shops, the latter a major Bosnian hobby of late.
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I don’t care how you get the information; I’m paying you for the result

Accountability - nothing to toy with / <i>Photo: Dunechaser, flickr

Accountability - nothing to toy with / photo: Dunechaser, flickr

Much has been written over the past few years on the role of private security companies (PSCs) (or PMCs, whomever you’re asking) in today’s conflict zones. Companies like Blackwater USA Xe have been criticized for their lack of accountability in regard to the laws of armed conflict.

Incidents involving Blackwater contractors blasting away civilians in Iraq have solidified the picture of an out-of-control private army that is driven only by its pecuniary interests. Now states are rushing to sign conventions regulating these companies’ activities.

Finally you might think.

But rather covertly another similar business model has flourished in the shade of the PSCs/PMCs without much being written about it: Private intelligence companies (or PICs), which according to Wikipedia are a:

[P]rivate sector (non-governmental) organization devoted to the collection and analysis of information, most commonly through the evaluation of public sources (OSINT or Open Source Intelligence) and cooperation with other institutions.

If this definition was entirely correct, there would be no obvious problems with the activities of such companies. After all they are only a bunch of newspaper readers writing intelligent analysis on political risks. Or are they?
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ISN Weekly Theme: Multiculturalism

Roma in central Bulgaria/photo: Rivard, flickr

Roma in central Bulgaria / photo: Rivard, flickr

Sharia in the UK, the growing Turkish population in Germany, Albanians in Kosovo, the integration of Roma; these issues and others have been at the forefront of Europe’s relationship with multiculturalism. We’re taking a close look at that relationship this week.

  • Shana Goldberg comments on the EU’s efforts to protect minority rights, highlighting the situation with the Roma in Europe’s Unwanted for ISN Security Watch.
  • But Dr Michael Stewart says in the latest edition of ISN Podcasts that unless the EU revamps how it views and researches Roma in general, its efforts to integrate the group will be unsuccessful.
  • Another cultural struggle for Europe is the inclusion of Muslims, as Jocelyne Cesari says in Securitisation of Islam in Europe, a featured publication in the ISN Digital Library.
  • And we’re also highlighting What’s Culture Got to Do with It, a conference held by the Nordic-Africa Institute, in the ISN Events Calendar.

Big State is Watching You

Police guard on the Kasr El Nil Bridge in Cairo.

Police guard on the Kasr El Nil Bridge in Cairo / photo: Cristina Viehmann

A new report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) tells us that Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger.

Next on the list of countries notorious for clever intimidation techniques are the Middle East and North Africa candidates: Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

I’ve just returned from Egypt, ranked 10th on the CPJ list. After my Cairo conversations with young journalists and artists, I also realized how difficult it still is to walk the thin line between the state and religious authorities in this country. Even with this, bloggers and internet artists dare to voice what they think.

Take Mohammed A. Fahmy for example, leader of the Ganzeer art project in Cairo. In his work he does not refrain from criticizing both the government and the societal or religious constraints ruling his country. Referring to a cover from a December 2004 Cairo youth magazine, illustrating the many “fine” inventions of Arab civilization, one of which is the “presidential monarchy,” I asked Mohammed: “How critical can you afford to be?”

“As critical as it gets,” he said.

Citizen journalism and artistic creation presuppose freedom of speech. Bloggers report, artists depict. Mohammed is one of those young critical voices that won’t be intimidated.

And yet, the role of intimidation remains strong in Egypt; in every aspect of life where opinions are to be voiced. A few fall prey to the oppressive state mechanisms: detention, hearings and weeks under state observation. These serve as warnings for all other critical voices out there.

As the CPJ report points out, in these countries it is enough to jail a few bloggers to intimidate the rest. It’s an oblation given for criticism and analysis to continue.

Yet even in these countries, censorship rules will not prevail. Technological advances are with the young and connected. Therefore, censors will lose the race.

In this article from the ISN Digital Library you can read how the new Arab media challenges the militaries. Also, you might want to check our Security Watch news stories, about the limits of Egypt’s cyberactivism, the Bahraini blogosphere and about how blogs and Internet forums debate political issues in Russia.

Is the Busman’s holiday over for UK MPs?

All aboard! (Photo: eddiedangerous/flickr)

All aboard! / Photo: eddiedangerous, flickr)

Having returned from the UK for a short break and being bombarded with increasingly extraordinary claims by our MPs for expenses I thought the ISN blog would benefit from some insights into the worst, most ridiculous and decidedly unfortunate examples.

The worst:

  • Former Conservative MP Derek Conway paid his sons Henry and Freddie £80,000, and although after investigation he paid back £16,860, further enquires found that he made payments totaling £260,000 to his immediate family over a six year period.
  • Five Sinn Fein MPs who refuse to sit in Westminster because they will not swear an allegiance to the Queen claimed over £500,000 in expenses for renting three properties in Westminster at three times the market rate according to local estate agents.
  • Labour MPs Alan and Ann Keen took out a joint life insurance policy worth £430,000 and then claimed back the £867.57 monthly premiums on their expenses.

The most ridiculous:

  • An unnamed Conservative MP claimed £380 for more than 500 bags of horse manure.
  • Another Conservative MP, David Willets, claimed £115 to have 25 light bulbs changed by an electrician for his second property.
  • Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne claimed £82.35 for the mounting, framing and inscription of a photo of himself – not for his constituency office but for one of his seven homes.

And the rather unfortunate:

  • Labour immigration minister Phil Woolas claimed £2.67 for feminine hygiene products and £15 for a lady’s blouse. Arguably his worst mistake was not realizing that he could have tagged these ‘personal costs’ onto his £400 monthly food allowance and saved himself the embarrassment. That was an error carefully avoided by many MPs who make the full food allowance claim even during recess when they are unlikely to be away from their main homes.
  • Labour MP Jacqui Smith’s husband claimed two blue movies on her expenses and expected the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Should MPs be able to claim thousands of pounds for televisions, stereo equipment and swimming pool cleaning, and be able to submit claims for sundry expenses up to the value of £250 without receipts? I don’t think so. Is an MPs ability to do his job enhanced by having a 42 inch Sony TV rather than one from a less ‘prestigious’ manufacturer? Again it is hard to argue that brand names contribute to productivity.

But it is the ways in which MPs have managed to subvert the rules for their own advantage which grates most strongly with me. The Telegraph has published an overview of the ways MPs have played the system – for instance by renovating properties with taxpayer money and selling them at a profit.

Here is what other bloggers are saying about this issue:

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