Friday, January 30, 2015

All Power To The People

One by one they were rolled back, blitzkrieg-style, mercilessly, ruthlessly, with rat-a-tat efficiency.

First the barricades came down outside the Greek parliament.

Then it was announced that privatisation schemes would be halted and pensions reinstated.

And then came the news of the reintroduction of the €751 monthly minimum wage.

And all before Greece’s new Prime Minister, the radical leftwinger Alexis Tsipras, had got his first cabinet meeting under way.

After that, ministers announced more measures: the scrapping of fees for prescriptions and hospital visits, the restoration of collective work agreements, the rehiring of workers laid off in the public sector, the granting of citizenship to migrant children born and raised in Greece.

On his first day in office – barely 48 hours after storming to power – Tsipras got to work.

The biting austerity his Syrizaparty had fought so long to annul now belonged to the past, and this was the beginning not of a new chapter but a book for the country long on the frontline of the euro crisis.

"A new era has begun, a government of national salvation has arrived", he declared as cameras rolled and the cabinet session began.

“We will continue with our plan. We don’t have the right to disappoint our voters”.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Greece Names Hardline Anti-Bailout Finance Minister

Via Yahoo! News:

Greece named hardline leftwing economist Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister, handing him the pivotal task of renegotiating the debt-stricken nation's bailout with international creditors after it voted overwhelmingly to reject years of austerity politics.

The appointment of Varoufakis to the potentially explosive role is seen as a signal that the new anti-austerity Syriza-led government will take a hard line in haggling over the 240-billion-euro ($269 billion) EU-IMF package.

The polyglot Varoufakis, 53, a professor nicknamed "Dr Doom" for his stance on Greece's economic woes, is a vocal critic of the conditions imposed in return for the 2010 bailout and argues the shattered country can never recover until they are relaxed.

His was the most eye-catching appointment in 40-year-old Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's new cabinet, which gave the first glimpse of a government that promises to challenge at every level the eurozone's belt-tightening measures.

Panos Kammenos was named defence minister in return for leading his small nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party into a coalition government with Syriza.

Kammenos threatens to be a controversial member of the government because of his claims that Germany, and its insistence on budgetary rigour, is the main cause of Greece's economic misery.

Greece's European partners have been quick to pour cold water on the issue of debt forgiveness since Syriza stormed to a stunning election victory in Sunday's snap general election.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said Monday that Greece's membership of the eurozone "means... sticking to its previous commitments".

Merkel offered warmer words to Tsipras on Tuesday, wishing him "much strength and success".

"You are taking office at a difficult time in which you face a great responsibility", Merkel said in the message from the chancellery.

But in a newspaper interview to appear Wednesday, a member of Germany's Bundesbank central bank warned Athens of "fatal consequences" if it rejected the bailout terms.

"If the continuation of the programme of aid for Greece is called into question... Greek banks would lose access to central bank funds", Joachim Nagel told the daily Handelsblatt. "It would have fatal consequences for the Greek financial system".

In a sign of the EU's willingness to engage with the new leaders in Greece, the head of the 19-nation Eurogroup countries who use the single currency, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, had a 15-minute telephone conversation with Varoufakis on Monday.

But Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, said there was "not a lot of support" for Tsipras's insistence that a chunk of the debt should be written off.

The Greek stock market plunged six percent earlier Tuesday, in a sign of nervousness at the new government's intentions as European stock markets too fell on growing anxiety that Athens was set on a collision course with its creditors.

Fears that Greece could be forced out of the eurozone if it defaults on its debt saw the euro briefly hit an 11-year low against the dollar Monday, but it rose on Tuesday.

The EU has set the end of February as the deadline for Greece to carry out more reforms in return for a seven-billion-euro tranche of financial aid from the 28-member bloc and the International Monetary Fund.

Tsipras, who has vowed to reverse many of the severe spending cuts and other measures that Greece's creditors insist on, must decide whether to prolong the deadline.

Syriza claims the stringent conditions attached to the bailout -- including wage and pension cuts and widespread privatisations --have caused a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Greece.

It wants to release an immediate 1.2 billion euro package to increase the minimum wage and pensions for the poorest.

The first foreign dignitary to visit Greece since Syriza took power will be the social democrat head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, on Thursday.

Analysts have described Syriza's coalition with ANEL as "unnatural" and potentially short-lived, saying that the smaller party is unpredictable, while the two parties differ starkly on immigration policy.

However, the two parties -- who together have 162 seats in the 300-member parliament -- share a common opposition to the EU-IMF bailout.

The IMF extended an olive branch to the new Greek government, saying it was prepared to continue its financial support to the country.

"We stand ready to continue supporting Greece, and look forward to discussions with the new government", IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said in a statement.

Greece's economy is set to emerge from recession after shrinking by a quarter in five years, leaving one in four out of work.

Many Greeks say that even if Tsipras can deliver on a fraction of what he has promised, their lives will improve.

After the new Prime Minister was sworn in on Monday, Eleni, 41, said: "We are just asking to be able to live like any other European citizen".

"At the moment if you go to a state-run hospital in Greece, you feel as if you are in a warzone".

"Repaying the debt does not justify subjecting people to such suffering", she said.

Sunday's poll was Greece's fourth in five turbulent years, including back-to-back votes in 2012.

Tsipras stands alone as Europe's first anti-austerity leader for the moment, but Syriza's victory could inspire other anti-austerity parties, including Spain's Podemos, which has topped several opinion polls and is aiming for an absolute majority in the Spanish election in November.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Swedish Soldier Stirs Row Over Help For Isis Fighters

Via The Local:

A Swedish soldier's Facebook post from Afghanistan is causing a stir, after he suggested that he was likely to get less help when he came back to Sweden than returning Isis fighters.

Frederick Brandberg's comments originally appeared as his Facebook status on Sunday afternoon before spreading across Swedish media.

Writing in both English and Swedish, he questioned his future situation upon returning to Sweden, including options for work.

"In a few months, I'm back in Sweden after being deployed in Afghanistan, against Talibans and others who have really jeopardizing development in this very sore country", he said.

"There is no permanent job waiting for me when I come home".

The officer, who is currently headquartered in Kabul on his third mission to Afghanistan then compares his situation to that of returning ISIS-fighters from Syria, noting recent calls from several Swedish government representatives who have argued that extremists should be given more help to re-integrate upon returning to Sweden.

The Swedish soldier addresses Mona Sahlin in particular, a former leader of the Social Democrat party who is now Sweden's official coordinator against violent extremism.

"I read that Mona Sahlin together with other Swedish political leaders are anxious to take care of Swedish IS-warriors coming home from being involved in Syria, with specially designed programs for work and other issues that would make them function well in our society".

Brandberg refers to his post as "Utmaningen" or, "The Challenge".

"It would be wonderful if I was met with a comparable program after my homecoming, after which I could feel safe in having a regular job, with monthly income and a social stable situation in the society where I wouldn't need to wonder whether I'm wanted or not", he argued.

There are currently 500 Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan.

The Armed Forces told The Local on Monday that what happens to soldiers upon their return from war was not an issue that falls under their mandate.

"We take care of soldiers while they are there on the ground," an armed forces official explained. "Once they're back home, it's no longer our business".

The Swedish defense and foreign ministries were unavailable for comment.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sweden Mulls Ticket Controls For Jihadis

Via The Local:

Sweden could introduce controls over airline ticket sales and border crossings as part of a new anti-terror strategy aimed at preventing citizens going abroad to fight for extremist groups.

Interior Minister Anders Ygeman told TT newswire that he expected the new terror strategy to be in place by the summer.

“The strategy we have now does not take into account the realities of the world we live in”, Ygeman said, explaining that at the time it was developed no one expected Swedes to travel abroad to fight for extremist groups in such numbers.

“It must include measures to combat radicalisation and recruitment”, Ygeman said. “There is only extremely meagre treatment of this in the present one”.

Sweden’s present national terror strategy dates back to 2012, long before Isis (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq) and the Levant organisation officially declared an Islamic caliphate across a swathe of Iraq and Syria last June.

Ygeman said the government planned to assess and possibly add to the powers Swedish security services have to combat Jihadi extremists, potentially bringing new criminal offences into law.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Volvo Salutes Swedish Misery In New Advert

Via The Local:

Volvo pulls out every stop to emphasise its Swedishness in a deliberately melancholic new advert it describes as "a thank you to the cold, darkness, wind and rain".

The film — which features hockey legend Börje Samling, rapper Timbuktu, and high jumper Emma Green in various mournful poses -- stretches to more than four minutes of artistically shot Scandi scenes, all set to an echoey, Nordic soundtrack sung by Amanda Bergman.

Salming, the first Swedish hockey player to go international and play in the US, is shown putting a log into a wood burner, his deeply lined face lit only by the firelight.

Timbuktu (real name Jason Diakité) trudges in the early morning along Malmö’s Ribersborgs beach, an overcoat and Persian lambskin hat shielding him from the drizzle.

"This is a tribute to Sweden at its toughest", reads the advertising copy. "A thank you to the cold, darkness, wind and rain. Because without our harsh Swedish conditions we would never have made the cars we do".

The scenes are intercut with shots of Bergmanesque Swedishness — the corn rustling in the wind, aerial shots of remote snow-clad Lapland wilderness, the West coast fishing fleet skimming over the grey waters — much of it shot in near darkness.

Eva Ossiansson, a branding expert at the University of Gothenburg told Göteborgs-Posten that she found the film "incredibly beautiful, sensual, and very Swedish".

“They have dared to break the traditional pattern. The film is like no other car commercial”, she told DN newspaper. “I think that is absolutely right, at a time when we are awash with 3.000 commercial messages a day”.

Also, with the first exports of made-in-China Volvo cars beginning this year, the company’s Chinese owners Geely clearly feel the need to remind people of where the brand comes from.

The last Made by Sweden advert, featuring the footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic — got more than five million hits on YouTube, while a 2013 advert featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two Volvo Trucks was seen by some 77m people.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lynx Attacks Dog After Swedish Zoo Escape

Via The Local:

A teenage girl in northern Sweden had the fright of her life on Wednesday night when a lynx which had escaped from a local zoo leapt out of the woods and pounced on her two-year-old Siberian husky.

Emma Danielsson, 18, had taken Kira out for a walk near her house in the small Sami town of Lycksele at around 11pm when she heard something crashing around in the nearby woods.

"At first I thought it was a fox, but the dog was reacting very strongly and starting to growl", Emma told Aftonbladet.

Then the lynx leapt out of the undergrowth.

"It came out of nowhere. It started to hiss and claw my dog. I was completely in shock and did not know what to do".

The dog then bolted with the lynx in pursuit.

Irene Sjögren, the head of the local Lycksele Zoo, confirmed that lynx tracks found at the site indicated that the attacker was the same animal which escaped from her zoo in November.

"We now have permission to go out with guns", she told SVT’s Västerbottensnytt program.

"As soon as it gets a bit lighter, we will send out a hunter. We will either stun her, or if that is not possible we will kill her".

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Super Storm Leaves 40.000 Without Power

Via The Local:

The powerful storm which clobbered much of Sweden on Saturday night had left more than 40.000 without power by midday on Sunday, caused several injuries and disrupted road, rail and air traffic across the country.

The storm, dubbed Egon, raged across the country for more than fifteen hours, reaching hurricane strength of 32.6 meters per second in several places on the country's west coast around Gothenburg.

"It looks like the winds will subside over the course of the afternoon, and then we will start to downgrade warnings", Lisa Frost, a meteorologist at the national weather institute SMHI told TT on Sunday.

Class two storm warnings remain in place on the islands of Öland and Gotland.

In Gothenburg, one person was hospitalized after the heavy winds overturned his car. Another came home on Saturday to find a neighbouring car had been physically lifted up by the winds and thrown into his house. A third was sheltering in her house when a gigantic pine crashed down onto the roof.

Stockholm police reported 16 accidents taking place as a result of the storm. The coast around Malmö was less severely hit, but the authorities nonetheless decided to close the Öresund Bridge to Copenhagen on Saturday night, reopening it on Sunday morning.

About 55 people were evacuated from their homes in Denmark after Egon and Dagmar, the storm which preceded it, pushed sea levels in parts of the country to the highest levels ever recorded.

In Norway’s second city, Bergen, the sceptre of the Rosenkrantz Tower was snapped off by the wind and collapsed onto the wall of the Bergenshus fortress.