Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Estonia’

Britain’s Wasted Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

Macron MerkelThis weekend the United Kingdom was due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, but as the government in London is focussed on Brexit it declined the honour. Estonia has stepped up to the plate instead, and its progressive, tech-savvy Liberal government will doubtless make a good fist of it. But what a wasted opportunity for Britain! Two years ago, the then Pime Minister, David Cameron, said he was in poursuit of EU reforms but by unwisely pressing ahead with the EU Referendum before any significant reforms had taken place he was almost condemning Britain to leave. The tragedy is that now that Emannuel Macron is in the Elysée Palace, he and Germany’s Angela Merkel can be the dynamic duo promoting change. Of course this is not the first time that France and Germany have ruled the European roost, but had Britain stuck in there we could have seen a powerful triumvirate, with London, Paris and Berlin all determined to see a more efficient and forward-looking European Union.

Boris During the referendum campaign in the UK, Brexiteers argued that by leaving the EU Britain would “free” itself and be able to capitalise on new market opportunities. But what is abundantly clear is that instead the UK is in the process of cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner, alienating our friends and neighbours and is apparently in danger of heading for an economic recession. A year ago, we had the fastest growing economy among the G7, whereas now we have the slowest, and whereas wages have grown in other G7 countries here they have fallen, accentuating the pain of austerity. The Brexiteers claimed that the EU was a sinking ship and that we were better off jumping overboard. But that argument will look ever more fanciful as Britain gets tossed around in choppy waters while the EU steams confidently on ahead.

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Brexit and the Baltic States

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th September, 2016

Baltic States flags.jpgA few days before June’s EU Referendum invited to Riga to give a lecture on Brexit at the University of Latvia. The mood among the audience (and other speakers) was one of total mystification: why would Britain want to leave the EU after more than 40 years, when other countries are knocking on the door to get in? Three months later, the attitude of the Baltic States to the Brexit vote is one of sorrow and dismay, partly because they believe Britain’s departure (if it happens) will weaken the EU but also because they feel it will affect them. The possible return home of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonia migrants currently working in the UK is one outcome, but as the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Asta Skaisgiryte, said at a Political and Economic Circle Forum at the National Liberal Club this evening, a major concern is about security, in particular the way that the EU will or will not continue to stand up to Russia. All the Baltic states are nervous about Vladimir Putin, following the Russian encroachment into Georgia and Ukraine, not to mention the dreadful decades of Soviet occupation, human rights abuses and deportations. But the Ambassador also highlighted a specific potential threat from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, arguing where would its growing naval and military might be focused if not westwards to Europe? Baroness Judith Jolly, a LibDem spokesperson on defence in the House of Lords. also concentrated on security matters in her comments from this evening’s panel. Although Britain will remain a member of NATO, pulling out of EU cooperation could weaken the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, Brexit could be a prelude to other political events that would have been unthinkable only months ago, such as a possible Donald Trump victory in the US presidential election in November or the triumph of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in next year’s French elections. It was interesting that an unusually large turnout had registered for the seminar, which also heard from Tom Brake MP, LibDem Foreign Affairs spokesman in the Commons, Vytis Jurkonis from the Freedom Association office in Vilnius, and the Chairman, Lord Chidgey.

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A Liberal Response to the Digital Revolution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th June, 2015

imageimageTechnology is driving the European recovery, but if the EU is to remain globally competitive it needs to educate more of its labour force in relevant skills or allow in talent from elsewhere. A million jobs in Europe are unfilled because of a lack of people with the necessary IT skills, or so a seminar organised by the European Liberal ALDE Party in Brussels was informed yesterday. One of a series of ALDE events under the title Reclaiming Liberalism the seminar heard presentations from representatives of Microsoft (our hosts in their Brussels office), Deloitte and AT&T as well as comments from the German FDP politician Markus Loening. A useful case study of e-governance in Estonia — which I witnessed for myself on a Press trip to Tallinn a few years ago — was also included. Markus in particular focused on some of the politico-moral challenges, such as finding the balance between risks and opportunities offered by the digital revolution and it was agreed that care needs to be taken to ensure that we do not have a situation in which a privileged few gain great wealth from technological development whereas the masses remain poor, accentuating the already serious levels of inequality in the post-modern world. The sheer scale and speed of new technology development are mind-blowing, especially as we enter an era of computers and robots with cognitive abilities. While welcoming many of the new possibilities it is essential that there is a degree of regulation, as well as adequate controls over their use and misuse by governments, intelligence services and commercial companies.

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Tangerines or the Children of Death

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th February, 2015

TangerinesTangerines 1Abkhazia is, I suspect, a name most Europeans half remember half forget: a breakaway region of Georgia that has been effectively annexed by Russia (despite an internationally spurious declaration of independence) with the consent of a significant proportion of the local populations; it has for years been a favourite holiday destination for Russians from Moscow and St Petersburg who want to enjoy seaside and sun. There was a vicious civil war in the early 1990s, and it is that that provides the context of an extraordinary film which I saw at a screening at the EBRD* this evening — and which is shortlisted for Best Foreign Film in this year’s Oscars. An elderly Estonian, who has stayed behind in his village in Abkhazia when most others have left because of the fighting, is helping a rather timid fellow Estonian bring in his harvest of tangerines (clementines). Suddenly there is an wartime incident, and out of the survivors the old man (beautifully played by one of Estonai’s leading actors, Lembit Ulfsa), finds himself playing host to two wounded fighters: a Georgian, who cannot bear the thought of losing Abkhazia to others, and a Chechen mercenary who is fighting on the side of the Abkhazian separatists. They hate each other, and would happily kill each other, yet as events unfold they recognise their common humanity. I shan’t spoil it by revealing more of the story, but suffice it to say that this is a truly great film, an Estonian-Georgian co-production, with dialogue in (very earthy) Estonian and Russian, with somewhat milder English sub-titles, directed by the Georgian director, Zaza Urushadze, on location in Georgia, with a total budget of just £500,000. I can’t predict whether it will win the Oscar award, though it richly deserves to do so. It is impeccably directed and acted. More importantly, it deserves to go out on general release, all round the world. This is one of those films you will not forget, and there was hardly a dry eye in the EBRD screening room tonight.

*EBRD: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

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Misha Glenny on Cyber Crime

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th October, 2012

The writer and broadcaster Misha Glenny was the guest at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) lunch at Europe House yesterday; many of us had worked with him at the BBC and elsewhere, mainly during the period when he was a leading authority on the Balkans. But as he explained at the lunch, by 2000 editors around the world had had their fill of the Balkans. Nobody was interested in the area anymore. 9/11 and its aftermath further sealed his fate as he then had to find a new area of expertise, which is why he has spent much of the past decade in the company of gangsters. Some of these were involved in traditional crimes, such as gun-running, people trafficking and prostitution (more details of which you can find in his books). But more recently he has tended to focus on cyber crime — hacking and the like. People engaged in this type of activity usually don’t need to resort to the violence employed by other sectors of the international criminal fraternity, and many of them are young. One of his star interviewees in recent research was a teenager in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who made millions in a short period of time. States, intelligence services and commercial companies also increasingly engage in cyber crime, be it cyber warfare — of the type that forced Estonia to shut itself off from the Internet for a while — or the deliberate infection of Iran’s nuclear facilities by US and Israeli cyber-operatives, and indeed the blitz on Western countries — including Britain — by China and Russia in particular. Most people tend to think of cyber crime in terms of phishing scams which result in one’s credit or debit card being hacked. But such offenses are piffling compared with the high level stuff being carried out by the real professionals, including extortion of banks and commercial companies by people who have the ability to bring down their whole IT system or steal all their contact lists, emails and future product specifications. Having brouht out his book on the subject, Misha Glenny can now turn to a much less dangerous project: the rise of Brazil as an emergent world power.

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Edward Lucas at the Gladstone Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th July, 2012

Cut-and-dagger spy plots were quintessentially of the Cold War, but as Economist journalist and author Edward Lucas told the Summer Party gathering of the Gladstone Club at the National Liberal Club this evening, modern Russia is as active in the dark arts of alternative diplomacy as the Soviet Union was, and at least as ruthless. Under Putin’s watch, vast sums are creamed off the Russian economy to feed a greedy crop of oligarchs, mega-criminals and the post-Communist nomenklatura. Ed was able to draw on his experience in Moscow as a foreign correspondent, but also on the interviews and other research done for his hard-hitting book Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West (Bloomsbury, £20). Some of the characters in that book, like Anna Chapman, will be familiar to readers of quality newspapers, but many others are much less well-known — including Herman Simm, the former chief of Estonia’s Defence Ministry and Russian spy. It’s a murky world, in which people still get killed, including here in London. Ed has lost several friends, including campaigning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, murdered with the approval of people high up in Moscow. And yet, he said tonight, we welcome wealthy Russians here in London, to buy up top-of-the-range property, educate their children in British public schools and even purchase our newspapers. Not all the super-rich Russians who arrived in Britain with suitcases full of money were murderous thugs, of course. But after Ed’s talk — amusingly in the David Lloyd George room, where he used to huddle with other Young Liberals years ago — many of us were wondering if we ought not to be a little more careful.

Links: www.edwardlucas.com and http://gladstoneclub.org

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Tallinn, European Capital of Culture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th June, 2011

During the long years of Soviet occupation, most of the coast around Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, was off-limits to the local population, as a military, ‘frontier’ zone. From viewing platforms in Tallinn’s magnificent old city (now thronged with tourists), they could look out across the sea towards Finland, but otherwise the city and its inhabitants were forced to look in on themselves. It’s 20 years since Estonia regained its independence and this year also sees Tallinn as one of the designated European Capitals of Culture. The programme for this is less ambitious than some in the past have been in other European cities — at a time of austerity, funds are low — but there is nonetheless a wide range of exhibitions, concerts, plays, films (including screenings in the open air on the roof of a shopping centre), children’s drumming under a Brazilian Master and a host of other events. But maybe the most striking new venture is the work currently still going on in the old seaplane hangar that was put up in 1916, when Czar Nicholas II was boosting the defences of St Petersburg in the First World War. This extraordinary structure — the most advanced concrete building of its time, erected by a Danish company for which Ove Arup worked — boasts three domes and when restored it will form Tallinn’s new Maritime Museum. The star exhibit of that will be the 1936 UK-built submarine ”Lembit’, which is currently in dry-dock being tarted up. Though the project won’t actually be finished in time for the 2011 cultural capital deadline, the whole area will be a wonderful legacy for the city and should lead to a total regeneration of the coastline which, at long last, is in the people’s reach. 

Links: www.tallinn2011.ee and www.meremuuseum.ee

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Remembering the Baltic Way

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th August, 2009

The Baltic WayLast night I attended a reception and the opening of a video installation at the 12 Star gallery at the London offices of the European Commission, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way. That was the human chain made up of well over a million people on 23 August, 1989, stretching from the bottom of Toompea in the Estonian capital Tallinn to the base of the Gediminus Tower in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, via the Latvian capital Riga: 600 kilometres of an unbroken line of people of every age and walk of life. Those demonstrators were marking the 50th anniversary of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, but they were also demanding the right to run their own affairs, free from the shackles of Moscow. This would indeed soon lead of the regaining of independence by the three Baltic states, with Lithuania making the bold move first.

Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, who had been the newspaper’s Moscow correspondent at the time of the Baltic Way, spoke at last night’s event and reminded people that the demonstration was preceeded by moves within the local Communist parties to gain greater autonomy. Moreover, some members of the substantial Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia took part in the human chain. Even some of the state security police drove round in their cars waving the national flags of the three states. By then, Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow must have known that Soviet control of the region was in its twilight days.

Link: www.balticway.net

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Freedom of the Press

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st May, 2008

Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House, New York, gave a presentation to the Association of European Journalist (AEJ UK) at the European Parliament office in London earlier today, outlining the situation regarding media independence in OSCE member states. This showed just how far some countries in the ‘greater Europe’ have to go before they can be proud of their record. Freedom House ranks countries using a scale of negative points out of 100 judged on their degree of press freedom, with Finland and Iceland coming out top, at an impressive 9, while Turkmenistan is right at the bottom with an appalling 96, even worse than Uzbekistan. The UK can’t crow, as it comes out at 19th equal, on 18 points, alongside Lithuania. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, interestingly, are the only former Soviet republics that score well enough to be granted the status of ‘free’. Ukraine and Georgia are in the next category down, ‘partly free’, while all the other 10 former Soviet Republics, including Russia, are slated as ‘not free’. All of the Western European countries manage to get into the ‘free’ category, though when Silvio Berlusconi was last Prime Minister, Italy dropped into the ‘partly free’. It won’t just be Freedom House in New York which will be watching to see if Mr Berlusconi’s recent return to office will once again mean that Italy slips.

Links: www.freedomhouse.org , www.aej-uk.org

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