Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"First as Tragedy, then as Farce"

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce"

Karl Marx

Russia scares people. It is big and aggressive. It has a history of the blackest tyranny. It is the largest state on the planet, stretching across eleven time zones from the Baltic Sea to the Bering straits. It has a massive army which is armed to the teeth, including the largest nuclear arsenal of any country. It has repeatedly invaded its neighbours. It possesses the largest mineral reserves including the largest gold reserves, and amongst the largest oil and gas reserves on the planet. Until August it possessed the third largest foreign exchange reserves, second only to China and Taiwan.

It is also a state which expresses a grievance.

In the face of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and then the Soviet Union itself, the Russian leadership has become truculent- In 2005 Vladmir Putin has declared that "the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century".

Yet for most of its subjects, the creation of the USSR was the disaster.

Here in Estonia, the Soviet invasion in 1940 killed or exiled one third of the population.

More than 40% of the Chechens were killed during the forced deportation to Kazakhstan in the 1940s.

There is not one single family in the USSR which did not have at least one member taken to the labour camps of Siberia and cities like Magadan are quite literally built upon the bodies of the millions who died there. No one knows how many people were shot or tortured to death- the Soviets lacked the methodical documentation of their crimes that allow us to know with some accuracy the crimes of Adolf Hitler's regime in Germany.

A realistic, even conservative, estimate would be that the Soviet tyranny imprisoned 40 million human beings in the GULAG. The death toll is in the millions. The Holodomor- the famine deliberately created by Stalin in 1932-33 may have killed 10 million alone.

The legal successor to the Soviet Union is the government of the Russian Federation. Unlike the Federal Republic of Germany, the Russian Federation has not fully acknowledged the crimes of its predecessors. Russia does not accept that the invasion of the three Baltic States was criminal, for example, preferring to continue the Soviet fiction that the rape of the Baltic was a "voluntary incorporation".

The invasion of Georgia in August last year showed that the tough talk from the ex-KGB members who control the Kremlin was not bluster. Russia intended to maintain her interests in former Soviet republics- by force if necessary. Thus Russian troops are stationed in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Georgia with or without the consent of the governments of those countries.

Yet, as I have noted before, August 2008 may prove to have been the high point of the Putin regime. The shocking economic turnaround in Russia is putting huge strain on the social cohesiveness of the country. Now the World Bank is forecasting a deep recession of at least 4.5%, the OECD suggests the fall will be nearer 6%.

The great fear is that Russia is as dangerous a power as Nazi Germany was in the 1930s. Wounded by her terrible history, resentful of her diminished status, the relatively minor challenges that the Putin regime is making to the international system are a potential threat. As the economic crisis hits Russia ever harder, Putin may seek the cheap popularity that foreign adventurism seems to bring him and lead his country into a global conflict. Putin is, in this world view an analogue to Hitler- amoral and brutal and determined to restore the power of Russia, by force.

My friend, Edward Lucas, has written well on the subject of the threat that the aggressive and resentful regime of Vladimir Putin poses to the freedom of his countrymen and the stability of the international system. His Book "The New Cold War". He notes that the New Cold war is being fought with Money. Thus the latest acquisition by the Russian Surgut of the Hungarian National oil company, MOL, is very much a part of the same sinister pattern that Edward sees. Russia is still seeking control of all of the infrastructure in oil and gas that was broken up after the fall of the USSR.

Yet it seems to me that the scale of the economic challenges that Putin faces will not- as they did with Hitler- reinforce the grip of the Siloviki on Power. The ruthless nature of the group of four or five people who control the Kremlin is undoubted, yet their failure to deliver economic stability has nullified the informal pact by which public political dissent could be muted.

Putin is facing ever growing resistance to his incompetent government by cronies. After riots in the Russian far east, around the city of Vladivostok, discontent is now obvious across the whole country. The failure to help those who have become unemployed could have dramatic, even revolutionary consequences. Yet the usual beneficiaries of economic crisis: nationalist extremists are the ones supporting the regime. It therefore be that the Liberals who having been leading the dissent against the regime also end up leading the rebellion against the increasingly faltering and chaotic regime. After all ,Russia does have a history of Liberal rebellion: the Decemberists in 1825, and repeated rebellions across the 19th century culminating in 1906 and February 1917.

Perhaps we should rather now think of Mark Twain:

"History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes a lot."

Yet the the rhyme may be in Russian history, rather than German- if the Kremlin can not address the concerns of the Russian people, then its ruler may be removed- by force or by assassination if required. Czars Feodor II, Vasili IV, Ivan VI, Peter III, Paul I, Alexander I, Alexander II and Nicholas II were all assassinated, and there were many plots against all the other rulers- even if they survived.

Uneasy lies the head that wears that particular crown.

Watch this space.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Jacqui Smith: no ifs, no buts.

In the twenty years since I graduated from University I have travelled greatly. I have stayed in many different hotels all around the world.

If once I had ever submitted an expense form with a claim for a porn film I would have been dismissed for gross misconduct immediately.

The Right Honourable Mrs. Jacqui Smith MP has claimed for two films : one apparently called Raw Meat 3, the other By Special Request. She has blamed her husband. I don't see how that works: it was not her husband who submitted the expenses claim, it was she herself.

This comes on top of the fact that Mrs. Smith has claimed £157,631 in expenses including £22,948 in "Second Home allowance" while seemingly registering her sister's home in South London as her main residence.

This woman is the HOME SECRETARY!!!!

Gordon Brown thinks that this is just a little personal difficulty.

No it isn't.

She should resign forthwith. Since she won't, I will certainly be looking forward to the eviction notice that the good voters of Redditch hand this grasping, dishonourable disgrace on election night.

Smith can join the long list of sleaze that starts with Ashcroft and ends in Yeo.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Belarusian Freedom begins to stir

Belarus is usually described as the last bastion of tyranny in Europe. It continues to be a weird post-Soviet throwback, under its dictatorial leader, Aleksander Lukashenka. It officially uses the same flag and symbols as it used under the USSR, with only the hammer and sickle removed. Indeed the security service of this state of 10 million is still known as the KGB and it uses the same brutal methods as its Soviet namesake.

Yet the situation in Belarus is not static.

Although the dictatorship is certainly extremely repressive, the fact is that it is also somewhat erratic and now the regime has permitted a demonstration to commemorate the 91st anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian National Republic which was forcibly dispersed by Lenin's troops a year or so later. The BNR is looked to by the opposition in Miensk as an alternative to the Lukashenka state and the display of the White-Red-White flag of that time is a clear sign of protest. Thus the prominent display of the white-red-white flag by several tens of thousands of demonstrators is a message from the regime that dissent is now more licenced.

The economic crisis has forced Belarus to seek help from the IMF. This is forcing Lukashenka to consider a policy rather different from the puppet state of the Moscow Kremlin that he has followed hitherto. The Russians have been pressurising Miensk to recognise another puppet state: that of South Ossetia that Kremlin troops have established on the territory of Georgia. Yet the European Union is equally determined that Miensk should NOT recognise the obvious Kremlin landgrab against its southern neighbour. In response Lukashenka has dithered.

The Belarusian people have taken the consequences- they are isolated and unable to travel easily except to the Russian Federation. Now, surely, the time is ripe for the UK and the European Union states in Shengen to reduce the restrictions against Belarusian passport holders, while at the same time maintaining the restrictions against Lukashenka and his henchmen. That, Isuspect will help the progress of democratic reform substantially. Maintaining isolation is only likely to benefit the Kremlin and continue the use of the absurd Soviet era symbology in the country.

One day- perhaps quite soon-the white-red-white flag will fly again in Miensk and the traditional symbol of the country which it shares with Lithuania, the mounted knight known in Belarusian as the Pahonia will also be restored.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The City and the Poet

Tomas Venclova is a poet and was a dissident.

Some would say that he was still a dissident, in that he continues to speak uncomfortable truths to his fellow countrymen in Lithuania. He was expelled from the Soviet Union and deprived of his citizenship in 1977 for daring to challenge the illegal occupation of Lithuania by Stalin and for being part of the steering committee of the Lithuanian Helsinki monitoring group. The Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Final act during the period of detente with the West and in it they made explicit promises to respect human rights. Yet although the USSR had theoretical legal protections, the fact is that Communism is not a system of laws and in any event the Politburo has no intention of reducing the oppressive measures that they used to keep their unwilling populace in subjugation.

So it was that the man now widely recognised as the greatest living Lithuanian poet was forced to come to the West almost thirty years ago. Yet Venclova is not just a Lithuanian poet, he forms with Josef Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz, part of a triumvirate of witnesses to oppression. Though now he is free to come and go to Lithuania- and is indeed a Lithuanian Citizen- when he left he was forced to leave behind his wife, his parents, his daughter and all of his friends to come as an unknown to the United States, where he now teaches at Yale. It was an experience that both Milosz and Brodsky were also forced to undergo from their respective homelands.

Czeslaw Milosz was for me the gateway into Central and Eastern Europe, his book "The Captive Mind" explained to my then 14 year old mind the nature of the Communist system- and the punishment it would inflict on those it considered heretics. It was thus that I became a passionate anti Communist, Soviet Socialism being still in my eyes no lesser a crime than National Socialism. Brodsky's dense poetry dealt with themes of the individual and society and like Milosz he too won the Nobel Prize for literature- a prize that is often linked with Venclova himself, though not, so far, awarded.

Though born in Klaipeda, it is with the City of Vilnius that Venclova is most associated, and his poetry draws much of its inspiration from the baroque mysteries of the renewed Lithuanian capital. The architecture inspires Venclova as it inspired Milosz, who went to university there during its interlude as a Polish city. The mysticism of the City- seen in the Ausra Varta icon-set in a chapel above the "gates of the dawn", which the Poles call Ostrabrama; and in its most famous Jewish mystic, the Gaon of Vilna- has also influenced the poetry of Venclova.

Last night, as part of a schedule of talks in London to celebrate the Lithuanian millennium and the term of Vilnius of capital of European culture Venclova came to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies to discuss his work and his inspiration.

The richness of the ideas flows through even in translation, though lacking the rhythms of the original Lithuanian. It was a wonderful evening to hear a poet who speaks with such integrity and of course, of beauty. Full square in the tradition of Auden he remains a direct link to a generation sorely tried, but found equal to the tasks presented to it.


here the days are all so loyal
and all so light, my friend,
like the heights of the bell towers and steeples
at whose bottom we wait for darkness;
so tell me, how will we struggle against
the springs found in the clay,
the meteorite mints on the porch,
the dynasty of islands and straits?

and so then we, who pick the luxurious apple
which did not grow for us in the deserts,
who have divided the glory of the dead
like a giant linen shawl,
who have declared freedom's moratorium,
who have learned to repeat
the history of heaven's unliving in the storm,
the geometry of resurrection;

and so the beginning, and the foam in the boat
beyond the smoking red embankment
(boulevards, sailboats and the Baltic
breathe deeply and accept)
– though the city stones constrict us,
with new names we named forever
the waves, middle-age, middle-earth,
winters and the water full of birds;

and so our homeland; defend yourself;
its gothic doors are ajar,
and the airless distances are so close,
and the heavens are like smokeless gunpowder

Tomas Venclova Translated by Jonas Zdanys

Now a new edition of his poetry is available in English: "The Junction" from Bloodaxe Press. For those who do not know this great mind, it may be a revelation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Life as a Talking Head

From time to time I appear on various television programmes being interviewed about Central and Eastern European business issues. Usually it is Bloomberg TV, sometimes CNBC or CNN or, as today, on the BBC.

Being a "talking head" is a rather odd existence. Usually you only have about three minutes to try to convey often very complicated issues to a journalist who may still be struggling to understand how to pronounce people's names, never mind understand how they fit into the bigger picture. It is something of an art and rather tricky to maintain fluency when it is important to be as clear as possible. Nevertheless I quite enjoy the challenge. In fact I appear regularly enough to have started to play little games. One is to incorporate an unlikely word suggested by someone else into the interview. I think my favourite was "crepuscular", although this morning I also managed "precipitation" - some harmless fun and it brightens my approach to what even I will admit can be quite dull issues, a little bit.

It was an exceptionally early start this morning and unlike at Bloomberg, the BBC is a long way from the office (though fortunately close to my flat in central London) and they do tend to keep the guests hanging around a bit. Also, the BBC does seem to like to do make up, which really only CNBC does otherwise- I find I need a wash afterwards.

Today was a brief discussion about the resignation of the Hungarian PM, and there are real chances that the country will either break the cycle of incontinent fiscal policy which it has established over the past eight or nine years or it will plunge into a deep period of economic gloom, coupled with political instability. It kind of depends on whether a technocrat like my old acquaintance Andras Simor is appointed or whether some more divisive and less competent figure comes through. That, dear reader, was more or less the entire substance of the interview- though I did not mention that I know Andras Simor.

I doubt that it added much to the sum of human knowledge- those that know about Hungary would want to know more, and those that don't probably don't care anyway. The only other surprises today were that I saw Jonathan Charles standing up- and was quite surprised to see that he was smaller than I am and that Sally Bundock is much prettier in real life than she is on the screen- it was the first time I had done a piece with her. Meanwhile the cavernous BBC newsroom is altogether a whole lot less high-tech than Bloomberg TV is- they even have paper scripts!

Funny thing was, I received several phone calls from friends who happened to see the piece- most unusual, perhaps even at 5.30 AM, there are more viewers on the BBC than I thought.

The real threat of Fascism

A couple of days ago I re-posted a list of reasons why David Morton says he is a Liberal Democrat. I thought it a gently humorous list and thought others would get the joke. At some point I will post my own list, but I liked the general thrust of David's comments.

To my surprise it evoked a series of furious responses from one Neil Craig- see comments under the relevant post. Usually when people throw around words like "Fascist" and Nazi" they tend to be foam flecked lunatics who typically post anonymously. Most often I would tend to delete these posts, since they are unpleasant for me and my readers and quite often libellous. Neil posted under his own name and left an e-mail, and yet his comments were the epitome of bilious rage. It is almost always the case that when people accuse you of being a Nazi or some other thing that you clearly are not, they either don't understand the argument or they have already lost it. Given the massive errors in fact that Neil Craig made in his highly inflammatory and offensive comments, in his case I think it is probably both.

However, his gratuitous use of the words Fascist and Nazi in attacking the Liberal Democrats made me think a little about the current state of health of British and indeed European politics more widely.

We are going through the largest economic upheaval that virtually any of us has ever seen. The financial crisis has lead to a wider economic crisis and in several countries it is leading to a political crisis. Many have focused on the political crisis in Central and Eastern Europe, noting the fall of the governments in Latvia, Lithuania and now the Prime Minister of Hungary has resigned. Yet the political situation in Ireland, Italy, France and even the UK could best be described as fluid, the political crisis is a general European affair, not limited to one specific area of the continent.

In several countries authoritarian and racist political parties are active- in the UK it is the various far-right groups that came out of the thuggish National Front, now called the BNP, that pose the most public threat. In other countries, there are more powerful groups than our own, rather milksop Fascists. In Bulgaria the Ataka Party, led by an out and out racist and anti-Semite, Volen Sidorov, has won close to 10% of the vote, and there are individual figures on the right in various countries whose political positions could best be described as racial-based populism.

In June there will be elections for the European Parliament. I think it is quite possible that several countries, potentially even the UK, could elect far-right MEPs. These figures are currently more an embarrassment than a genuine threat to democracy, but as Edmund Burke wrote, "There is no safety for honest men except in believing all possible evil of evil men".

In the face of the renewed authoritarian challenge from reactionary forces in Russia and overtly Fascist figures inside our own body politic, it is as well to remember that not all political opponents are enemies. There is a political, democratic legitimacy in Liberalism, Conservatism, Libertarianism, Social Democracy, and even Democratic Socialist points of view. The vituperation of the kind that Mr. Craig throws around so easily is best reserved for those who genuinely deserve it. The threat of Soviet Socialism has transmuted into a kind of National Socialism and both forms of authoritarianism must be resisted by Democrats of all stripes.

As the economic crisis continues to deepen, the next few months could well see the resurgence of a political ideology that many thought long dead- and we may need all our collective strength to deal with the challenge of 21st century Fascism.

Freedom up in Smoke?

I am not a complete Libertarian, though I have a lot of sympathy for those that are. I think it is interesting that some Libertarians are trying to claim the name "Liberal" for their ideology, and I have sometimes observed that Libertarianism and Liberalism have a fair deal in common.

I think where the two positions differ most fundamentally is over the role of the state. Liberalism does not automatically regard the state as a negative force. There are some limited areas, generally concerned with natural monopolies where Liberals believe that the state is an unavoidable presence and even a positive force, although we remain ideologically totally opposed to the presence of the public sector in wide areas.

Yet Libertarians are ideologically "minarchist" to a level that Liberals consider impractical even were it totally desirable. The position of most Libertarians is, to a Liberal eye, simply too extreme to be practical. To that end, I have sometimes thought of the Liberal Democrats as the political wing of the anti-authoritarian ideological spectrum.

Apart from Europe, which I have addressed in other essays, the place where Libertarians tend to attack the position of the Liberal Democrats most intensely is over the ban on smoking in public places. This, they argue, demonstrates that Liberal Democrats are au fond statist authoritarians. It is an attack that occasionally I have felt uncomfortable about. Liberal Democrats are quite fiercely against State interference in personal behaviour. For example, we oppose ID cards precisely because we believe that they infringe the principle that the state accounts to its citizens, and not the other way round. How then could the Liberal Democrats support such an infringement of personal liberty?

The answer lies in the problem of passive smoking.

The basic Liberal principle is best articulated by John Stuart Mill:

"The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right...The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign"

The problem about smoking is that even though the massive body of science says that it is a massive risk factor for poor health of all sorts of kinds, it is not illegal. Neither should it be illegal, it is a personal choice, and indeed the Liberal Democrats have often suggested that many other substances which currently are prohibited would be better legalised or at least decriminalised in order to better deal with the social problems they bring in their wake- and the Police have generally agreed. So the Lib Dems do not want to ban smoking. As far as we are concerned, an individual has every right to go to the devil in their own way- it is, quite literally your funeral, but no concern of ours.

The problem is that there is an overwhelming body of evidence that smoking is also very dangerous, to people who do not smoke. Second-hand smoke creates similar health problems for people who do not smoke as for people who do, and in public places non-smokers were being forced to face threats to their health that were substantial. Roy Castle, a non-Smoker who nevertheless died of a cancer usually associated with smoking, put down his illness to being forced to passive smoke in bars where he performed on the trumpet in his early career.

So the fact is that smokers, perfectly free to risk their own health, were also putting a risk the health of others by smoking in public enclosed places. After careful consideration the advice of health care professionals was that smoking in enclosed public places was indeed very dangerous to others.

It is for that reason, that after much discussion, Liberal Democrats - even the smokers- generally supported the public smoking ban. It was nevertheless a close debate, but as more and more countries, from the United States, Ireland and across the EU, adopted the same measures it became clear that there truly is a general global scientific and political consensus on this issue.

No mainstream political party in the UK now supports the repeal of the public smoking ban.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why am I a Liberal Democrat?

I saw this comment from David Morton on Lib Dem Voice about why he was a Liberal Democrat:
I found it hard to disagree- especially about beer...

David Morton Says:19th March 2009 at 11:26 am

1. Because if push comes to shove I’d choose Liberty over Equality (even though the preamble says otherwise !)
2. Because if we don’t re-order society on Gaian principles then the Biosphere will defend its self and we’ll go extinct.
3. Because the price of Liberty is eternal vigilance and we need at least one party that be relied upon to do the Philadelphia lawyer stuff, however unpopular.
4. Because while an Anglosphere would have been better, we buggered up the 1770’s and the EU is now our best bet of protecting liberty, Equality and Fraternity in a globalized world with a rising China. No other party will make that case as well or as consistently
5. Because Labour and Conservatism are both theories of the distribution of money and as such are two sides of the same copper coin
6. Because Liberalism is a theory of power and as such it gets to the core and the causes rather than the edges and symptoms of injustice.
7. Because I want a fair society but don’t trust the state.
8. Because activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet. (hat tip to Alice Walker)
9. Because what we think of as given Civilisation is only ever three generations away from extinction at any one time if we don’t build, teach, think anew, pass on and till the soil of civic society
10. Because as Benjamin Franklin so rightly said ” Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be Happy.”

While she has left us minding the shop we owe her a favour for the gift of Beer.

Sloppy thinking in Bruges

Last night I went to a meeting of the Bruges Group at the Foreign Press Association which is housed in Gladstone's old house in Carlton House Gardens. In the very room where the Grand Old Man once conducted occasional cabinet meetings, Professor Tim Congdon and John Redwood were scheduled to speak on the place of the Euro in the current economic crisis.

Well, except they did no such thing. All Tim Congdon did was point out that different countries in the Euro zone have different interest rates from Germany and that the UK was very lucky not to be involved. As to actual thought or justification for this "luck", well none came.

John Redwood, hotfoot from the House of Commons, was next up and made a competent attack on the polices of the current government, with which it was impossible to disagree. Yet on the subject of the Euro- the supposed theme of the evening- he said virtually nothing except that, again, we were very "lucky" not to be in the system.

Naturally the two speakers were playing to their audience, but I was actually pretty shocked that there was no organised or coherent argument at all- simply an assumption that the Euro would fail and that it was "bad" in some inchoate, nebulous way.

For goodness sakes, Gilts have been trading at big spreads over German Bunds for years! British monetary costs are still far higher than the majority of the Euro zone- and no one even mentioned it. Sterling has devalued by 40% against the Euro in the past year, and this was not even mentioned either. Despite this gigantic devaluation, The UK is still likely to be in recession for longer than the Euro zone and in the past quarter we have had a 10% fall in manufacturing output.

All the Bruges Group audience clapped when Congdon advocated withdrawal from the European Union- but frankly I think they have delusions of adequacy as far as the British economy is concerned. For decades, when faced with crisis, the UK has taken the soft option and devalued its currency- and as a policy it simply diminishes investor appetite for British assets over the long term and reduces British buying power in the global economy. Continuing devaluation, in the end, only impoverishes the UK- but the Bruges Group audience would rather take the soft option than actually force the UK to address its long term structural weakness, which membership of the Eurozone would certainly force us to do.

Even Tim Congdon does not believe, despite his woolly denunciations, that the Euro will break up or collapse- though his audience clearly did. The idea, as he said, that the UK "should not be a member of a club that would have us" is arrogance of a pretty high order. The fact is that the UK can not be a member of the Eurozone at the present, and still less so as the result of the massive bank bailouts that have just been undertaken.

Relative to the Eurozone, the UK has just lost 40% of its wealth- and the largely elderly audience were still predicting disaster in the Euro. Had they not noticed that disaster has already struck the Pound!

It seems to me wise to take the beam out of your own eye before mentioning the mote in the eye of another.

If that is the intellectual quality of the Europhobic argument, then it should not prove difficult to change people's minds. Although it will be several years before the issue of membership of the Eurozone even comes up for the UK, the fact is that this is not a position of strength, but of extraordinary weakness.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The urgent need to simplify tax or why off-shore havens still exist

Britain has one of the most complicated tax codes in the world. Though not as truly terrifying as the Mobius curve of the American regulations, the complicated exemptions and overlapping liabilities make even filling out a personal tax return a daunting process. For corporate tax liabilities, it usually requires a PLC an entire department to establish what liabilities might be.

It is not just the complication of the system, it is also the high price.

According to the OECD in 2006 Britain ranked ninth in the industrial world in terms of the size of overall tax burden, taking 37.4% of GDP in tax. Germany, Canada, Switzerland and the USA all take substantially less. Only the very high tax economies mainly of Scandinavia together with France and Italy take more. As Colbert once wrote, "the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing".

Yet one reason why there is not so much "hissing" is that, for the corporate sector and for very rich individuals, there are many ways to use the complicated regulations to evade tax and reduce the overall tax burden. There are many jurisdictions that have dramatically lower tax levels than the UK, and by placing corporate entities in these places, substantial British tax liabilities have long been successfully mitigated or even eliminated.

Morally tax evasion could be seen as quite questionable- after all these individuals and institutions still receive the benefits from functioning in a society that is funded by other peoples money. Yet for me it is a quite clear example of the invisible hand in action- and often with the clear assent of the tax authorities themselves. Indeed the very buildings that the British HM Revenue & Customs- formerly the Inland Revenue- work from are owned though a PFI deal by an entity registered in Bermuda.

The fact is that the government itself recognises that the official tax burden in the UK is so extreme that it shows an imperial hypocrisy about the whole issue of tax avoidance. Officially HMRC condemns tax avoidance, but in practice it winks at many schemes. As a result there is hardly a single corporation of any size, including state corporations, which do not employ tax avoidance methods somewhere in their structures.

Simply to administer the incredibly complicated system of personal tax credits probably costs at least 20% of the funds involved- the exact number has not been permitted for release under the so-called "Freedom of Information act". The overall fiscal drag- the clearly very substantial costs of collection to the state, together with the indirect burden, including the employment of accountants and tax advisers not to mention entire company departments solely to deal with tax indicates that the total direct and indirect costs of tax collection and regulation in the UK could be as much as 30% of the tax take - a truly staggering £100 billion, or 10% of the UK GDP.

This is simply not sustainable.

By contrast, in Estonia the fiscal drag is negligible- the taxes are flat and very simple- so no need for accountants. The total cost of collection is continually reducing as declaration via the Internet becomes universal. It is quite clear that there is a model for Britain here.

Yet many oppose a flat tax rate because they believe that it is unfair that the rich should pay the same as the poor. Of course, ironically, our so called progressive taxation system has so many loopholes that the rich in Britain actually pay much less than the poor, so paying the same would be an improvement on the current position anyway. However there is a way to make a flat tax system progressive: set the tax threshold at quite a high level, so that the bottom 20% of earners don't pay tax at all. This would also eliminate the need for the ruinously expensive and unworkable system of tax credits that Gordon Brown's tinkering has created.

Tax havens have come into being to fulfil a clear need: the market has provided an answer to the absurdities of the UK tax code. Instead of struggling to put its fingers and toes into an increasingly leaky dam, the best solution is simply to create a bonfire of much of the current tax code. Simplification and clarity (and low cost of collection and administration) must be the watchwords.

Labour has failed- in the face of the greatest recession most of us have ever seen, there is no room for the scale of waste that the current fiscal drag imposes upon the British economy. Reform is long overdue.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reflections on Perth

Spending a couple of days in Perth was a real pleasure, and I sense that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are in the best shape that I have seen them for years: just as well since in 2009 we have a tough fight to keep a Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP, in 2010 the British general election will take place and in 2011 the next Scottish Parliamentary elections will also provide some interesting fights.

Tavish Scott has certainly steadied the ship, and I was impressed also with the way that Jeremy Purvis- who I must admit I did not know before his election- has emerged as a solid, rather owlish, figure in the financial brief.

The star of the conference, though, was clearly Vince Cable. His own address to the conference- an unscripted and extremely thoughtful tour d'horizon of the current state of the British economy and British politics- was exceptional. In the face of the inadequacies of Darling and Osborne it is perfectly clear how far ahead Cable is of the competition. As one who has written about economics professionally myself, I remain awe struck by his clarity and lucidity of purpose. It is not just amongst the Liberal Democrats that the idea that Vince Cable should be the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking a very firm hold. Whereas once our opponents considered that the Liberal Democrats were rather flaky about economic realities, now they fear to take us on even on such critically important issues.

As to the overall state of Scottish politics, the Nationalists and their oft-time allies the Conservatives are now seeing the chickens coming home to roost. the over-promising and under-delivering SNP has been caught flat footed again and again. As Malcolm Bruce put it, the Nationalists have abandoned so much of their programme that their is little left for them to abandon further- except office.

Meanwhile it becomes ever clearer what a mess the Scottish Labour Party is in. Across the whole Scottish Liberal Democrat conference there was much talk of rejuvenation and opportunity. The party is making progress back from its nadir of two or three years ago, and there is the real hope that far from going backwards at the next elections, there is instead every chance of gains.

That is a prospect that the Scottish Liberal Democrats must relish- and our opponents should fear.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Further dispatches from Perth

The Scottish Liberal Democrats conference continues over the weekend, though unfortunately I will have to leave after lunch today: barely halfway through the gathering. It means, that despite seeing so many of my very old friends, inevitably I will miss several- and of course the most convivial gathering, in the shape of the conference dinner.

As I get ready to leave, I reflect upon the current state of party politics. Relative to our immediate past, I find the Scottish Liberal Democrats in very rude health, yet I reflect that all political parties are simply shadows of what they once were. The network of Liberal clubs, Conservative clubs and Working Men's clubs which provided a social reinforcement to political activism are now long gone- transmuted into just another way to consume alcohol. The physical infrastructure of committee rooms, libraries and so on that the Victorian philanthropists bequeathed, are also now much diminished. Politics, as a mass social activity, appears to have gone the way of religion: while many may profess to be believers the fact is that many if not most are more heretic than orthodox and political observance is limited to the occasional visit to the ballot box, the political equivalent of a Christmas midnight mass.

The latest political initiative to reinvigorate the political system is a rather oxymoronic concept "organised independents", Sir Paul Judge, a former Conservative donor, has switched his funding to a new group called "the Jury Team", which will campaign to get more non party politicians elected. I doubt it will work- where local "independent" groups exist, they tend to behave in exactly the same way as the national parties. They campaign as "holier than thou", but they almost always fail to achieve their aspirations- not because of party political competition very often, but because of the pressures of their own contradictions.

That is not to say that all is rosy in the party political garden: far from it. However in the end, perhaps the shortcomings of politics could be solved were there a greater political engagement by wider society. Actually, of course, millions of people ARE political engaged, they are members of the National Trust, the give to the RSPCA or Shelter or any one of thousands of other charities. They are school governors, they create campaigns to protect their local area. Yet, for the vast majority of these people, the current menu of electable parties is simply unappealing. For me as for millions of others, there is a deep frustration that politics in their area does not represent what they believe in.

In my opinion the House of Commons is the last bastion of an anti-competitive closed market. In the largest majority of seats, there is no competition- and we should hardly be surprised that turnout in those seats is sometimes barely above 50%.

At their root, Scottish Liberal Democrats believe in a free and fair electoral system, and that is our answer to those who demand more independents- a free market in politics will ultimately lead to a a more diverse political system.

I am happy to be back in Scotland, especially in Perth, which seems to represent the better part of our solid Victorian heritage- it remains a wealthy and stable community. My party here is optimistic about their electoral future, and certainly in the face of Labour decline and SNP dithering they have every reason to be feeling positive. As for me, I reluctantly return South, but with a determination to be back soon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Fair City.. Continued

Well after the disappointing Smoking result, the rest of the Scottish Lib Dem conference looks to be much more plain sailing.

I spoke in the economy debate, but although my "confessions of a banker" shtick got plenty of laughs, a four minute slot is just not enough to explain the value of the Estonian model of Liberalism- so I didn't try. I just laid into the unholy Tory-SNP axis of incompetence that exists in Scotland. The hypocrisy of the Unionists in a strong though unofficial alliance with the Independentistas escapes few it seems. Meanwhile the defeat of Labour is Scotland looms ever larger- and few can predict what that will mean for the political landscape, not only of Scotland, but the UK as a whole. My peroration on the urgent need of Scottish and British and, where relevant, European tiers to co-ordinate was received with the warmth that only a Lib Dem conference would give it I think.

Always a pleasure to see so many old friends, though it is kind of interesting to see the way that politics is evolving. On the web all is slick, in the hall, well... perhaps more human.

The Fair City

I came up last night to the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Perth. The atmosphere is convivial, the weather spring-like, and it is good to see so many old friends.

Mind you there is something about smoking that brings out the illiberal, even in the most liberal of Liberals. Of course smoking is bad and of course kids should be protected from smoking until they are old enough to make their own choices. However the motion before the conference was to ban cigarette vending machines- a similar policy has already been proposed by the SNP.

I don't like it.

Smoking where it does no harm to others is not illegal. Personally I am pretty libertarian about most vices: everyone is entitled to go to the devil in their own way. However too many doctors get to see over and over again the evils of smoking, and there is no doubt that the morality of the tobacco companies has often been extremely questionable. The result is some pretty strong emotions about the whole issue of smoking.

The result is that we tend to talk about bans on everything short of smoking itself "to protect the children". Personally I think it goes against the fundamental principle of Liberalism:

"The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. "

However, as always, the anti-smokers have their way...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ryanair: The World's least favourite Airline

I am delayed at Stansted for six hours thanks to Ryanair's latest scam.

I have a ticket for today's 8.30 flight to Shannon. I checked in online yesterday.

When I got to the gate I was denied boarding- because, although my name was on the boarding pass, I had not entered my ID number into their system. So, even though Ryanair issued a boarding pass without information they consider to be vital, I have therefore had to spend £210 to buy another ticket so that I can fly at 14.40.

Given Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary's hard ball business policies, it seems to me quite clear that this is an obvious fraud.

Since the system allowed me to print a boarding pass without entering my ID Card or Passport details, it is quite clear that Ryanair have entered into a contract with me to fly me to Shannon. When I fly with other airlines I do not have to enter such details- I just give my booking reference- or show my credit card- and then show whatever ID I have.

It is a matter of company policy and not of law that Ryanair chose not to allow me to board the plane. This forced me to buy a second ticket at the definitely not low cost sum of £210. I had no alternative. It is frankly outrageous.

According to the Ryanair staff, this happens quite regularly. Given that the boarding pass is an acknowledgement of the contract I have with the airline, I will naturally be asking for a full refund. I will probably get it for the first ticket, but the purchase of the second ticket is solely because of Rynair's unilateral voiding of the first contract. I want my £210 back, not the low cost fare that Ryanair might be prepared to pay.

I would be interested to know from others how often this airline pulls this scam.

If it truly is a significant number, I suggest that that a class action law suit is put together in order to recover the money that Ryanair have- as a matter of their company policy- extorted from people when they are forced to buy second tickets, plus force them to pay damages and compensation that Michael O'Leary thinks should never be paid by his airline under any circumstances.

The Airline code for Ryanair is FR as in FRaud.

I am forced to fly them to Shannon today- I have no choice. Once I return I will, of course never fly Ryanair again, and I will reserve all my legal rights against them in this disgusting display of customer robbery.

Monday, March 09, 2009

You know when you've been...slimed

A pot of green slime was being scooped up tonight after it was covered in Peter Mandelson.

A spokesman for the slime said that, although naturally shaken by being forced to come into contact with something so unpleasant, the slime was determined to return to normal as quickly as possible.

"It all happened so quickly" said the slime, 55.

"One minute I was gently fermenting and bubbling methane, the next I was having to deal with the unpleasant aftershave of the notorious Mandelson. I mean, it's not as if you know where he has been- it could have been very dangerous".

The Spokesman added that despite its unsightly appearance, the Mandelson had been tested and found to have been only slightly toxic. "At no time was the slime in genuine danger, however unsightly the Mandelson might have been".

The slime was praised by a blue-green algae "It is astonishing how calm the slime has been, when you consider that the Mandelson could have been anywhere, and the skin toner and after shave that the Mandelson uses are both pretty strong, but slimey has been a real trooper- I am so impressed".

Several other single-celled creatures creatures have reacted angrily. One Amoeba criticised the handling of the security around the slime. "It is totally unacceptable that the slime was forced to endure this, it makes my endoplasm run cold to think that the slime could even have been George Osborned."

Crew Cut Clegg makes his case

Speeches at political conferences often fall flat, and the irritating hullabaloo that usually surrounds the speech of a party leader on these occasions usually makes me feel somehow cheated.

Who really cares if there were eight standing ovations from a party for its leader, or even twelve? It always strikes me as false anyway. I remember Paddy Ashdown coming off stage at a rally which had ended with fireworks and balloons and much razzmatazz and wryly muttering that it only needed elephants to make it into a circus. Yet sometimes a leader's speech can indeed be significant. David Cameron's speech in the Autumn of 2007 that made Gordon Brown recalculate his electoral prospects- a recalculation that seems to have acquired terminal significance after Brown was dubbed a "bottler", for example. Strangely, although much more low key, Nick Clegg may have done something similar over the weekend.

It was not just Clegg's new hairstyle, a much more distinctive crew cut, that marked out this speech as a new direction. It was also the integrated policy approach: it was the integration of a whole new set of policies. Under Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats have gained much needed economic credibility, but Clegg also managed to draw a radical thread through the Liberal Democrat programme. He laid out once unthinkable policies, such as nationalisation of the Banks, but he also demonstrated why such policies were not only quite sensible, but actually necessary. The programme he outlined was measured and practical. It sounded like a programme for power.

We have now just over one year until the most likely election date.

The electoral system requires a substantial lead in votes - roughly 10%- before the Conservatives can gain a bare majority in the House of Commons. The polls remain volatile. It is by no means impossible that the Liberal Democrats actually do better than their showing in 2005. Under such circumstances, the chances of either Labour or Tory gaining a majority fall substantially.

We are not there yet- but then a lot can happen in 15 months. What Nick Clegg showed in his speech was not only a distinct appetite for the fight, but a clear idea of what the Liberal Democrats would do if given an opportunity for power. I suspect that far from being squeezed and written off, the Liberal Democrats may enter the last year of this Parliament in a much stronger position than any of the last three years.

After having been ignored and derided by our political opponents, the significance and substance of Cleggs' speech is the credibility which he clearly believes that the party has gained.

That could prove to be very significant, very soon.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Don't call us, Gordon

Vernon Bogdanor suggests in today's Times that Gordon Brown, if he is to avoid a "new Conservative century" should now reopen the discussions with the Liberal Democrats that were terminated after Tony Blair decided to ignore the Jenkins Commission. Bogdanor, who was David Cameron's tutor at Oxford, argues that the recession, although underlining the validity of Social Democratic ideology is in fact undermining Labour, the Social Democratic Party. Bogdanor's solution is to "reunite the left" and that the Prime Minister should talk to the Liberal Democrats.

Well sorry Vernon, the Liberal Democrats won't get fooled again.

The Labour Party has had nearly twelve years in office. During that time they have presided over a period of substantial erosion of our civil liberties. They have conducted an illegal war, they have failed to understand that the boom was not "an end to boom and bust", but rather the prelude to the biggest bust any of us has ever seen. They did not create public accountability, since their version of the "Freedom of Information Act" is a toothless and politically partial farce. They have centralised local government on shadow regions, despite a firm rejection of that policy in the only referendum that was held. They did not hold a referendum on PR, despite making a manifesto commitment to do so in 1997. In short the Labour government has been almost the antithesis of what Liberalism stands for. Labour has also betrayed the explicit commitments they made to the Liberal Democrats concerning the reform of the voting system that they glibly made in their quest for power.

Now Labour is clearly headed for a massive defeat that- ironically enough- may only be mitigated by the unfair and undemocratic voting system. However, I can not feel any regrets. I do not have any confidence in the competence of Cameron's Conservatives, but for the wider electorate the hope- however weak and unfounded- that Cameron offers is a lot more attractive than the reality of today's tired and pusillanimous Labour government.

The Liberal Democrats recognise that if the Liberal agenda is to be enacted, there is no use relying on anybody else to do it for us. Labour is not- if it ever was- an ideological party, it is a pragmatic vehicle for power, so too is the Conservative Party to a great extent. However, the "Labour movement" that created the Labour party no longer exists. The massed society that spawned the Labour movement itself no longer exists. There is now no ideological agenda behind the new Labour project- only "whatever works".

In 1979, when Labour last fell from power, the extreme left-wing of the Labour movement seized control, and it was only with their defeat and the imposition of the "New Labour" project by Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell et al that the party regained its electoral credibility. Even then it was a very close run thing. In 1983, the Labour Party only just squeeked into second place, ahead of the Alliance. The ultimate defeat of the left by Blair replaced Militant Tendency entrism with middle class entryism.

Yet Blairism was not Liberalism. It was centralising and authoritarian. It was based on the certainties of a cult - and their heroic determination to stay "on message" was politics as monologue. It is a lesson that David Cameron has learned well.

A swing to the Conservatives has histroically damaged Liberals. Yet the past 12 years has tripled the Liberal Democrats' representation in the House of Commons. Even a substantial setback will probably not take the Liberal Democrats down the the levels of the 1980s. The party will retain many of its seats even against the head.

Relative to the Labour losses, the Liberal Democrats will probably be more resilient. In that sense, as the political pendulum swings back from the Conservatives by then it could be the Liberal Democrats who can finally gain enough support to enact their agenda in national government. After thirty years membership of my political party I still have my eyes on the prize. I think it would be crazy to compromise our ideology and principles by shackling ourselves to the political corpse of the Labour Party, which has already demonstrated its ill faith and bad will every time we have entered into discussions with them.

Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy, Robert Mclennan have all talked to Labour- even taken cabinet commitee places. Each time Labour broke faith.

Labour would do the same again, no matter how desperate thay may be. Whereas the Liberal Democrats should keep their eye on the next political cycle and get ready to destroy the husk that still remains of the modern Labour Party.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Special Relationship

Well, Mr.Brown is off to see President Obama, perhaps the most glamorous politician in the world.

There will doubtless be much talk of "The Special Relationship" between the United Kingdom and the United States. There will be no end of smugness at Number 10 that Gordon Brown, rather than Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy, was the first across the threshold of the Obama Oval Office.

It seems then perhaps churlish to ask what precisely is the benefit that Britain receives from this Special Relationship with the hyper-power? To do so is question the very basis of current British foreign policy.

Macmillan, whose premiership matched that of Tony Blair for gesture and rhetoric, once suggested that Britain was wise old Greece to America's warlike Rome. The Americans had a clearer view, as Dean Acheson, Trueman's Secretary of State famously once said: "Great Britain has lost an Empire and still not found a role".

It is still true today.

Talking to Ministers in several Central and Eastern European states there is profound frustration with the failure of the UK to engage with the European Union. These countries are- if anything- even more pro-American than Britain, and yet they are not afraid to express this within a European context. The point that Europhobic Conservatives miss repeatedly -and David Cameron spectacularly when he was in Washington- is that British membership of the European Union is now central to how the Americans see the UK: and a major point in our favour.

Nevertheless there remains a significant minority amongst the Conservatives who can see nothing positive whatsoever in the European Union and advocate our immediate withdrawal. Frankly this is such nonsense that even the Conservative leadership rejects it totally. Despite this, the headbanging Tory Europhobes, such as Daniel Hannam or Ambrose Evans Pritchard, continue to write journalism that has more to do with wish fulfilment than the objective truth.

Yet the even the fairly clear position of the Conservative leadership is not one without its ambiguities. Instead of saying that our membership of the EU is a given but that we should now try to shape it to our own policy ends- which would be greeted with delight in many other EU states. They continue to hint that withdrawal could still be an early option- even though privately they actually firmly reject getting out.

There remain fantasists who truly believe that the Commonwealth could be an alternative pole for British foreign policy- despite the obvious fact that Canada, Australia and New Zealand, never mind India or the African states now have only incidental and occasional contact with the UK, outside of the military sphere.

The economic prosperity of Britain does not rest on our sentimental alliances with the Old Commonwealth, nor even the more immediate NATO alliance which includes the United States. It rests upon our position as members of the European Union; it is the central pillar in the way that both the US and the Old Commonwealth interact with the UK, even when many of our leaders appear equivocal or partial in support of our membership. A British foreign policy that ignores this central fact is absurd.

Yet, of course absurd is what Gordon Brown does so well. His obvious competition with the leaders of the other EU majors: Germany and France to see Obama first had more than the air of a West End farce. A further irony being that the Brown government has tried to get a series of stitch-ups agreed with Berlin and Paris- to a chorus of outraged protests from the smaller member states. Whereas the pro-American East of Europe once looked to London to offset the arrogance of France and the indifference of Germany, there is now a wearied recognition that Brown is, if anything, a worse option. Britain, it is said from Ljubljana to Tallinn, will not engage and not deliver. the determination to be "more Royalist than the King" with regard to the Americans has quite often worked to the disadvantage both of the US and the UK- and contrary to the expressed policy positions of the White House. The "I'm with stupid" foreign policy of the Bush-Blair era served neither country well- even if Bush awarded Blair America's highest decoration.

The time has come for a grown up reappraisal of Britain's place in the world. In my lifetime the way people talked about Britain was that we could still do something: we could still send a task force in 1982, for example. Nothing could better reflect the mindset of decline. The time has come to speak of the future with more confidence and to stop neurotically using the Special Relationship as some all purpose security blanket. We need to focus on certain key realities. we are, and are likely to remain members of the European Union: we should focus on democratic reform within the institution. Before some defeatist Conservative says that this is bound to fail, I would simply point out that the Cockfield project to create the Single Market was very much a British initiative and was more or less the only time that the UK has been fully engaged with the EU. It has been a startling success. I believe that if the UK engages with the European Union on the side of reform, then there is a majority amongst the member states that will support reform.

Of course Britain is a unique country: a state of nations rather than a nation state. It is also the root of the English language and with it perhaps the richest and certainly the oldest vernacular literature in Europe. Our multi-faceted cultural identity makes us tolerant and welcoming to strangers. Even today a mixed race man like President Obama is an extreme rarity in America, which is perhaps why he self-identifies as African-American. Yet in the UK more than a quarter of West Indians marry outside their community and there are tens of thousands of mixed relationships. Whatever Martin Luther King may have thought, it really is a whole lot easier to regard a black man as your brother if he is also your brother-in-law. That openness and diversity reflect the strength of our primordial roots. The English laws that can be traced to Magna Carta or even to Egbert of Wessex and Edmund Ironside; the learning passed down by the Scottish mystics of Iona and Whithorn; the laws of Hywel Dda, continue to inform our identity even today.

The time has come to evaluate our place in the world with more confidence and certainty than we have been able to muster since the end of our Imperial pipe dreams. We are a unique state, but we exist within a European, NATO and global context. We have a practical and emotional alliance with the United States, but we are also linked by the same bounds as Germany and France. We have supported the freedom of our eastern neighbours through the cold war and we should redouble our efforts to reinforce economic security there. We also have some moral obligations to the Wretched of the Earth, perhaps because -not least- we used to rule so many of them.

A Special Relationship- well yes.

But not the only relationship.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

10 Famous... Croats

Someone reminded me the other day that I had not done a 10 Famous... Croatians.

Rather a surprise, since Croatia is a place where I have many friends and also a place which I have visited probably more often than anywhere in Europe, apart from the Baltic and Poland.

Apart from being a spectacularly beautiful country it is also home to 4 million of the most individualistic and passionate people in Europe. The near fanaticism with which they view the sporting world means that I could simply make a list of sportsmen and women and many Croats would probably consider that would be enough! The country of Zvonimir Boban, Goran Ivanisevic, of Cibona for basketball or Hajduk or Dynamo for football certainly provides plenty of sporting heroes.

The European Union is certainly going to be a more interesting and probably more fun place with the accession of Croatia, which will hopefully take place within the next couple of years.

In the end though, after careful thought, I have with difficulty narrowed down the list to ten. I have probably offended all my many Croat friends, but I am sure that they will convey their personal selections to me in the distinct and determined way that Croats do- which is why I have such affection for them.

1. Andrija Mohorovicic- The pioneer of seismology, after whom the "Moho" discontinuity is named
2. Leopold Ruzicka- Winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his discoveries in hormones, mentor of Vladimir Prelog
3. Miroslav Krleza- A writer against tyranny- and possibly the greatest writer in Croatian.
4. Stjepan Radic- Courageous leader of the dispossessed Croatians- assassinated on the floor of the Yugoslav Parliament
5. Janica Kostelic- The greatest female skier of her generation- winner of six Olympic medals and five world championships.
6. Marko Polo- the first western explorer of China- most likely from the isle of Korcula, then part of the Venetian Republic.
7. Josip Broz, Tito- heroic Partizan leader, milder Communist than most
8. Ban Josip Jelacic- Successful general and campaigner for Croatian rights under the Austrian Empire
9. Ivan Mestrovic- Superb religious sculptor, mentor of Oscar Nemon
10. Tomislav- First King of a unified Croatia after he defeated the Hungarians and the Bulgarians