The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: friends

A futsal cabinet

by fpman

This story is just in from Hungary (in Hungarian). It’s not really a recent development but one that gradually evolved into how it stands at the moment.

The case concerns Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s new foreign minister who as of this stage has a significant part of his futsal (or indoors soccer) team in employment either by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or by other state agencies.

The futsal club’s name is Dunakeszi Kinizsi, so named after a town to the north of the capital Budapest (Dunakeszi) and an historical figure (Kinizsi, a military commander in King Matthias’ service in the 15th century).

By now the following people are working for the futsal affairs, pardon me, the foreign affairs ministry of Hungary:

  • Szilárd Benkő is Szijjártó’s chief of cabinet. He does not have a higher education degree which raised some eyebrows when he got the job.
  • László Monspart, another team member, is also working in the ministerial cabinet.
  • Domonkos Andréka, a former executive of the futsal club, and an intern at the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office (also under Szijjártó) back in 2010, is by now chief of protocol at MiFAT.
  • Nortbert Temesi, a team member is working under his (Andréka’s) watch, at protocol.

And, as the article we quoted here makes it clear, there are yet others from Dunakeszi Kinizsi in different positions across the Hungarian government.

Minister Szijjártó must firmly believe that people who make for an effective team in futsal can transport that performance to a whole different environment even in the absence of prior experience or training that is relevant to the field in question. In terms of nepotism, they are already scoring high – one has to wait to see how they fare in diplomacy.

futsalteamThe cabinet: the two figures circled are Szijjártó (centre) and Andréka (second from right).

The spy who came in from the cold

by fpman

Some blogging-scarce days are past me. Family matters (I mean, blogging about them) had to wait. Now hopefully I’m back to some more regular posting.

For a while it looked like I might write to you about this developing story in Tanzania where the government was apparently considering evicting some 40,000 people from an area that the royal family from Dubai (UAE) was interested in using as hunting ground. But then it turned out people in government can still get back to their senses or at least can be pressured not to go all the way when thinking out loud about carrying out such an atrocity.

Additionally, I then came across an even crazier story. Just take a look at the headline and you’ll see what I’m talking about:

“Palestinian state is a ‘fantasy’, says son of Hamas founder.”

You would think of anyone having anything to do with Hamas as being in favour of an Islamic state in the territory of “all of Palestine,” basically, as far as their known position is concerned. But Mosab Hassan Yousef is special. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef was one of seven founders of the Hamas movement in 1987. And Mosab, as Sheikh Hassan’s son, was part of the movement, too. But, as the story goes, he eventually became disillusioned with what he saw in Hamas’ prisons.* He says he couldn’t stomach the regular torturing of people who were accused of being collaborators with Israel. Eventually he was approached by Israel’s Shin Bet security service and started working with them. He did so for a decade although not quite all the way under the perfect cover – his ties to Shin Bet eventually became known to Hamas’ leaders who were embarrassed by this and feared mostly that news of this would get out. Mosab left Ramallah in time to make it, and currently lives in the United States. He can thank that in part to Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his former Shin Bet handler and a personal good friend by this stage. Ben Yitzhak broke Shin Bet’s code of secrecy and came out to speak in public in Mosab’s defence when the United States was about to deport him from the country “for his Hamas ties.”

* Remark added on December 6: apparently, this happened in an Israeli prison’s effectively Hamas-controlled wing where mostly only Hamas members were held at the time.

Watch this video to hear some of the story directly from Mosab. Bonus crazy twist alert: a lady asks him at the end basically (though not in these exact words) about whether he might be like Nicholas Brody of “Homeland,” like, trying to infiltrate the West with a sophisticated cover story and all that. Mosab manages to answer with a straight face. Crazy questions most likely are a form of compliment when it comes to a crazy story such as this.

I beg your pardon

by fpman

So I beg your pardon because this is just a modest post, without additional research, mostly drawing attention to a link to an article about Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D).

The Governor is soon finishing his second term in office and before leaving he is interested in pardoning a few people. What makes this an issue, some would say a controversial issue, is that his son, Kyle Beebe, is among those he put on the list of prospective beneficiaries. Son Kyle was sentenced for the possession of two ounces of marijuana back in 2003 and admits in his pardon request to have been involved in “selling” marijuana. But with marijuana’s legalization becoming more popular these days, this is not likely to be seen as a mortal sin by most – controversy comes mostly from the general dilemmas of pardoning family members.

These dilemmas are certainly acute in the case of another prospective beneficiary. Governor Beebe is also apparently interested in pardoning a certain Michael E. Jackson, a convicted sex offender, who is also a known longtime friend of the Beebe family. By now new documents have emerged related to Jackson’s case, however, which even the Governor’s office now wants to examine before there is a final decision.

The article ends with a good summary of prominent examples of others who made similar decisions in the past in U.S. politics, including Mike Beebe’s fellow Arkansas native Bill Clinton:

“In the final hours of his presidency, Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother, Roger, for a 1980s drug conviction.

In 2011, on his final night in office, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the prison sentence of the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Esteban Nunez, who had pleaded guilty to participating in the killing of a college student. Over the objections of prosecutors, Schwarzenegger cut Nunez’s prison term from 16 years to seven years.”

Connection, ally, friend, buddy

by fpman

Connection. Ally. Friend. Buddy. These are just some of the labels customarily attached by now to Arkady R. Rotenberg in the media — largely, though not exclusively, outside Russia — given that he is all or any of these to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

The New York Times chose the word “friend” to describe him. And to some degree he must be that. And more than a Facebook/VKontakte friend, for sure. Arkady and Vladimir used to go to the same judo club back in the Soviet Union, and they seem to have remained strategic partners ever since. Arkady and his brother Boris both have extensive business interests, including ownership of the pipeline construction company Stroigazmontazh (SGM), interests that seem to expand lately. Now Arkady apparently controls a major share of the school textbook market, too, according to the New York Times, through a company chaired by him called “Enlightenment” (insider joke alert).

A rival competitor (in the school textbook market), obviously bitter over these recent developments, is quoted as saying, mostly about the Russian political-slash-economic elite overall:

“They used to focus on the very biggest businesses: oil, gas, big infrastructure projects, the banks. But now that they have eaten all the food in that cupboard, they are eating the mice, and the mice’s food, going after smaller and smaller markets.”

An official explanation as to why less textbooks in the market would be good for Russian people:

“Many people drink Coca-Cola, but that does not mean it is good for you.”

You do understand? Do I understand not? Does this sense make…? Well, of course in a sense it does — if you look at this with interest in controlling Russian minds or at least what those minds may consume.

Arkady seems content with the situation. After winning a few major contracts connected to the Sochi Olympic Games in the past he famously said:

“If people didn’t give me all this publicity, calling me a ‘Friend of Putin’, then my business would be worse. And so it’s growing well.”

Otherwise, all that talk of friendship is obviously nonsense. Who heard of friendship on the tatami? Illustration with non-random judo master, on the cover of a book published by the company that first bought Enlightenment through privatization…

PutinJudoBookTitle: “Let’s learn judo – with Vladimir Putin”

Gérard Depardieu is a businessman, not a politician

by AiteVer

Ello. It’s AiteVer again. Did you miss me? Did you notice I was gone? Well, I guess you were in good company anyway, thanks to fpman, my colleague over here and a cousin apparently, too 🙂

Anyhow, while I was busy upgrading my status in academia [sic!], the globe was shaken [very sic!] by the news that Gérard Depardieu can drink or drinks up to 14 bottles of wine a day. In my opinion, it is quite a shame that this is the one snippet that swept the news world as it was taken out of some truly remarkable context: from an interview that’s filled with astonishing statements such as

‘Putin is a simple guy, a former KGB agent who was long imprisoned in Vienna’

or

‘Do you think that if I was egocentric I could approach Jean-Paul II, Mitterrand, Castro, Putin, and all those kinds of people? I don’t care about having an ego. ‘

I guess these days it isn’t really news when a celebrity takes up a second job advertising other people’s stuff or starts his or her own business. It can be especially true for those who are over their prime time in showbiz. As for Depardieu, he has done all of these. Before his abandonment of his status as French cultural god and becoming a ‘tax refugee’, he was known to own a vineyard and other businesses in France, and he gave his name to basically anything, whether it was ketchup, Azeri cuisine or an Armenian air company, naturally regardless of politics. Well, regardless of politics at least as long as the politics of certain policies didn’t affect him personally…

The change came into his life with the introduction of a temporary 75% income tax in 2012 by the French government that was levied on people earning more than a million euros. He first moved to Belgium and was subsequently granted Russian citizenship by a presidential decree on January 1, 2013. What’s changed since? Little – and maybe some, I would argue.

He’s admittedly into ‘living a life of excess’ just as much today as pre-tax-scandal, and he still lives the dual life of a high-profile actor and successful businessman. Nonetheless, he now also plays in a movie whose plot is rather reminiscent of the DSK scandal, in a patriotic Kazakh film, and lately in a Russian movie set partly in Chechnya, too. Added to this, his Russian businesses include a chain of restaurants present in major Russian cities, as well as a line of organic vodka. Also, he has appeared in a Kazakh commercial advertising Eurasian Bank’s special VIP card that is ‘elaborated with a pure gold pattern and 0.02 carat genuine diamond’ and in a video with Gulnara Karimova (of whom we already wrote on this blog) – to further illustrate the diversity of his impressive portfolio. Altogether, we can assume that whatever he is doing, he must be really successful in it, considering the expenses it must take to sponsor his daily 14 bottles of quality alcohol, ‘whenever he’s bored.’

DepardieuIn vino veritas (source)

The notable part from a political point of view is that his post-career career has brought him onto a slippery slope. As a symbol of the West from a certain perspective, whatever he says resonates loudly. Even though Depardieu’s love for Russia perhaps did not start with acquiring citizenship, it definitely has given him room to voice his ideas on international politics. He started his new career as a proud Russian by calling the country a ‘great democracy’ and then went on to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions. And as the dominant political narrative of events in Ukraine has increasingly focused on a conflict with the West in Russia, the role of the well-known French national symbol has grown in parallel.

Of course, there is some importance of his Russianness in the Europe he left behind, too. Firstly, his departure left a mark on France, as he was one of the most famous exports of the country. Secondly, his stance towards Putin is quite controversial, as signaled by the large amount of questions he receives from western media.

Still, his presence in Russia is possibly much more important for the host country itself, which, given his presence in the Russian press, has clearly been recognized by Russian decision-makers too. For example, according to Russian media, on a trip to Serbia he recently praised the people there for not supporting the EU sanctions against Russia, while in an interview about his new movie Viktor, he hastily explained Ukrainian history by saying the western half used to be Polish and the eastern half Russian, even though he quickly added that he isn’t too competent in politics to talk about it…

Depardieu is now, for all its worth, a (proud) Russian citizen. He pays lower taxes, he’s involved in local business and he’s a friend of Putin. On the other hand, he still is an international superstar and that continues to work in his favor financially. When he was asked why he’s still in business, he replied:

‘I have to make a living, and besides, I do other things too. Cinema is not the only thing I do, luckily. I hang out with artists, I travel, I’m into cuisine, and wine, I go and visit dictators…or so they say!’

If I have to take a guess he probably meant to be kidding with the last part but he definitely hit the spot. Of course we will never know if he says his pro-Kremlin remarks out of political conviction (to which he is entitled) or because of his current business interests (to which he is also entitled) but there is one thing for certain. Whatever he says can reach the masses easily. And the issue isn’t really whatever we think about his competence to talk politics but that when he and others praise Putin for his actions in Ukraine, they make loud judgments over issues by which they are not the least affected… Or, more exactly, if they are affected it is not in the way the people in Ukraine are affected. Depardieu is a Russian citizen, and being there has commercially benefitted him greatly. As long as he remains the friend of the Boss, this isn’t expected to change significantly.

Younger sister Minister Bishop

by fpman

Reading this short piece about current Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s older sister I was in for a few tactical surprises.

MaryLou Bishop, the older sister in question is currently pondering whether to run in local government elections (Council elections) in November, feeling she could do something for her community in Medindie (Walkerville, Adelaide, Australia).

The first surprise was this remark: “If elected, Ms Bishop said she would not copy her high-flying sister’s famous death stare.” The context, promptly investigated: younger sister Minister Bishop is apparently famous for a terrifying glance she gave to someone in the audience for a televised debate a couple of years ago. Along with a certain notoriety — and Facebook groups founded in commemoration of this — it also earned her a kind of respect…

JuliaBishop_DeathStareThe famous death stare (source)

Video of the same…

The second surprise in the article was how MaryLou Bishop responded when asked about any higher ambitions she may have in politics, beyond the as yet uncontested local government elections. She said “There is nothing about a politician’s life that I envy … It’s soul destroying.” She may be right but her sister is out there at this point doing that very thing for a living.

With regards to the death stare, MaryLou goes further in fact, and offers this analysis of it — and why she won’t need it whereas sister Julie always did:

“I was the eldest and could out manoeuvre and out smart my sisters in an argument. Julie was the youngest and needed all the weapons she could muster — this was the death stare.”

This kind of explanation may sit well with some observers who attribute Julie’s success in politics to her ability to be tough enough with the boys (so cliché, I know). In an article setting out to explain “So how did Bishop cut through the boys’ club of The Liberal Party?,” the author notes that Bishop “can hold her own in debates,” that she made the tough decision that “women can’t have it all,” and eventually goes on to mention how “Her death stare is the most famous facial expression in Australian politics and has launched Facebook groups and twitter hashtags.”

From other sources you can learn, however, that Julie Bishop has many faces to show to the world, and the simple narrative of the repressed little sister (with two older sisters and a younger brother) who fought back to grow into debating champion, corporate lawyer, and then a master of politics does not necessarily work all that neatly. In her friends’ perspective:

“Her friends struggle to understand why this colourful, energetic woman seems so prickly on television. “Julie seems to have developed this tough bitch persona, and I’m constantly saying she’s not like that,” says one. Adds another: “Julie is a party girl, she loves kicking up her heels. In the public eye you have to be careful how that manifests itself.”

MaryLou may be developing her own persona through those remarks about her sister now, with a view to the upcoming Council elections. A persona fit for size of ambition and purpose.