Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lost Moyes

I heard on BBC Radio 4 News that Manchester United had briefed the media before officially informing hapless manager David Moyes this morning that he was sacked. The way it was done, the reporter said, lacked style and class.

Ryan Giggs is to take over as interim manager, so no change there then. Giggs reportedly had an eight year affair with Natasha Giggs, the wife of his brother Rhodri. In another era Tommy Docherty, one of the more successful Scottish in-fills for Matt Busby (two FA Cup Finals, one victory and promotion), was booted out of the club for having an affair with Mary Brown, wife of the club's physiotherapist Laurie Brown. The two later married and have been together for 30 or more years.

But these days money talks and style walks. Lost Moyes, Gollum eyed, couldn't buck the fluctuations of United's share price in New York. Alex Ferguson had three years to build up his first winning combination at Old Trafford because the club had not been taken over by American money-men and wasn't share-listed on the Stock Market.

No more patronising talk about what a nice man David Moyes was/is, please. He failed the Brian Clough test. Clough, ignored for the job of England manager because he was too bolshie, said rightly that great managers are not made by great teams: it's great managers who make great teams. That's why Bill Shankly is revered at Liverpool, Stan Cullis at Wolves and Billy Nicholson at Tottenham Hotspurs.

David Moyes made at least four errors of judgement, I think. He didn't succeed in getting the continental players United were chasing last summer; he signed instead Fellani for £27m from his former club Everton, and got Mata from Chelsea for £35m; and he committed the club to a hell of a lot more by upping Wayne Rooney's contract to a reported £300,000 a week - that's £80m over five-and-a-half years; and last, but not least, he got rid of Alex Ferguson's backroom staff too quickly.

If these are accurate figures, give or take the odd million, in ten months David Moyes signed off about £142m. In return, the team of his choosing, including the substitutes, got knocked out of every cup competition and don't look like qualifying for even the Thursday evening Europa Cup next season. Not the kind of results that attract American or Far Eastern sponsors and investors.

Most of this would have been discounted if United's two disallowed goals against Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League had stood. Instead of Bayern against Real Madrid in the semi-finals it would have been Manchester United. Moyes was unfortunate in that respect. In 1989 at St James' Park, Manchester United beat Newcastle United in the FA Cup, a result which probably helped Alex Ferguson keep his job. United went on to win the trophy and after that the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup, with two smashing goals from Mark Hughes.

A story I heard on a Manchester United video recalled the time when one of Matt Busby's 'Babes', Denis Violett or Tommy Taylor I think it was, tentatively asked the boss for a pay rise. In the mid-1950s footballers were still on the Maximum and Minimum Wage levels set by the Football League - to prevent jealously and unfair competition, interestingly. Busby, this was before the Munich Air Crash, reportedly lost his temper and in effect said that if professional football ever became a matter of bargaining (words to that effect) the game would become like any other business.

Well, Sir Matt, it has.

Wittiest remark I've seen so far is on Eureferendum.com where a chap surmises that David Moyes could be, should be, courted by UKIP - because he got United out of Europe in ten months.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Sanctioning Food Banks

More than 900,000 food parcels were handed out to just over 37,000 people in Yorkshire and Humberside in the past year by the Trussell Trust alone. Welfare reforms or cuts combined with the rising cost of living is the reason food banks are so busy even though the rate of inflation has gone down to 1.6 per cent and more people than ever are in work.

David Ward, Liberal-Democrat MP for Bradford East, whose constituency has seen a drop in Job Seeker’s Allowance claimants of about 900 over the past year, said he wondered if scaring people into jobs was part of the overall strategy. 

“Maybe the aim is to make it a hostile environment for people who are unemployed. The trouble is, the background to all this, is that the public at large believe the welfare system is dysfunctional and needs sorting out. They are pretty unsympathetic to people who are claiming benefits - the skivers, the scroungers, as they see it.

“But the system from the Department of Work and Pensions that comes through Job Centres is inefficient. There are delays, letters get sent to the wrong address, or people try to ring up and can’t get through. One man who I saw was given 14 job inquiries to follow up in two weeks. He had been to 11. But because he had not been to all 14 his Job Seeker’s Allowance was stopped - ‘sanctioned’ it’s called. It could take you seven months before you’re back on Job Seeker’s. What are you supposed to do if you haven’t got any money?” 

Sanctioning has always been a feature of the benefits system. In Bradford, between 2009 and 2010 sanctions handed out to job seekers totalled 4,370. Two years later the figure was 9,320, implying a tightening up of the regime. The people who make the most referrals to Trussell Trust food banks, I was told, are Job Centre staff, the same people who, under pressure to meet targets, issue these sanctions. There is an appeals system, but you have to be canny or assisted to negotiate it. You have to be patient too because the backlog of pending cases is so great you can be waiting for 12 months - without money. Commonsense and discretion are not encouraged among Job Centre staff, I was told. If you are one of the lucky ones whom this part of the changing world has passed by, be grateful without feeling too self-satisfied. Being down on your luck may not have changed, but the manner of the help available has. 

Never having been in the benefits’ system I have no experience of its methods and means. I don’t know how it feels to be summarily sanctioned for contravening strict rules for the unemployed, to be told that state help will be withdrawn for four, seven, thirteen or even twenty-six weeks. 

Suppose I am not a feckless mumper acclimatised to living off the state. Suppose what little self-esteem I had vanished when I lost my job or had to stop working. Suppose being caught up in the welfare benefits command and control web with its system of sanctions and punishments and the sense of humiliation that goes with obeying Jobsworths proves unsupportable. Suppose what money I had saved up against ruin and despair had gone – there are so many ways to get financially wiped out these days.  When you ain’t got nuthin’ you got nuthin’ to lose might be a stimulating idea to those in transit from one interesting cultural experience to another, but the naked reality is, I suspect, more heart-gripping and desperate. But David Ward is right. Public sympathy is in short supply if the following online newspaper comment made recently in Bradford is anything to go by:- 

Charities should not undermine Government policy, which is to use starvation to force the lazy to get a job. It’s the only weapon left to use on benefit scroungers who think the state is just there to keep them in idleness. Poverty is a choice by the thick and the do-nothings. They have to be taught to live with the consequences. The next Conservative Government will do away with the freebies like health and education. The poor will then have to shape up or bear the consequences. (pcmanners)

In one supermarket we go to they’ve taken to security coding bacon, cheese and better cuts of meat because people have been stealing them. Two or three years ago a manager in another store told us that thieves nicking electrical goods was costing the store about £3,000 a week. I assumed this form of daylight robbery was connected to drugs. I don’t think people nick rashers to buy heroin, besides most of it has already been smoked. People are stealing food because they’re hungry.West Yorkshire Police, I was told, were after the addresses of food banks in Bradford so they could refer petty felons to them; evidently they saw no point in charging hungry people with stealing food. 

If ever there was a suitable time to revive Edward Bond’s play Bingo, this is it. In this play a mumbling, stumbling Shakespeare, retired to his New Place mansion in Stratford-upon-Avon, wondering if his writing career really amounted to much. “Was anything done?” he keeps asking rhetorically.  Bond draws a telling parallel between the insights into social injustice and cruelty uttered by King Lear and Shakespeare’s personal implication in Stratford land enclosures and the consequent poverty and hardship that came from it.

The old monstrous King gives his kingdom away to two of his three daughters and they, after proscribing his followers and blinding his ally the Earl of Gloucester, abandon Lear to the elements. In the midst of a terrible storm Lear is struck by a lightning bolt of insight which reveals the true state of his kingdom to his shattered but reorganised wits:-

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O I have ta'en
Too little care of this...Unaccomodated man is no
More but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.  

Bingo was first published by Methuen in 1974. My battered 1976 edition contains, just about, a seven-and-a-half page introduction by Bond. In it he says this:- I wrote Bingo because I think the contradictions in Shakespeare’s are similar to the contradictions in us. He was a ‘corrupt seer’ and we are a ‘barbarous civilisation’.  Because  of that our society could destroy itself. We believe in certain values but our society only works by destroying them, so that our daily lives are a denial of our hopes. That makes our world absurd and often it makes our own species hateful to us. Morality is reduced to surface details and trivialities. Is it so easy to live like that? Or are we surrounded by frustration and bitterness, cynicism and inefficiency, and an inner feeling of weakness that comes from knowing we waste our energy on things that finally can’t satisfy us?

It might explain why in a welfare state democracy, when people are stealing food to survive and others are being denied the means of survival by the state, painting pictures, writing books, listening to music and going to the theatre, feel self-indulgent activities. Socially we have come a long way from the England of Elizabeth 1, where terrible things occurred every day. The England of Elizabeth II in which I grew up encouraged the belief that the state would always offer a safety net to those who fell on hard times; that in spite of those who selfishly exploited it, having it there was a better idea than not having it there. I never had to use it, wouldn’t have had the first idea how to exploit it; but just knowing that a safety net existed allowed my generation to live a bit more courageously, to charge off all over the world or take up ventures that didn’t necessarily lead to a retirement pension and a silver cigarette case after fifty years. In short, old buggers like me have no experience of this brave new world of welfare sanctions, food banks and people nicking bacon and cheese to keep themselves going.

The likes of cpmanners  can’t wait for the day when the mumpers, the skivers, the scroungers – the poor – are dealt with once and for all. But even Hitler’s final solution backfired. His attempt to turn European Jewry into smoke resulted in the creation of state of Israel: the leader of the Third Reich was Israel’s true founding father. The mistake that pcmanners and all those like-minded make is that they will never be poor, that they have enough of the right stuff, the moxie, the will, to triumph over the worst that adversity can throw at them. Am I alone in hearing in that stentorian voice of malice – They have to be taught to live with the consequences – the angry, self-justifying, note of fear?  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Taking Up the Hitchens' Challenge...

Years ago I went into a trendy bookshop outside Bradford and asked if they had any biographies of General Gordon (of Khartoum). The bearded bookseller gave me a surprised look which I read as:  ‘A book about a British military imperialist? Pah!’  On the way out I noticed plenty of biographies about Adolf Hitler. 

Recently I had a somewhat similar experience in a bookshop in Bradford. I asked yet another bearded chap if the store had books by Peter Hitchens and Christopher Hitchens. “I don’t think we’ve got any by Peter Hitchens,” he replied quickly, in case I was a left wing spy checking out the shop’s PC credentials.  But he went off and helpfully came back with three or four volumes by the late Christopher Hitchens.

One of them was a large volume of essays at nearly £15. Another was his autobiography Hitch-22, which cost just under £10. “If you were on a desert island and could only take one of these books, which one would it be?” I said. He hummed and hahed for a bit, then proffered the less expensive autobiography, assuring me that it was brilliant. I liked him for that.

“Michael Gove said the same as you,” I added somewhat slyly. “Michael Gove!” he said, seemingly astonished by the idea that David Cameron’s Education Secretary, the man who pushed through privately-run academies and free schools, should  approve of a book by a self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist and militant atheist. “Hmmm. You shouldn’t under-estimate people,” I said sententiously. Of course, that’s precisely what I do all the time.

It was Gove’s written recommendation in a newspaper that had sent me into Waterstone’s in the first place. I am so pleased that I followed my instinct. An encouraging review, especially from an unexpected quarter, is a god-send. I’ve been reading chapters of Hitch-22: A Memoir in Caffe Nero before work, on the bus home after work, and, on one occasion, in work, with great pleasure to coin a cliche. It's a history of his life and times written with generous, self-examining intelligence. I like that in writers. Those who turn their critical eye upon the world only are too needy and sometimes too nerdy.

Anyway, last night I Googled up a two-hour debate between the Hitchens brothers that took place in a church in the United States two years ago. They had been invited to argue the case for and against the Iraq war and the case for and against the existence of God. The difference between them was clearly evident in the way they carried themselves. Peter was edgily combative, nervously forthright. Christopher was charming in a deadly kind of way, turning statements into questions, daring the audience to take him on, trans-Atlantically confident in his ability to take on and defeat all-comers.  

During the course of the exchange Christopher issued a public challenge. The old polemicist must have done this dozens of times, judging by the way he relished his calculated effects. Like an after-dinner raconteur aiming for the final word, he asked the audience if anyone could come with up an example of a religiously-inclined person doing a single moral act beneficial to mankind that could not have been done by a non-believer.

Okay, how about Tony Blair and George W Bush? The former British Prime Minister and US President, both believers, sent armies into Iraq to defeat the forces of Saddam Hussain - a decision warmly supported and defended by Christopher Hitchens, in spite of the falsehoods about WMD, in spite of the killing of thousands of civilians, in spite of the consequent chaos and instability. His only regret was that the decision to invade had been in 2003 and not earlier: the world was most definitely a better place without the fascistic Ba-athist party of Saddam in power in the Middle East, he said. Bush and Blair didn't have to be believers to go to war, but they were/are. Did he ever ask them the question he asked his audience, I wonder.

If that's out of order, then what about President Abraham Lincoln? Without his 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States slavery would not have been abolished by Congress in 1865. Then there's the Reverend Martin Luther King and all those God-fearing political activists among the Freedom Riders who took on the apartheid-approvers of the Deep South at the risk of physical injury and death. Lincoln and King, of course, were both murdered for their troubles, as was Mahatma Gandhi - not a Christian, admittedly, but nevertheless not an atheist either.

I don't know if Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans thought that God was on their side when they set up the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany to publically oppose Hitler. They were both guillotined. German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenberg concentration camp in April 1945 - two years after being imprisoned. He was an active anti-Nazi dissident who helped Jews escape to Switzerland and supported attempts to assassinate Hitler. Pastor Martin Niemoller was another anti-Nazi clergyman who was  imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945. Nearer his own life and times, Christopher Hitchens could have recalled Polish Roman Catholic priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko, an active supporter of the banned shipyard trades union Solidarity during the time of martial law, who was murderd by Polish Communist Party security police in 1984.

Were all these people "slaves of a celestial tyranny", as Christopher Hitchens was wont to describe believers? Slaves, however, were what Thomas Jefferson had at Monticello, his Frenchified mansion in Virginia. Hitchens, who greatly admired the co-author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, doesn't flinch away from this in his memoir. That's partly why I found myself warming to the book. For what it's worth, I am happy to endorse Michael Gove's recommendation.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Hot Air

As I was pounding the treadmill in the gym on the eve of the second Farage v Clegg European Union lightweight title fight, it was my misfortune to be confronted with BBC Television's Six O'Clock News.

I should explain that these instruments of self-torture face a wall on which there is an array of nine flat-screens showing a variety of programmes about sport, food, chat shows or quiz shows, pop videos and news. The screen on my left was showing the news.

And top of the agenda was the air pollution over England. In BBC speak this seemed to mean London. An obsese woman in a cafe was talking anxiously about the difficulty of breathing. Lose some fucking weight, I nearly shouted, and you wouldn't have trouble breathing.

That wasn't the point of the story, of course. Here was yet more eco scare-mongering to frighten the timorous and vindicate planet-saving warriors. It followed hot on the heels of the previous day's lead story about the world being on the brink (yet again) of a man-made global warming holocaust - according to yet anaother scary report emanating from the discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This tale was given the full treatment by the BBC and, to their shame, by ITV.

That same day the Heartland Institute's Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change in America had published a report of more than 1,000 pages taking issue with everything in the UN report. But this document was totally ignored by the media. I only got to know about it on Richard North's EU Referendum blog.

Of especial irritation was the news wangle linking mm global warming with the recent flooding of the Somerset Levels. There wasn't a whisper, of course, about the EU directives on wetlands, wildlife and drainage that just might have been a teeny-weeny bit influential in the drowning of the ground where King Alfred took refuge from maurauding Danish Vikings in the ninth century.

Anyway, 24 hours later that IPPC report was yesterday's news as warm winds from the Sahara blew more fine powder over the head of that fat woman in London babbling on about the difficulties of breathing. Today, I hear, our own Prime Minister cancelled his morning jog for fear of ending up with Arab dust in his lungs. And this is the man who says he's going to face down Angela Merkal over the EU and Vladimir Putin over Crimea. I think not. Rich Londoners spend so much time stuffing fine powder up their noses you wouldn't think they'd be bothered by a bit of dust from Lawrence of Arabia land.

This stuff blew over Bradford as well, giving the sky the same scoured whiteness as on the cover of the U2 album, October. I walked to the station this morning and here I am, Mr Cameron, to tell the tale.

I didn't watch the Clegg-Farage scrap. Highlights on the news were enough to irritate me even more (which is why I don't normally watch the news). The BBC pitched it as a debate about whether Britain should stay in Europe of leave it. For the love of Holy Christ, the argument is about leaving the bloody European Union - not the continental landmass across the Channel, which has been integral to our history since the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans came, saw and conquered.

Farage-Clegg might have picked up a hint of this had they watched Professor Robert Bartlett's lucid three-parter The Plantagenets on BBC 2 - Henry II to Richard III. Europe has been part of our consciousness for centuries. Cressy and Agincourt, the Black Prince and Henry V, victories against overwhelming odds in unpropitious circumstances - isn't that what we pride ourselves on? One hundred years ago British soldiers went back across the Channel to die in their thousands for the sake of Europe.

We are deeply embedded in Europe and Europe is deeply embedded in us. All the talk of the EU representing a pan-European consciousness as against what is caricatured as a little Englander mentality just doesn't hold water - unlike the Somerset Levels. That's where you'll find the reality of the meddling EU.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Send for Lord Lucan and the Light Brigade...

About 160 years ago, Britain, France and Sardinia joined forces with the 'Sick Man of Europe' - Turkey - to fight a war against Tsarist Russia.

Ostensibly the bone of contention between the big three was the right to safeguard Christian places of worship in the Holy Land - Palestine in 1854. But as every bored GCE 'O' Level history student was told by equally bored history teachers, the Crimean War was about keeping Russia out of the Eastern Mediterranean via the Dardenelles Straits and the Black Sea.

The war was a bloody one. Between 1853 and 1856 the Russians and their enemies put an estimated 1.7m men into the field. Fatalities totalled more than 700,000 with thousands more wounded. Britain lost more than 20,000 men. The result pushed the Russians out of exotic Balkan territories such as Moldavia and Wallachia and, for a few more years, sustained the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against Russian Imperial territorial ambitions. 

All we got out of it was a poem by Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale (we ignored Mary Seacole because she was from Kingston, Jamaica), the first photographs of a battlefield, the invention of the Victoria Cross, a pithy quip from Liberal MP John Bright who said Crimea was A Crime, and GCE questions about the dreaded Eastern Question. 

Evidently we didn't learn much because here we are again, with another contrived face-off in Crimea. And once again it seems to be Europe which has engineered the current crisis by encouraging instability in the Ukraine and then seeking to exploit it with a network of binding agreements. The poor old western Ukrainians were led to believe that the European Union was the gateway to freedom and prosperity.

Since Sunday's referendum which resulted in the people of Crimea voting overwhelming to pal up with Russia, EU apologists such as Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as the United States have denounced the referendum as illegal and a sham.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The European Union's record of responding to referendums is as questionable as anything that Vladimir Putin and his boys are capable of gerrymandering. 

In 1992 the European Community eagerly endorsed referendums in Slovenia and Croatia that resulted in the fragmentation of the federal state of Yugoslavia - a country formed of various bits of the Balkans after World War 1 - which rapidly led to war. NATO was obliged to intervene to deal with the mess engineered by the EC.

No constitutional change can be imposed on the member states of the European Empire, we are told, if one of those members votes against it. Well, we know that's not true. Between 2005 and 2008 the proposed European constitution - which became the Lisbon Treaty - was kicked into touch three times in referendums in France, the Netherlands and the Irish Republic.

What happened? Each time the boys in Brussels simply declared that the people had in reality voted for an improved union of member states. In short Brussels carried on regardless as though the referendums had been a vote of confidence. And in Britain? Prime Minister Gordon Brown simply said the Lisbon Treaty had altered the constitution so there was no need to hold a referendum.

We know this. Vladimir Putin and his men certainly know this. President Obama, if he does know this, gives no sign of acknowledging that there is a degree of hypocrisy at play in the European Union's response to events east of the Dneiper. 

But don't expect that to hit the headlines. Those organising the news to suit their own agenda should remember that you can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the peole all of the time.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Global Cold War Warming Up (again)

News that Russian military forces have moved into areas of the Crimea didn't surprise me and shouldn't surprise anyone else old enough to recall what happened in 2008 when the republic of Georgia decided to reclaim South Ossetia by force.

For a week that August foreign correspondents abroad and news editors at home were all speculating on the possibility of another Cold War stand-off between the West and Russia after the latter sent the 58th Army and airborne units into Ossetia to repel the Georgians. For a short but intense period of nostalgia and alarm we were once again on the slopes of the big Red glacier.

The reality was less catastrophic. In all some 275 soldiers were reportedly killed and about 1,500 wounded. Civilian displacements were given as 158,000. French President Nikolas Sarkozy, in his role as European Union President-in-waiting, helped broker a cease-fire with Russian President Medvedev. There was a six-point peace plan. Russian forces were withdrawn from all but 20 per cent of Georgia.

Western Europe did not freeze over, probably to the disappointment of global doom-mongers. Far from it, our part of the EU heated up as thousands of Eastern Europeans poured westwards. Life went on and we soon forgot all about Red Armageddon.

For outsiders like myself, the Cold War was John Le Carre's best spy thrillers and the sort of idealised trips to Eastern European countries undertaken by western poets and novelists that John Updike wrote about so well in his Henry Bech stories. Those on the receiving end of Russian military intervention will have a radically different view of it.

Ukrainians can point to 90 years or more of it. But then not all Ukrainians have the same feelings about Russia in its incarnation as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But whether you belong to the faction who thinks the people's flag is deepest red or the faction who thinks it is stained with innocent blood, Russia is never going to stand by and watch the world's 44th largest country steal away to enrich the European Union.

It was unwise for anybody to believe that could happen. Egypt and Syria may have inspired a rush of blood to the head of those who dreamed of independence, but the outcomes of the revolutions in both countries appear to have caused more problems than they have solved, principally the problem of freelancing Islamic insurgents. Vladimir Putin is not going to permit another Chechneya to happen.

In comparison with what was taking place across the Dnieper, Angela Merkel's away day in London - tea and biccys with the Queen at Buck House, more tea but without sympathy for the Head Prefect at Number 10, followed by giving Peers and MPs a good talking to at the Palace of Westminster - must have seemed like visiting the Cubs.

All those sherry-faced cherubs with floppy hairdos smiling admiringly up at her, as though Germany's Chancellor was a dominatrix in a blue bum-freezer. How many of them miss the verbal spankings that Margaret Thatcher handed out? Next, in spite of current posturings about sanctions and the like, it will be Vladimir Putin, bare-chested, riding a horse up Whitehall. Won't the prefects love that (oohh, talk tough to me tovarich, talk dirty real politick!).  I'd be surprised if they didn't miss the Cold War too.

For is it not true that a common enemy, real or imagined, is a god-send for keeping warring factions in check? I believe that in Brussels' diplomatic Euro-speak this is known as the beneficial crisis.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Is History About to Repeat Itself?

With Russia making threatening noises about foreign intervention in neighbouring Ukraine and the the European Union sending in its foreign affairs supremo, the Baroness Cathy Ashton, I was reminded of events 22 years ago which arguably helped to provoke the first war on the European mainland since 1945.

But because I am a bear of astoundingly little brain I thought I'd better Google back to refresh my diminishing little grey cells. In 1992 the New York Times carried a report, parts of which I reproduce here:-

In a triumph for German foreign policy, all 12 members of the European Community, as well as Austria and Switzerland, recognized the independence of the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia today.
In a series of separate statements, various European governments asserted that the Belgrade Government no longer had a right to rule the two republics.
"Slovenia and Croatia have held referendums that showed clearly that their people want independence," a statement issued by the Danish Foreign Ministry said. "It is now time to fulfill the desire their people have expressed."
In Belgrade, the Serbian-dominated Government denounced the decision on recognition as "contrary to the sovereign rights of Yugoslavia." The Government said it would continue to function until all six Yugoslav republics reached an agreement on their future relations.
The action by the European Community marked an important diplomatic victory for Germany, which has vigorously supported Slovenian and Croatian independence. German officials announced last month that they would recognize the two republics regardless of the wishes of other European countries, and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher lobbied intensely for the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Mr. Genscher said in a radio interview today that he was "very happy" with his success. He asserted that Croatia "has achieved the highest imaginable standard of respect for minority rights."
Leaders of Croatia and Slovenia today expressed gratitude for Germany's support. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia said recognition of his republic's independence was due largely to "the wise policy of the German Government."
But Serbian leaders deplored the European Community's decision and singled out Germany for special criticism. Vladislav Jovanovic, the Serbian Foreign Minister, described Germany's role as "particularly negative," and said he regretted that other European Community leaders had decided to follow the German lead.
"It is a very serious precedent to encourage unilateral secession in one multinational state," Mr. Jovanovic said in an interview broadcast on British television.
 Although most European governments favored eventual recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, some had sought to postpone today's announcement so recognition could be part of an overall peace settlement in the Balkans. But German officials insisted that recognition was the only way to force the Serbs to accept a settlement.
Germany's decision to press for quick recognition of the two republics, disregarding appeals from the United States and the United Nations, marked a new assertiveness that some Europeans find disconcerting.

Quite apart from the novelty of European Community members, as they were called then, taking the moral high ground on the principle of supporting the outcome of referendums, there is the suggestion that the EC embodies the principle of national sovereignty. I fear that people in the western half of Ukraine, at least, believe that. We should not encourage them in that chimera. But I daresay we will.

Remember what happened next in what was then Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1999? I can remember Srebrinicia, the term "ethnic cleansing", and television pictures of Sarajevo under Serbian artillery bombardment and sniper fire. I remember NATO warplanes over Belgrade and Kosovo. I daresay centuries of sectarian hatred and tribal mistrust played a big part in the killings - more than 100,000 - and the destruction. You would have thought the wise men of Europe would have realised that after the death of a strong leader, in this case Yugoslavia's President Tito, the destructive forces that he had contained were bound to explode at the slightest encouragement. Newly reunited Germany gave it, and boom!

If the freedom fighters on the barricades in Kiev ever do get their way and find themselves embedded in the European Union they will find that they have swapped the devil they know for one they are not familiar with.