Best columns: Europe
Lose the tie and you lose gravitas
The Mail on Sunday
It was not quite the end of civilization, but it came pretty close, said Rachel Johnson. I was watching the BBC’s live coverage of the House of Commons when the shocking scene unfolded. One parliamentarian from the ruling Conservative Party had spotted that a member of the opposition Liberal Democrats was wearing an open-neck shirt and, gasp, no tie. The Conservative rightfully complained about this apparent breach of Commons rules to the chamber’s speaker, John Bercow. The speaker then stood up, “chest swelling like a pouter pigeon,” and declared that while male parliamentarians should wear “businesslike attire,” ties were not obligatory. The horror! “How very dare one little man suddenly decide to lower sartorial standards in the Palace of Westminster, the mother of parliaments, in the sacred chamber where the world watches Western democracy at its best at work?” Ties are the “universally acknowledged signifier of male seriousness.” They denote and command respect. Don’t think for a second that men will be freer if they cast off their ties. No, they will face “the same dread Pandora’s box of choice women confront daily” and will inflict on us a “ghastly gallery” of casual alternatives, like Hawaiian shirts and safari suits. Ties may be boring, but they make men look smart. They must certainly be worn in Parliament.
Tolerating failure in the Balkans
The European Union has failed the western Balkans, said Augustin Palokaj. Of all the successor states born out of Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse in the 1990s, only Croatia and Slovenia have become EU members. The others—Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo—languish in perpetual membership talks, because they lack the proper rule of law and the strong democratic institutions needed to join the bloc. The EU seems to feel that “everything is OK as long as they aren’t killing each other,” so it has allowed these nations to fester “in the hands of irresponsible and often corrupt politicians.” Serbia, for example, still won’t fully recognize the independence of the former Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. And while Serbia’s leaders have condemned the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces as a “terrible crime,” they won’t acknowledge it as a war crime or genocide. Remember, Germany, now the backbone of the EU, was able to reconcile with its neighbors only by fully admitting and condemning its Nazi-era atrocities. But the EU doesn’t insist on such a reckoning by Serbia, just as it won’t press the other Balkan states to root out corruption. The EU is being timid “for the sake of a temporary and superficial political stability.” That strategy will backfire.