Come to bratislava for xmas, Wien is too chaotic :)

Bratisalva christmass market

pictures from Bratislava (1 day old)

Plus Forced smile competition between Robert Fico (Slovakia's PM)
Vladimir Putin russia's ehm master of puppets or every other job he likes.

Don't you just hate trade missions...

Real estate in Slovakia Czech & Poland vs. The Balkans in the EU.

Certainly the UK's buy-to-let model doesn't seem to work well in Bratislava. There are many reasons for this.
  1. Real estate agents are villainous and TOTALLY unregulated
  2. Professional standards are a rarity
  3. There are a lot of apartments that are being refitted with government susbidies making all buildings not only livable but comfortable.
The real estate agents do not offer full service letting for people that do not speak slovak, and those that have tried to do buy to let in Bratislava have been badly burned.

The legal framework is also not supportive rather helpful to unnreasonable tenants, and the rental market is flooded by flats in freshly done up buildings where the reconstruction is subsidised by government money for slovak families.

Claerly when the dust settles Bratislava will resume its expansion and appreciation of commercial property especially in the centre. Offices, shops are going to be the winners in the medium to long term. Buy to let looks like a loser for the foreseeable future.

General real estate sentiment
The head of a real estate investment fund on pricing in Central europe and in Eastern Europe:

"You have to split Central Europe into two areas. The healthy bit is the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, where the economies are on a good basis. There's strong domestic demand, they're not overextended as economies and there is no excess of development in general except in residential. Those markets were reasonably priced and there was limited political risk in them.

How about the CEE countries you didn't mention?

Investors are now significantly reassessing risk, and particularly in Russia and the emerging markets like Romania Russia and Ukraine and Bulgaria, people are realizing that the risks in these markets are much bigger. And it's quite difficult to quantify these risks because they're political rather than economic risks. With Russia it's the problems with what they did in Georgia, and also the problems of TNK BP making people very wary about the way the Russian government behaves. Clearly Ukraine has enormous political instability, while Romania and Bulgaria have enormous corruption problems.

Vaclav Havel becomes a Bratislava citizen

Václav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia, dissident and one of the key figures of the Velvet Revolution that toppled Communism in the former federation has become an honorary citizen of Bratislava. The Slovak capital granted him honorary citizenship on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the totalitarian regime for his fight for freedom, democracy and assisting in the process of Slovakia's integration into Europe.

The great statesman and philosopher/king Václav Havel said that he respects the award all the more after discovering the personalities who have received it. He has had a long and and enduring relationship with Bratislava, whose people he said he considers very amiable both while he was in office and after his retirement from active politics.

He characterised personality as uniqueness of the human soul and deeds, and as what differentiates one human being from his fellows. Another awardee was the first Austrian Ambassador to Slovakia, Maximilian Pammer. Havel and Pammer received their awards in person.

Havel will receive it on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, which Slovaks and Czechs mark on November 17.

The resistance to the communist regime's excesses were very much felt in Bratislava as well as Prague. A mass demonstration took place on Hviezdoslav Square in downtown Bratislava and then moved to the Square of the Slovak National Uprising) SNP. Students presented various demands and asked the people to participate in the planned general strike for Monday, November 27. A separate demonstration demanding the release of the political prisoner and christian activist Ján Čarnogurský (the later Prime Minister of Slovakia) took place in front of the Palace of Justice. Alexander Dubček delivered an address at this demonstration – his first appearance during the Velvet Revolution. As a result, Čarnogurský was released on November 23.

"The diplomas will be handed at a ceremonial meeting of the Bratislava City Hall on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the totalitarian regime. Its preliminary date is November 18, 2009," the City Hall said in a statement.

Havel, a playwright and a leading dissident under the former communist regime, was the last Czechoslovak president (1989-92) and the first Czech president (1993-2003).

Even under the communist regime he was known as one of the most promitent thinkers and human rights fighters. Havel contributed to the fall of communism in 1989 to a great extent.

In the past, Havel was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Three years ago, Havel was presented with an honorary doctor's degree in Bratislava on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

Last year, the Slovak premiere of Havel's latest play Leaving was staged in the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

Eurozone and Slovakia look set to grow faster

VIENNA & Bratislava, There are indications that European Central Bank will upgrade their growth forecasts for the euro zone economy when new numbers are published next month, ECB Governing Council member for Slovakia Ivan Sramko said to Reuters.

"There is some news now that there will be a better forecast for this year and next year but this is all I can say," Sramko, governor of Slovakia's central bank, said on the sidelines of an Austrian central bank conference in Vienna.

Sramko, asked about the exchange rate of the euro against the U.S. dollar and the Chinese yuan, said that it was his personal opinion that policymakers should coordinate more on foreign exchange rates.

He also said the ECB has discussed which interest rate to put on its December tender of 12-month liquidity "many times" but declined to be drawn on those discussions

Slovak PM meets Vladimir Putin (Russian PM) about joint gas venture to link Austria to russian gas

Slovak PM meets Vladimir Putin (Russian PM) about joint gas venture to link Austria to russian gas. The Slovak side seems to want to incentivise Russia through a 3-party win-win.

What is being proposed is to link the Austrian market to the soviet era pipeline that ends in Bratislava. This pipeline only needs a few kilometers of extension to be linked to the austrian market and network.

Click on the map to see more detail:

Slovakia will gain by giving Russia a big reason not to cut supply to europe as it would inconvenience more european countries.

Below there is a video talking about the fledgling deal:

In related news: According to the European Union energy commisioner gas consumers won’t suffer if Ukraine starts another transit war with Russia this winter.

Kiev blocked transit pipelines from Russia last January in a payment row, leading to power cuts across the EU. But Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs says they've agreed ways to avoid Ukraine altogether.

AP: “Our gas storages are 100% full, we've increased all types of switching opportunities for countries which can't cover gas for a very long period. We also have emergency plans if they are needed. On the Russian side I believe there are also plans for increasing supply from other pipelines if there is a problem with one of them. During January there will be more gas flowing through the Yamal Europe pipeline. So it is important that both sides reunite and that the final consumer does not feel threatened at all.”

More background on the pipeline and it's significance (from wikipedia):

Druzhba pipeline
(Russian: нефтепровод «Дружба»; also had been referred as the Friendship Pipeline and the Comecon Pipeline) is the world's longest oil pipeline, it carries oil some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) from southeast Russia to points in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Germany.[1] The name "Druzhba" means "friendship", alluding to the fact that the pipeline was intended to supply oil to the energy-hungry western regions of the Soviet Union, to its "fraternal socialist allies" in the former Soviet bloc, and to western Europe. Today, it is the largest principal artery for the transportation of Russian (and Kazakh) oil across Europe.


On 18 December 1959, the 10th session of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), held in Prague, adopted a decision and an agreement was signed on construction of a trunk crude oil pipeline from the USSR into Poland, Czechoslovakia, GDR and Hungary.[2] Each country was to supply all necessary construction materials, machinery and equipment. In 1962, first oil reached to Czechoslovakia, in September 1963 to Hungary, in November 1963 to Poland, and in December 1963 to GDR. The whole of the pipeline was put into operation in October 1964. The first oil pumped through the Druzhba pipeline originated from the oil fields in Tatarstan and Samara (Kuybyshev) Oblast. In 1970s the Druzhba pipeline system was further prolonged at the expense of parallel lines.[3]


The pipeline begins from Almetyevsk in Tatarstan, southeastern Russia, where it collects oil from western Siberia, the Urals, and the Caspian Sea. It runs to Mozyr in southern Belarus, where it splits into a northern and southern branch. The northern branch crosses the remainder of Belarus across Poland to Schwedt in Germany.[2] It supplies refineries in Płock and in Schwedt. The northern branch is also connected by the Płock-Gdansk pipeline with the Naftoport terminal in Gdansk, which is used for oil re-exports.[4] In Schwedt the Druzhba pipeline is connected with the MVL pipeline to Rostock and Spergau.

The southern branch runs south through Ukraine. In Brody the Druzhba pipeline is connected with the Odessa-Brody pipeline, which is currently used to ship oil from the Druzhba pipeline to the Black Sea. In Uzhgorod the pipeline splits into lines to Slovakia (Druzhba-1 - original Druzhba route) and to Hungary (Druzhba-2). The line through Slovakia is divided once again near Bratislava: one branch leading in a northwest to Czech Republic and the other going southward to Hungary. The Druzhba-1 pipeline branches off toward Hungary at Ipeľ, crosses the Hungarian border at Dregelypalank and leads to Százhalombatta.[2] In Hungary, the Druzhba-1 pipeline supplies Duna refinery while Druzhba-2 supplies Duna and Tisza refineries.[5]

The Mažeikių refinery in Lithuania and Ventspils oil terminal in Latvia are connected to the main pipeline by the branch pipeline from Unecha junction in Bryansk Oblast. This branch has ceased operation in 2006 and is not likely to become operational in any time soon.

The part of Druzhba pipeline system, which runs via Belarus, is 2,910 kilometres (1,810 mi) long. The length of the pipeline in Ukraine is 1,490 kilometres (930 mi), in Poland in 670 kilometres (420 mi), in Hungary 130 kilometres (80 mi), in Lithuania 332 kilometres (206 mi), in Latvia 420 kilometres (261 mi), and in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic together around 400 kilometres (250 mi).[2][6]

Technical features

The Druzhba pipeline currently has a capacity of 1.2 to 1.4 million barrels per day. Work is currently underway to increase this in the section between Belarus and Poland. The pipe diameter of the pipeline varies from 420 millimetres (17 in) to 1,020 millimetres (40 in).[3] It uses 20 pumping stations.


The Russian part of the pipeline is operated by the oil company Transneft through its subsidiary OAO MN Druzhba. In Belarus the operator is Gomeltransneft Druzhba, in Ukraina UkrTransNafta, in Poland PERN company, in Slovakia Transpetrol, in the Czech Republic Mero and in Hungary MOL.[7]

Proposed extensions

[edit] Schwechat (Austria)–Bratislava Oil Pipeline

Schwechat–Bratislava two-way oil pipeline project was proposed in 2003. It would allow to supply the OMV owned Schwechat Refinery from the Druzhba pipeline.[7]

Bratislava's ugly new real estate developments.

An interesting opinion in an interview of the chief architect of Bratislava
(the chief city planner if you will).

"the chief architect has actually stated that he thinks the (world
financial) crisis is a stroke of fortune for the Slovak capital because it
will give it some time for planning to catch up with the pace of
development "

Certainly some overly oppressive developments were being planned. The
relatively loose laws on the height new buildings may reach led to ugly

Despite what real estate agents on the payroll of developers say Ruzinov in
Bratislava looks too much like luxurious version of Petrzalka. Buildings
that look like office blocks turn out to be housing.

One cannot help but think that these buildings will be ungovernable,
difficult to maintain & once their newness fades a bit, places for poor
people to live...

This is especially true when one considers how expensive the rents are in
these buildings.

In short Ruzinov is not really close to the centre. There is no feeling of
community. They urban quagmires of the future. I hope that smaller &
greener developments will take their place.

Bratislava yields

Seen in a real estate mag...

' the worst of the carnage that has now reached the UK's shores, arguably sending London prime yields below those in Prague and Warsaw. But exactly what we mean by Central Europe will also come into question. Just as real distinctions are now being made between prime and non-prime assets, we're likely to start seeing CEE Prime and CEE Secondary countries. Poland, the Czech Republic and possibly Slovakia belong to the first. Hungary, however, is now being seen differently.

Another endorsement of Slovakia.

Slovakia's first A-H1N1 flu fatality died of heart failure

People seem to be really worried about the new flu. In Slovakia the spread has been quite low by international standards. As a legacy from communist days Slovakia has a lot of hospital beds and trained staff. However it doesn't seem that it will all be necessary, immunisations start from the end of this month with improved and more tested vaccines than the ones given in some other EU countries.

Today the first death occured, but it involved a person with serious pre-existing health problems... So I am not sure this one counts..

The direct cause of death on November 6 of a woman who contracted the novel flu virus was heart failure. The spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, Zuzana Čižmáriková, provided this information based on the results of an autopsy conducted by the Health Care Supervision Office.

An hour after the 48-year-old woman was hospitalised in a Bratislava hospital, doctors had to resuscitate her because she suffered from serious arrhythmia. Her overall circulation failed. The woman was put into induced sleep and connected to respiratory equipment. Six hours later the critical situation repeated, but this time doctors failed to resuscitate her, which was confirmed by the autopsy as well.

Slovakia is well-prepared for a possible flu pandemic but the situation is now stable and the number of registered flu cases is not exceeding the norm, Health Minister Richard Raši told TASR on November 9.

Socialism in America

A chinese worker supplying WalMart the shop for all american types :)

Piece by Bill Moyers:

"So, for the record let's acknowledge that all this current rhetoric about socialism in Washington is partisan poppycock. The word being fought over so fiercely today lost its meaning long ago. The late social activist and preacher William Sloane Coffin said on my show some years ago that we have to keep pressing the socialist questions because they are questions of justice, but that we should be dubious about are the socialist answers, because while the Biblical prophets may call for justice to roll down as mighty waters, figuring out the irrigation system is damned hard.

Furthermore, Barack Obama is still standing at the crossroads. Some old hands around him yearn for a third Clinton term -- government as subsidiary of corporate America. Ardent progressive followers, on the other hand, hope his heart really leans to the left, toward the public provision of public goods.

But at bottom, the issue isn't one ideology or another - we're not that kind of country. The issue is inequality. Two British researchers have just made news with a study over three decades, showing that where income is more evenly distributed, people are healthier in mind, body and spirit. You can find out more about their report on our website at* They found that violence, mental illness, overcrowded prisons, drugs, and obesity are more likely in a society where the gap between the have's and have-not's is as great as it is in the United States.

Our gap grew over the past quarter century as capitalism went on a spree of speculating, swindling and cheating. The great collapse is a painful correction. Our long term rescue, however, depends not on any "ism," but on democracy's ability to create a more level playing field, where the health of a battered woman in San Antonio is every bit as valued as a majordomo's on Wall Street.

This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking, and bigger than its authors at first intended. The problem they originally set out to solve was why health within a population gets progressively worse further down the social scale; they estimate that together they have clocked up more than 50 person-years gathering information from research teams across the globe. Their eureka moment came when they thought of putting the medical data alongside figures showing the extent of economic inequality within each country. They say modestly that since dependable statistics both on health and on income distribution are internationally available, it was only a matter of time before someone put the two together. All the same, they are the first to have done so.

Their book charts the level of health and social problems — as many as they could find reliable figures for — against the level of income inequality in 20 of the world’s richest nations, and in each of the 50 United States. They allocate a brief chapter to each problem, supplying graphs that display the evidence starkly and unarguably. What they find is that, in states and countries where there is a big gap between the incomes of rich and poor, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, obesity and teenage pregnancy are more common, the homicide rate is higher, life expectancy is shorter, and children’s educational performance and literacy scores are worse. The Scandinavian countries and Japan consistently come at the positive end of this spectrum. They have the smallest differences between higher and lower incomes, and the best record of psycho-social health. The countries with the widest gulf between rich and poor, and the highest incidence of most health and social problems, are Britain, America and Portugal.

Richard Wilkinson, a professor of medical epidemiology at Nottingham University, and Kate Pickett, a lecturer in epidemiology at York University, emphasise that it is not only the poor who suffer from the effects of inequality, but the majority of the population. For example, rates of mental illness are five times higher across the whole population in the most unequal than in the least unequal societies in their survey. One explanation, they suggest, is that inequality increases stress right across society, not just among the least advantaged. Much research has been done on the stress hormone cortisol, which can be measured in saliva or blood, and it emerges that chronic stress affects the neural system and in turn the immune system. When stressed, we are more prone to depression and anxiety, and more likely to develop a host of bodily ills including heart disease, obesity, drug addiction, liability to infection and rapid ageing.

Societies where incomes are relatively equal have low levels of stress and high levels of trust, so that people feel secure and see others as co-operative. In unequal societies, by contrast, the rich suffer from fear of the poor, while those lower down the social order experience status anxiety, looking upon those who are more successful with bitterness and upon themselves with shame. In the 1980s and 1990s, when inequality was rapidly rising in Britain and America, the rich bought homesecurity systems, and started to drive 4x4s with names such as Defender and Crossfire, reflecting a need to intimidate attackers. Meanwhile the poor grew obese on comfort foods and took more legal and illegal drugs. In 2005, doctors in England alone wrote 29m prescriptions for antidepressants, costing the NHS £400m.

A world trend that Slovakia needs to avoid being sucked into.

Slovakia has successfully developed a political system split between a credible centre right loose coalition and a centre left party. They might all be a bit too nationalistic overall owing to the past of Slovakia as a captive nation either to Hungary or the Austrohungarian empire, or then under communism in a shotgun wedding with the Czechs. This relishing of one's sovereignty can get a bit jarring at times, and is the reason for some superficial tensions with the Hungarians. However no borders are changing and the most extreme of the politicians of the far right in Slovakia are so unbelievably corrupt and their extremism so insincere, that he can never express more than 10% of the electorate.

Freedom (is not just economic)

The danger is not from the petty authoritarian tendencies of Robert Fico the PM of Slovakia as portrayed in some fairly US centric Slovak commentators on the right. It is true that power is exercised fairly strongly in Slovakia (but that was true of the Dzurinda administration which had a fairly radical and successful political agenda with some excesses).

That is actually to be welcomed as in Slovakia governments still have the power to change policy rather than trying to copy each other like in the UK or the US. Fico is an old-fashioned conviction politician who does seem to want to entrench some social democratic standards in Slovakia and actually believes in certain things and within the ability of the state budget he has provided some support to weaker people without for the most part restricting the ability of those who can take care of themselves from prospering. The fact that he doesn't seem to adore and suck up to rich people is not bad at all.

It is also understandable for example to hate tabloids (they have tried to disturb his personal life on many occasions with a unbelievable audacity) as he does because they do express the worst in a society and they do try to subvert the political debate to serve their owners interests (e.g. the Sun in the UK). Although i don't like the press law in Slovakia, I always thought that tabloid journalists engage in very murky circles. We need to draw a line between the financial times and the Sun. Tabloids are a caricature of journalism and a force for evil. Broadsheets however should not be put in the same bag. Fico should respect constructive and intelligent criticism and debate.

The decline of the business model of newspapers makes them even more likely to be bought by organised interests that want to have the upper hand in the political debate. Again this has happened in any country with thriving tabloids that express and represent the worst in human nature.

If one looks to the UK, the extreme consensus between Labour and the Conservatives has hollowed out politics of all relevance and has led to what feels like an ungoverned state. The result is that Britain, from a fairly well governed state, is ending up as an over-indebted country with an increasingly extremist electorate (Anti-EU, BNP growing, curtailed civil liberties through extreme anti-terror laws) and it certainly feels like it is the beginning of this process.

Free market economics has changed our democracies. Ironically these policies are bringing about authoritarianism back. The mechanism this works through are principally two.

  1. Some citizens become very rich which allows them to influence the debate through their wealth (buying TV stations or other media), they are likely to influence it through entrenching the status quo that allowed them to become rich. Essentially some have a huge megaphone that allows them to promote their ideas irrespective of their value. Deregulation was one such idea and that led to the financial crisis.
  2. The better off in society -even if slightly better off- do not vote taking into account the overall interests of the country, but simply seek to re-enforce the policies that keep them better off. Their prosperity is dependent on low social mobility and change. That is not a high quality democracy.

Ergo: Too much political consensus between left and right is a mistake

So where has this footballisation of politics and public life come from. Why are so many governments turning more and more authoritarian?

A review of a very interesting book about how increasingly the excesses of the right wing ideologues like Tony Blair (no mistake here) stemming from the time of Reagan have pushed the emergence of a feudal flavour of capitalism to be found in economically prosperous but culturally and democratically backward and stifling states like Malaysia or Singapore. Note that corruption is endemic in this sort of Fascistic regime. Its a fusion of tame consumer/citizens, propaganda, really low quality of democracy and essentially a well disguised oligarchy with some democratic traits.

Because there are no ideas or ideals in the debate, the debate becomes irrelevant. People don't vote so the extremists get bigger and bigger shares. Also a public fed a diet of tabloid news is likely to be far more susceptible to extremist politics. The stifling consensus where whatever one votes they get the same policies has brought about stability but also an erosion of democracy and brought about the politician who is popular not because he wants to do things that you as a citizen agree with, but because you like his dress sense, or you would like to be as rich as him. Berlusconi is in that mould at least partially.

Ironically globalisation and competition is now forcing European and American states to lose any flourishes of democracy and free speech they developed in the past to revert to gameshow host type of leaders (e.g. Berlusconi, Zapatero, Blair, Bush). The citizen is economically free (kind of because corruption is playing its part to skew even this). But policy is strictly set and permanent and not something that an elected leader can change. The countries that this is entrenched in the most are the US and the UK.


Review by Samuel Brittan

Published: November 2 2009 06:24 | Last updated: November 2 2009 06:24

Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty
By John Kampfner
Simon & Schuster £18.99, 304 pages

It is no longer a startling observation that the more western governments have spoken about freedom and democracy in the struggle against their enemies, the more the freedom part, at least, has been curtailed. In Britain, the Thatcher government tightened the screws on freedom of expression. The Blair government went further in curtailing historical rights such as habeas corpus and free speech.

In my view, the most profound study of this process in its historical context is Ben Wilson’s What Price Liberty? John Kampfner’s Freedom for Sale, on the other hand, makes up in breadth what it lacks in depth. While Wilson was mainly concerned with ­Britain, with a few glances across the Atlantic, Kampfner, a British political journalist, includes the US, Italy, Russia, ­Singapore, China, India and the Arab Emirates, and in nearly all he discovers similar erosion. Like Wilson, he attacks the ­thesis that capitalism inevitably leads to personal and political freedom as well as democracy. He cites Benjamin Franklin, who declared in 1755 that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. The excuse has always been that freedom is sacrificed for prosperity and security. Kampfner is inclined to concede that there might be something in this.

If he had only included the Scandinavian countries, for instance, in his survey, he could have seen that personal and political freedom need not be an impediment to prosperity. Too many businessmen regard critics of the Chinese and Russian regimes as doctrinaire nuisances who impede their making of money.

Security is more difficult; but Kampfner has little difficulty in showing that the restraints imposed by the Blair government went far beyond the legitimate struggle against terrorism. During his term of office Blair “had bequeathed to his successor a surveillance state unrivalled anywhere in the democratic world”.

It seems to me that the problem with Blair was – to put it kindly – an aversion to abstract thought. Hence his sneering remarks about the liberal tradition. With Gordon Brown it is different. He believes the hallmark of progressive thinking is a positive attitude to the state against “right wing” laisser faire. While this attitude stems from a preoccupation with the economic and social arguments of the 20th century, it spills over into a carelessness about civil liberties as well. In practice both New Labour prime ministers were guided by the demands of the security chiefs and the desire to be seen to be “tough”.

Politicians and mandarins tend to confuse politically embarrassing leaks with threats to national security, as Kampfner points out. On a more trivial but revealing level, Kampfner quotes a French journalist writing from the UK: “Here you are actively encouraged to denounce your neighbour for not paying road tax or putting a bin out early … There are councils that spy on their taxpayers as if they were common criminals… the Home Office proposes to set up a database holding information on every telephone call made, every email sent and every website visited by every single British citizen.” Nor do the media, who value excessively their access to top government figures, come off much better. To get the point, you only have to hear or read that “Brown has decided” or “Cameron has decided” on matters where these politicians thankfully still have no such power.

Kampfner pessimistically accepts that an authoritarian capitalism on the Singapore model is spreading worldwide: the people have made their Faustian bargain. Yet I still cherish the hope, not that the masses will read John Stuart Mill, but that enough personal experiences of the basic inhumanity of this model will lead to some kind of liberal reaction in some countries and some times.