EU Elections: Why the Far Right is Growing in Europe

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Not that any of us living in Europe really needed to consult the papers this morning to see who won the European Union’s parliamentary elections. Nor does it take a genius to interpret the results. Voters all across Europe are more and more inclined to believe that their economic hardship and the erosion of their “traditions” are a consequence of the free flow of capital, people, and goods between their communities made possible by their membership in the EU. Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where European and US enforced institutional arrangements preclude EU membership, the most disturbing results were those in neighboring Hungry, Slovenia, and Croatia. News from Italy, by contrast, tells a more hopeful story.
In neighboring Croatia, new to the EU parliament — no surprise here — the right wing HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) received one more seat than the SDP. The single seat for Croatia’s Green Party (ORaH) is offset by a seat for the “Savez za Hrvatsku” party, Alliance for Croatia.
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In Slovenia, the Social Democrats are down to one seat, although in most voting they are likely to be joined by the two new members from the centrist DeSus (Democratic Party of Pensioners). Far more disturbing are the electoral gains from the coalition formed by the NSi (Christian People’s Party or New Slovenia) and the SLS (Slovenian People’s Party), as though there were any doubts whether Slovenians are identical with Christians, i.e., Roman Catholics. The social liberal (ZARES) did not receive enough support. Nor did the Liberal Democratic Party or LDS. The newly formed Verjamem Party, meaning simply “I believe,” will in all likelihood vote mostly with the left. In effect this means that the right enjoyed a one seat gain in Slovenia since the last elections in 2012. It could have been worse.
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But the really terrifying results came from Hungary. There the far right, openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party (Movement for a Better, i.e., Jüdenfrei, Hungary) joined with Hungary’s far right FIDESZ-KDNP (a coalition between the Federation of Young Democrats and the Christian Democratic Party) to form a super-majority. The Hungarian Socialist Party, the MSZP, barely registered.
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http://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2014/may/25/european-elections-results-across-europe-eu-parliament

The vision for a unified Europe took shape against the backdrop of two centuries of horrific continental war. In the 1950s, when Alcide De Gasperi, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and Paul-Henri Spaak resurrected the idea of a unified Europe, the universal conceit was that ever greater economic, scientific, and technological efficiencies were delivering the developed world from its age-old love affair with war. More fluid boundaries for goods, services, and capital, and a single shared currency among all members could only hasten the arrival of global singularity, the convergence of all economies then predicted by most economists. Euro cheer-leaders could not imagine why or even how these efficiencies would come to be aggregated and privatized over the coming decades, rekindling the hostilities that economic disparities invariably provoke.

Their naiveté is understandable. Since everyone in a policy-making position in 1945 agreed the violence of the last century had been caused by social and economic disparities, it stood to reason that state actors would always step in to make necessary, purely technical regulatory changes whenever economic disparities threatened social or political harmony. A little more state spending here, a little more taxation there. All was good. What could go wrong?

What could go wrong and did go wrong was that in the late 1960s something entirely unanticipated and unwanted appeared on the economic horizon: competition. West Germany’s and Japan’s economies had for the most part recovered by the mid-1960s. But it was only in the late 1960s that competition between Japan, Germany, and the US began to place downward pressures on global prices. Continuing economic stagnation forced then US President Nixon in 1972 to take the US Dollar off the Gold Standard and let it float. As the value of the Dollar plunged, this made US goods more affordable both in the US and around the world. But this was only a temporary solution since it also meant that non-US goods grew more costly for Americans at the very moment that the Dollar was declining in value globally. As US investors attempted to recoup their losses, they were faced with the terrible realization that a global economic downturn had disastrous consequences for the very US heavy industries whose recovery and growth could have driven consumer demand. Manufacturing declined and with it so too did the wages that might have fueled global economic recovery.

In retrospect, the choices now seem straightforward. Two choices in particular stand out. One, investors could have simply accepted declining rates of profit. This would make it possible for consumers to enjoy a larger share of the pie overall, but it would mean that investors would have to make do with less both in real terms and as a percentage of their overall share in the global product. But the other alternative, the second, was to shift the regulatory burden off the shoulders of investors and place a larger share of this burden on the shoulders of consumers. In this way, opportunities and returns from investments would increase, but would not generate the kind of demand- and consumption-based returns that investors had enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s. And as Thomas Piketty has pointed out, this would mean a dramatic increase globally in social and economic inequalities.

The EU was born in 1993, just as neoliberal economic policies were beginning to bear their fruit. A deregulated US economy managed by Bill Clinton was producing famous returns for investors in information and biotech. Privatization and deregulation were also the watchwords in the newly liberated South Africa, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The thought that such prodigious returns as investors were now raking in might become a source of revenue to help reduce social and economic inequalities in Europe struck the architects of the new global neoliberalism as a formula for slaughtering the goose that was laying the golden eggs. And, no doubt, had nations taxed investment returns more highly than they did, this would surely have put a damper on economic growth. But it also would have ameliorated the already visible nationalisms springing up in France, Great Britain, and throughout post-Soviet southern and eastern Europe, not to mention Russia.

Of course, at the time, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Samuel P Huntington and Francis Fukuyama were telling us that such nationalisms were precisely what one should expect from free citizens. The peace enjoyed during the previous half century since the end of World War II had been entirely artificial, fake and mostly corrupt, the consequence of state fiscal manipulation and not a genuine reflection of popular will. Nationalist violence will increase, no doubt; but it is a small price to pay for genuine economic freedom.

The New York Times quotes Corina Stratulat, a senior analyst at the European Policy Center, noting how nationalism is “part of the pathological normalcy for European politics” (http://nyti.ms/SEvnkn). However, there is a profound difference between the critical faculties of yesterday’s architects of European Union and its present-day custodians. In the 1950s and 1960s, these architects knew that it had been the free market orthodoxy of the 1910s and 1920s that had generated Europe’s profound social and economic inequalities,  which, in turn, had played such a leading role in two terribly costly world wars and an equally costly revolution. Perhaps they too should have recognized in 1945 that these 70M casualties, not counting those in Germany’s death camps, were part of the “pathological normalcy” of European politics. They then might have spared us the attempts to remedy this pathology through fiscal policies designed to level the socio-economic playing field.

The far right is gaining ground politically in the EU today because neoliberal economic policy is inconsistent with economic union; the pursuit of the former undermines the latter. At some point this tendency becomes irreversible. Economic inequality generates a nationalism that undermines whatever economic efficiencies union may have produced. Which is why no matter where we look today political actors are screaming for autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency, and disentanglement. This we are told is what freedom looks like.

No one in this grand political casino shares more responsibility for what happens over the next decade than Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. For it was Merkel and her Christian Democrats who have proven so savvy playing the European nationalist card. But there is no such thing as a little bit of nationalism. If the Turks and North Africans are ruining the German educational system and undermining Germany’s “Christian” cultural values, then what role could economic policy possibly play in smoothing the playing field in, let us say, Spain, Greece, Slovenia or, dare we mention, Hungary? Germany’s Christian Democrats know how very dependent Germany has grown on Russian energy. So, by all means, let us not challenge Russian nationalism too loudly or forcefully, even if it costs Ukraine its eastern territories. Russian investments in neighboring Serbia are already large and growing. And they are significant as well right here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Serbian nationalists have expressed a commitment to protecting the interests of their ethnic kinsmen. Just a little more belt-tightening, a little more austerity, a little more privatization and deregulation; and everything will be good to go.

But that’s not really how it works. As the nationalists improve their standings in the polls, as neoliberal policies provoke the very conditions that breed nationalist discontent, economic growth and development become casualties in wars no longer fought with words. Chancellor Merkel is not the only Euro-cheerleader flirting with the enemy; she is simply the most important. Social Democrats and Greens everywhere need therefore to remind themselves and their followers why sharing the wealth, even when it takes a chunk out of private returns on investment, is preferable by far than the alternative. And the alternative, let us not forget can be very bleak indeed.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and the Deadly Silence

In less than a month I will have the distinct pleasure of delivering the Keynote Address at before the Annual Meeting of the Institute of Foreign Languages, held this year in Podgorica, Mongenegro (http://www.isj.ucg.ac.me/ICIFL5.htm). This in itself is a great honor. But the real honor is the subject of that address: the amazing Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
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It is already more than twenty years ago when I first encountered Professor Spivak’s writing in a course taught by Leora Auslander on methods in historical research. At the time I was completing my doctoral research at the University of Chicago and I am certain that I did not fully appreciate Professor Spivak’s contribution. Reading the work again now twenty years later, it is clear that Professor Spivak was light-years ahead of anyone else at the time; or very nearly. Today we have slipped even further down the embankment to which Spivak called our attention back then. Forgetful of the social formation that constituted both our world and the world of the subaltern — forgetful that is of capitalism — we have tolerated and even abetted the drive to rid our institutions, our syllabi, and our curricula of all but the most insipid traces of the violence under whose cover we are still permitted to speak at all.
This permission, in fact, has prompted a not entirely benign rumor to circulate in Bosnia and Herzegovina that I am in fact a spy for the State Department or the CIA; my Marxist credentials only a convenient cover for my true intentions: to infiltrate and report back to the US about the public and published minutes of Plenum and its radical leaders. Without doubt I am here at the State Department’s leisure. And like innumerable Fulbrighters before me my credentials are far to the left of those who selected, funded and sent me.
Nevertheless, these facts should not be permitted to overshadow the inconvenient truth that I am permitted — no, I am invited, urged, compelled — to speak in Mostar, Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla, at Medresa and English Departments, at Economic Conferences and the Six O’Clock News, while countless more deserving and more articulate voices are silenced. Which is why, whenever I speak, I try as much as possible to remember Professor Spivak and the wonderful spanking she gave to Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze twenty-six years ago.
But, of course, over the course of these twenty-six years it has gotten so much worse. If students at UC Berkeley pack my courses to overflowing, it is in large measure a sad commentary on what counts as scholarship in the other lecture halls. We must feel the walls closing in on us, narrowing and constricting what we can think and what we can say. Yet it is only as we reflect critically on the constraints imposed on human knowledge, on the ways that the world we live in shapes what we can think, that we might be provoked to also think critically on what we might be able to think under a different set of constraints and not as is now frequently thought in the absence of constraints entirely. Exposing how capitalism and how imperialism have shaped, for example, my many invitations to serve as MC at conferences over whose subjects I enjoy only ephemeral and passing knowledge, is significant because it reminds us that access and speech are gendered, monetized, and cultivated. But to not point this out, to fail to make this my privilege a point of study, is to naturalize them in ways that damages knowledge and learning itself.
I am still forming my thoughts on Professor Spivak and am not sure how I will pitch this subject at a conference whose attendees, like me, enjoy the privilege of speech. What I want is an uprising within departments and institutions and states against capital on behalf of those who as yet have been silenced and for whom I cannot yet speak. But I need to think with sufficient care if I am not to join Saints Michel and Gilles on Professor Spivak’s whipping block. Beware you know I will.

The Post-Fordist Seminary

As I read my friend Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski’s Facebook account of graduation at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), I am brought to reflect on how CDSP and how the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) has changed since 1998 when I oversaw the accreditation of the GTUs nine seminaries and (at the time) twenty-one centers and independent research units. My office was situated on the second floor adjacent to the President’s office, whom I also served as special assistant. The Graduate Theological Union Library, the premier library of its kind, housing collections from all nine seminaries, also served the community of the University of California, Berkeley, whose charter specified a working relationship with an ecumenical and multireligious research facility — the GTU.
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Until the 1990s, the GTU had operated on what could be called Fordist assumptions. It aimed at further integrating its faculties and campuses, closer ties among its many religious communities, active recruiting of new seminarians from underserved communities, expansion of its faculties to include more women of color, expansion of student housing so that students short on means could live comfortably in one of the most expensive rental markets in the country, expansion into the Pacific Rim, and deeper institutional collaboration among the boards and administrations of the GTUs many interdependent institutions. There was only one problem: resources. But with the many deep-pocket corporate executives sitting on its board, relationships assiduously cultivated by then GTU President Glenn Bucher, it seemed completely realistic that a pitch for further expansion and confessional integration would hit its mark.
But then, shortly after we issued our self-study and were awarded full ATS/WASC reaccreditation, there was a general house-cleaning at the GTU. There were good reasons for this house-cleaning, although the manner in which it was accomplished by John “the Axe” Dillenberger, the Interim President, left much to be desired. Glenn’s expansive institutional vision was replaced by parochial self-protection and contraction; and all at once the GTU was faced with the realities of post-Fordism: smaller, more flexible, temporary, transportable, more responsive to share-holders, but far (far) less responsive to stake-holders. To fit the new circumstances, President Bucher’s successor was not an icon of ecumenism, but a congenial and parochial Jesuit, eager to protect the private interests of each of the GTU’s separate institutions, but lacking the corporate connections that might have helped fund the coming generations of interreligious instruction.
Initially, of course, there was significant push-back from those in the GTU who continued to believe that the future should be filled with more, not less cooperation, not further contraction, but expansion of the ecumenical and interreligious vision. The library should be expanded. We should build a common campus at the intersection of Le Conte and Scenic. Cross registration among the seminaries and research institutes should be made more robust. Housing should be expanded. Aid for students and faculty, not just bricks and mortar, should be expanded. We should bring our tuitions more into line with our colleagues back east at Chicago, Yale, Harvard and Princeton. The GTU, gateway to the Pacific.
But over the course of the decade, as I moved on to teaching at Berkeley and my wife began her seminary instruction at CDSP, students, faculty and administrators all began to change their tune. Smaller and more stream-lined was better. Smaller, more flexible faculties featuring more contingent, temporary instructors were a good thing. And since we cannot offer full scholarships to seminarians any longer, or offer them free housing like our colleagues back east, we need to start offering more evening and weekend courses, more commuter opportunities, more online classes. But instead of framing these choices as responses to the overall economic downturn, neoliberal economic policies designed to increase institutional efficiencies and squeeze more out of less, members of the GTU community framed these choices as responses to the changing character of the religious communities that they served. Apparently parishioners did not want their seminaries to hire professors earning a living wage; apparently parishioners did not want their seminarians to be awarded stipends or housing so that they could devote themselves to their studies rather than to work-study. This was not a response to the economic downturn or to the prevailing neoliberal economic philosophy. It was a response to the increasing flexibility of the religious community, the increasing flexibility of the spirit; not to be mourned, but rather to be celebrated.
The GTU Library will soon be closed. CDSP’s faculty has been pared down to eight, mostly part-time or shared posts. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski has accepted a permanent, full-time post at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.
My family and I live two blocks away from CDSP and from the GTU. We have been living in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the past year: Exhibit A in what happens to institutions under the conditions of post-Fordism. We will return to Berkeley this Fall to a GTU and CDSP much changed from the institution we left a year ago. When we return I expect that we will hear reports of what the spirit is doing at the GTU and CDSP, about how God is moving in mysterious ways. Few or any are likely see in this train of events evidence of a quite different spirit: the spirit of capital.

TV and Radio, vital links to vital information

I am looking out the window of my Sjenjak flat. Cars are driving up and down Ismeta Mujezinavica. There is not a cloud in the sky. And although there was no water service when we woke up at 6:30 this morning, there was water in the pipes by 8.

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But there is no school today at Novi Grad and all of the other parents and students seemed to know that. So I was taken aback when Averil and Yates showed up at our door at 7:30.

In Berkeley the school would have blasted an email to all of the school’s households and would have autodialed all of the households on top of that.

Here in Tuzla, Facebook appears to be the preferred form of communication. Although everyone also has an email account — several — and everyone also has a mobile phone, people prefer Facebook.

Apparently, everyone found out about the school closure by radio or TV. And its true, it is a rare household that does not have either the TV or the radio on when we enter (and often after we enter). We have friends in the US who also run their TVs or radios 24-7. And I have wracked my brain to figure out why. Is it a 1950s thing? Is it a single adult thing? Does it have a psychological dimension; you know, not wanting to feel alone or feeling comforted by the presence of voices in the background. (I know that when I was a boy living in the midwest I sometimes liked to fall to sleep listening to the late baseball game wrapping up out west.)

I have heard that Novi Grad does not use email or phone blasts because they don’t have the technology. But then this fails to explain that everyone we know, from families barely scraping by to our colleagues at the University, everyone is on Facebook seemingly non-stop. And when Averil or Yates communicates with their teachers, it is always by email. The technology is there.

I have also heard anecdotally that Tuzlans simply don’t keep records. No records, no email addresses. But this also does not ring true. Indeed, every time we turn around, the City or Regional government is documenting where we are, where we have been, where we are going, always with a date stamp and a signature on paper.

What I have concluded is that Tuzlans expect to find out about vital things by TV and radio, which, of course, is the same way they learned about vital goings on during the war, 1992-1995. So, perhaps that is it. Perhaps it was TV and radio that kept them in the loop during the most tenuous period of their national history and so it is to TV and radio that they turn, to which they cling, for all of their vital news. Perhaps. But then perhaps not. Who knows.

What’s Next

In the US, it is easy to feel that the events flashing across the screen taking place elsewhere in the world — wars, pestilence, disease, floods — are tragic, unfortunate, sad, but also unavoidable. And when disasters do strike us — Katrina, 9-11 — they are quickly contained, packaged, and digested in such a way that the story changes, but the basic plot remains the same. But what happens when a country does not possess the wealth or fire power to respond to tragedies by starting two costly wars, curtailing civil rights and liberties for millions, and bombing whole countries back to the Stone Age? What if might and money are not sufficient and a nation has to fall back upon a thoughtful, direct response to the immediate disaster?

Now that we have the Internet back, friends are asking what they can do. First, you should pressure the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, EU, NATO and other global actors to please, please not funnel resources to the oligarchs. Resources need to be directed to responsible local, regional, and national disaster relief organizations. Second, this should not become another Haiti or Katrina moment. The oligarchy is already salivating over the financial killing it intends to make over impending fire sale of land, resources, and contracts. However, this could be a moment when global actors place real pressure on the oligarchs; not only will they not be permitted to make a killing, but global actors are going to work with institutions, such as Plenum, who have no political or economic agenda outside of the rule of law, restoration of public assets to public stakeholders, and the clear separation of political from financial interests in the nation. Or it could be a moment when private stakeholders leverage this disaster to obtain more international gifts and public assets.

Third, this is a time for the international community to recognize that until they step up and follow through implementing the plan that it imposed on the former Yugoslavia in 1995 the region will not be in a position to move forward. This may seem unrelated to the latest disaster, but it is not. The systems here in Bosnia and Herzegovina are already stressed and weakened beyond the breaking point. Politically, the Bosnians and Herzegovinians have no place to go. Their “temporary” tri-partite rule and dozens of layers of local, regional, and federal government, were imposed by international actors in order to stop a war. Now the international community needs to take the next step and thoughtfully remove the conditions that it imposed and allow the local and regional actors to craft a solution in the absence of the oligarchy.

The critical ingredient here is to disinvite the oligarchy. Internationally enforceable sanctions need to be placed on specific economic actors and agents. Private assets need to be frozen. Public assets need to be restored. Germany, in particular, needs to get out of bed with the Russians and recognize that its future lies with a Europe empowered to establish and protect public interests over private.

Already even before the latest disaster I have heard despondent Bosnians and Herzegovinians lament that Europe could care less what happens in the Balkans. Perhaps this is so. But just as in the first decade of the last century when Europe believed that it could easily manage the Balkans without endangering their own interests, the belief today that Europe can ignore the Balkans is ill-advised. Instead, the “shatterzone” (as it is sometimes called) needs Europe’s special, specific attention. Only if the international community decides to turn its attention to the Balkans, with credible sanctions against the oligarchy and substantive assistance to public institutions and the rule of law; only then might the Floods of 2014 have a silver lining, marking the moment when the international community acted to avert an even larger impending catastrophe.

The fate and well-being of those within this shatterzone matter. Now more than ever, the international community needs to renew the efforts that it left hanging in 1995 and, now that peace has temporarily been restored, allow the responsible public entities of the region to create public entities capable of entering into and participating in the community of nations of Europe.

Deluge

If you have been following my tweets or FaceBook posts, then you will know that it has been raining in Tuzla. It has been raining throughout the Balkans. Yesterday when we learned that the roads to Mostar were washed out, where I had been scheduled to offer a seminar, and then learned that the university the public schools were closing on account of the rain, Kirsten and I decided what better to do than drive to Budapest wpid-PastedGraphic-2014-05-15-18-28.png
and spend an evening in the baths. Yet, already last night we were hearing reports that it was not only the roads to Mostar, but also the roads to Doboj, Osijek, and Bjeljina, the only roads leading to Budapest. So, when we woke up this morning, we checked to make sure. Perhaps the road through Bjeljina was open, just not to trucks. And so while Kirsten and the boys went to American Corner to finish up some work and check out some books, I packed our belongings and prepared to leave. Yes, a state of emergency had been declared for all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Yes, many of the low-lands in Tuzla (see photo) were under several meters of water. But the baths in Budapest were calling us. We needed a break. And now we had no excuses to keep us in Tuzla. Oh, yes, and several of our friends had warned us not to travel. What could go wrong?
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As we made our way to Bjeljina, we saw extensive evidence of mud slides. At one point the shoulder of the road had given way, bringing the cliff ledge to within inches of the road. Little rivers pouring down from the hills had left rock fields on parts of the road. But, we kept telling ourselves, “boy will those baths feel good.”

We had just been watching a Frontline episode titled “Inside the Teenage Brain.” The episode described why teenagers engage in risky behavior, behavior that adults would never display. I asked the boys, half joking, whether our little adventure displayed adult or teenage judgment. We all agreed that we were displaying teenage judgment. But, oh those baths.

And then about an hour outside of Tuzla we came up on a short line of cars backed up behind a truck. I got out to see what was going on. From all appearances, a section of the hill on our left had simply slid right onto the road. But a shovel was already on the scene removing the hill from the road. We could see car lights on the other side of the hill. I estimated that the mess would be all cleaned up in less than a half hour and that we could then be on our way. And so we sat back in our Megane listening to some old Sting I had brought along with a mountain stream — now a mountain river — raging on the left hand, downhill, side of the road. What could go wrong?

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I think that all of us were watching when the hill once again gave way, pushing the shovel as though it were a matchbox and half burying the cab (no photo). My first fear, that the hill had pushed the shovel and its operator into the river proved to be mistaken. But, still, it was very scary. And now the hills to our left, towering above the road, assumed a diabolical visage. What if they should give way?

Reluctantly we — along with much longer line of cars — turned our car around and made our way back to Tuzla.

I don’t know what drove us to this precipice of madness. We are all very tired of the rain. And perhaps we also are seeing our time in Bosnia and Herzegovina slipping away. And we remember with fondness our time in Budapest in January. But I also suspect that we feel something close to immunity here. Time and again we have run into what we are told is a very widespread attitude that “it can’t be done,” “it will never succeed,” and “its too risky.” Perhaps this attitude pushes us to the opposite extreme. Sure it can be done. We can make it happen. Face the risk . . . Yes even the risk of a draught from an open window or wearing only one layer of clothing. You can do it!

But then there’s that hillside and the road and the raging river.

Lately the Internet has been down more often than not. We cannot download a movie. I can’t even upload this blog. So, instead, I walked across the street to the video store, a real novelty in this digital age. Tonight we will be watching an old James Bond. Its not Budapest. But, hey, we’re alive.