"What's New?  How Is the World Treating You?"

"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"  In 1939 Johnny Burke (1908-1964) composed the music and Bob Haggard (1914-1998) wrote the lyrics for the hit song "What's New?" whose first line serves as the title of this blog.  To listen to Linda Ronstadt (born 1946) perform "What's New?" with Nelson Riddle (1921-1985) and his orchestra (Asylum, 1983), click here.  A new window will open, allowing the music to play in the background.

Check this web page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  The lead stories appear immediately after the table of contents.  To read the article of your choice, either click on the title that appears in the table of contents or scroll down the page.
For news and commentary from the most recent past quarter, click here.  For earlier quarters in the year or previous years, see the Introduction and Index for "What's New?"

Table of Contents for the Second Quarter of 2012


  1. 1 Student Loan News–Not All Is Good    30 June 2012
  2. 2 European Patent Court    30 June 2012
  3. 3 EU Growth Package    30 June 2012
  4. 4 Bill Gates on Higher Education    30 June 2012
  5. 5 Turkey and Syria    27 June 2012
  6. 6 Controversy Regarding Nachum T. Gross    27 June 2012
  7. 7 The Bones of St. John the Baptist in Bulgaria    27 June 2012
  8. 8 Roman Road in Thessaloniki, Greece    27 June 2012
  9. 9 The New Cabinet in Greece    20 June 2012
  10. 10 Adrian Năstase Attempted Suicide    20 June 2012 -- UPDATED
  11. 11 Balkan Benelux    20 June 2012
  12. 12 What Are Sovereign Wealth Funds?    19 June 2012
  13. 13 Negotiations for a New Government Continue in Greece    19 June 2012
  14. 14 Plagiarism and Politics in Romania    19 July 2012
  15. 15 New Democrats Win Greek Elections    17 June 2012 -- UPDATED
  16. 16 12 June Moscow Protests    16 June 2012
  17. 17 Greek Elections    16 June 2012
  18. 18 Piranes as Preservationist and Artist    16 June 2012
  19. 19 Amnesty International Targets the EU    14 June 2012
  20. 20 Vampire Skeleton on Display    14 June 2012
  21. 21 Němcová and Haiti    14 June 2012
  22. 22 The Risks of Protesting in Russia    14 June 2012
  23. 23 A New President in Albania    14 June 2012
  24. 24 Tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan    14 June 2012
  25. 25 Lithuanians Divided over Murder Case    11 June 2012
  26. 26 Atatürk Today    10 June 2012
  27. 27 Grexit?: An Economist’s View    10 June 2012
  28. 28 Is There a Lagarfljóts Worm in Egilsstaðir?    9 June 2012
  29. 29 Gay Pride March in Croatia    9 June 2012
  30. 30 Restrictions Threaten the Schengen Agreement    9 June 2012
  31. 31 Fidesz Has Poor Ratings in Hungary    9 June 2012
  32. 32 Greek Politicians Fight on TV    7 June 2012
  33. 33 EU Names Ukrainian Task Force    7 June 2012
  34. 34 US vs Europe: Whose Healthcare Is Better?    7 June 2012
  35. 35 Documents about Hitler’s Health    6 June 2012
  36. 36 A Glimpse into Germany’s Successful Pirate Party    6 June 2012
  37. 37 Vampires Found in Bulgaria    6 June 2012
  38. 38 Mr. Obama’s History Lesson    6 June 2012
  39. 39 SIPRI Annual Military Report    4 June 2012
  40. 40 Gays March in Poland and Latvia    2 June 2012
  41. 41 Belarus Skirts EU Restrictions    1 June 2012
  42. 42 EU Aid Flows Again to Hungary    1 June 2012
  43. 43 How Vulnerable is Poland’s Economy?    31 May 2012
  44. 44 Academic Integrity: The Case of Historian Orlando Figes    30 May 2012
  45. 45 Paul Fussell (1924-2012)    30 May 2012
  46. 46 Swan Song for a Polish Orchestra?    29 May 2012
  47. 47 EU Gets Mixed Results in Pew Study    29 May 2012
  48. 48 Serbia’s Nikolić Met with Putin    29 May 2012
  49. 49 Sweden Won Eurovision 2012    27 May 2012
  50. 50 Seventieth Heydrich Assassination Commemoration    27 May 2012
  51. 51 EU Begins Withdrawal of Police from Kosovo    26 May 2012
  52. 52 Challenges for Community Colleges    25 May 2012
  53. 53 Russia’s New Cabinet    25 May 2012
  54. 54 The Status of Roma in the EU    24 May 2012
  55. 55 Balkan Challenges to the EU    24 May 2012
  56. 56 What (or Who) Killed Lenin?    23 May 2012
  57. 57 Business Schools Pay More Attention to Other Fields    23 May 2012
  58. 58 Greek Border Security    23 May 2012
  59. 59 France and Germany Differ over Euro Bonds    22 May 2012
  60. 60 Miscellaneous News Items    22 May 2012
  61. 61 Czech Tire Manufacturer Mitas Opened Plant in Iowa    22 May 2012
  62. 62 New EU Countries Oppose Swiss Migration Limitations    22 May 2012
  63. 63 Earthquake in Bulgaria    21 May 2012
  64. 64 Nationalist Nikolić Wins Serbian Presidential Election    20 May 2012
  65. 65 Miscellaneous News    17 May 2012
  66. 66 Belarus: White Russia’s Black Marks and Red Stains   17 May 2012
  67. 67 Tymoshenko Deal    17 May 2012
  68. 68 What If Greece Exits from the Euro?    17 May 2012
  69. 69 Merkel Suffers Telling Electoral Defeat    17 May 2012
  70. 70 New Elections for Greece    16 May 2012
  71. 71 Freedom House: Global Press Freedom Rankings, 2012    16 May 2012
  72. 72 Slovak Independence Remarkably Successful    16 May 2012
  73. 73 Politics and Sports: Ukraine, Poland, and Euro 2012    16 May 2012
  74. 74 Transnistria and Modava    16 May 2012
  75. 75 Coalition Talks Fail in Greece    15 May 2012
  76. 76 European Tour Cancelled    15 May 2012
  77. 77 Putin and Medvedev Changed Roles    15 May 2012
  78. 78 Archivists Build Online Finding Aid    15 May 2012
  79. 79 EU Farm Subsidies through CAP under Scrutiny    13 May 2012
  80. 80 Greek Parties Still Negotiating to Create a Government    13 May 2012
  81. 81 Slovak Paywall Startup    18 April 2012
  82. 82 “Arrr!”—Pirates Party in Prague    16 April 2012
  83. 83 Turkey May Ask for NATO's Assistance on Its Southern Border    15 April 2012
  84. 84 “When You’re Happy, the Whole World Smiles with You”    14 April 2012
  85. 85 Ukraine: War Movie Ban and Tymoshenko    13 April 2012
  86. 86 Turkey’s Military on Trial    13 April 2012
  87. 87 The Closing of an Era: Habsburg and Ottoman Deaths    13 April 2012
  88. 88 Items Related to Nazism and the Second World War    11 April 2012
  89. 89 Various Media Reports of Interest    11 April 2012
  90. 90 Integration Is the Only Option for Serbs in Kosovo    11 April 2012
  91. 91 The Right of Petition Comes to the EU    11 April 2012
  92. 92 Hungarian Controversies    11 April 2012
  93. 93 It Was an Expensive Easter    11 April 2012

Student Loan News–Not All Is Good    30 June 2012

Congress voted to freeze the current interest rates for student loans, but other action actually hurts students.  There now are semester limits on Pell Grants, and qualifying for them is more difficult.  Graduate students now must pay interest on their loans before they get their degree.  It appears that Congress is bent on passing measures that mean savings for students when it comes to high-profile areas while they hope that the public will not notice other changes they make to increase the cost of education.  Students should be satisfied, however, that the changes only will cost them approximately $2 billion each year over the course of the next decade.  Read more at http://www.npr.org/2012/06/30/156024236/the-flip-side-of-the-federal-student-loans-deal?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120630.

European Patent Court    30 June 2012

An example of the progressive deepening of the European Union occurred on 29 June when EU heads of state agreed to establish a patent court in Paris with branches in London and Munich.  Once it is operational by the end of this year, those seeking patents will no longer have to file in each state, a process which made the cost of a patent as high as €32,000, approximately 70 percent of that cost being translation services.  A patent in the United States costs approximately  €1,850.  The change will have a positive impact on research and creativity in businesses and universities throughout the EU.  It took thirty years of negotiating to reach an agreement.  It will need the ratification of all Member States, which may involve a referendum in some.  More details are at http://euobserver.com/19/116819.

EU Growth Package    30 June 2012

European Union leaders have agreed to dedicate €120 billion ($149 billion) to spur growth in the poorest Member States.  As a result of the plan, the EU Investment Bank has received additional funding, and infrastructure projects have received unused EU aid.  Many feel that the amount is far too small to be effective.  Italy and Spain held up the process in order to win measures that will help ease their financial crises.  Along with the growth package, the EU leaders agreed to have bailout funds recaitalize banks directly and to buy bonds for countries that are making progress on fiscal reforms but are facing pressures from the market.

Read more at http://news.yahoo.com/european-leaders-agree-limited-growth-package-211756143--finance.html; http://euobserver.com/19/116800; and http://euobserver.com/19/116806.

Bill Gates on Higher Education    30 June 2012

Jeffrey R. Young of the Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed Bill Gates about the future of college education.  The complete article and some film clips are available at http://chronicle.com/article/A-Conversation-With-Bill-Gates/132591/.

Part of the discussion focused on college completion rates, and it is clear that Bill Gates sees the problem as being the current structure of higher education.  Mr. Gates likely focuses on this issue because he did not complete his degree and left the university after three years.  From the interview, it appears that Mr. Gates sees the problems arising at the university level.  However, just because universities often fail at graduating students, they are not to blame in every case.  What Mr. Gates did not consider was the cost of education that sometimes drives the decision to leave the classroom before receiving a degree and the terribly inadequate preparation many students receive from the K-12 level that prevents them from handling the work college-level courses demand.

Mr. Gates noted that “having a lot of kids sit in the lecture class will be viewed at some point as an antiquated thing.”  He advocates classes in which groups of students help each other learn.  In the beginning of the article, Young stated that Gates supports innovation, such as the “‘flipped’ classroom, where students watch videos from superstar professors as homework and use class time for group projects and other interactive activities.”  One must wonder whether a professor-entertainer instructing masses of students with whom he or she has no rapport is a desirable replacement for the diversity of opinions and approaches that thrive in the multitude of traditional classrooms.  Like on-line learning, “flipped” classrooms may play a role in education, but their drawbacks should cause universities to limit the number of such courses that students can apply to their degrees.

Another comment of Mr. Gates was: “I don't think there's any business people who are just walking out of their office door and walking over to a university and saying, Hey, reorganize your university this way. I've never heard of that.”  In reality, the business model does drive university reform, and not always for the good of the students.  Universities function much like a medieval guild: professors share certain tools, like laboratories and libraries, but they practice their trade and teach their apprentices independently.  That is the basis of a strong, creative liberal education (liberal, of course, not in a political sense) that produced many of the great minds of the past and present.  The pressures that universities and colleges currently face from businesses hoping to reshape universities to produce the graduates they want to employ is significant and have a negative impact on the creativity of students.  Mr. Gates also never mentioned the increased pressures state universities have from politicians who often advance the cause of businesses.  In Florida, for example, the current governor, Rick Scott, stated that universities produce too many anthropologists and wants more money directed to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields, from other programs.  Read more about Mr. Scott’s plans at http://htpolitics.com/2011/10/10/rick-scott-wants-to-shift-university-funding-away-from-some-majors/.

Turkey and Syria    27 June 2012

After the Syrians shot down a military jet on 22 June during a training mission that the Turks claimed had entered Syrian air space accidentally, the Turks has called on NATO diplomats to discuss the situation.  The mood of the member states appears to be that they must avoid direct conflict with Syria at all costs.  For more, see http://euobserver.com/13/116743 and http://www.npr.org/2012/06/24/155655716/turkey-jet-downed-by-syria-was-not-spying?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120624.

Controversy Regarding Nachum T. Gross    27 June 2012

Nachum T. Gross, who specializes in Holocaust studies in the Polish regions, has sparked more controversy with his book Golden Harvest: Events at the Periphery of the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 2012).  He argued that Poles participated in the persecution of Jews in order to benefit economically as a result of their exclusion from society and because of anti-Semitism.  Many in Poland denounce his claims. And the former Polish President Lech Wałęsa harshly described Mr. Gross as "a mediocre writer . . . a Jew who tries to make money."  For more, see http://chronicle.com/article/A-Polish-Historians/132499/?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en.

The Bones of St. John the Baptist in Bulgaria    27 June 2012

Archaeologists have found bones on the island of Sveti Ivan in the Black Sea that once were believed to be those of St. John the Baptist.  Although the carbon dating places them as being from the time of Jesus and DNA research demonstrates that they are from the Middle East, there is no proof that they actually are those of St. John the Baptist.   Read more at http://news.yahoo.com/mysterious-bones-may-belong-john-baptist-230719990.html.

It seems that Bulgaria is alive with stories of the dead.  For information about the vampire skeletons archaeologists recently unearthed in Bulgaria, click here.

Roman Road in Thessaloniki, Greece    27 June 2012

Construction workers digging for a new metro in Thessaloniki, Greece, have unearthed a Roman road and a Greek road under it that predates the Roman road by 500 years.  The marble slabs of the Roman road are in tact, and the road will be on display after the metro is opened. 

The New Cabinet in Greece    20 June 2012

Antonis Samaras, the head of the conservative New Democracy party, is the new prime minister of Greece.  His coalition, which includes members of the Socialist and Democratic Left parties, has a majority of 179 out of 300 seats.  The leaders of the coalition have not yet released the full details of the cabinet’s makeup.  Samaras will have to lead Greece through more austerity measures and privatizations, but he also plans on renegotiating some of the terms of the bailout.  He also will have to find economic solutions for a country with 22 percent unemployment and growing poverty.  Syriza, the second strongest party in the parliament, is in the opposition to the government and the EU bailout.

See http://news.yahoo.com/greece-swears-prime-minister-224742031--finance.html and http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/20/world/europe/greece-election/index.html.

Adrian Năstase Attempted Suicide    20 June 2012 -- UPDATED

The former Romanian prime minister, Adrian Năstase (born 1950), attempted to commit suicide today after a court upheld his two-year sentence on corruption charges linked to his 2004 electoral campaign for the presidency.  Năstase served as premier from December 2004 to March 2006 as head of the Socialist party.  He brought Romania into NATO and negotiated the entry of Romania into the European Union, which occurred in 2007.  Năstase resigned as a result of the corruption charges, which he vehemently denied, claiming that they were politically motivated.  After the verdict, Năstase shot himself in the neck at his home just as the police came to arrest him, and he is now in the hospital.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ex-romania-pm-shoots-self-courts-sentence-213521467.html.  As of 21 June, Năstase is in critical condition.  The bullet passed through his neck without striking his vocal cords or any major arteries.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/21/us-romania-corruption-idUSBRE85K0XO20120621.

Balkan Benelux    20 June 2012

Gunther Fehlinger, an Austrian economist living in Albania, and Ekrem Krasniqi, journalist who was born in  Kosovo but lives in Brussels, propose that Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia develop an arrangement like the Benelux countries in order to spur investment and speed entry into the European Union.  For their proposal, see http://euobserver.com/7/116669.

What Are Sovereign Wealth Funds?    19 June 2012

Given the importance of investment and finance to European, American, and world politics, it is useful to have a reliable source for certain terms, such as sovereign wealth fundsInvestopedia at http://pro.benzinga.com/, which provides financial news, is a good source for such information.

Negotiations for a New Government Continue in Greece    19 June 2012

The conservative New Democracy party is continuing to negotiate with the Socialists and the small Democratic Left party about forming a cabinet.  The premise of the talks is the support of the EU bailout, although the parties are considering some adjustments.  The far-left Syriza party, which renounces the bailout, refuses to participate in the talks.  See the AP news feed at http://news.yahoo.com/greece-enters-2nd-day-power-sharing-talks-074006486.html.

Plagiarism and Politics in Romania    19 July 2012

The Romanian prime minister and minister of education have been accused of plagiarism, and the charges have many questioning the government’s ability to eliminate corruption in the country’s university system.  See http://chronicle.com/blogs/global/2-top-romanian-government-officials-grapple-with-charges-of-academic-plagiarism/33463?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.

New Democrats Win Greek Elections    17 June 2012 -- UPDATED

The New Democrats, who support the EU bailout, have won the Greek parliamentary election, gaining 30 percent of the votes and 130 out of 300 seats in the legislature (83 percent of the votes are counted).  The second strongest party was leftist Syriza party, which opposed the bailout, and garnered 26.6 percent of the votes and 71 seats.  Third was the Socialist party, which helped negotiate the bailout, with 12.5 percent of the votes and 33 seats.  Fourth was the extreme-rightist Golden Dawn party with 6.9 percent of the vote and 18 seats.  Fifth was the Democratic Left with 6.1 percent of the votes and 18 seats.

The New Democrats will have to form a coalition in order to rule, and the Socialist party seems to be the logical partner.  The two parties would have a comfortable majority of 163 seats..  The head of the Socialists, Evangelos Venizelos, called for a coalition government of all parties, aside from Golden Dawn, but Syriza has been adamant about its opposition to the bailout and may not find the proposal attractive.  The Democratic Left party also is hesitant to accept the EU bailout without revisions and had refused in May to enter a coalition without SYRIZA.  Now, however, since Syriza is dispensable, it is possible that the Democratic Left leaders could find the prospect of being in the government tempting, enabling Venizelos’s proposal to have at least some success.

A report on the elections is at http://news.yahoo.com/pro-bailout-conservatives-win-greek-election-205901474.html and http://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2012/06/17/greek-elections-investors-take-a-moment-to-cheer-pro-bailout-partys-victory/.

An update is available from NPR at http://www.npr.org/2012/06/18/155263974/greek-parties-to-hold-coalition-talks?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120618.

12 June Moscow Protests    16 June 2012

For an excellent article on the 12 June protests in Moscow against President Putin, see http://en.rian.ru/society/20120612/173983880.html.  The demonstration was peaceful, and there were no difficulties with the police.  Officials claimed that 18,000 were present, but various organizers and Putin opponents cited numbers between 25,000 and 100,000.

Greek Elections    16 June 2012

Greeks go to the polls tomorrow in an attempt to provide politicians with more decisive results than those that came out of the May elections.  Two strong parties appear to be even in the voters’ sentiments: the right-of-center New Democratic party, which supports the EU bailouts, and the leftist Syriza, which wants to renegotiate the deals, even though it would mean Greece would default on its loans.  Given the divided nature of Greek politics at the moment, it is quite possible that once again no one party will gain enough seats in the parliament to govern alone and will have to form a coalition with smaller parties.  For more, see http://euobserver.com/843/116638.

Piranes as Preservationist and Artist    16 June 2012

Giovanni Battista Piranes (1720-1778) is in many respects the father of historic preservation because his etchings of Rome sparked an interest in antiquities throughout Europe and inspired Italians to preserve their cultural heritage.  He also was famous for his imaginative scenes of dark prisons.  Art historians wonder why he made the etchings, but perhaps to obtain an answer, they should examine Piranes’s works with those of his younger contemporary from the literary sphere, Marquis De Sade (1740-1814).  For an excellent article on Piranes, see http://chronicle.com/article/Behind-Historic-Preservation/132119/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.

Amnesty International Targets the EU    14 June 2012

Amnesty International released a report on 13 June 2012 titled “S.O.S. Europe: Human Rights and Migration Control” that criticizes the European Union for focusing on protecting its borders instead of being concerned about the lives of those who attempt to enter illegally.  Most of the report focuses on the problem of people illegally escaping from Libya to Italy.  AI is critical of the practice of returning these individuals to Libya, where they often are mistreated. The report concludes that “states must be held accountable for the human rights abuses committed in the context of externalization” (p. 17).  AI calls on the Italian government to renegotiate repatriation terms with Libya after Libya demonstrates that it will not abuse asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants.  The organization also recommends that all agreements regarding these matters become public.  AI wants the EU to make sure that its policies do not result in human rights abuses, that all human rights agreements and procedures are honored, that those rescued trying to enter the EU have adequate care and the right to request asylum, and that search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean are augmented.  Details about the recommendations are on p. 18.

The press release from AI is at http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/europe-s-deadly-frontiers-european-parliament-must-stand-up-for-migrants, and the report is at http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/s.o.s._europe_report_web_02.pdf.

Vampire Skeleton on Display    14 June 2012

One of the 700-year-old vampire skeletons recently discovered in Bulgaria will go on display at the National History Museum in Sofia.  The original story on this web site is here, and the announcement of the exhibition is at http://news.yahoo.com/bulgaria-vampire-skeleton-going-display-160432425.html.

Němcová and Haiti    14 June 2012

The Czech supermodel Petra Němcová has agreed to be an ambassador at large for Haiti, joining Sean Penn and other celebrities who help promote Haiti.  Němcová received the honor because of her work to aid children and construct schools through her Happy Hearts Fund, which she established after surviving the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that killed approximately 280,000 people.  See http://news.yahoo.com/czech-supermodel-petra-nemcova-named-ambassador-large-promote-232150324.html.

The Risks of Protesting in Russia    14 June 2012

To mark 12 June, known as Russia Day, when the Russian state declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, protesters planned to demonstrate against President Putin.  The demonstrations took place, but opponents of Mr. Putin were well aware of the new tripled fines for illegal demonstrations and the fact that the police had raided the apartments of demonstration leaders, many of whom they had detained.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russian-police-search-protest-leaders-apartments-103748861.html.

A New President in Albania    14 June 2012

Albania has a new president, Bujar Nishani, but not everyone is celebrating.  He is a former interior minister and member of the Democratic party, which also heads the government.  During the presidential election in parliament, the Socialists refused to vote, and tensions between the two parties runs high.  Albania is in NATO and hopes to join the European Union, but the political tension in the country makes EU leaders hesitant about Albania’s progress toward strengthening democratic institutions  Read more at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/11/us-albania-president-idUSBRE85A1EB20120611 and http://news.yahoo.com/albania-elects-president-despite-protests-172717784.html.

Tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan    14 June 2012

Each year in the spring, there are some killings on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and this year has been no exception.  Still, the tensions between the two countries have not resulted in open conflict, as they did between 1988 and 1994.  Much of the problem is due to the existence of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that has declared its independence.  Read more at http://euobserver.com/24/116579.

Lithuanians Divided over Murder Case    11 June 2012

Lithuanians are divided over a murder that resulted from a custody case, and the matter is exposing deficiencies in the justice system For more, see http://news.yahoo.com/lithuania-vigilante-case-exposes-social-divides-120656655.html.

Atatürk Today    10 June 2012

Kemal Atatürk’s cult of personality in Turkey is the subject of an excellent AP article located at http://news.yahoo.com/turkey-tweaks-cult-national-founder-062548426.html.

Grexit?: An Economist’s View    10 June 2012

In a brief article, the economist George Irvin argues that the Greek exit from the euro already is underway.  Those who favor it include the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who would like to see the Greeks serve as an “encouragement to others” and even French President François Hollande, who successfully could advance his plan for eurobonds or project bonds if the Greek crisis ends.  Furthermore, an orderly exit now would be more beneficial to the Greeks than a disorderly exit, which also could destroy faith in the euro throughout Europe.  Irvin believes that the process of orderly exit has begun because Greece is not receiving the bailout money the EU has promised and instead is accepting Emergency Liquidity Assistance, which the Greek state, already on the swift road to default, is guaranteeing.  Irvin’s article is available at http://blogs.euobserver.com/irvin/2012/05/30/ecb-initiates-greek-exit/.

Is There a Lagarfljóts Worm in Egilsstaðir?    9 June 2012

A farmer in Egilsstaðir, Iceland, has video taped what he claims is a Lagarfljóts Worm in the lake near his home.  Biologists decided that it was not alive and perhaps was a fishing net.  Viewers can decide for themselves at http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/giant-worm-icelands-loch-ness-monster-16531170 or http://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/major-victory-for-9-11-first-responders-29608135.html.

Gay Pride March in Croatia    9 June 2012

Unlike last year, when ultra-conservatives threw rocks and other items at gay pride marchers, this year’s march in Zagreb had no difficulties.  The reason was most likely a strong police presence to protect the marchers.  For an AP report on the event, see http://news.yahoo.com/croatian-gay-pride-event-passes-without-incident-172422664.html.  See also the report on gay marchers in Poland and Latvia here.

Restrictions Threaten the Schengen Agreement    9 June 2012

The ministers in the EU Council have made changes to the spirit of the Schengen Agreement that regulates the internal borders of the EU.  Now, each Member State can close its borders for six months for ongoing difficulties, 30 days for serious threats, and 10 days for urgent cases (previously the limit was five days).  Furthermore, the European Commission can recommend controlling borders for states that are contiguous with a Member State that is unable to guarantee its borders.  These changes have infuriated the European Parliament because it restricts the freedom implicit in the Schengen Agreement but also because the ministers removed the ability of the European Parliament to have any input in the matter.  The European Commission likewise is upset because of its exclusion.  There is talk about having the matter settled in court.  For more, see http://euobserver.com/22/116545.

Fidesz Has Poor Ratings in Hungary    9 June 2012

Only 17 percent of Hungarians support the conservative Fidesz party, according to a recent poll, and 81 percent of the people have a negative view regarding the country’s future.  The Socialist party, which is the main opposition to Fidesz, rose in the polls from 13 to 15 percent, suggesting that Hungarians are not terribly enthusiastic about the alternative to the current Fidesz-led coalition.  See http://www.euronews.com/newswires/1543208-hungary-government-party-support-lowest-in-over-a-decade-poll/.

Greek Politicians Fight on TV    7 June 2012

Politics can be ugly, but an event in Greece on 7 June 2012 showed the extent to which individuals in a heated debate and under an incredible amount of political strain can lose their tempers.  A left-socialist politician from the Syriza party, Rena Dourou, was questioning Ilias Kasidiaris about an upcoming trial regarding his involvement in a 2007  attack on a student.  Kasidiaris is a member of Golden Dawn, an extreme nationalist party that won 21 out of 300 seats in the last Greek election and hopes to do better in the elections in June.  In the midst of the exchange, Liana Kanelli, a member of the Communist party, branded Kasidiaris a fascist, and Kasidiaris called Kanelli, who is 58, an “old commie.”  Kasidiaris further lost his temper and threw a glass of water at Dourou.  As the moderator tried to calm the situation, Kanelli threw some papers at Kasidiaris, who proceeded to strike her across the face three times.

Articles about the incident are at http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/07/world/europe/greece-politicians-fight/ and http://news.yahoo.com/greek-extremist-party-member-tv-assault-075138071.html.  The scene is also on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjVsaEUM2Ws.

EU Names Ukrainian Task Force    7 June 2012

Alexander Kwasniewski, the former Polish president and communist who has long-standing ties with Ukraine, as well as Pat Cox, the former Irish television personality and EU Parliament president who is a supporter of EU enlargement, are heading the EU task force to monitor Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal in late June.  Tymoshenko’s daughter, Eugenia Tymoshenko, is concerned that the regime in Ukraine will sway the opinion of the task force.  According to the terms to which EU and Ukrainian officials had agreed, there was to be a medical monitoring team to check on Yulia Tymoshenko while she is in prison, but that part of the plan remains unimplemented because she now has a German doctor.

For more information, see http://euobserver.com/24/116526.

US vs Europe: Whose Healthcare Is Better?    7 June 2012

EU-Digest posted the following blog regarding the differences between European and American healthcare:

Europe Not US Has the Right Model on Health Care

Posted: 06 Jun 2012 10:56 AM PDT

Barack Obama's once boasted that Americans have better health care than the best India can throw at them. This is both true and pointless. It is not as if this stunning fact was spotted accidentally by a window cleaner. If the United States is spoiling for a punch- up on health policy, it should pick on somebody its own size and come out in the open. America's real challenger is not India, but Europe.

Though Europe has done extremely well by all health parameters, it has not been able to broadcast its model effectively. In fact, every time medical expenses as proportion of Gross Domestic Product (or GDP) goes up by even a tiny bit, either in Sweden, Italy, France or Luxembourg, influential policy makers in America, as well as in India, use it to discredit the European medical system.

Notwithstanding nips and tucks, the bare fact that Europeans live longer than Americans should have settled the contest long ago. In America only 12.6 per cent cross the age of 65 whereas the figure is 16.7 per cent and 21.5 per cent in Europe and Japan respectively. What is more, the European model is also cost effective.

The United States spends about 16 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health, whereas the European average is around 9 per cent. Europe delivers better medical care at cheaper rates because it has limited the role of the private sector in this field. This makes it harder for ants to run away with the picnic.

Has state sponsored universal health delivery undermined medical care in Europe? No. While there are just 2.4 beds for every thousand in the United States, in Europe the figure is 3.1. On this parameter alone, America would rank a lowly 23rd amongst other European countries. Neither is the tale of the tape flattering when we compare the availability of beds for acute care between America and Europe. In Europe there are 3.7 beds per thousand dedicated for this purpose, whereas in America it is just 2.8.

America's status falls further when we consider infant mortality rates (IMR) - an important public health index. With an IMR of 6.75 per thousand live births the USA would rank 27th in Europe.  Even Cuba does better on this account.

Infrastructure wise, there are other bits of bad news from America. In terms of practicing physicians, for example, Europe easily outdoes the USA. Whereas there are 2.4 such professionals for every thousand in America, the number rises to 3.1 when we look at OECD countries.

No matter what opinion one has about healthcare, it is important for any specialist in European affairs to have a general idea of the differences between the two healthcare systems, especially when the information presented is not a product of the overly politically-charged American scene.  The text is available at http://www.eu-digest.blogspot.com/.

Documents about Hitler’s Health    6 June 2012

Recently an auction took place at Alexander Historical Auctions (Stamford, CT) of reports about Adolf Hitler’s health from his physicians that include 225 pages of written material, x-rays, and other items.  The documents reveal that Hitler “had ‘uncontrollable flatulence,’ used cocaine [to clear sinuses–DEM], and received injections of bull semen to bolster his sexual vitality,” according to an article in the Huffington Post.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/hitler-medical-records-auction-cocaine-flatulence-semen_n_1477821.html.

A Glimpse into Germany’s Successful Pirate Party    6 June 2012

For a better understanding of the success and the leadership of Germany’s Pirate party, see the NPR story at http://www.npr.org/2012/06/06/154388897/a-party-on-the-rise-germanys-pirates-come-ashore?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120606.

Vampires Found in Bulgaria    6 June 2012

Vampire mania occurred in the Balkans in medieval times, so those deemed evil had a stake driven through their heart when they were buried to prevent them from becoming vampires.  Archaeologists have found many examples of the practice in the past, but two more have arisen (perhaps unearthed might be a better term, but then again!) in a Bulgarian village by the Black Sea.  These two so-called vampire skeletons will join the hundred or so that have emerged (enough already!) in Bulgaria through the efforts of archaeologists.

For more on this heart throbbing story, see the BBC coverage at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18334106.

Mr. Obama’s History Lesson    6 June 2012

While posthumously awarding the Second World War hero, Jan Karski (1914-2000), the Medal of Freedom in Washington on 29 May 2012, Mr. Obama made a reference to “Polish death camps.”  The Poles were upset because Nazis, not Poles, operated the camps, which were on Polish soil.  Subsequently, Mr. Obama sent an official letter of apology to the Polish president.  In reality, many writers have referred to the “Polish camps” as a geographic term without any implication that the Poles were killing Jews and others.

Jan Karski was a member of the Polish resistance who had infiltrated the Warsaw Ghetto and a portion of the Bełżec Concentration Camp.  In 1942 and 1943, he reported the efforts of the Nazis to eliminate the Jews to the Allies in the West, but many refused to believe his claims.  He later became a professor of political science at Georgetown University.

For more on this story, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/02/world/europe/poland-a-letter-of-regret-from-obama.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper; and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/obama-polish-death-camps-regret_n_1561894.html.  For a lawyer’s perspective that comes to the defense of Mr. Obama, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/menachem-rosensaft/polish-death-camps-obama_b_1567429.html.

SIPRI Annual Military Report    4 June 2012

The government-funded think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has released its annual yearbook on topics relating to security, conflicts, military spending, and arms control.  Oxford University Press publishes the 560-page work, and those purchasing it are entitled to an electronic copy.  Summaries are available at http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2012/07.

In two chapters, the study considers armed conflict throughout the world and efforts to restore and maintain peace.  Three chapters cover arms production, international sales, trafficking, and military expenditures.  The state of nuclear forces throughout the world is another chapter as is the efforts to control nuclear arms.  There also are chapters on chemical and biological weapons, conventional arms control, and intervention.

The world’s eight known nuclear powers–China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, USA, and UK–have about 19,000 weapons, of which about 4,400 are deployed.  This and more information about the current number of nuclear weapons throughout the world are in chapter seven.  The eight chapter considers nuclear proliferation, including information and analysis about developments in Iran, North Korea, and Syria.  The United States and Russia are working to reduce the numbers of their nuclear weapons, but both sides are modernizing their arsenals.

The web site of SIPRI is http://www.sipri.org/.

Gays March in Poland and Latvia    2 June 2012

Germany has an openly-homosexual foreign minister, and citizens in certain Central European states, such as the Czech Republic, maintain extremely progressive attitudes about the LGBT community.  In Poland, however, where Roman Catholic influences are strong, there is a great deal of intolerance of non-heterosexuals.  Today, members of the LGBT community marched simultaneously in Warsaw and Riga in a call for greater acceptance of their lifestyle.  For more information, see the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/east-europe-gays-lesbians-march-show-pride-170641923.html.

Belarus Skirts EU Restrictions    1 June 2012

To learn how Belarus manages to sell its products to the EU, despite prohibitions on them, read http://euobserver.com/24/116459.

EU Aid Flows Again to Hungary    1 June 2012

Hungarian budgetary constraints have resulted in the EU making available €450 million in aid, but the Hungarian economics minister and Fidesz party member, György Matolcsy, has criticized the EU as endeavoring to create a “European empire.”  Read more at http://euobserver.com/19/116448.

How Vulnerable is Poland’s Economy?    31 May 2012

The Polish economy grew 3.5 percent in the first quarter of this year, more than that of any other Member State in the EU.  Poland has weathered the economic storm of the past few years rather well, but there are signs, like a poor infrastructure and an aging population, that it will be vulnerable in the not-too-distant future.  Read more at http://euobserver.com/19/116426 and http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_20749147/polish-economy-grew-3-5-pct-first-quarter.

Academic Integrity: The Case of Historian Orlando Figes    30 May 2012

As historians, we subject ourselves to rigorous standards of academic integrity so that we quote sources properly, provide accurate references, exclude any possibility of paraphrasing, and take other steps to present the past and our interpretation of it with accuracy and honesty.  Yet, all of us have made unintentional errors and have caught other historians making them.  Regretfully, we must admit that none of us is perfect.  The standard we set for ourselves we apply to our students.  We check their references and watch for plagiarism in research papers just as we stop cheating on exams.  It is deeply disturbing, therefore, when historians find a colleague whose academic integrity is flawed.  It destroys our trust of that individual, and provides a terrible example to students.

Some of us have second-hand knowledge of the dubious academic behavior of an author, and a few of us have encountered it directly.  Seldom do we drag these cases before the public, so the recent open debate surrounding the noted Russian specialist, Orlando Figes, is shocking for historians, in part because the charges others have brought against him are an embarrassment for the profession.  Nevertheless, the incident demonstrates that diligent historians can weed out the less reputable practitioners and send a message to students and the public that the academy can successfully maintain its integrity.

At issue is a book Mr. Figes published on the horrors of the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin titled The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia (Picador, 2008).  According to the historians Peter Reddaway and Stephen F. Cohen, it contains misquotes, fabricated statements, and factual inaccuracies that one can verify through an examination of interviews available at the Memorial Society, which documents human rights abuses in Russia.  Cohen and Reddaway reveal other difficulties with Figes’s methods that suggest a pattern of deception.

The full article by Cohen and Reddaway is at http://www.thenation.com/article/168028/orlando-figes-and-stalins-victims.

Paul Fussell (1924-2012)    30 May 2012

The professor of English literature and author of military history, Paul Fussell, passed away on 23 May 2012.  He taught at several universities and retired from the University of Pennsylvania.  He authored two dozen books, including The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford, 1975) and Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (Oxford, 1989).  See http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-paul-fussell-20120526,0,7055014.story.

Swan Song for a Polish Orchestra?    29 May 2012

In an effort to prevent its closure, the Chamber Opera orchestra and chorus performed Mozart’s Requiem in front of the Ministry of Culture and presented the minister with a 20,000-signature petition to restore funding for the orchestra, which otherwise will have to cease operating in the summer because of budget cuts.

See http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=153922731.

EU Gets Mixed Results in Pew Study    29 May 2012

A Pew Research Center study shows that Europeans have developed a skepticism about the euro, but they want to maintain it.  Ironically, the highest confidence in the euro of the countries studied is Greece, where 46 percent of the people think the euro is a good thing and 71 percent of those polled want to keep the euro.  Italy has the lowest confidence in the euro with a rating of 30 percent.  There is widespread belief that European integration has weakened European economies, aside from the Germans, who believe that it has strengthened their standing.  Most believe that the Germans are the most hard working and least corrupt, aside from the Greeks, who believe they are first in both respects.  Otherwise, the British, French, and Germans view the Italians as being most corrupt, the Spaniards view themselves as tied with the Italians in terms of corruption, while the Italians, Greeks, Poles, and Czechs view their countries as being the most corrupt.  Faith in the European Cental Bank and the benefits of EU membership have dropped.  The study considered a number of other issues regarding the popularity of the EU, the free market, and EU Member States’ leaders.

The study is available at http://www.pewglobal.org/2012/05/29/european-unity-on-the-rocks/, and an article about the results is at http://news.yahoo.com/europeans-dislike-euro-survey-finds-111423074--finance.html.

Serbia’s Nikolić Met with Putin    29 May 2012

Serbia’s president-elect, Tomislav Nikolić, told Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow that his country will not recognize Kosovo but that Serbia still hopes to enter the EU.  If Serbian recognition of Kosovo becomes a condition for entry, however, Serbia would elect to stay out of the EU.  Furthermore, Serbia will not join NATO and will maintain its neutrality.  Nikolić also expressed his willingness to work with Boris Tadić, who lost the recent presidential election to Nikolić and who also refuses to accept the independence of Kosovo.  During the meeting, Putin reiterated his support for Serbia and offered the country $800 million for infrastructure improvements on top of other loans Russia has provided Serbia. 

See http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics-article.php?yyyy=2012&mm=05&dd=26&nav_id=80443; http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/serbian-leader-meets-putin-at-united-russia-convention/459333.html; and http://rt.com/politics/serbia-russia-nato-eu-crisis-377/.

Sweden Won Eurovision 2012    27 May 2012

Sweden’s Loreen won Europe's immensely popular Eurovision 2012 with her song “Euphoria.”  The contest took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, which won last year’s competition.  The regime attempted to put on a show for the foreign journalists and visitors, and all went well, although outside a throng celebrating the occasion transformed into protestors against the government.  To read more about the winning song and to hear it, see http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/05/27/eurovision-2012-swedens-loreen-wins-in-politically-charged-azerbaijan/.  Information about the protest is at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/26/world/europe/azerbaijani-police-arrest-protesters-at-eurovision-rally.html.

Seventieth Heydrich Assassination Commemoration    27 May 2012

Radio Prague carried the following news item on 27 May 2012 (http://www.radio.cz/en/news#1):

A commemoration of the assassination of Gestapo chief and governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich is taking place at Prague’s Wenceslas Square on Sunday, which marks the 70-year anniversary of the event. The commemoration, which is under the auspices of Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra and deputy chairman of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka, aims to raise awareness of the importance of the fact that plans to extinguish the Czech nation were thwarted by the assassination. Other commemorative events are being held across the capital.
The targeted killing of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in the Operation Anthropoid took place in Prague on May 27, 1942. British-trained Czech commandos parachuted into the Nazi-held protectorate and severely injured Heydrich by tossing a bomb into his car. He died as a result from the injuries suffered in the attack. The Gestapo chief's assassination became a symbol of Czech independence and was later hailed as an important moment in the resistance movement. His death led to a wave of revenge acts, including the Lidice massacre.

A BBC story with photographs about Jan Kubiš, the person who threw the bomb that mortally wounded Heydrich, is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18183099.  A photograph of the memorial at the church where the assassins sought refuge is at http://prague-stay.com/lifestyle/review/252-national-memorial-to-the-victims-of-post-heydrich-terror/.  Efforts of Heydrich’s son to restore the chateau near Prague where the family had lived are at http://praguemonitor.com/2011/03/25/reinhard-heydrichs-son-wants-restore-czech-chateau.

An investigation had determined that two towns, Lidice and Ležáky, had assisted the assassins.  The authorities ordered their destruction and planned gruesome fates for their inhabitants.  There were 503 inhabitants of Lidice, and the Germans shot all 184 men.  The 156 women and children went to concentration camps, and the authorities selected a few children for resettlement in German homes.  Only 153 women and 17 children survived the war.  Of the 54 inhabitants of Ležáky, only two children survived the war.   The web page for the memorial to Lidice is at http://www.lidice-memorial.cz/default_en.aspx, and  the web page for the lesser-known town of Ležáky is at http://www.lezaky-memorial.cz/default_en.aspx.  The administration that cares for the Lidice and Ležáky memorials also is responsible for the Lety concentration camp site in Bohemia were the Nazis interned Gypsies.  Its web address is http://www.lety-memorial.cz/default_en.aspx.

EU Begins Withdrawal of Police from Kosovo    26 May 2012

Eulex, the EU police force in Kosovo, will begin drawing down 25-30 percent of its force in Kosovo with an end of the program to occur within the next two years.  Experts consider Eulex a success, and the Kosovo police now are taking on more responsibilities.  Read more at http://euobserver.com/24/116393.

Challenges for Community Colleges    25 May 2012

Two recent items related to community colleges, that is, predominantly two-year institutions that focus on associate degrees, underscore the continuing crisis in American higher education.  The first is a report by the American Association of Community Colleges titled Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future, which is available free of charge as a download at http://www.aacc.nche.edu/AboutCC/21stcenturyreport/index.html.  The essence of the report is that the number of Americans completing higher education is declining, and America ranks sixteenth in the world for the number of graduates per capita from institutions of higher education.  The report calls on community colleges to be more attentive to the quality of education because

student success rates that are unacceptably low, employment preparation that is inadequately connected to job market needs, and disconnects in transitions between high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate institutions. Community colleges, historically underfunded, also have
been financed in ways that encourage enrollment growth, though frequently without adequately supporting that growth, and largely without incentives for promoting student success (p. viii).

The report outlines steps community colleges should take to make the educational experience of their students more useful.  According to the report, reform is the only way community colleges can help preserve the American dream of having a strong middle class.

The recommendations of the report on pp. 26-29 indicate a future emphasis on jobs skills in the community colleges and partnerships with schools to increase the preparedness of students entering community colleges:

Recommendation 1: Increase completion rates of students earning community college credentials (certificates and associate degrees) by 50% by 2020, while preserving access, enhancing quality, and eradicating attainment gaps associated with income, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Recommendation 2: Dramatically improve college readiness: By 2020, reduce by half the numbers of students entering college unprepared for rigorous college-level work, and double the number of students who complete developmental education programs and progress to successful completion of related freshman-level courses.

Recommendation 3: Close the American skills gaps by sharply focusing career and technical education on preparing students with the knowledge and skills required for existing and future jobs in regional and global economies.

Recommendation 4: Refocus the community college mission and redefine institutional roles to meet 21st-century education and employment needs.

Recommendation 5: Invest in support structures to serve multiple community colleges through collaboration among institutions and with partners in philanthropy, government, and the private sector.

Recommendation 6: Target public and private investments strategically to create new incentives for all institutions of education and their students and to support community college efforts to reclaim the American Dream.

Recommendation 7: Implement policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency, and accountability for results in community colleges.

The second item is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that appeared on 22 April 2012 by Jennifer González titled “Education for All? 2-Year Colleges Struggle to Preserve Their Mission.”  It is available at http://chronicle.com/article/2-Year-Colleges-Fight-to-Save/131608/%E2%80%99, but since it is only available to subscribers, so a summary of its contents appears here.

Ms. González reported that community colleges are becoming more restrictive with respect to admission in this era of budget cuts and pressure to produce well-qualified graduates.  The result is that the open-door policy of community colleges is closing to students who need remedial training because such courses are expensive.  As a result, prospective students who appear unlikely to graduate do not gain admission, while community colleges seek those students who are better prepared from high school to tackle the challenges of college-level courses.  Gary D. Rhoades, who is a professor of education at the University of Arizona and is with the Center for the Future of Higher Education, stated that “community colleges are being hammered to increase graduation rates.  One way to do that is to change the sort of student you serve.”  Ms. González reasoned that “such a shift would profoundly affect the millions of low-income and minority students who look to attend community colleges every year, many of whom need remedial education first.”  Matthew Wetstein, the interim vice president for instruction at San Joaquin Delta College, noted that “to me, it’s like we are turning our back on the students most likely to benefit from our help.”  The Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teacher College reported that more than 60 percent of students at two-year colleges must enroll in developmental education, but González claimed that now community colleges are scrapping GED and ESL courses, telling would-be applicants to seek such courses at “public schools, libraries, nonprofits, and local government agencies.”  Also at risk are courses for senior citizens, community music and art programs, and continuing education as the community colleges focus their resources on job training and preparation for transfer to baccalaureate programs.

Neither the González article nor the Reclaiming the American Dream report truly tackle the root of the problem: poor performance of the grade schools and high schools that result in students who are unprepared for basic classes in colleges and universities.  Anecdotal evidence from university and four-year college professors across the country suggests that math, writing, and critical-thinking skills are declining and that students are dismayed when professors do not parrot information that is on PowerPoint presentations and in assigned texts.  Study habits are lax, and notetaking is becoming rare.  These difficulties mean that universities are forced to increase the number of their remedial courses to assist the poorly-prepared students from high schools and community colleges.  The reduction in remedial programs at the community college level, as Ms. González reported, will intensify the need for them at the university level.  The result will be the breakdown of higher education so that America attains the point that one radio commentator in the 1970s predicted would emerge: children should be born with bachelor’s degrees so that they can go on to higher education.  Averting this potential crisis at the university and community college levels is counterproductive.  The need is to strengthen the fundamental skills of grade school and high school students.  That means scrapping “No Child Left Behind,” abandoning the reliance on standardized tests as a measure of intelligence and skill, reducing the funding for non-academic programs in the schools (that may infuriate the scholastic sport industry and its fans), paying teachers realistic salaries to attract highly-qualified individuals to the classroom, protecting educators with responsible unions, and allowing the teachers to be professionals instead of individuals who need only execute a lesson plan and control a classroom.

Russia’s New Cabinet    25 May 2012

Many expected that Vladimir Putin would strengthen the number of his supporters in the Russian cabinet, but to say that he has accomplished such a task is an oversimplification.  Despite the retention of a small number of Putin loyalists, gone are the old KGB and St. Petersburg allies that for so long had marked Russian politics.  The new line-up largely consists of liberal technocrats, some of whom are close to Dmitry Medvedev.  In a brief article for Foreign Policy, the noted social scientist and Russian observer, Anders Åslund, analyzes the cabinet and its potential for bringing change to Russia.  His article is at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/05/21/russia_s_surprisingly_liberal_new_cabinet.  For other views, see http://valdaiclub.com/politics/43000.html and http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/spinning-medvedevs-government/459071.html.

The Status of Roma in the EU    24 May 2012

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the United Nations Programme for Development (UNDP) have  released a report on the status of Roma (Gypsies) titled The Situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States: Survey Results at a Glance (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012).  The study covers Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece in East-Central Europe and the Balkans as well as France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  The researchers interviewed more than 22,000 Roma and non-Roma living in the same areas and “sharing the same social and economic infrastructure” (p. 30).  A summary of the research from p. 12 appears below:

In education:
• on average, only one out of two Roma children surveyed attend pre-school or kindergarten;
• during compulsory school age, with the exception of Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, nine out of 10 Roma children aged 7 to 15 are reported to be in school;
• participation in education drops considerably after compulsory school: only 15 % of young Roma adults surveyed complete upper-secondary general or vocational education.
In employment:
• on average, fewer than one out of three Roma are reported to be in paid employment;
• one out of three Roma respondents said that they are unemployed;
• others said that they are homemakers, retired, not able to work or self-employed.
In health:
• one out of three Roma respondents aged 35 to 54 report health problems limiting their daily activities;
• on average, about 20 % of Roma respondents are not covered by medical insurance
or do not know if they are covered.
In housing:
• on average, in the Roma households surveyed more than two persons live in one room;
• about 45 % of the Roma live in households that lack at least one of the following basic housing
amenities, namely indoor kitchen, indoor toilet, indoor shower or bath and electricity.
• on average, about 90 % of the Roma surveyed live in households with an equivalised
income below national poverty lines;
• on average, around 40 % of Roma live in households where somebody had to go to bed hungry at least once in the last month since they could not afford to buy food.
Discrimination and rights awareness:
• about half of the Roma surveyed said that they have experienced discrimination in the past
12 months because of their ethnic background;
• around 40 % of the Roma surveyed are aware of laws forbidding discrimination against ethnic minority people when applying for a job.

Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest stated that EU Member States have not used approximately 70 percent of the funding from the EU that is available to them in the period of 2007-2013 to help improve the lives of the Roma.  These funds do not come from their state budgets.  The evidence suggests that there is the lack of political will among some politicians to eliminate the inequalities that the Roma face.  Member States have strategies to aid the Roma, but they vary widely in scope.  Commenting on the report, Viviane Reding, the EU justice minister, stated that “we need more than strategies that exist on paper.”

The report is available on the Internet at http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/attachments/FRA-2012-Roma-at-a-glance_EN.pdf.  The announcement for the publication is at http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/research/publications/publications_per_year/2012/pub_roma-survey-at-a-glance_en.htm.  The comments of Reding and Gergely are at http://euobserver.com/851/116355.

Balkan Challenges to the EU    24 May 2012

Jeton Zulfaj, a post-graduate at Lund University in Sweden and a Kosovar Albanian, has summarized the challenges the EU faces with respect to Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Macedonia in a brief article for EU Observer.  The piece is available at http://euobserver.com/7/116354.

What (or Who) Killed Lenin?    23 May 2012

Vladimir Lenin had several strokes beginning in 1921 and died in 1924, but the true cause of death is under dispute.  Syphilis was not the cause, even though Lenin had the disease.  Stress may have been a factor, but there are other possibilities.  While young for the extreme hardening of the blood vessels in the brain and without the intervention of other risk factors, such as smoking, Lenin may have been the victim of genetics.  His father died of a stroke at a young age, in fact, Lenin’s age of death (53 years) was only one year less than that of his father.  Finally, Lenin seemed to be improving when he suddenly had convulsions and died, which is unusual for someone having a stroke.  This suggests the possibility that Lenin might have ingested poison, and the culprit may have been Joseph Stalin, who was aware that Lenin was questioning his support for Stalin and favored Leon Trotsky as his successor.

To discover more details about the issue, see the comments of Harry Vinters, a UCLA neurologist, and Lev Lurie, a Russian journalist and historian living in St. Petersburg at http://news.yahoo.com/killed-lenin-stress-didnt-help-poison-eyed-040437016.html.

Business Schools Pay More Attention to Other Fields    23 May 2012

Recognizing that business majors are capable in the mechanics of finance and other business skills and weak on writing, analysis, and interpersonal skills, top business programs are turning to other fields, including history.  Read more about the trend at http://finance.yahoo.com/news/wealth-or-waste--rethinking-the-value-of-a-business-major.html.

Greek Border Security    23 May 2012

In late April, Greece opened its first of 50 proposed detention camps intended to contain the more than 130,000 illegal immigrants that enter the country each year.  Meanwhile, Greece is completing the construction of a three-meter high, 12.5 km-long wall on the border between Greece and Turkey, where many illegal immigrants cross into Greece.

The neo-fascist Golden Dawn party, which wants to mine Greece’s borders and deport all illegal immigrants, did well enough in the elections in early May to gain 21 seats in the 300-member parliament, despite the Greek authorities’ visible efforts to step up arrests before the polling.  Illegal immigration continues to be a major issue in Greece, in part because the traditional parties hope to prevent Golden Dawn from attracting more votes and seek to weaken the party’s position.

The illegal immigrant problem extends beyond Greece because Europe’s lack of borders enables many of the newcomers to move from Greece to other parts of the EU.  To help maintain the integrity of the Schengen area, various EU states are aiding Greece with equipment and expertise.  It turns out that the largest contributor is not Germany, which one might expect, but Bulgaria, which has a strong record of keeping its own border secure.

On the detention camps, see http://euobserver.com/851/116083, and for the wall, see http://euobserver.com/22/115776.  The information on EU member states’ assistance to Greece is at http://euobserver.com/22/116340.

France and Germany Differ over Euro Bonds    22 May 2012

While meeting recently at the G8 summit, the Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande agreed to pursue measures to spur growth in the EU, but the Germans still shun issuing euro bonds to help finance growth.  Read more at http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/Latest-News-Wires/2012/0521/France-says-oui-to-euro-bonds-but-Germany-says-nein.

Miscellaneous News Items    22 May 2012

Marco Polo Likely Visited China –  http://news.discovery.com/history/macro-polo-120423.html
Walter Laqueur: The EU May Not Remain Dominant –  http://www.eurasiareview.com/24042012-walter-laqueur-europe-recovery-or-collapse-interview/
Mass Grave from the Thirty Years’ War – http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,830203,00.html

Death of OSS Agent Who Lead Second World War Rescue – http://news.yahoo.com/oss-agent-led-wwii-rescue-500-dies-ny-002540215.html
Munch’s “The Scream” Sold at Record Price – http://news.yahoo.com/scream-fetches-record-119-9m-nyc-auction-000711889.html
Russian General Threatens NATO with Pre-emptive Strike – http://news.yahoo.com/russian-military-raise-ante-missile-defense-104948753.html
Germany Locates 40,000 War Casualties Each Year – http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-tracing-its-war-dead-from-world-war-ii-a-832063.html
Interactive Map for Calculating Travel Times in Ancient Rome – http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/1125-google-maps-ancient-rome-shows-travel-times-2-000-years.html

Czech Tire Manufacturer Mitas Opened Plant in Iowa    22 May 2012

Mitas, the Czech tire agricultural manufacturer, opened a production facility in Charles City, Iowa, on 26 April 2012 in a former Winnebago facility.  Mitas invested 43.81 million dollars into renovating the fourth plant that supplements its three operations in the Czech Republic and one in Serbia.  The Charles City factory will employ 160 people, but by 2016, when the firm plans to produce its full capacity of 12,200 tons (13,448 US tons) of tires each year, it expects to have 262 employees.  To staff its Charles City location, Mitas is hiring workers, many of whom will be trained in the Czech Republic.

Mitas already has an impressive share of the European agricultural tire market, with one out of every four tractors and combines sporting their products.  The project director, Vladimír Dušánek, noted that “in early 2012, Charles City will start giving a better choice of tractor tires to the U.S. farmer.  Mitas will become the third U.S.-based producer of radial agricultural tires.”  He added that “the reason for building the new tire factory in Iowa is the proximity to original equipment manufacturers, such as Case IH.”

The web site of Mitas is http://www.mitas-tires.com/?PHPSESSID=eoxnbtmgtnq.  Information for this news item came from http://www.northiowatoday.com/?p=17573; http://wcfcourier.com/business/local/mitas-breaks-ground-in-charles-city/article_10c8193f-20a4-5cf7-be14-b116e84808a3.html; http://www.radio.cz/en/section/economic/business-news-2012-04-27; and http://www.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/zpravy-2012-04-26 (in Czech).

New EU Countries Oppose Swiss Migration Limitations    22 May 2012

Diplomats from Estonia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia have protested jointly against the Swiss decision to limit immigration into Switzerland from their countries.  Capping the entries from these countries to 2,000 individuals per year was the notion of the Swiss People’s party, which has an anti-immigrant and anti-EU stance.  More information is at http://euobserver.com/22/115945.

Earthquake in Bulgaria    21 May 2012

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 struck on 22 May just after 3.00 am local time approximately 14 miles west of Sofia.  There are no reports of serious injuries or major damage.  See http://news.yahoo.com/moderate-5-6-magnitude-earthquake-shakes-bulgaria-near-023107240.html; and the USGS information at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/usb0009uyx.php#details.

Nationalist Nikolić Wins Serbian Presidential Election    20 May 2012

Tomislav Nikolić (born 1952), once a member of the nationalist Serb Radical party and now head of the Serbian Progressive party, has been elected president of Serbia by a narrow margin.  It appears that while a majority of Serbs might have preferred another candidate, Nikolić’s supporters were better in getting their supporters to the polls.  In his acceptance speech, Nikolić has promised to continue on the path toward integration with the EU, but he also claimed that Serbia also “will not abandon its people in Kosovo and Metohija.”  He also promised to be above party politics.  Nikolić once was imprisoned under Slobodan Milosević and later cooperated with him.  Many that Nikolić was connected with murders in a Croatian village in 1991, an accusation which he denies.

Although Nikolić’s Serbian Progressive party has won a plurality of votes in the May 2012 parliamentary elections, the Democratic party and the Socialist Party of Serbia may form a coalition government.  Both of those parties have taken a conciliatory tone with respect to Kosovo and actively strive for admission to the EU.

See more at http://news.yahoo.com/nationalist-wins-serb-presidential-runoff-213203377.html and http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics-article.php?yyyy=2012&mm=05&dd=20&nav_id=80348.

Miscellaneous News    17 May 2012

EU upheld its 1988 ban on US beef because of hormone treatments, although it increased the quota for US beef without hormones – http://eu-digest.blogspot.com/2012/03/european-union-parlaiment-votes-to.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FWwTPi+%28EU-DIGEST%29

EU Parliament approved a controversial measure to provide US authorities with personal data on those flying to the US that infuriates citizens in the EU, where the data is legally protected – http://euobserver.com/22/115947 and http://eu-digest.blogspot.com/2012/04/eu-parliament-caves-in-to-us-pressure.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FWwTPi+%28EU-DIGEST%29

Poland indicted former spy chief over CIA renditions – http://euobserver.com/22/115745 and http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/poland/120331/cia-secret-prison-poland-leaders-break-their-silence

A US court sentenced the Russian “Merchant of Death,” Victor Bout, to 25 years in prison – http://en.rian.ru/world/20120406/172642752.html

Sarajevo two decades after the war – http://www.npr.org/2012/04/05/150009152/two-decades-after-siege-sarajevo-still-a-city-divided?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120405

Belarus: White Russia’s Black Marks and Red Stains   17 May 2012

Belarus is a dictatorship under President Alexander Lukashenko, who rules through a combination of old Soviet-style tactics, cronyism, mafia-style terror, and uncontrolled capitalism.
The European Union has taken on the Lukashenko regime using various sanctions, although it has accomplished little, and Lukashenko seems as entrenched as ever.  In March, the EU blackballed two Belarusian business leaders, ten officials, and 29 companies from traveling to the EU.  There was a controversial exception for one company that Slovenia kept off the list because a Slovenian firm has a multimillion euro contract to build a luxury hotel in Minsk.  Latvia got a similar exemption.  A major problem in Belarus is corruption, and a recent report claimed that loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have found their way into the pockets of Lukashenko’s supporters.  Despite the tension between the EU and Belarus and the economic sanctions, trade between the two is booming, thanks to petroleum and other goods.  In 2011, Belarus had a trade surplus of €2.5 billion, which will aid in reducing its debt of €30 billion.

There were the beginnings of a popular revolt against Lukashenko in December 2011, but it was crushed, and afterward blood clearly was visible on the white snow.  In March, Belarus executed two young men, most likely with a gunshot to the back of the head, as is the custom, after a court found them guilty of planting a bomb in a subway that killed 15 people and wounded many more.  They supposedly confessed, although one withdrew his confession, and both showed signs of abuse.  Many in the EU and throughout the world suspect that the two were innocent, and the fact that Belarus is the only country in Europe with the death penalty worsened the international image of Belarus.

Often appearing on older maps as White Russia, Belarus has a regime that has won it black marks in the West and has left red, bloody stains at home.

An overview of the dictatorship in Belarus is at http://euobserver.com/1023/115635.  There is information on the EU blackballing of Belarus citizens at http://euobserver.com/24/115692 and on corruption at http://euobserver.com/24/115342.  On the Belorusian trade balance, see http://euobserver.com/24/115413.  Read more on the executions at http://euobserver.com/9/115628.

Tymoshenko Deal    17 May 2012

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov came to Brussels this week and made a deal with Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, that helps to defuse the Tymoshenko crisis.  According to the agreement, the European Parliament will select a team of doctors to supervise the medical treatment of Tymoshenko and name a respected individual from the EU to observe the legal proceedings in her upcoming appeal.  The deal goes a long way to ending the stalemate between the EU and Ukraine that not only threatened the Euro 2012 football matches that Ukraine and Poland will host jointly but also but back on track the economic integration of Ukraine with the EU.  For more on the story, see http://euobserver.com/24/116297.  See also the earlier report on this web page about the politics of Euro 2012.

What If Greece Exits from the Euro?    17 May 2012

There is a great deal of speculation as to whether Greece will establish its own currency, and the near-panicky Greeks who are withdrawing their euros threaten to make that scenario a reality.  A report from NPR considers the future of the euro at http://www.npr.org/2012/05/17/152847414/dire-consequences-if-greece-exits-euro?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120517.  For the standpoint of Paul Krugman, professor of economics at Princeton University and the London School of Economics, see his interview on Democracy Now! at http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/17/paul_krugman_on_eurozone_the_whole.  On the opinion of the leaders of France and Germany and their determination to keep Greece in the eurozone, see http://euobserver.com/19/116284.

Merkel Suffers Telling Electoral Defeat    17 May 2012

When elections took place a week ago in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous region, Chancellor Merkel’s competitors, the Social Democrats, were the victors.  This could foretell Merkel’s political future when the 2013 Bundestag elections take place, but most Germans still prefer to maintain the austerity course that voters in France and Greece have rejected.  In March, socialists also succeeded at the polls in Slovakia.  See http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-05-11/business/sns-bc-eu--germany-merkelselectionwoes_1_merkel-s-christian-democrats-national-elections-north-rhine-westphalia for more information.  On Slovakia, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/12/slovakia-left-election-victory.

New Elections for Greece    16 May 2012

Unable to form a coalition government, the Greek parties must now go through a new round of elections.  Because of the political uncertainty, the respected head of Greece’s Administrative Court, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, is forming a new caretaker government of bureaucrats.  Elections will occur in June, the precise date to be set after the new Greek parliament is sworn in and then dissolved.  Meanwhile, there are fears of a run on Greek banks, with small and large investors hording Euros in the event that Greece defaults and withdraws from the Eurozone.  The head of the Greek Central Bank reports that to date investors have withdrawn 700 million euros from Greek banks.

One report is available at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2012/05/16/bloomberg_articlesM42V3707SXKX01-M44GL.DTL.

Freedom House: Global Press Freedom Rankings, 2012    16 May 2012

Freedom House has released its global press freedom rankings for 2012, which is free to download at http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/freedom-press-2012.  For the European countries east of the Rhine, aside from the Caucasus, and a few other states for comparison, the rankings are:

 Ranking Rating Country Ranking Rating
 24 18 Serbia 77 35*
 UK 36 21 Bosnia 95 48*
 Germany 16 17 Kosovo 98 49*
 Finland  1
 10 Montenegro 76 35*
 Estonia 22 18 Albania 107 51*
 Latvia 56 27 Macedonia 115 54*
 41 23 Greece 65 30
 Poland 47 25 Romania 87 41*
 Czech Rep.
 28 19 Bulgaria 78 36*
 Slovakia 35 21 Turkey 121 55*
 Austria 32 21 Russia 173 80**
 Hungary 79 36* Belarus 193 93**
 Slovenia 48 25 Ukraine 131 59*
 Croatia 84 40* Moldova 116 54*

no asterisk = free       * = partially free       ** = not free

The survey involved a total of 197 countries and concluded that 66 are free (33.5 percent), 72 are partly free (36.5 percent), and 59 are not free (30.0 percent).  In addition to overt censorship, the researchers considered the degree to which a country’s media is concentrated in the hands of a few outlets, the freedom of journalists from official harassment, and the protection of journalists’ sources.  It is the last three features that kept the United States from receiving a top rating of 10 (Finland, Norway, and Sweden received that rating and were ranked the top three countries).  The report contains regional assessments for Western Europe as well as Central and Eastern Europe/Eurasia.

Slovak Independence Remarkably Successful    16 May 2012

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Rick Zednik, one of the founders of the English-language Slovak Spectator, commented on the retirement from politics of Slovakia’s former prime minister, Vladimír Mečiar (born 1942).  Only about one-third of Czechs and Slovaks wanted to see the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1992, when Mečiar and Václav Klaus (born 1941), now president of the Czech Republic, negotiated the division of the country.  Afterward, Mečiar assumed near-dictatorial powers in Slovakia during his tenure in 1992-1994 and 1994-1998 as prime minister.  Despite the odds, Slovakia has entered the EU and NATO, attracted foreign investment, and has other accomplishments to its credit.  Zednik, who did not support the division of Czechoslovakia, came to view Mečiar’s establishment of an independent Slovakia as a blessing in disguise.  The article is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/16/opinion/a-mutually-velvet-divorce.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_ee_20120516.

Politics and Sports: Ukraine, Poland, and Euro 2012    16 May 2012

Poland and Ukraine are joint hosts of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship that will take place between 8 June and 1 July 2012.  The events will occur in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Wrocław, and Poznań in Poland, as well as in Lviv, Kiev, Donetsk, and Kharkiv in Ukraine.

Because of the imprisonment and mistreatment of Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, various political leaders have promised or threatened to boycott the events.  Heading the list of those who already announced their intention to boycott the games are Vivianne Reding, the EU justice commissioner, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president.  The Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, has condemned the boycott, but that does not mean he is silent on Tymoshenko's case.  Poland’s president, Bronisław Komorowski, also opposes the boycott, partly because it may push Ukraine toward further economic integration with Russia instead of the EU.  Russia’s President Putin is supporting Ukraine but has offered medical treatment for Tymoshenko, obviously giving Ukraine a means of easing the tension Tymoshenko’s imprisonment has caused.

Meanwhile, amid further allegations of mistreatment of Tymoshenko in prison, the leading political party of Ukraine, the Party of Regions, hired Burson-Marsteller, a respected public-relations firm, to improve Ukraine’s image, a task that will involve justifications for judicial actions against Tymoshenko, which many view as politically motivated.

Information on Barroso’s decision not to attend Euro 2012 is at http://eu-digest.blogspot.com/2012/04/eu-chief-barroso-wont-go-to-ukraine-for.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FWwTPi+%28EU-DIGEST%29.  For Reding, see http://euobserver.com/24/116084.  On the Polish president’s stance, see http://euobserver.com/24/116124.  On Burson-Marsteller’s new task as Ukraine’s PR firm, see http://euobserver.com/24/116076.

Transnistria and Modava    16 May 2012

Transnistria or Trans-Dniestr is a breakaway republic from Moldava that is a jagged, elongated strech of land in the eastern part of Moldova between the Dniestr River and Ukraine.  The population is 32 percent Moldovan, 30 percent Russian, and 28 percent Ukrainian.  The population of Moldova is 76 percent Moldovan, 8 percent Ukrainian, and 6 percent Russian.  After conflicts between Transnistria and Modova between 1990 and 1992, Transnistria began functioning as a separate entity and even has a president, but Moldova does not recognize the country’s independence but does not attempt to rein in its neighbor.  Transnistria’s president since 2011, Yevgeny Shevchuk, has introduced reforms to make elections more democratic and to restore economic ties with Moldova.  Meanwhile, Moldova’s newly-elected president, Nicolae Timofti, is interested in furthering the ties between Moldova and the EU.  Many Moldovians, all of whom are able to hold dual Moldovan-Romanian citizenship, view unity with Romania as a guarantee of cultural and political security.  Transnistria has Russian support.  For now, the stalemate continues, but the Hungarian journalist Gabor Stier believes it can not continue.  See his assessment of the situation at http://valdaiclub.com/near_abroad/41300.html.

Coalition Talks Fail in Greece    15 May 2012

Extended coalition talks in Greece failed today when the Democratic Left party refused to enter a coalition without SYRIZA, which opposes the EU bailout.  New elections will take place in June, and the current government of experts will continue to in office.  For more information, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/greek-government-talks-collapse-new-election-to-be-held/2012/05/15/gIQAlwNCRU_story.html.

European Tour Cancelled    15 May 2012

Because there was one person shy of the required number of participants, Dr. Miller found it necessary to cancel the 2012 European tour.  Despite the attractive program and the interest of a wide range of individuals, it appears that the economic difficulties that everyone is experiencing made the journey cost prohibitive.  Those who considered going on the tour should check this web site on occasion for a new announcement.  Typically, they appear in the autumn, ideally before Thanksgiving.  Alternately, Dr. Miller maintains a list of potential participants, and those who wish to add their name can do so by sending Dr. Miller an e-mail.

Putin and Medvedev Changed Roles    15 May 2012

On Tuesday, 7 May 2012, the day after clashes with protesters in Moscow, Vladimir Putin took the oath of office to return to the presidency of Russia.  One of his first acts was to nominate the former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, as prime minister.  With the support of Putin and Medvedev’s party, United Russia, and the Liberal Democratic party, Medvedev received the majority of votes he needed for confirmation.  A Just Russia and the Communist party opposed Medvedev.  Thus, the monopolization of power in Putin’s hands continues for perhaps another decade.  For more, see http://en.rian.ru/russia/20120508/173315363.html and http://en.rian.ru/russia/20120507/173286220.html.

Archivists Build Online Finding Aid    15 May 2012

Archivists at the Social Networks and Archival Context Project (SNAC) at the University of Virginia are constructing an online finding tool for archival materials that ultimately will link thousands of archives.  Instead of having to rely on the advice of colleagues, educated guesses, and serendipity to find materials scattered in several archives on one individual, for example, the research tool will locate all of the archives in its data base that have something relevant in their holdings.  The project has completed its pilot stage and has funding to expand to in the United States, Britain, and France.  More information is at http://chronicle.com/article/Building-a-Digital-Map-of/131846/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en.

EU Farm Subsidies through CAP under Scrutiny    13 May 2012

EU farm subsidies, a benefit of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which consumes 40 percent of the EU budget but less than 0.5 percent of the EU’s GDP, have been under fire for some time and will face many changes next year.  Now, a group of journalists and others united in an organization known as Farmsubsidy.org is demanding that the authorities publish the names of all the beneficiaries of subsidies and the amounts they receive.  The EU claims that privacy is at issue, but Farmsubsidy.org contends that the information they seek is a matter of businesses, not the personal data of individuals.  While some information is public, Farmsubsidy.org is focusing on what is not.  Their investigation revealed, for example, that millions go to government bodies, fueling suspicion that funds may be channeled to those who do not deserve it.  Read more at http://euobserver.com/19/116211.

Greek Parties Still Negotiating to Create a Government    13 May 2012

Given the political turmoil that surrounded the EU bailout of Greece, it was no surprise that the parliamentary elections in Greece that took place on 6 May 2012 did not produce a party with a majority in the legislature.  More than 30 parties participated in the election, and seven got seats in the 300-seat parliament: New Democracy (ND) with 108 seats is a conservative party; the Coalition of the Radical Left-Unitary Social Movement (SYRIZA) with 52 seats, is on the radical left; the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) has 41 seats; the Independent Greek party (ANEL), which is a conservative party against the EU bailout, has 33 seats; the Communist party (KKE) has 22 seats; Golden Dawn (XA), a neo-Nazi party, has 21 seats; and the Democratic Left party (DIMAR) party, a socialist group, has 19 seats.  A coalition government is necessary, but the parties are divided between those that support the EU bailout and those that either want radical changes to it or want to scrap it entirely.

After several rounds of talks to form a government, several parties will make another attempt on Monday, 14 May, to come to an agreement.  SYRIZA refuses to attend the Monday talks because its leader promised his constituents that he will not lend his party’s stamp of approval to a government that supports the bailout.  New Democracy and the Socialists negotiated the bailout and continue to support it, but together they have only 149 seats, two shy of a slim majority in parliament.  Excluding the Communists, ANEL, and Golden Dawn, all of which are too radical, the only other potential party that could join the coalition is the DIMAR, some of whose members came from PASOK.  If a ND-PASOK-DIMAR coalition fails to materialize or if a minority government is not created that can garner a majority in the parliament, the current government of experts will continue to rule until Greek voters return to the polls in a month.

Much hinges on the talks tomorrow.  The Greek government must continue to fulfill the provisions of the bailout agreement if it wants to avoid default.  Furthermore, new elections may further polarize the Greek electorate.  The party most likely to benefit would be the anti-system Golden Dawn.  Although it went from no seats in parliament to 21 seats, Golden Dawn received merely 7 percent of the votes in the May election, which only gives the party the potential of being a noisy minority in the legislature.  Even if it should win a few additional seats in a new round of elections, there would be no reason for alarm, but the thought that any radical party opposing democracy could strengthen its position is disconcerting.

For more on the negotiations, see http://news.yahoo.com/greek-coalition-talks-collapse-elections-seen-likely-010022103.html, and http://www.npr.org/2012/05/13/152606106/greek-politicians-meet-in-final-bid-for-coalition?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120513.

Slovak Paywall Startup    18 April 2012

Piano Media in Bratislava, Slovakia, a paywall system for various online companies, has received funding to expand its operations in the European Union, but the firm has global ambitions.  Instead of paying several different providers of content on the Internet, subscribers pay a monthly fee through Piano and have access to all of the content of Piano’s member sites.  As online access to various newspapers, including The New York Times, becomes limited only to paying subscribers and Americans want access to the information behind the increasing number of paywalls, the advantage of a startup like Piano Media becomes obvious.  For more information, see http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2012/04/paywall-startup-piano-believes-it-can-fix-publishers-problems.ars.

“Arrr!”—Pirates Party in Prague    16 April 2012

On 14 April in Prague, Pirate parties from throughout the world met to discuss means of building international cooperation.  The participants heard from Rick Falkvinge (born 1972), the Swedish entrepreneur who started the Swedish Pirate party, the first of its kind in the world, and Amelia Andersdotter (born 1987), who is one of two Members of the European Parliament (MEP) representing the Swedish Pirate party–the other member is Lars Engström (born 1960).  The conference specifically dealt with the upcoming 2014 elections to the European Parliament and the parties’ efforts against ACTA, copyright law, and other measures that their adherents claim hamper the free movement of information on the Internet.

The chances for Pirate parties achieving electoral successes in the near future are very good.  The two Swedish MEPs currently cooperate with the Greens in the European Parliament, but that may change as the Pirate parties discuss creating a new European-wide Pirate party for the European Parliament.  New Pirate parties have emerged in Europe, and Malta is the only EU country without a Pirate party since the admission of the Greek Pirate party during the convention (there are about 60 pirate parties throughout the world).  Popularity polls put the Pirate party in Germany third behind the Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Socialists (CDU-CSU) but ahead of the Free Democratic party (FDP), which often is a member of governing coalitions.  The Austrian Pirate party also won seats in the Innsbruck regional election, the first time a Pirate party has been successful on the local level.  If the actions of the Pirate party MEPs are any indication, the Pirate parties will play a role not only in Internet issues but also matters concerning human rights and the environment.

No Pirate party in the United States is registered anywhere as a political party, although there are plans to do so.  Given the majoritarian system in the United States, it is unlikely that the Pirate party will succeed in having anything more than a local presence.  Nevertheless, a strong organization could enable the Pirate party to form a significant interest and lobbying group.  That certainly would be anathema for American Pirate party members, but their European counterparts likely felt the same about forming political parties, which, in a multiparty system, can play a role similar to that of interest groups and lobbying organizations in the United States.

For more information, see http://euobserver.com/18/115888, http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/news-2012-04-14#4.  The web site of the US Pirate party is http://us.pirate.is/.

Turkey May Ask for NATO's Assistance on Its Southern Border    15 April 2012

Because of Syrian military incursions in Southern Turkey, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently told Turkish journalists that he may invoke Article V of the NATO treaty that requires all NATO partners to defend any member under attack.  That would involve NATO in the Syrian civil war, but Syria has the backing of Russia.  Furthermore, NATO action in the Middle East would complicate matters with Iran and with other states throughout the region.  The former Canadian diplomat Eric Morse wrote an article about this issue in the Ottawa Citizen that is available at http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/op-ed/Turkey+could+problem+NATO/6456220/story.html.

“When You’re Happy, the Whole World Smiles with You”    14 April 2012

The United Nations’ Conference on Happiness commissioned the Earth Institute at Columbia University to measure happiness in the world.  The “life evaluation score,” which the researchers developed, considered health, employment, and political factors.  They based their findings in part on polls from various polling agencies throughout the world.

The results are not surprising and are consistent with other surveys that rank the Nordic countries as having the most satisfied citizens in the world.  Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland are the top ten countries (in descending order).  The United States is eleventh, after which come Costa Rica, Austria, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Iceland (no. 20).

The editors of the 158-page report are: John Helliwell, professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia and the Arthur J. E. Child Foundation Fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Richard Laylard, director of the Well-Being Programme, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics; and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  The report explains how they researchers compiled the information and interpreted the statistics, and there is a chapter pp. 90-97 that describes policy implications.

The report is available at http://issuu.com/earthinstitute/docs/world-happiness-report?mode=window&backgroundColor=%23222222.

Ukraine: War Movie Ban and Tymoshenko    13 April 2012

The Ukrainian government has banned a Russian film that depicts the 1942 so-called “Death Match” between a soccer club in Kiev and German soldiers.  The SS had warned the Kiev players that they must lose the match, but they played to win and did so.  The Nazi regime arrested nine players, one of whom died and three were executed.  One of the government’s objections was that the heroes spoke Russian and the collaborators spoke Ukrainian.  The other fear was that the film would incite anti-German feelings in the days leading to the 8 June-1 July Euro 2012 soccer tournament to be held in various cities in Ukraine and Poland.  See http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/ukraine-freezes-release-russian-war-movie-16106969#.T4grw9mDHCN.

The saga of Ukraine’s jailed former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, continues.  In March, the Ukrainian parliament accused her of treason for her role in negotiating deals on natural gas with the Russians when she was in office.  The United States and the European Union have condemned the charge.  Tymoshenko also will stand trial on another charge, this time for tax evasion.  Furthermore, the government has claimed that she was involved in the killing of a rival business partner.  The renewed attacks on Tymoshenko appear to be efforts to weaken her political party before October’s elections.  The European Union had hoped that a new trade agreement with Ukraine would help improve relations between the two political entities, but recent developments in Kiev have dampened optimism in the EU.  See the AP feeds at http://news.yahoo.com/jailed-tymoshenko-accused-treason-ukraine-162400745.html; http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-jailed-ex-pm-stand-trial-2nd-case-145709257.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-jailed-ex-pm-stand-trial-2nd-case-145709257.html.

Turkey’s Military on Trial    13 April 2012

Turkish authorities arrested dozens of military officers involved with the successful efforts in 1997 to pressure the country’s Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011, prime minister 1996-1997) to resign.  The arrests occurred as two retired members of the military went on trial for their involvement in the 1980 coup that the military engineered after violence had escalated between left and right political factions.  One of those on trial is Kenan Evren (born 1917), who between 1980 and 1989 served as Turkey’s president.  After the 1980 coup, the military executed and imprisoned many, and it changed the constitution.  In 1983 the military engineered a transition to democratic rule.

The Turkish military has seen itself as the guardian of secularism and the republic, but the current government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (born 1954), who heads the Justice and Development party, a center-right conservative party that some accuse of advancing Islamist notions, has sought to curtail the military’s potential role in politics.  Turkey’s 2010 referendum on constitutional changes, for example, removed the immunity of those responsible for the 1980 coup, which has enabled the trial of the two surviving coup leaders.

See the AP feeds at http://news.yahoo.com/turkey-launches-crackdown-ex-officers-094519838.html and http://news.yahoo.com/2-surviving-coup-leaders-stand-trial-turkey-083719737.html.

The Closing of an Era: Habsburg and Ottoman Deaths    13 April 2012

In two years, the world will commemorate the centennial of the famous assassinations at Sarajevo and the opening of the First World War, the conflict that eliminated four of the great empires in Europe: Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov, and Ottoman.  In the past year, the last members of two of those dynasties who had been born when the realms of their forebearers still were in tact have passed away.

Otto von Habsburg (20 November 1912-4 July 2011), the eldest son of the last emperor of Austria-Hungary, Charles I (1887-1922; reigned, 1916-1918), died on 4 July 2011.  He resisted fascism as a young claimant to the Habsburg throne and was an opponent of communism.  After the Second World War, he was a leading member of the International Paneuropean Movement, an organization that promoted European unity based on Christian principles, and he served as its vice president and then from 1973 to 2004 as its president.  From 1979 to 1999, he was a member of the European Parliament representing the Christian Social Union of Bavaria.  He received a doctorate in political science from the University of Louvain, Belgium, and published nearly three dozen books and numerous shorter works.  Otto von Habsburg had seven children, and his son, Karl von Habsburg (born 1961), is now the claimant to the throne.  The body of Otto von Habsburg is interred in the family crypt in the Kapuzinergruft, or the Capuchins’ Crypt, not far from the former royal palace in Vienna, and his heart is in the Benedictine Archabbey at Pannonhalma, Hungary, where Otto had learned Hungarian as a child.  Many press reports appeared about Otto von Habsburg’s passing, including http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14181800.

Just this month, the last member of the Ottoman dynasty to have been born in Turkey when the Ottoman Empire still existed, Princess Fatma Neslişah Osmanoğlu (4 February 1921-2 April 2012), referred to as Neslişah Sultan, passed away.  Her paternal grandfather was Abdülmecid II (1868-1944; reigned 1922-1924), the last Ottoman Caliph, and her maternal grandfather was Mehmed VI Vahdettin (1861-1926; reigned, 1918-1922), the Ottoman Empire’s last sultan.  The Turkish Republic came into existence in 1922, and in 1924, the members of the imperial family had to leave the country.  Neslişah Sultan lived with her family in France.  In 1940, she married the Egyptian Prince Muhammed Abdel Monem (1899-1979).  She lived in Egypt until the creation of the republic in 1953, when she again had to go into exile, returning to France.  In 1957, she and her family returned to İstanbul.  Her funeral was at İstanbul’s Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque, which a member of the Ottoman dynasty had commissioned in the late nineteenth century, and she is now interred in Aşiyan Asri Cemetery that overlooks the Bosporus.  The claimant to the Ottoman throne is Osman Bayezid Osmanoğlu, who was born in 1924 in exile and now lives in the United States.  For coverage of Neslişah Sultan’s death and funeral, see http://www.sundayszaman.com/sunday/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=276221.

Items Related to Nazism and the Second World War    11 April 2012

The United States is considering legislation that will allow individuals who were transported on  railroads during the Holocaust to sue current European rail systems in American courts for damages.  Deutsche Bahn has hired a PR firm and legal representation to deal with the issue, but some maintain that the 2000 German Foundation Agreement between the United States and Germany would prohibit making such claims.  See http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,825200,00.html.

The National Archives in Washington, DC, has discovered two additional volumes that catalog the art the Nazi regime stole from France during the Second World War.  An American soldier likely took the books from Adolf Hitler’s Berghof residence in Bavaria.

A relative of Adolf Hitler had the grave stone marking the location of Adolf Hitler’s parents removed from a cemetery in Leonding, Austria, not far from Braunau am Inn, where Hitler was born.  The reason for the removal was that neo-Nazis were using the grave site as a pilgrimage.  The remains of Hitler’s parents still are undisturbed, but the grave now is available for new occupants.  The birthplace of Hitler in Braunau is a small building that has served several purposes over the years.  There is a monument in front of the building made of granite from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp that memorializes those the Nazis persecuted.  The only way visitors know that the building is the birthplace of Hitler is from a map in the town’s tourist brochure available at the Braunau tourist information center.  The edition of the map in this author’s possession identifies the stone as “The Monument (in Front of the House of Hitler’s birth) for the Victims of the National Socialist Regime”–Mahnmal (vor Hitlers Geburtshaus) für die Opfer des NS-Regimes.
See http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/30/10939795-tombstone-on-hitlers-parents-grave-removed-from-austrian-cemetery.

In early March, the Latvian government branded as persona non grata two Russian historians, preventing them from entering Latvia and any country within the Schengen zone.  The Latvian government took the steps after the historians assembled a museum exhibition that highlighted the war crimes of Nazis and Latvian collaborators.  The two historians, Aleksandr R. Dyukov and Vladimir Simindey, both of the Historical Memory Foundation in Moscow, are suing to have the order rescinded. 
See http://rt.com/politics/latvia-move-dyukov-exhibition-961/.  The Historical Memory Foundation’s website is http://www.historyfoundation.ru/index_en.php.

Various Media Reports of Interest    11 April 2012

Poland’s Unemployment Rose 13.5 Percent in February: http://news.yahoo.com/polands-unemployment-rose-13-5-pct-february-091737200.html.

Two Turkish coup leaders from 1980 stand trial: http://news.yahoo.com/2-surviving-coup-leaders-stand-trial-turkey-083719737.html.

Scientists find 2,300-year-old musical instrument in Scotland that is likely the oldest in Western Europe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-17537147.

Integration Is the Only Option for Serbs in Kosovo    11 April 2012

During recent talks with US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary, Hashim Thaci, the prime minister of Kosovo, dismissed talk of autonomy for the country’s Serb population and said the only option for the Serbs is full integration into Kosovo.  He accepted the notion of open borders with Serbia, but he excluded the possibility of any border adjustments.  Mr. Thaci stated that Mr. Biden and Ms. Clinton reiterated the American commitment to Kosovo’s territorial integrity.

For more information, see http://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/world/kosovo-pm-urges-serbs-to-integrate-546639.html#ixzz1rlcv7iK4 and http://news.yahoo.com/kosovo-pm-integration-only-option-serbs-182110590.html.

The Right of Petition Comes to the EU    11 April 2012

As of 1 April, for the first time in history, citizens in member states can petition the European Union if they gather at least one million signatures.  The EU hails the European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECI) as “the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy in world history.”  It is an unprecedented step for democracy, although there are voices calling to curtail the ability of lobbyists to organize petitions.  The EU does not consider corporations legal persons, so they have no right to petition the EU.  For more information, see the EU web site at http://www.citizens-initiative.eu/.

Hungarian Controversies    11 April 2012

Hungary continues to attract attention for what many, including leading figures in the European Union, have termed an attack on democracy. The latest victims are the homeless. NPR reported that the Hungarian government has criminalized homelessness and has imposed fines and jail terms for vagrancy. Throughout Hungary, there are approximately 30,000 homeless, 10,000 in Budapest alone. Residents and visitors to the city can see the homeless in building and subway entrances with more frequency than in other cities in Central Europe. See http://www.npr.org/2012/04/06/149526299/homelessness-becomes-a-crime-in-hungary.

The European Commission recently released a report that criticized Hungary’s judicial reforms, claiming that they compromise the right to a free trial. One of the most important criticisms is the powerful president of the National Judicial Office, elected to a nine-year term with a two-thirds majority in parliament. See http://euobserver.com/843/115634.

On 15 March, just days before the European Commission released its report and after the EU froze €495 million in funds to Hungary because of its laws regarding the media, judges, and the central bank, the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, told supporters: "We will not be a colony. Hungarians won't live according to the commands of foreign powers, they won't give up their independence or their freedom." The freeze complicates the already dire financial situation of Hungary, whose bonds now have “junk” status. See http://euobserver.com/843/115613 and http://euobserver.com/19/115561.

If the news from Hungary is not scandalous enough, the president, Pál Schmitt, resigned on 2 April after Semmelweis University revoked his doctorate because of plagiarism. The rector of the university also resigned, although he noted that he did not necessarily disagree with the university senate’s decision in the case of Schmitt. The parliament will meet to select Schmitt’s successor. Schmitt was a member of Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling party, and the party is certain to elect one of its own candidates for the presidential post. See http://chronicle.com/blogs/global/president-of-hungary-resigns-amid-allegations-that-he-plagarized-doctoral-thesis/32720?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.

It Was an Expensive Easter    11 April 2012

Because of new European Union regulations that reduce overcrowding in chicken cages, the price of eggs in Europe has skyrocketed. The price is greater than 60 percent higher in Poland, and that put a damper on the plans families to decorate eggs for Easter.

See http://www.longislandpress.com/2012/03/30/europe-faces-easter-egg-quandary/.