"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"
Table of Contents for the First Quarter of 2012
The convicted Nazi concentration camp guard, John Demjanjuk, died on 17 March 2012 at a nursing home in Germany while he was awaiting an appeal of his sentence as a Nazi war criminal. Born in Ukraine, Demjanjuk fought in the Red Army, became a prisoner of the Germans, and joined a military unit, the so-called Vlasov’s Army, fighting the Soviets. After the war, he emigrated to the United States and was an auto worker. In 1986-1988 he was tried in Israel for his actions as a concentration camp guard but was released because of mistaken identity. He returned to the US, which decided to deport him to Germany. There, he faced charges of mistreating prisoners at the Sobibor Concentration Camp. His trial in Germany began in 2009, and he was convicted in 2011.
Historians at Stanford University have constructed a specifics curriculum for American history that enables high school students to interpret historical documents in order to understand events. Teachers can employ separate modules or the entire program. Information is available at http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/march/rethinking-history-education-030512.html.
At a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Mr. Obama told Mr. Medvedev that he would deal with the issue of missile defense after the November 2012 election in the US without being aware that the microphone had picked up his comment. Many of Mr. Obama’s opponents are using his comment as evidence of a hidden agenda, but the reality is that any president running for reelection wants to spend as much time as possible on the campaign trail and postpone any diplomatic initiatives. Mr. Medvedev also is under fire for his comment that he will “transmit this information to Vladimir.” When approaching the microphone with Medvedev on a later occasion, Mr. Obama jokingly covered it, saying “wait, wait!”
Two boys 11 and 12 years old were attempting to smoke and set a field of dry grass ablaze near Slovakia’s Krásna Hôrka Castle, which is located to the west of Košice. The fire consumed the roof of the entire castle, the museum in the Gothic palace, the bell tower, and three bells. Because the fire damaged only the upper portions of the castle, approximately 90 percent of the museum holdings remain undamaged. All of Slovakia’s specialists will be working on restoring anything that they can salvage. The castle recently had undergone repairs and in April 2011 had reopened. Krásna Hôrka had the reputation of being one of Slovakia’s best-restored castles.
An article in the New York Times focuses on Bratislava, Slovakia, from the standpoint of tourism. The tour Dr. Miller is leading through Central Europe this summer will stop for several hours in Bratislava, and the NYT article includes some suggestions about what to visit. For the article, see http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/travel/in-bratislava-slovakia-a-chance-to-enjoy-local-flavors-without-the-crowds-overnighter.html. For Dr. Miller’s tour, click here.
Vladimir Putin will return to office as Russia’s president after winning nearly 64 percent of the vote in the 4 March election. Opponents claim widespread fraud and contend that the polls demonstrated that the election should have been so close as to require a run-off vote. As a tearful Putin claimed victory, protesters were planning demonstrations. The question remains to what extent the authorities will tolerate the crowds that have gathered on the streets.
Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a series of articles about graduation rates that includes an excellent statistical presentation. One of the authors notes that with the criteria for tracking student graduation rates, President Obama would not be counted. Not accounting for those who transfer colleges or those who drop out and continue their education at a later date are only two items that make the statistics less than reliable. Of course, such factors have a greater impact on state schools, especially the regional ones, where students have fewer financial resources and need to maintain employment as they finish their degrees, than on those colleges and universities that are more prestigious.
Twenty-five European Union countries signed a new fiscal treaty, largely the work of Angela Merkel and the Germans, that commits the EU to stricter budgetary controls, close supervision if the budget exceeds the prescribed percentage, and two yearly meetings regarding budgets. The EU countries also will strive to increase the speed with which they are funding the new, permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM) scheduled in a few months to replace the temporary European Financial Stability Facility.
As a model to American corporate executives (and these days even university administrators across the country) who get big bonuses, the Bulgarian prime minister required all government officials who gave themselves bonuses to return them or give them to charity by the end of the week or be fired.. See the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/bulgarian-govt-officials-forced-return-bonuses-145404709.html.
Two archaeologists, Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, have concluded that the discovery of European-style tools in several locations in the United States proves that humans arrived in the Americas from Europe 26,000-19,000 years ago. The Europeans made the trek during the Ice Age across the frozen ocean. Humans from Asia then arrived 15,000 years ago. For more information, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2107418/Could-tools-belonging-Stone-Age-hunters-U-S-east-coast-finally-answer-really-discovered-America.html.
Serbia is now a candidate for membership in the European Union. At the last minute, the Romanians objected because of alleged mistreatment in Serbia of Vlachs, a minority related to the Romanians. A resolution in the matter came when the European Commission drafted a document that addressed the Romanian concerns.
The European Union pulled all its ambassadors from Belarus today after Belarus expelled the EU and Polish ambassadors. The move came after the EU added 21 individuals from Belarus on its list of those unable to get visas and had their assets frozen and threatened to extend sanctions to others. See http://euobserver.com/24/115414. See also an earlier article on this web page here.
On Tuesday, 28 February, the Greek Parliament approved dramatic cuts to pensions and the minimum wage as well as an increase in the value added tax (VAT). The wage decreases will hurt the average citizens in a country with an unemployment rate that already is more than 20 percent. The minimum wage will decline 22 percent to about $788 per month, and workers under 25 years of age (their unemployment rate is approximately 50 percent) will see a 32 percent wage reduction, bringing their minimum income to about $687 per month. The VAT will increase from 19 percent to 23 percent. Outside the Parliament, protesters burned a Nazi flag to symbolize their dislike of the reforms they feel the Germans, as the largest contributor to the European Union’s Greek bailout fund, have forced on Greece. Unions have responded with protests and slowdowns. Future cuts will include reductions in education, health care, and the military.
The Czech historian Jiří Kuchař recently discovered seven paintings that Adolf Hitler once owned, including one of Hitler’s favorites, “Memories of Stalingrad” by Franz Eichhorst (1885-1945). Kuchař, who is a specialist in art during the Nazi period, found the paintings in a monastery depository in Doksany, north of Prague.
Despite her warning that a second bailout for Greece may not work, Angela Merkel has managed to get it through the Bundestag. Since several members of her own party refused to back the measure, Merkel had to rely on Social Democrats and Greens. The final vote was 496 to 90 opposed and 5 abstaining. As a signal of the approval of the economic community, German stocks climbed for the third day, and consumer confidence is strengthening.
The Greeks have fulfilled all of the conditions the eurozone had demanded in order to get the necessary funds to avoid default, and the German Bundestag will vote today on whether to approve the measure. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, expects a victory, but it would come in the face of wide opposition among German voters and some grumbling in her own party. Those opposed to the measure do not want to fund Greece’s deficit and support the notion that Greece should withdraw from the euro. Complicating matters for Merkel are statements from the German finance minister and the head of the eurozone that Greece may need a third bailout. Furthermore, the IMF has indicated that it wants a higher cap on the bailout fund–a stronger firewall, as they call it–before it agrees to contribute to the bailout fund. Meanwhile, the Greeks have begun the process of having creditors write off part of the Greek debt through a bond swap.
Earlier this month, Slovenia voted against EU sanctions on approximately 30 business leaders in Belarus, claiming that the prohibition of doing business in the EU will benefit only Russia. Critics argue that the real motive behind the Slovenian action is that a Slovenian construction firm has a contract with a company under the ownership of Yuri Chizh, who is on the list and who has links to Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Germany, Austria, and Italy are supporting Serbia’s effort to advance to candidate status in anticipation of joining the European Union. They cite improved relations with Kosovo as one bit of evidence that indicates Serbia is ready for membership. What prompted the shift was an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on 24 February to regulate border crossings and to enable Kosovo to attend international meetings. The Serbs agreed to a proposal from the EU that an asterisk appear after Kosovo’s name to indicate that while the UN did not recognize Kosovo’s independence, the International Court of Justice has done so.
If Hungary does not reduce its debt by January 2013, the European Union threatens to freeze a third of its funding. The Hungarian government claims that it is below the required debt limit, but the EU stated that Hungary achieved its current level only a result of selling a government-owned pension fund and will most likely allow the amount of debt to increase again. Meanwhile, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Nečas, has objected to the EU measure, claiming that it is politically motivated and that the Hungarians have met the debt limit requirements. Nečas’s position may have some merit because many in Hungary view the EU decision as a means of discrediting Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has strengthened his grip on power in ways that are less than democratic, while it punishes average citizens.
The Bulgarian-born artist Christo Javacheff (born 1935), who became famous for wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin in 1995, plans to create an awning of almost six miles of silver fabric over Colorado’s Bighorn Sheep Canyon over the Arkansas River. Environmentalists object to the unknown impact of the project to wildlife and the terrain, while residents claim that the construction will result in delays on the road that parallels the river. The project would have its economic benefits, since it would attract more tourists to the area, including those who want to view the underside of the fabric by whitewater rafting down the river.
Great Wall Motors has signed an agreement with Litex Motors in Bulgaria to assemble 50,000 Chinese cars by 2014 for the Bulgarian market. Ultimately, Great Wall Motors expects to sell their vehicles throughout Europe. This is the first time that a Chinese automobile manufacturer has opened a plant in the EU.
A French citizen, Jean-Marie Loret (1918-1985), claimed to be the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler, but historians have dismissed the claim. He supposedly learned about his father from his mother, who told him of how she and Hitler had fallen in love when Hitler was in France during the First World War. Loret’s mother, Charlotte Lobjoie, gave up Loret for adoption. During the war, German military officers regularly brought Lobjoie payments, and paintings by Hitler were found in her attic. Now the French magazine Le Point has released evidence that Hitler and Loret had genetic ties and similar handwriting traits. A new version of Loret’s 1981 book is about to be released with new evidence that substantiates his claim.
Analysts expect Vladimir Putin to win Russia’s 4 March presidential election in the first round with nearly 60 percent of the votes. His United Russia party also is doing well in the opinion polls. Putin’s closest rival, the Communist Gennady Zyuganov, may garner around 15 percent of the vote. With less than 10 percent each will be Putin’s three rivals: the nationalist Liberal Democrat, Vladimir Zhirinovsky; the independent billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov; and the socialist Fair Russia candidate, Sergey Mironov.
The author of a recent article on the Finnish school system presented a picture of the world’s most impressive education environment in which students get some of the best scores in the world. Teachers graduate in the top 10 percent of their class, are almost fully unionized, receive high salaries, and have control over instruction in their classes. Julie Walker, the executive director of the American Association of School Librarians, stated that “The US holds teachers accountable for teaching. In Finland, they hold the students accountable for learning.” The Finnish system could provide a model for successful American education reform after the unmitigated failure of No Child Left Behind, but that would be true only if Americans swallow their pride and admit that a small state in the Old Country might have something to offer.
Méabh Mc Mahon with EUobserver German/Greek has interviewed Janis Emmanouilidis, an economist with the European Policy Centre, along with Yiorgos Vassalos, who is with the Greek Solidarity Initiative in Brussels. Emmanouilidis supports the current course of austerity measures that will lead to a bailout for Greece, while Vassalos wants to see Greece leave the Eurozone, not pay back its debt, and cease the austerity measures that harm the citizens. The 15-minute program is at http://euobserver.com/1015/115289. See also the Reuters report at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/15/us-greece-idUSTRE8120HI20120215.
The Greeks are not out of the woods yet. In order to complete their bailout, they must clear several hurdles. An AP report at http://news.yahoo.com/greece-faces-further-obstacles-bailout-deal-171636984.html provides a glimpse into the complexity of the task ahead.
The Greek parliament voted early in the morning of Monday, 13 February, to adopt another € 3.3 billion in budget cuts that eliminates 15,000 civil service jobs and cuts the minimum wage by 20 percent. One of its other provisions is to reduce the value of investment bonds. Socialist and other party leaders expelled 43 parliamentary members who voted against the measure. With its passage, riots broke out in Athens and elsewhere. The vote secures € 130 billion in bailout funds, provided that the Greek government continue to implement austerity measures, and enables Greece to avoid defaulting on loan payments due in less than a week.
The Hungarian-American financier George Soros echoed the concern of many of those in Greece and elsewhere opposed to the measure that financial austerity will lead to more depressed markets. One of the frequently-criticized moves is the elimination of bureaucratic positions, which adds more individuals to the ranks of the unemployed and does little to decrease the financial burden of the state. Soros and others claim that the lessons of 1929 indicate that what Greece and other parts of Europe need are financial stimulus packages.
See the Reuters news feeds at http://www.reuters.com/places/greece, especially http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/13/us-greece-idUSTRE8120HI20120213. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report includes raw footage of the riots and is available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-13/greece-votes-in-favour-of-austerity-plan/3826308. The BBC report is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17007761. On events leading up to the vote, see http://news.yahoo.com/anger-greece-parliament-vote-bailout-011756625.html. Soros's comments are at http://euobserver.com/19/115239. The latest NPR report on the situation in Greece is at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/02/13/146800000/greeks-clash-with-police-over-latest-austerity-measures?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120213.
The Economist has published an excellent summary of the Gorilla wiretapping report that has brought protests in Slovakia. According to the findings of the investigation of the Slovak Information Service code named Gorilla, the authenticity of which still is in doubt, Penta, an investment fund, sought to gain advantages from the government in 2005-2006 during the privatization of certain firms. Implicated is the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union and its leader, Mikuláš Dzurinda, along with other parties and politicians in power at the time. The alleged tentacles of corruption, however, appear to be stinging every politician in Slovakia. The article is available at http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2012/01/scandal-slovakia. An earlier report on this web site about the protests is located here.
The National Education Association has used data from the US Department of Education, the US Census, and the Office of Management and Budget to calculate the loss in funding for Pell Grants as a result of corporate tax loopholes for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The top five losses are:
California: $1,072.8 million dollars lost that would have benefited 832,916 students
Texas: $690.9 million dollars that would have benefited 540,761 students
New York: $655.1 million dollars that would have benefited 447,557 students
Florida: $619.9 million dollars that would have benefited 482,251 students
Arizona: $566.8 million dollars that would have benefited 477,539 students
Those states with the least amount of losses are:
North Dakota: $18.5 million dollars that would have benefited 14,461 students
Using statistics from the Citizens for Tax Justice and the Internal Revenue Service, the NEA also noted the effective tax rates for different industries. Aerospace and defense pays the least amount of 1.6 percent. Telecommunications pays 7.5 percent. Petroleum and pipelines as well as utilities, gas, and electric pay close to the same amounts, that is, 13.1 percent and 14.4 percent respectively. In comparison, those individuals, including educators, earning approximately $50,000 have a tax rate of 17.2 percent.
An article in The Wall Street Journal reviews six private institutions that have reduced their tuition rates. See http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/student-loans/6-colleges-cutting-tuition-1328828632715/?link=SM_hp_ls4e.
A total of 49 senators out of 75, with 22 objecting, decided that in the future voters shall directly elect the president of the Czech Republic. The Chamber of Deputies had approved the measure in December. Twenty deputies, ten senators, or a petition with at least 50,000 signatures are needed to place a name on the presidential ballot. In the event that no candidate receives a majority, a run-off election will take place.
During a meeting President Obama recently conducted with a number of higher education administrators, Jane Wellman of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, which operates with the help of grants, took to task the expenditures of certain types of institutions of higher learning. She pointed out increases in expenses and tuition that result from spending on researchers who do not benefit directly any students in classrooms, lavish pools, and even climbing walls. She also pointed to the proliferation of administrative positions, the inflation of administrative salaries, the cost of employee benefits, and the decline in funds for instruction in favor of administration.
The Deutsche Oper director, Christoph Seuferle, had planned to perform Adolf Hitler’s favorite opera, Richard Wagner’s Reinzi, on 20 April, the anniversary of Hitler’s birth. Resistance from within the opera company forced Seuferle to move the opening of the performance to 21 April. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/opera-to-mark-hitlers-birthday-met-with-chorus-of-disapproval-6358874.html?origin=internalSearch.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 7 February to encourage the Syrian president to negotiate a peace that would end the rebellion in his country and to institute reforms. Lavrov’s attempt came after Russia and China had blocked a United Nations’ resolution intended to force the Syrian government to end the fighting. At this point, it appears that the only result of Lavrov’s attempt has been to give more space to President Bashar al-Assad to crush resistance to his rule.
The Czech government stopped the ratification process on the EU anti-pirating treaty after activists hacked into government files and released the private contact information on top politicians. The Czech Republic is the second state to abandon ACTA after Poland, where hackers had threatened to release government documents (see the report on this web site here). For more information on the matter from the Czech Republic, see http://euobserver.com/22/115154.
The Romanian prime minister, Emil Boc, resigned after weeks of protests (see an earlier post on the topic here). Catalin Predoiu, the current non-partisan minister of justice, is attempting to form a new government. New elections may take place if he fails to broker a deal with the political parties, and regular elections are to take place in November. The NPR report is at http://www.npr.org/2012/02/06/146457332/romania-s-prime-minister-government-quit?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120206. See also http://euobserver.com/843/115144; and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204136404577206414271769038.html.
Leaked information of bribery linked to the Slovak government in 2005 and 2006 brought approximately 40,000 Slovak citizens to the streets on Friday, 3 February, in seven major cities, including about 17,000 in the capital. The AP report at http://news.yahoo.com/slovaks-rally-protest-corruption-161736155.html states that there were protests in seven cities and the capital, but Radio Slovakia listed seven cities, including Bratislava, at http://www.slovakradio.sk/spravy/Protesty-v-uliciach-slovenskych-miest?l=1&i=29641&p=8.
Several recent scandals have revealed major flaws in the ranking of universities and colleges. To increase their standings, administrators at Baylor University arranged for admitted students to retake SAT exams to get higher scores, and now it came to light that an administrator at Claremont McKenna simply falsified the scores. Another commonly-used tactic is to give handsome financial aid packages to attract students with the highest scores, even if they do not demonstrate a need for the money. These sorts of practices cast further doubt on the dubious practice of relying on rankings as a factor in selecting an institution of higher learning. See the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/colleges-obsess-over-rankings-students-shrug-171654887.html.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the likelihood of Mr. Obama’s proposals for reforming universities to make them more affordable. For the most part, the assessment is grim, largely because of political roadblocks. The article is available at http://chronicle.com/article/Handicapping-the-Presidents/130655/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.
The daughter of Yulia Tymoshenko, Evgeniya Tymoshenko, has taken up her mother’s cause. She has turned to the international community, hoping it will pressure the Ukrainian government to release her mother from prison. An article in NPR discusses the political motivation behind Yulia Tymoshenko’s sentencing and her earlier questionable dealings in the energy industry. Read more at http://www.npr.org/2012/02/04/146361328/in-ukraine-a-daughter-takes-up-her-mothers-cause?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120204.
The full story is at http://euobserver.com/19/115100.
http://www.boston.com/ae/celebrity/articles/2012/02/01/polands_1996_nobel_poet_szymborska_dies_at_88/. A sampling of her work is at http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/web/arts_culture/literature/poetry/szymborska/poems/link.shtml.
Understanding the Little Ice Age is important for historians who study the Middle Ages, including the Black Death. Another team of researchers has linked an increase in war and conflict with the cooling trend. Information on their studies appeared on this web site here.
An article about the University of Colorado findings is at http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0130/Volcanic-eruptions-emerge-as-lead-cause-for-Little-Ice-Age.
A separate article published more than a year ago gives sound advice to college students considering majors. It cites studies demonstrating that earnings may not be tied to any particular major and another showing that history majors earned as much as business majors in the business world. There are four important factors in securing lucrative employment: high GPAs; strong communication skills, something most employers note as essential; abilities that transfer from one field to another; and studying something enjoyable, something that gives one an incentive to have high GPAs and gain the greatest amount of skills. The author of the article was Zac Bissonnette, majored in art history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the author of Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents (New York: Portfolio Trade, Penguin Books, 2010).
The article about which graduates are among the top earners is at http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/what-the-top-1-of-earners-majored-in/?scp=1&sq=what%201%20percent%20majored%20in&st=cse. More data about majors and careers is at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/. The article about the importance of various majors is at http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/03/major/.
For more on the issue, see the AFP feed at http://www.vancouversun.com/news/France+Armenian+genocide+hold/6077339/story.html.
The Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, said that rejecting the treaty is a mistake because the Czech Republic must remain an integral part of Europe. He threatened to resign from the cabinet if Nečas rejected the treaty, a move which would cause a government crisis. Schwarzenberg’s party, TOP 09, is in a coalition government with the Civic Democratic party (ODS) of Nečas and Public Affairs (VV). TOP 09 has five ministerial posts and 41 votes in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies, while ODS has 6 cabinet seats and 53 deputies. The third partner in the coalition, VV, has four seats in the government and 25 deputies. There is one expert in the government, Jan Kubice, who is minister of the interior.
The treaty requires that states maintain a balanced budget or face fines. It also creates a new bailout mechanism, the European Stability Mechanism, which eventually will replace the European Financial Stability Facility. Non-eurozone countries will have the ability to meet once a year to discuss eurozone matters.
See http://www.radio.cz/en/news#2; http://euobserver.com/19/115080; and http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/czech-republic-joins-uk-in-rejecting-eu-treaty/story-e6frf7lf-1226258040606.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16767972; and http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Some-slam-Nazis-others-gather-for-right-wing-ball-2752785.php.
The government of Bavaria, which holds the copyright on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, threatened to sue a British publisher if he released excerpts from the book in a magazine supplement intended for distribution in Germany, where Mein Kampf is forbidden. The publisher withdrew his plan and will block out any quotations from Hitler’s book in future publications. Magazine readers can receive a copy of the supplement by mail order. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16728077.
In Rostov-on-Don in Russia, officials replaced an old memorial plaque on a monument that mentioned the Nazi slaughter of more than 27,000 Jews with one that does not mention the Jews but commemorates only “peaceful citizens of Rostov-on-Don and Soviet prisoners-of-war.” The old plaque now is in a museum, but the change has angered many Jews and others. The complete story is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16697485.
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2012/01/26/rare-photos-reveal-how-hitler-lived-in-luxury-115875-23720522/; http://www.life.com/gallery/27022/image/ugc1000272/adolf-hitler-up-close#index/0; and http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/newly-discovered-color-photos-inside-hitler-private-home-163857939.html.
In related news, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is devising a standard disclosure form for financial aid so that students can understand and compare the the cost of enrolling in a given college.
The complete video of Mr. Obama’s speech is at http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/video-of-president-obamas-college-affordability-address/40021?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en. A partial transcript is at http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/obama-wants-to-link-some-student-aid-to-affordability/40012.
Albanian authorities have placed Ndrea Prendi, who heads a security service that protects government officials, under house arrest for the death of four individuals in January 2011 who were protesting alleged vote rigging the elections that put the conservative government into power.
See the AP feeds at http://news.yahoo.com/poland-defends-stance-treaty-attacks-173111414.html; and http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/albania-senior-official-arrested-over-4-deaths-at-anti-government-demonstration/2012/01/23/gIQAQrqKLQ_story.html.
The results of the survey were not on the SANEP web page, but Radio Prague reported them in the Czech version of their headlines on 22 January 2012 available at http://m.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/zpravy-2012-01-22. Another report in Czech is available at http://www.tyden.cz/rubriky/domaci/politika/cesi-by-v-referendu-odmitli-fiskalni-smlouvu-eu-i-euro_223265.html.
See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16670298; http://news.yahoo.com/croatia-says-yes-eu-membership-204653534.html; and http://euobserver.com/9/114977.
Euroscepticism, conservatism, and preserving a climate for business are behind the resistance. Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, long has opposed deepening integration of any type in the European Union and dislikes the euro. Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain strives to protect the interests of The City. The Merkozy plan, with its notion of taxing the wealthiest corporations and investors as well as quickly providing investing in regions throughout Europe that need development funds and sectors that are poised for growth, is anathema to those who still maintain that austerity and further reduction in taxes will pull the world out of its financial doldrums because the leaders of finance and industry will provide new jobs and increased salaries.
More on the plan is at http://euobserver.com/19/114963.
here and at http://news.yahoo.com/polish-pol-threatens-smoke-pot-parliament-161447039.html.
here and http://euobserver.com/9/114947.
See http://euobserver.com/18/114929; http://www.europolitics.info/institutions/parliament-considers-draft-fiscal-treaty-useless-artb323593-38.html; and http://www.neurope.eu/article/meps-reject-economic-governance-treaty.
In his speech, which largely justified Hungary’s new path, Orbán attempted to be conciliatory and said that he would open talks with the EU and IMF. The hope is that he might reverse some of the recent laws in order to satisfy the IMF and receive badly-needed funds, but his staunch ideology, which was apparent in his accusation that the European left and Hillary Clinton oppose him, may prevent him from changing much of his program.
Understanding the deep divisions in Hungarian society is essential to comprehending the changes that Fidesz is sponsoring. Although Hungary is not ethnically fractured (more than 90 percent of the inhabitants are Hungarian), it is ideologically segmented. Fidesz, a conservative party that has a solid basis in the countryside, and the socialists, who are strong in urban areas, have been unable to agree on crucial issues over the years. Until now, for example, Hungary has been functioning with a constitution that dates from the Communist era. Such divisions are common among the successor states of the Habsburg Monarchy in Central Europe. The solution is the application of consociational democratic practices. Their failure in Hungary has resulted in the determination of Fidesz to impose their values on society instead of finding a path toward compromise with the socialists. In this respect, the recent difficulties of Belgium, a classic consociational democracy, and Hungary are similar, but Belgium has stayed loyal to a collaborative approach, unlike Hungary.
On Orbán’s visit to the European Parliament, see http://euobserver.com/7/114930; http://euobserver.com/9/114933; and http://news.yahoo.com/romanian-riots-reveal-growing-gloom-region-070453413.html; and http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-19/orban-bows-to-pressure-as-hungary-signals-compromise-in-eu-feud.html.
http://euobserver.com/9/114899; http://euobserver.com/19/114887; and http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=162618. For a general overview of the tension between the EU and Hungary, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9021423/Hungary-faces-ruin-as-EU-loses-patience.html.
http://euobserver.com/19/114905 and http://euobserver.com/19/114906.
In other news related to the EU financial situation, Greeks are concerned about the possible withdrawal of their country from the eurozone and the return to the drachma. While some would welcome the change because tourists would find goods and services cheaper, most fear the high price of imports and the uncertainty that would accompany the shift. More about this topic is available at http://www.npr.org/2012/01/16/145276546/for-greece-a-possible-return-to-the-drachma?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120116.
Throughout the journey, Dr. Miller and Ms. Kocková will provide insight into the history, architecture, and culture of the region, but the tour is designed to provide participants with plenty of time to explore on their own. Some might wish to visit museums, palaces, and churches, while others will enjoy shopping, sitting in cafés, concerts, or strolling along historic streets. While most of the time will be in urban areas, the group will spend three nights in Kaprun, Austria, in the Alps. On the agenda is a visit to a glacier and a stunning man-made Alpine lake. Skiers may wish to rent the necessary equipment to be able to boast of hitting the slopes in July, assuming that the ski trails are open, which is usually the case.
Those wishing to obtain undergraduate or graduate credit for the course can make arrangements to do so. Dr. Miller also will cooperate with professors at other institutions to provide their students with the chance of experiencing study abroad at a remarkably reasonable price.
The price includes ground transportation, all accommodation, usually in four-star hotels, all breakfasts, seven dinners, and some entries to historic structures. Participants must arrange their own flights to Milan and from Prague, or they can have Adventure Travel, and US travel agency, book the tickets for them. Since this is not a packaged tour, there is no specific point of departure. There also are no penalties for deviations. This means that participants can make arrangements to fly from their homes to Europe and back without unnecessary stops. Furthermore, they are able to spend time in Europe before or after the tour in order to explore on their own more of this remarkable part of the world.
For more information, follow the link at the top of the home page of the Central European Observer web site or click here. There are tabs on the tour information page for downloading or printing a text-only PDF with all the details about the tour. Those interested also may contact Dr. Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ms. Kocková at email@example.com.
The AP report of his death is at http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/13/3369090/former-turkish-cypriot-leader.html.
More information is at http://euobserver.com/19/114825.
See http://euobserver.com/22/114868; http://euobserver.com/843/114836; http://euobserver.com/843/114746; http://eu-digest.blogspot.com/2012/01/eu-steps-up-pressure-on-hungary-as.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FWwTPi+%28EU-DIGEST%29; and http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/markets/hungarys-premier-says-positions-distant-with-eu-on-some-parts-of-new-central-bank-law/2012/01/13/gIQAltOzvP_story.html. Barroso’s statement is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tbec9Mra_uM.
Read more at http://euobserver.com/19/114872.
See http://euobserver.com/15/114794 for more details on the poll.
The article on religious dialog is at http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/generalnews/2012/01/10/visualizza_new.html_42327675.html. On the terrorist plots, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/10/2583044/ap-exclusive-alleged-bomb-plotters.html.
here and her unsuccessful appeal here. The Czech interior minister, Jan Kubice, whose ministry decided to grant Oleksander Tymoshenko Asylum, made the announcement during a press conference but has not posted his statement about the case on line.
Oleksander Tymoshenko has business ties in the Czech Republic, which also granted Asylum last year to Bohdan Danylyshyn, Yulia Tymoshenko’s former economic minister. The couple’s daughter, who is 31 years old, remains in Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko has complained about inhuman treatment in prison, including bright lights all day long, constant surveillance, and inadequate health care.
See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-ukraine-tymoshenko-czechtre8050oo-20120106,0,4751873.story and http://www.radio.cz/en/news#1 for 6 January 2012. On Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, see http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine_yulia_tymoshenko_prison_torture/24442108.html.
The study included history in the humanities and liberal arts. The unemployment rate for recent college graduates with history degrees was 10.2 percent, which was higher than the 9.4 percent average in the humanities and liberal arts. With experience, however, the rate dropped to 5.8 percent, which was better than the 6.1 percent rate in the category as a whole. Those with graduate degrees in history had an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent, which was the same as the average for all majors in the humanities and liberal arts. A recent graduate with a history degree expected to make $32,000, which was $1,000 more than the average starting salary in the humanities and liberal arts. A history major with experience made approximately $54,000 per year, which was typical for someone in the humanities and liberal arts. Finally, a graduate degree in history earned $75,000, which was $10,000 more than what those with graduate degrees in the humanities and liberal arts expected to earn.
Those majoring in the social sciences faced an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, which fell to 5.7 percent if they had experience and 4.1 percent if they had a graduate degree. A recent graduate in the social sciences expected to make $37,000 per year, while someone with experience made $60,000 on the average. Those with graduate degrees expected an average salary of $85,000.
For students interested in history and social sciences, the news that their earning potential was on a par with other fields, like education, psychology and social work, recreation, and arts is reassuring. Similarly, it is helpful to know that humanities and liberal arts as well as social sciences had better employment rates than the arts and architecture, thanks to the poor economic climate, and were competitive with most other fields. Links to the study and to the Center for Employment and the Workforce appear below, and readers can draw their own conclusions from the 17-page study.
The CEW’s web page is: http://cew.georgetown.edu/unemployment/. The full report is at http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/Unemployment.Final.update1.pdf.
The freedom of religion also has been in question. The Hungarian Supreme Court struck down a law that would have recognized 14 religious groups, denying legal status to others, such as Hindus, unless they gain the support of the parliament. New laws also bring into question the ability of obtaining an abortion because a fetus is protected at the point of conception and limit marriage to only a man and woman. The oddity is that more than three-quarters of Hungarians are not religious.
Another issue revolves around the freedom of the press. Hungarian Television employees are on a hunger strike because of the government’s interference in their editorial policies. Furthermore, Klub Radio, an independent broadcaster that is critical of the government, lost its frequency, which has brought condemnation from the United States Secretary of State. In another attack on the freedom of the press, the government attempted to regulate content and weaken protections guaranteeing the confidentiality of sources, but the Supreme Court rejected both.
With a two-thirds majority in the parliament, Mr. Orbán and his Fidesz party are attempting to restructure Hungary to their liking, and they appear to be succeeding. They promulgated a new constitution, which detractors claim end the independence of the media and the judiciary. For example, the retirement age of judges has been reduced so that several hundred will be replaced, and the government expanded the number of judges on the Constitutional Court–judges the government will nominate. The head of the Supreme Court, which just delivered a blow to the government’s media law, has lost his position because of a new law that requires more years of experience in judicial experience than he has in Hungary because he was on the European Court of Human Rights for approximately fifteen years. The government also weakened the Central Bank. As the government celebrated the new constitution on 2 January at the famous National Opera, the scene of important events in modern Hungarian history, there were thousands of protestors outside. Several supported a sign announcing “Viktor Diktator!,” a reference to Viktor Orbán.
New elections may not resolve the situation because the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the parliament for changes, something which is difficult to attain in the Hungarian multiparty system. The alternatives for Hungary are narrow. One could involve increased demonstrations, which could lead to violence not only with the police but with the far right Jobbik party, which Fidesz distrusts, even though Jobbik favors some of the new changes. Another albeit slower alternative is pressure from the EU, of which Hungary is a part.
Thus far, Fidesz and Mr. Orbán have ignored external criticisms, including those from the EU and the United States. Nevertheless, the EU could do to Hungary what it did to Austria when the right-wing Austria Freedom party of Jörg Haider (1950-2008) came to power in 2000–impose diplomatic sanctions. Although it was largely symbolic because Austria continued to function within the various institutions of the EU, the move sent a strong message to Haider and the Austrians. The move seemed to backfire because it angered many Austrians, and the EU removed the sanctions a half year later. Yet, two years later, Haider’s popularity wained, and his erstwhile coalition partner, the People’s party, managed to win the parliamentary elections and displace the Freedom party. Another player in the case of Hungary is the IMF, which could delay its decision to assist Hungary and put economic pressure on Mr. Orbán.
In the end, everything hinges on the strength of the opposition, which is just beginning to gel. The fact that Fidesz was popularly elected does not mean that the Hungarian voters favor its current practices. In many respects its victory was a reaction to the corruption and mismanagement of the previous Socialist government. If the majority of Hungarians decide that Fidesz has overstepped its bounds, the party may lose its legitimacy. Then the question will be how to dislodge Fidesz and undo its unpopular measures.
See the AP report on the Hungarian economy at http://news.yahoo.com/hungary-scraps-bond-swap-currency-sinks-170749850.html. News about broadcasting in Hungary is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16354192. Information on the religious question is at http://news.yahoo.com/small-churches-hungary-fear-losing-legal-status-155230306.html. The Supreme Court’s decisions are in the AP feed available at http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9RNN32O0.htm. See also the very informative article at http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/hungarys-constitutional-revolution/ and http://www.economist.com/node/21542422. On Hungary's credit rating, see http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/64716--fitch-downgrades-hungary-to-junk-status.
Information on Škvorecký’s passing is at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/01/03/josef-skvorecky-obit.html?cmp=rss%26cmp=AFC-I78V04166919; and http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/renowned-author-publisher-josef-skvorecky-dies-at-87.
The WTO web page regarding Russia is at http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/acc_e/a1_russie_e.htm. A CATO Institute report that explains why the admission of Russia to the WTO is in America’s interest is at http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13909. The Russian foreign minister’s interview with Reuters is at http://www.mid.ru/BDOMP/Brp_4.nsf/arh/16AAFA0AEF71BC464425797200405368?OpenDocument. On the Jackson-Vanick amendment, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/11/11/60236896.html.
The US has been issuing such reports since the middle of the 1970s, much to the irritation of foreign governments, and it has used these reports as means for justifying various foreign policy initiatives. This is the first time the Russian government has taken the same approach in their criticism of the US. While the document itself will not result in any official reaction on either side, it contributed to the increased tensions between the two countries. A State Department spokesperson noted that “these kinds of human rights reports can be a useful mechanism. But we certainly don’t regard it as interference in our internal affairs when foreign governments, individuals, or organizations comment on or criticize U.S. human rights practices.” He added that “in terms of our human rights record, we’re an open book.” The US State Department report of 2010 about human rights abuses released in early 2011 noted corruption, disappearances, and suppression of Islamic separatists as difficulties in Russia.
The report Russian has brought a number of rejoinders. The Boston Herald wrote that the criticism of the US comes in light of ballot box stuffing in the recent Russian elections that might have accounted for one-fifth of the votes, thousands who have been protesting the elections, as well as the elimination of elected regional governors in favor of appointed ones when Vladimir Putin was president.
The report, which is in Russian, is located at http://www.russianmission.eu/sites/default/files/user/MFA%20Report%20on%20Human%20Rights_RU.pdf. The Boston Globe editorial is at http://bostonherald.com/news/opinion/editorials/view/20220102consider_the_source. Media coverage on the Russian human rights report is at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russias-foreign-ministry-lashes-out-at-us-human-rights-record/2011/12/28/gIQAno8EMP_story.html; http://www.plenglish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=463823&Itemid=1; and http://news.err.ee/politics/06f3144f-2c45-4802-b6a7-8a791a64ff91. On Russian-American relations in general over the past year, see http://rt.com/politics/russia-us-2012-reset-missile-defense-elections-019/. The US State Department report on Russia is at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/eur/154447.htm. The State Department spokesperson’s remarks about the Russian report are at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2011/12/179752.htm#RUSSIA.
A useful reference is the list of foreign affairs landmarks in 2011 that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently released: http://www.mid.ru/bdomp/brp_4.nsf/e78a48070f128a7b43256999005bcbb3/0d0c8d53b935139f44257976001eb0da!OpenDocument.
Democracy Now! interviewed Professor Steven Cohen from New York University regarding Putin’s grip on power. Cohen provides fascinating insights into not only Putin’s legacy but the political situation at the end of the Soviet Union and through President Yetlsin’s tenure.
The quotation from Gorbachev is at http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/27/headlines. The interview with Steven Cohen is at http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/30/election_fraud_galvanizes_russian_opposition_communist.
PBS will broadcast the concert live on Sunday, 1 January 2012. Check local listings to verify broadcast times for individual markets, but the concert will begin at 2.30 PM Eastern Standard Time with a repeat broadcast performance at 7.30 that evening. THIRTEEN in New York will broadcast the concert at 9.00 PM. For more information about the event, see http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/from-vienna-the-new-year%E2%80%99s-celebration-2012/about-the-program/1219/.
Have a wonderful 2012!