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

For the announcement of Dr. Miller's 19 July-5 August 2012 tour
to Milan, Venice, Kaprun, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague, click here.
More information about the Central European tour is available here.

"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 page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  The most recent entries appear immediately after the table of contents.  To read an article, either click on the title 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 First Quarter of 2012


  1. 1 John Demjanjuk (1920-2012)    27 March 2012
  2. 2 Teaching History with Historical Documents    27 March 2012
  3. 3 “Wait, wait!”: Obama to Medvedev    27 March 2012
  4. 4 Fire at Slovakia’s Krásna Hôrka Castle    21 March 2012
  5. 5 Tourist Attractions in Bratislava    5 March 2012
  6. 6 Putin Won Presidential Race    5 March 2012
  7. 7 Tracking Student Graduation Rates    5 March 2012
  8. 8 EU Fiscal Treaty Signed    3 March 2012
  9. 9 Bulgarian Government Officials Return Bonuses    28 February 2012
  10. 10 Europeans Arrived in America about 26,000-19,000Years Ago    29 February 2012
  11. 11 Serbia Received Candidate Status    29 February 2012
  12. 12 Ambassadors’ Row    29 February 2012
  13. 13 Further Greek Steps toward Debt Reduction    28 February 2012 (updated 29 February)
  14. 14 Paintings Hitler Owned Discovered in the Czech Republic    28 February 2012
  15. 15 Bundestag Approved Greek Bailout    28 February 2012
  16. 16 Latest Developments Regarding Greece    27 February 2012
  17. 17 Slovenia Protected Belarus from EU Sanctions    27 February 2012
  18. 18 Serbia and the EU    27 February 2012--updated 28 February 2012
  19. 19 Hungary Faces EU Funding Freeze    27 February 2012
  20. 20 Christo and the Bighorn Sheep Canyon    27 February 2012
  21. 21 Bulgarians Build Chinese Car    27 February 2012
  22. 22 Hitler’s Illegitimate Son    22 February 2012
  23. 23 Putin Expected to Win Russia’s 4 March Election    27 February 2012
  24. 24 Where Students Don’t Finish Last: The Finnish System    20 February 2012
  25. 25 Discussion about Greece’s Future    17 February 2012
  26. 26 What the Greeks Face    13 February 2012
  27. 27 Greek Parliament's Resolve Brings Violence    12 February 2012 (updated)
  28. 28 Slovaks Can't Ignore the Gorilla in the Room    11 February 2012
  29. 29 Corporate Tax Loopholes Hurt Pell Grants    11 February 2012
  30. 30 Lower Tuition Rates for Certain Private Colleges    10 February 2012
  31. 31 Czech Parliament Decides on Direct Presidential Vote    8 February 2012
  32. 32 Controlling the Cost of Higher Education    8 February 2012
  33. 33 Three Items Regarding the Second World War    8 February 2012
  34. 34 Lavrov and Syria    8 February 2012
  35. 35 Czechs Stop ACTA    7 February 2012
  36. 36 Romania’s Government Resigned    6 February 2012
  37. 37 Slovaks Protest Corruption    6 February 2012
  38. 38 University Rankings in Question    6 February 2012
  39. 39 Will Obama’s Higher Education Proposals Succeed?    6 February 2012
  40. 40 New Advocate for Tymoshenko    6 February 2012
  41. 41 EU Blocked NYSE and German Deutsche Börse Merger    2 February 2012
  42. 42 Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012)    1 February 2012
  43. 43 Causes of the Little Ice Age    1 February 2012
  44. 44 Carnival in Macedonia Creates Tension    1 February 2012
  45. 45 Can Historians Make It to the 1 Percent?    1 February 2012
  46. 46 Constitutional Council to Examine France’s Genocide Law    31 January 2012
  47. 47 Czech Republic and UK Will Not Sign EU Treaty    31 January 2012
  48. 48 More Difficulties for Hungary    27 January 2012
  49. 49 News Related to the Second World War    27 January 2012
  50. 50 Eulex Problems in Kosovo    26 January 2012
  51. 51 Color Photographs of Hitler    27 January 2012
  52. 52 Obama’s Address on University Education    27 January 2012
  53. 53 Genocide Law Awaits French President’s Signature    23 January 2012
  54. 54 News of Two Protests in Poland and Albania    23 January 2012
  55. 55 Czech Oppose EU Treaty and the Eurozone    23 January 2012
  56. 56 Croatians Approve EU Entry    23 January 2012
  57. 57 The Merkozy Plan for EU Solvency    21 January 2012
  58. 58 Polish Party Seeks to Legalize Marijuana    21 January 2012
  59. 59 Croatian Referendum on EU Membership    21 January 2012
  60. 60 MEPs Question New Treaty    21 January 2012
  61. 61 Hungary’s Majoritarian Rule    19 January 2012
  62. 62 Undergraduate Journal in Slavic Studies Seeks Submissions    18 January 2012
  63. 63 Unrest in Romania    17 January 2012
  64. 64 Hungary's Media    17 January 2012
  65. 65 EU Leaders Continue to Work on Draft Treaty    17 January 2012
  66. 66 Austerity and the "Debt Trap"    15 January 2012
  67. 67 Dr. Miller Leads Tour to Central Europe    12 January 2012
  68. 68 Turkish Cypriot Leader Rauf Denktash (1924-2012)    13 January 2012
  69. 69 Prospects for a EU Fiscal Treaty    13 January 2012
  70. 70 Hungarian Recalcitrance    13 January 2012
  71. 71 Cabinet Formation in Slovenia    13 January 2012
  72. 72 NPR: Journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway    13 January 2012
  73. 73 Croatians Favor EU Membership    11 January 2012
  74. 74 Religious Dialog in Kosovo    11 January 2012
  75. 75 Art History Majors Power the US Economy    6 January 2012
  76. 76 Internet Controls in Belarus    6 January 2012
  77. 77 Czechs Grant Asylum to Tymoshenko’s Husband    6 January 2012
  78. 78 Study on Unemployment and Earnings of Graduates    5 January 2012
  79. 79 Quo Vadis, Hungaria?    4-6 January 2012
  80. 80 Swiss Attempt to Negotiate between Turkey and Armenia    4 January 2012
  81. 81 Josef Škvorecký (1924-2012)    4 January 2012
  82. 82 Death of Former President Gligorov of Macedonia    2 January 2012
  83. 83 Russia’s Entry into the WTO    2 January 2012
  84. 84 Russian Human Rights Report    2 January 2012
  85. 85 Putin’s Desire to Return to the Presidency of Russia    2 January 2012
  86. 86 Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day Concert    1 January 2012

John Demjanjuk (1920-2012)    27 March 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.

News of Demjanjuk’s death is at http://www.npr.org/2012/03/17/148814082/convicted-nazi-guard-john-demjanjuk-dies?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120317.

Teaching History with Historical Documents    27 March 2012

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.

“Wait, wait!”: Obama to Medvedev    27 March 2012

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!”

Mr. Medvedev will leave the presidential office, and Mr. Putin will take the oath of office on 7 May.  Mr. Putin won Russia’s election on 4 March with nearly 64 percent of the vote.  His victory was no surprise, and there were accusations of voter irregularity.  Protests, however, did not reach the scale of those that occurred after the December 2011 parliamentary elections.

News of Mr. Obama’s comment is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obama-defends-flexibility-remarks-to-medvedev/2012/03/27/gIQA2GKZdS_story.html, and the AP feed is at http://news.yahoo.com/obama-russia-more-flexibility-elections-125849688.html.  Mr. Medvedev’s comments regarding Mr. Romney’s criticism of Mr. Obama are at http://news.yahoo.com/russian-president-suggests-romney-reason-head-185426428.html.

One report of Putin’s electoral victory is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/04/putin-wins-election_n_1319506.html#s752164.   Information about the protests after the Russian presidential election is at http://www.npr.org/2012/03/10/148351227/russian-opposition-protesters-reject-election?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120310 and http://en.rian.ru/russia/20120310/172077156.html.  An interview with the Russian expert Stephen Cohen about Putin’s election is at http://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/6/stephen_cohen_on_vladimir_putin_russias.

Fire at Slovakia’s Krásna Hôrka Castle    21 March 2012

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.

The castle dates from the twelfth century and was the seat of several Hungarian families.  Its last private owners before the end of the First World War were from the Andrássy family, one of whose members was Count Gyula Andrássy (1823-1890), Austria-Hungary’s foreign minister from 1871 to 1879 who had arranged the Dual Alliance with Germany.  After 1918, the castle became the property of the Czechoslovak government.

A report in Czech along with a photo is available from Radio Prague at
http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/evropa/_zprava/slovensky-hrad-krasna-horka-zrejme-vzplanul-od-cigarety-dvou-kluku--1030320.  A BBC report with a dramatic video is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17330120.


Tourist Attractions in Bratislava    5 March 2012

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.

Putin Won Presidential Race    5 March 2012

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.

For various reports on the election and the issue of corruption, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/world/asia/moscow-protesters-denounce-putin-victory.html; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17254548; http://www.npr.org/2012/03/03/147850712/beyond-electoral-fraud-russians-protest-corruption?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120303; and http://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147954401/-serious-problems-seen-in-russia-s-presidential-vote?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120305.  For the AP feed on the protests, see http://news.yahoo.com/thousands-contest-putins-victory-moscow-rally-145729634.html.

Tracking Student Graduation Rates    5 March 2012

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.

View the article at http://collegecompletion.chronicle.com/.

EU Fiscal Treaty Signed    3 March 2012

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.

Two countries refused to sign the treaty: The United Kingdom and the Czech Republic.  Both countries shun what they see as the treaty’s increased interference of the EU in domestic politics.  Petr Nečas, the prime minister of the Czech Republic from the Civic Democratic party (ODS), stated that the non-eurozone countries are unable to participate in enough meetings of the eurozone, even though the non-eurozone countries could face restrictions and fines as a result of the treaty.  Instead, he favors steps to increase Europe’s competitiveness.  The ODS coalition partner, Top 09, favors the treaty, as does the opposition Social Democratic party.  The Slovak prime minister, Iveta Radičová, criticized the stance of Mr. Nečas as being strictly political and without concern for the common needs of Europe.  Mr. Nečas responded that she should not interfere in Czech domestic matters and later commented that the European economic crisis demonstrates the failings of the socialist model.

The “Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union” faces two possible hurdles during the ratification process: a referendum in Ireland, where the population blames the banks for the crisis and is not sympathetic to austerity measures, and the opposition of François Hollande, a candidate for the presidency in France.  As the EU countries sign the treaty, they face a new challenge from Spain, where the government announced that it will increase its targeted deficit figure of 4.4 percent of GDP to 5.8 percent.  Actual figures for 2011 were higher than 8 percent.  The Spanish government, certainly with an eye on unrest in Greece, fears the repercussions from more austerity measures that would be necessary to reach the lower figure this year. 

See http://www.marketwatch.com/story/greece-seen-on-track-for-bailout-2012-03-02?link=MW_latest_news; http://news.yahoo.com/european-states-sign-fiscal-treaty-spanish-deficit-warning-223726538.html; http://euobserver.com/843/115460; http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/politika/_zprava/model-socialniho-statu-je-v-hluboke-krizi-tvrdi-premier-necas--1026852; http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/evropskaunie/_zprava/1026149; and http://www.rozhlas.cz/radiozurnal/publicistika/_zprava/1026802.

Bulgarian Government Officials Return Bonuses    28 February 2012

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.

Europeans Arrived in America about 26,000-19,000Years Ago    29 February 2012

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 Received Candidate Status    29 February 2012

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.

Reports on Serbia’s new step toward EU membership are at http://www.voanews.com/english/news/europe/Serbia-Recommended-for-EU-Membership-140745143.html; http://euobserver.com/15/115416; and http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics-article.php?yyyy=2012&mm=02&dd=28&nav_id=79013.  Also see the earlier report on this web site here.

Ambassadors’ Row    29 February 2012

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.

Further Greek Steps toward Debt Reduction    28 February 2012 (updated 29 February)

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.

See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8664161.stm; http://news.yahoo.com/greece-approves-tough-salary-pension-cuts-224201224.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/greek-unions-hit-back-minumum-wage-cuts-082058859.html.

Paintings Hitler Owned Discovered in the Czech Republic    28 February 2012

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.

The paintings originally were destined for a museum devoted to Hitler in Linz, but they ended up in the Czech city of Vyšší Brod, in Southern Bohemia.  There the Americans, who occupied the region after the war, took anything that appeared to be silver or gold.  Seven large items which Hitler personally purchased in 1943 somehow found their way to Doksany.  The monastery announced that they will keep the paintings, which experts estimate are worth a total of $2.6 million.

Kuchař, who authored several titles in history, including Hitlerova sbírka v čechách–Sochy, busty, drobné plastiky (Hitler’s Collection in the Czech Lands–Statues, Busts, Small Sculptures, 2009) and Hitlerova sbírka v Čechách–Obrazy, dary, psací stůl (Hitler’s Collection in the Czech Lands–Paintings, Gifts, Desk, 2012), thinks that additional works once in Hitler’s possession still may be discovered in the Czech Republic.

See http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/vytvarno/_zprava/pamatkari-v-doksanech-ukazali-sedm-nove-nalezenych-obrazu-z-hitlerovy-sbirky--1024469 and http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/adolf-hitler-long-lost-art-collection-paintings-discovered-184351309.html.  Kuchař’s most recent book is available at http://www.kosmas.cz/knihy/168780/hitlerova-sbirka-v-cechach/.

Bundestag Approved Greek Bailout    28 February 2012

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. 

Basic information on the Bundestag vote is at http://euobserver.com/19/115393 and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/world/europe/germany-backs-aid-plan-for-greece.html.  An article that considers the new-found influence of Germany in Europe is at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-germany-europe-20120228,0,2973408.story.  Finally, the economic picture is available at http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-28/german-stocks-climb-as-merkel-wins-greek-aid-vote-banks-rally.html.

Latest Developments Regarding Greece    27 February 2012

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.

Protecting the European banking system may be essential to economic stability and recovery, but an important element in the picture is the Greek population.  In an interview with Democracy Now!, Paul Mason, the economics editor of “BBC Newsnight,” summed up the prospects of the Greek citizens: “so you cut spending, you raise taxes, you impoverish people. Leave aside the minimum wage, wages in general are going to have to fall 15 to 20 percent to meet–in the private sector.”  The difficulty Greece and other states face during this economic downturn is not only debt but employment.  Cutting expenses may help reduce debt, but government investment, not austerity, is the usual formula for encouraging growth in a stalled economy.

On the German vote, see http://www.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/World/Story/A1Story20120227-330498.html.  Information about the third bailout is at http://euobserver.com/19/115378.  A report on the writedown is at http://news.yahoo.com/greece-launches-formal-offer-debt-writedown-172415356.html.  Regarding the IMF, see http://euobserver.com/19/115372.  The interview with Paul Mason is at http://www.democracynow.org/2012/2/22/as_greece_erupts_bbcs_paul_mason.  On the Greek parliament’s adoption of the austerity measures a week ago, see http://www.npr.org/2012/02/22/147249395/greek-lawmakers-rush-to-adopt-promised-austerity?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120222.

Slovenia Protected Belarus from EU Sanctions    27 February 2012

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.

Read more at http://euobserver.com/24/115361 and http://euobserver.com/24/115303.

Serbia and the EU    27 February 2012--updated 28 February 2012

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.

Reports on this issue appear at http://euobserver.com/15/115363, http://news.yahoo.com/kosovo-serbia-reach-deal-2-key-issues-143347952.html, and http://euobserver.com/15/115407.

Hungary Faces EU Funding Freeze    27 February 2012

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.

Read more at http://euobserver.com/19/115343 and http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/zpravy/necas-mini-ze-se-zmrazenim-penez-eu-pro-madarsko-se-ma-pockat/759827.

Christo and the Bighorn Sheep Canyon    27 February 2012

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.

An NPR report on the project is at http://www.npr.org/2012/02/18/147009847/6-miles-of-silver-ribbon-locals-protest-christo?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120218.

Bulgarians Build Chinese Car    27 February 2012

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.

See http://news.yahoo.com/chinese-carmaker-opens-plant-bulgaria-122500648.html.

Hitler’s Illegitimate Son    22 February 2012

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.

For more, see http://news.discovery.com/history/hitlers-illefitimate-son-120218.html#mkcpgn=rssnws1.

Putin Expected to Win Russia’s 4 March Election    27 February 2012

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.

Despite ongoing protests, including one in Moscow that formed a ten-mile human chain, Putin has maintained and even strengthened his popularity.  His success is partly due to his claim that he is responsible for protecting Russia against foreign intrigue.  Russia’s rocky relations with the United States have bolstered Putin’s argument, and Putin recently promised new missiles, submarines, ships, and aircraft for Russia in the next decade.  Less than a week ago, two Estonians were arrested and charged in Tallinn with spying for Russia.  Yesterday, authorities in Ukraine announced that they have foiled an assassination plot targeting Putin when they arrested Chechen rebels in Odessa after the explosives they were preparing accidentally detonated.

The most recent Russian polls are at http://rt.com/politics/leading-forecasts-putins-victory-749/ and http://rt.com/politics/united-russia-gains-ground-089/.  On Prokhorov, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/21/world/europe/mikhail-prokhorov-is-a-new-kind-of-russian-candidate-a-billionaire.html?_r=1.  Information on the human chain protest is at http://www.npr.org/2012/02/26/147441663/anti-putin-protesters-form-human-chain-in-russia?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20120226.  Reports about a pro-Putin rallies are at http://en.rian.ru/society/20120223/171477950.html and http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-russia-putin-rally-20120224,0,2675535.story.  The report on Putin’s military shopping list is at http://en.rian.ru/russia/20120220/171407962.html.  On Estonian espionage, see the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/estonians-held-allegations-spying-russia-181552788.html.  The RT report on the assassination plot, with video footage, is at http://rt.com/news/putin-assassination-attempt-thwarted-271/.

Where Students Don’t Finish Last: The Finnish System    20 February 2012

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.

Read more at http://special.registerguard.com/web/opinion/27609041-47/finland-schools-students-education-finnish.html.csp.

Discussion about Greece’s Future    17 February 2012

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.

What the Greeks Face    13 February 2012

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.

Greek Parliament's Resolve Brings Violence    12 February 2012 (updated)

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.

Slovaks Can't Ignore the Gorilla in the Room    11 February 2012

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.

Corporate Tax Loopholes Hurt Pell Grants    11 February 2012

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
Delaware: $16.4 million dollars that would have benefited 13,880 students
Vermont: $13.0 million dollars that would have benefited 10,707 students
Wyoming: $13.0 million dollars that would have benefited 10,385 students
Arkansas: $8.4 million dollars that would have benefited 7,267 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.

Source: “The Cost of Corporate Tax Loopholes,” NEA Higher Education Advocate 29 (January 2012): 11.

Lower Tuition Rates for Certain Private Colleges    10 February 2012

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.

Czech Parliament Decides on Direct Presidential Vote    8 February 2012

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.

The debate about popularly electing the president has a long history in the Czech Republic, and it intensified as a result of the last presidential election.  When President Václav Klaus ran for a second term in February 2008, he did not have a firm base either among the parliamentarians or the electorate.  He also had a credible opponent in Jan Švejnar, a Czech-born economist at the University of Michigan.  It took two attempts, much political wrangling, and supposed threats to various politicians to bring about the election of Klaus, who won the presidency by a very slim margin.

The former dissident and sociologist Jiřina Šiklová weighed in against the direct election of the president in an interview today with Radio Prague.  She based her opinion on the fact that most citizens do not understand the constitution, which gives the president far less power than the government and the parliament.  Furthermore, she noted that there is a popular belief that the popular election of the president will result in the president being above the machinations of the political parties.  A direct election, however, will not shift the balance of power to the president, who will not have influence over governmental institutions, like the American president.  Finally, the population does not realize how much money it takes to mount a presidential campaign, so the presidential candidates will be dependent upon party funds or “still worse,” Šiklová noted, “some sort of invisible lobbyist group, and that only can be several people from industry.”

The Czechs may have succeeded in eliminating the back-room negotiating among parties about who will become president of the country, but it soon will become apparent that they have not reduced the political fighting.  They may have ensured that it becomes more intense because presidential candidates will need to scramble for money and popularity.  Nevertheless, the process will not become like the American contest.  First, since the position is far less powerful, there is less at stake.  Second, the Czech political culture envisions a president who is respected intellectually and not only politically.  This becomes apparent when one considers the background of half of the presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.  The first two presidents were academics: Tomáš G. Masaryk was a philosopher; Edvard Beneš, a sociologist.  Emil Hácha, who became president after Beneš and throughout the Nazi occupation, was a respected jurist.  Václav Havel was a playwright, and the last position Klaus held before entering politics was an economist with the Institute for Prognostics in the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.  Finally, the Czech political culture includes an element of cynicism and sarcasm that could work against anyone the electorate perceives as being too much of a creature of politics and less a champion of fairness and compromise.

With the election of a new president just weeks away and Klaus unable to run for a third term, the Czech political scene will be exciting.

See http://news.yahoo.com/czech-president-elected-public-vote-192616725.html.  Czech language reports are at http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/politika/_zprava/klausova-nastupce-vyberou-lide-senat-schvalil-primou-volbu-prezidenta--1015743; and

Controlling the Cost of Higher Education    8 February 2012

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.

Wellman recently has brought changes to the Delta Cost Project, whose reports now will be part of the American Institutes for Research and will appear as Delta Cost Project AIR.  Meanwhile, Wellman has become the executive director of the National Association of System Heads, which links chancellors and presidents of universities and community colleges from most of the states.  One of her goals at NASH is to have funding shift from prestigious institutions to those that teach the most students, given the size of their faculty.

Expect to hear more about the Delta Cost Project AIR and about Wellman, especially if President Obama manages to make higher education spending a major issue in the months to come.

The report is at http://chronicle.com/article/A-College-Cost-Policy-Wonk/130662/, but it requires a subscription to view the entire article.  The web site for the Delta Cost Project AIR is http://www.deltacostproject.org/index.asp.

Three Items Regarding the Second World War    8 February 2012

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.

Mossad is opening an exhibition in Tel Aviv on the capture of Adolf Eichmann.  The exhibition outlines the steps the organization took to seize Eichmann and the technology it used in the process.  More is available at http://news.yahoo.com/eichmann-exhibit-gives-glimpse-israels-mossad-173738454.html.

The Russian Orthodox Church has canonized Alexander Schmorell (1917-1943), a member of the White Rose group that protested the Nazis during the Second World War.  Schmorell, who had a Russian mother, was guillotined for his actions.  The two most famous members of the White Rose were Hans Scholl (1918-1943) and his sister Sophia Scholl (1921-1943). See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/9064139/Declared-a-saint-the-anti-Hitler-activist-beheaded-by-Nazis-at-age-25.html.

Lavrov and Syria    8 February 2012

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.

More information is available through the Reuters feed at http://uk.news.yahoo.com/syrian-forces-attack-homs-eve-lavrov-visit-013837045.html.

Czechs Stop ACTA    7 February 2012

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.

Romania’s Government Resigned    6 February 2012

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.

Slovaks Protest Corruption    6 February 2012

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.

University Rankings in Question    6 February 2012

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.

Will Obama’s Higher Education Proposals Succeed?    6 February 2012

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.

New Advocate for Tymoshenko    6 February 2012

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.

EU Blocked NYSE and German Deutsche Börse Merger    2 February 2012

The European Commission blocked the merger of the New York Stock Exchange with the Deutsche Börse on the grounds that it would create a monopoly in the financial industry, particularly in the trading of derivatives, which helped fueled the 2008 crisis.  The merger would have meant that Deutsche Börse essentially would have taken over NYSE, and Deutsche Börse now is eyeing the London stock exchange.

The full story is at http://euobserver.com/19/115100.

Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012)    1 February 2012

The Polish Nobel Prize winner in literature, Wisława Szymborska, died on 1 February 2012.  She had been publishing poetry since 1945, but she is known for the sensitivity of her writing, not the quantity of her work.  An obituary is at 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.

Causes of the Little Ice Age    1 February 2012

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have determined that two series of volcanoes, the first between 1275 and 1300 and the second between 1430 and 1450, caused the Little Ice Age, which lasted from the late 1200s to the 1500s.  The high amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere from the eruptions reflected sunlight, preventing it from warming the Earth.  The cooler temperatures expanded the polar ice caps, and the process of warming took a great length of time.  The average reduction in the temperature of the Northern Hemisphere was only about one degree Celsius, but the effect in certain areas was much greater.  Some scientists contend that the Sun cooled to create the Little Ice Age and others speculate that both a cooler Sun and volcanic activity were to blame.  The University of Colorado team held the temperature of the Sun at a constant in order to show that volcanic activity alone could have been the cause of the Little Ice Age.

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.

Carnival in Macedonia Creates Tension    1 February 2012

Muslims in Macedonia are upset because Orthodox Christian carnival goers on 13 January dawned costumes to appear as women with burqas.  Muslims protested and attacked a Christian church, prompting Muslim leaders to call for restraint.  The Muslim clerics also condemned the action and called on the government to investigate anti-Muslim sentiment.

See http://news.yahoo.com/macedonia-muslims-urge-restraint-over-carnival-160154233.html.

Can Historians Make It to the 1 Percent?    1 February 2012

A recent article in the New York Times considered majors in order of their likelihood of producing graduates who enter the top 1 percent of earners.  Surprisingly, history was not at the bottom but ranks 14 out of 25 in the article’s list.  The information for the article came from data that the United States Census Bureau collected.

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/.

Constitutional Council to Examine France’s Genocide Law    31 January 2012

The French law on genocide that the Turks have criticized is on hold after a group of French legislators managed to gather enough signatures to force the Constitutional Council to examine it before it becomes law.  The Turks have praised the move, as have those who consider the legislation an assault on the freedom of speech.

For more on the issue, see the AFP feed at http://www.vancouversun.com/news/France+Armenian+genocide+hold/6077339/story.html.

Czech Republic and UK Will Not Sign EU Treaty    31 January 2012

The prime minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Nečas, announced that he will join with the United Kingdom in not approving the EU treaty designed to require fiscal discipline of its Member States.  The reasons he gave included the reduction of the Czech Republic’s sovereignty, the lack of any advantage for the Czech Republic, the inability of non-eurozone countries to take part in eurozone summits, and the treaty’s inability to prevent increased debt.  Another problem he noted was getting it ratified, which most likely referred to President Václav Klaus’s threat to veto the treaty.  Nečas indicated that the provision of approving the treaty in the future is significant, perhaps an indicator that the Czech Republic might reconsider its position after it elects a new president in March.

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.

More Difficulties for Hungary    27 January 2012

Complicating Hungary’s legal and political problems with the European Union, which objects to its creeping dictatorship, and its loss of confidence with the International Monetary Fund, which refuses to lend Hungary money because of new laws regarding the Hungarian National Bank, the EU now threatens to withhold a cohesion fund sum of about € 1.7 billion because of Hungary’s excessive debt.  See http://euobserver.com/19/115003.

News Related to the Second World War    27 January 2012

In Vienna on Friday, 27 January 2012, the WKR Ball (Wiener Korporations-Ring Ball)  took place, as it does on the last Friday of every January.  What makes this year’s event different is that Friday also was the 67th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz, known as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Those attending the WKR ball generally are right-wing supporters, and protesters criticized the organizers of the ball for their insensitivity.  More is available at 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.

Eulex Problems in Kosovo    26 January 2012

The European Union’s Eulex, the EU’s Law Mission in Kosovo, has scored some successes, but it still faces hurdles in reducing crime.  Some accuse it of dragging its feet in the prosecution of organized crime, partly because of the links to Kosavar politicians, including the prime minister, Hashim Thaci.  Read more at http://euobserver.com/24/115010.

Color Photographs of Hitler    27 January 2012

Hugo Jaeger (died 1970), Adolf Hitler’s photographer, took color photographs of Hitler and his residences just before the Second World War.  He had them in a suitcase at the end of the war, transferred them to glass jars that he kept buried near Munich, and then deposited them in a bank vault.  In 1965, he sold the photographs to Life magazine.  Various samples are available in three different sources: 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.

Obama’s Address on University Education    27 January 2012

On 27 January 2012, President Obama addressed students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.  He stated that his administration increased student aid by shifting money from bank subsidies to actual loans and limited the amount of student loan payments to 10 percent of a graduate’s monthly income.  Mr. Obama called on Congress to prevent student loan interest from doubling in July 2012, to extend the tuition tax credit, and to double work-study jobs in the next five years.  Tuition rates are rising faster than health care or inflation, the president claimed, and as a result, he proposed linking aid to colleges and universities with their efforts to keep a cap on tuition.  He wants states to budget more for higher educaiton, especially considering that in 2011, 40 states cut their higher education budgets, which resulted in increased tuition.  He also recommended the creation of a report card for colleges that would include such information as graduation rates so that students understand what they are getting for their money.  Mr. Obama claimed that his ultimate goal is to bring down the cost of a college education.

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.

Genocide Law Awaits French President’s Signature    23 January 2012

The French Senate has passed a genocide law that French President Nicolas Sarkozy probably will ratify.  The bill is more general than earlier versions and criminalizes any denial of genocide, making it applicable to French killings of colonists and American killings of Native Americans, but it still angers the Turks, who have recalled their ambassador and have cancelled top-level meetings with the French.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/23/us-france-turkey-genocide-idUSTRE80M28G20120123.

News of Two Protests in Poland and Albania    23 January 2012

The computer lines of Poland’s prime minister, president, and other offices were unavailable after an attack by those demanding that Poland not sign Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is similar to legislation in the US known as SOPA.  The group known as AnonymousWiki that apparently is behind the attack also threatened to leak documents if the government signed the agreement.  The government stated that it will hold further discussions on ACTA.  The fourth largest party in Poland, the Democratic Left Alliance, also is against the measure.

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.

Czech Oppose EU Treaty and the Eurozone    23 January 2012

In a recent poll conducted by the Czech public opinion research firm SANEP, a majority of Czechs would not support a referendum that would give the EU more power to limit sovereign debt.  Furthermore, four-fifths do not want to join the eurozone.  The issue remains as to whether a referendum should take place on the sovereign debt issue, a move which the conservative Public Affairs party (Věci veřejné, VV) supports, or whether the parliament should decide the matter, a path the conservative party TOP09 and the Social Democrats support.  President Václav Klaus agrees that the legislature should make the decision, stating that the government should not shift political responsibility to the people, leading one to wonder where Mr. Klaus believes ultimate political responsibility should rest.

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.

Croatians Approve EU Entry    23 January 2012

Two-thirds of Croatians who cast their ballots in a referendum on Sunday voted to join the EU.  There were some protests ahead of the voting from far-right groups, but the indicted Croatian military commander awaiting trial in The Hague, Ante Gotovina, whom many Croatians consider a hero, told his supporters to vote for EU membership.  Many lament the low turnout of 44 percent, and most news agencies attribute it to apathy concerning the EU, given the current economic climate.  Certainly, one can not blame the weather–the high temperature on Sunday was 56 degrees F, near the record high, and there was no precipitation.  One factor that reporters did not consider was the possibility that Croatians did not flock to the polls because they were confident that the measure would pass.

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.

The Merkozy Plan for EU Solvency    21 January 2012

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, have drafted a plan to impose a financial transactions tax and redeploy EU funds in order to spur EU economic growth.  Part of the proposal will be for the EU, not individual countries, to target the particular types of investment designed to expand the economy.  It will be revealed at the 30 January and 1-2 March EU leadership summits.  Dubbed the Merkozy Plan, some leaders are opposed to it, including those in the Czech Republic, Britain, Denmark, Malta, and Sweden.

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.

Polish Party Seeks to Legalize Marijuana    21 January 2012

Janusz Palikot, the leader of the liberal Palikot Movement in the Polish Sejm, threatened to light a Marihuana joint at a legislative session to demonstrate his support for the legalization of soft drugs.  He lit a legal Marihuana incense stick instead.  Palikot also has advocated the removal of the cross in the Sejm and supports gay rights.  More on Palikot and his party, which received 10 percent of the vote in Poland’s 2011 elections, is on this web site here and at http://news.yahoo.com/polish-pol-threatens-smoke-pot-parliament-161447039.html.

Croatian Referendum on EU Membership    21 January 2012

On Sunday, 22 January, the Croatians will conduct their referendum on EU membership, which most expect will pass.  For more information, see the earlier post on this web site here and http://euobserver.com/9/114947.

MEPs Question New Treaty    21 January 2012

On 18 January, members of the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution–521 out of 695, with 124 opposing and 50 abstentions–that questions the need for a new treaty to guarantee the fiscal discipline of EU member states.  Instead of an intergovernmental treaty to accomplish the task, they support using normal legislative procedures in the European Parliament.  Some are concerned about the treaty’s provisions to involve non-eurozone members in the decision-making process regarding the euro, which they fear could create division.  Others see the treaty as a means of guaranteeing austerity without providing for growth.  EU leaders must take the resolution into consideration because of the amount of opposition to the treaty it demonstrates.  The vote also provides some indicator of the popular reception of the treaty, which citizens of several states must approve in referendums.

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.

Hungary’s Majoritarian Rule    19 January 2012

New laws regarding the media, the independence of the national bank, the appointment and retirement of judges, the registration of religious groups, and even a new constitution are all part of the recent changes Fidesz brought to Hungary.  The prime minister, Viktor Orbán, justified the changes in a lengthy address to the European Parliament on 19 January, but many MEPs are calling for the European Union to suspend Hungary’s voting rights in EU bodies as a further means of pressuring Hungary to abandon its recent changes.  Only the far right, Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament support Hungary.

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.

Undergraduate Journal in Slavic Studies Seeks Submissions    18 January 2012

The University of California at Berkeley publishes an undergraduate journal in Slavic and Eurasian studies titled Troika.  The editors are taking submissions for their spring 2012 issue.  Their web site is http://troika.berkeley.edu/.

Unrest in Romania    17 January 2012

Protests have been occurring in Romania against the prime minister, Traian Băsescu, and his government austerity measures.  They turned violent on the weekend, however, when football fans joined protesters.  One of the major issues is the resignation of a popular doctor from the Ministry of Health over the issue of privatizing ambulance services as a cost-saving measure.  Many want the doctor, Raed Arafat, who emigrated to Romania from Palestine, to run for political office, but he stated that he has no such ambition.  A protest on Monday, the fourth day of the disturbances, resulted in the arrest of more than a hundred people.  More on this issue is at http://euobserver.com/19/114887;http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=162618;and http://www.romania-insider.com/fourth-day-of-protests-in-romania-over-100-arrests-in-bucharest/45884/#.

Hungary's Media    17 January 2012

As the Fidesz party tightens its grip on Hungarian politics, the situation for journalists is becoming bleak.  An accusation of bias, for example, can result in a fine that regulators--all Fidesz appointees--can impose on outlets and individual journalists.  Meanwhile, over the weekend, the extreme right party, Jobbik, protested in Budapest.  Its members burned an EU flag because of the EU threats of sanctions against Hungary.  See reports on these events at at 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.

EU Leaders Continue to Work on Draft Treaty    17 January 2012

European Union finance ministers continue to work on a draft treaty that will place fiscal limits on member states.  They expect to have the proposal solidified by the end of the month for EU leaders to consider during a summit.  Finland's foreign minister remains hesitant about committing his country to the treaty, and many Finnish voters appear to share his concerns.  Read more at 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.

Austerity and the "Debt Trap"    15 January 2012

George Irvin, a retired professor of economics at the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague and now a professional research associate at the University of London, has written a brief explanation of austerity and debt.  He maintains that governments must not rely on austerity measures to cut deficits and must examine the ratio of debt to GDP to determine whether the amount of debt a country holds is reasonable.  His brief article is at http://blogs.euobserver.com/irvin/2012/01/14/europes-debt-trap/.

Dr. Miller Leads Tour to Central Europe    12 January 2012

Daniel E. Miller and Lenka Kocková, a travel agent in Prague, will lead a tour to Central Europe from 19 July to 5 August 2012 for individuals, families, and students.  This is the eighth tour that Dr. Miller has led to the region, the fifth in cooperation with Ms. Kocková.  The trip will begin in Milan and proceed to Venice by train.  A private coach will take the participants from Venice to Kaprun, Salzburg, and Vienna in Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia, and Prague in the Czech Republic.

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 miller-dem@earthlink.net or Ms. Kocková at kockovalenka@gmail.com.

Turkish Cypriot Leader Rauf Denktash (1924-2012)    13 January 2012

The leader of the Turkish community on Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, has died after suffering from a number of ailments throughout most of last year.  He was determined to make the Turkish part of Cyprus into a separate state in order to avoid ethnic violence with the Greeks on the island.  He became the first president of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus in 1983 and held that office until 2005.  Turkey is the only country to recognize the state.  Cyprus is in the European Union, but EU policies do not pertain to the Turkish portion of the island.

The AP report of his death is at http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/13/3369090/former-turkish-cypriot-leader.html.

Prospects for a EU Fiscal Treaty    13 January 2012

The drafters of the treaty have agreed to enable states to join a new fiscal treaty after most of the states of the European Union have ratified it.  They also have weakened the stringent provisions about balancing sovereign state budgets, with the focus now will be on budgets that create ballooning deficits.  One goal is to entice the United Kingdom to join with the other European Union states in ratifying a treaty on fiscal policy.  Another is to make the treaty more palatable for states that must hold referenda on the treaty, including Denmark, Finland, Ireland, and Romania.

More information is at http://euobserver.com/19/114825.

Hungarian Recalcitrance    13 January 2012

The European Commission warned Hungary that it has to change parts of its constitution, including wording that curtails the independence of the Central Bank and forces judges to retire at the age of 63.  If Hungary ignores the request, the European Commission will turn to the courts.  In the meantime, protests against the government of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party continue to mount, and his standing in the polls is plummeting.  On 17 January, the European Commission will make its decision about whether to begin legal proceedings.  The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, stated that he is concerned that Hungary is not following many of the precepts of the EU.  Orbán, in turn, has promised nothing, indicating that Hungary and the EU are distant regarding some issues.

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.

Cabinet Formation in Slovenia    13 January 2012

Zoran Janković, whose Positive Slovenia party won a plurality of votes in the December 2011 elections, has failed to form a government.  As a result of the government crisis, Moody and Fitch both reduced the country’s bond rating.  The country’s president has two weeks to determine whether to give Janković the opportunity of again trying his hand at building a coalition or to charge another with the task.

Read more at http://euobserver.com/19/114872.

NPR: Journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway    13 January 2012

NPR correspondent David Greene has reports on the 6,000 mile journey he took on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.  His reports that include the perception of Russians about the future of their country is at http://www.npr.org/news/specials/2012/russia-by-rail/.

Croatians Favor EU Membership    11 January 2012

In a recent poll, 58 percent of Croatians favor European Union membership, which suggests that the referendum to be held on 22 January 2012 to approve Croatia's accession to the EU will be successful.  The news is not only favorable for those who wish to see Croatia join the other 27 states but for supporters of integration in the EU, where the sovereign debt crisis in several countries has caused a wave of political and economic uncertainties that even have called into question the viability of the euro.

See http://euobserver.com/15/114794 for more details on the poll.

Religious Dialog in Kosovo    11 January 2012

ANSAmed, which reports on events in the Mediterranean, has published an article about inter-religious dialog involving Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox in Kosovo.  Such interaction is helping to ease tensions in the country, but Islamic fundamentalism is a growing concern, even among Muslims.  The general secretary of the Muslim community stated that ''we are not in agreement with the Muslim faith as it is practiced in Arab countries, and we do not intend to go in that direction. For this reason, we are concerned about the advance of radical Islam in our country.''  The ambassador from Kosovo to Italy agrees that Islamic fundamentalism is making progress under the leadership of Fuad Ramiqi, who heads Bashkohu [Let Us Unite].  Recent terrorist plots, including the arrest on 7 January 2012 of an Albanian-born Muslim in Miami, FL, for allegedly plotting a bomb attack in the United States, as well as the trial of a Kosovar Albanian for an attack in Germany in 2011 that killed two American servicemen, heighten the concern about increased Islamic fundamentalism in the Balkans.

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.

Art History Majors Power the US Economy    6 January 2012

In an article for Bloomberg.com, the writer Virginia Postrel considers the value of majors outside of the STEM fields, that is, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Read her article at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-06/postrel-how-art-history-majors-power-the-u-s-.html.

Internet Controls in Belarus    6 January 2012

The government of placed stricter controls on the Internet in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko, in office since 1994, has increasingly tightened his grip on power.  The new law requires Internet service providers to report anyone who visits sites the government has banned.  See the AP report at http://news.yahoo.com/belarusian-govt-tightens-control-over-internet-123607899.html.

Czechs Grant Asylum to Tymoshenko’s Husband    6 January 2012

The Czech authorities announced today that they have granted Asylum to Yulia Tymoshenko’s husband, Oleksander Tymoshenko.  A former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko recently has been sentenced to seven years in prison for overstepping her powers.  Tymoshenko is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis that her political rival, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, has manipulated the courts in her case.  See the earlier post on this site about her conviction 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.

Study on Unemployment and Earnings of Graduates    5 January 2012

The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University reported on the earning potential and unemployment rates of college graduates.  Although the study focused on the period of 2009-2010, when there was high unemployment in all fields, there are important conclusions to draw with respect to the humanities and liberal arts as well as the social sciences.  The three fields with the highest earnings for those who had graduate degrees were engineering, computing and mathematics, and sciences.  Those with the highest earning potential with bachelors degrees and some experience were in engineering, computers and mathematics, and architecture.  Those recent graduates earning the largest salaries studied engineering, computers and mathematics, and business.  The lowest unemployment rates were in education and health, but education was one of the lowest paid fields along with the arts.  With the stagnant economy at the time of the survey, it is not surprising that architecture had the highest unemployment rates–worse than inexperienced graduates in education, health, communication, psychology and social work, business, and engineering.

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.

Quo Vadis, Hungaria?    4-6 January 2012

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary's conservative Fidesz party is under fire.  Its most recent problems are soaring unemployment that is greater than 10 percent, rising interest rates for its bonds, and a sinking forint that is resulting from questions about whether the country can negotiate support from the IMF.  Compounding the country's woes, the Fitch rating agency has downgraded Hungary's credit rating to junk status.  The economy has helped fuel protests in Budapest, but the economy is only one of the complaints.

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.

Swiss Attempt to Negotiate between Turkey and Armenia    4 January 2012

The Swiss president and foreign minister told Turkish ambassadors on 2 January that Armenian and Turkish historians should investigate the death of Armenians beginning in 1915 in an effort to normalize relations between the two countries.  The Turks claim that the Turks did not commit genocide against the Armenians and that Turks also died when the Ottoman Empire collapsed.  Resolving the genocide issue is not just a matter of setting the historical record straight but paving the way for the Turks to join the European Union.  The French have blocked progress on Turkey’s entry into the EU and recently passed legislation in the National Assembly to criminalize any denial of the Armenian genocide.  The Swiss have some authority with the Turks and Armenians because they already mediated a settlement between the two countries that resulted in the establishment of diplomatic relations.

See http://www.todayszaman.com/news-266845-switzerland-urges-historians-to-deal-with-armenian-genocide-allegations.html.

Josef Škvorecký (1924-2012)    4 January 2012

The Czech novelist, Josef Škvorecký, died on 3 January at the age of 87.  The Communist regime banned his works, including The Cowards (1958), and Škvorecký supported the 1968 Prague Spring.  After the Warsaw Pact invasion of 21 August 1968, Škvorecký and his wife, Zdena Salivarová (born 1933), a writer, singer, and translator, fled to Canada.  His works included The Tank Battalion (English: The Republic of Whores, 1969), The Miracle Game (1972), and The Engineer of Human Souls (1977).  In 1971, he and his wife established 68 Publishers to publish Czech and Slovak works, including those of dissidents, such as Václav Havel (1936-2011).  In 1999, as president of the Czech Republic, Havel later awarded Škvorecký and Salivarová the prestigious Order of the White Lion.  During his years in Canada, Škvorecký taught English at the University of Toronto. 

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.

Death of Former President Gligorov of Macedonia    2 January 2012

The first president of independent Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov, has died at the age of 94.  An AP report on his involvement in Macedonian independence is available at http://news.yahoo.com/former-macedonian-president-kiro-gligorov-dies-110751686.html.

Russia’s Entry into the WTO    2 January 2012

Russia recently has been admitted to the World Trade Organization.  The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, told Reuters that “We presume that Russia’s WTO accession will help revitalize Russian-US business contacts and qualitatively change the entire range of our economic ties. Of course, to fully realize this task will only be possible after removal of the still existing artificial barriers on the American side, such as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.”  Passed during the Cold War, the Jackson-Vanik amendment restricted trade with the Soviet Union in order to pressure the Soviets to permit emigration from the country and to improve human rights.  President Obama has pledged to repeal the law, which has little impact on Russian-American trade since Russia has been removed from the list for many years.

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.

Russian Human Rights Report    2 January 2012

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a 90-page assessment of human rights titled “The Situation Regarding Human Rights in a Number of States in the World.”  In about 20 pages, it found the United States wanting in several areas, including the continued existence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the multitude of wrongful executions and convictions in the courts, the ability of governors to nominate senators to fill vacancies, the firing of newspaper reporters for their political remarks, and the surveillance of American citizens.  The report faulted NATO for certain aspects of its involvement in Libya, particularly its part in the collateral death of scores of civilians as it targeting of Muammar Gaddafi for removal.  The report also criticized Estonia, which is considering a bill to honor those who fought against the Soviet Union as freedom fighters.  The Russians claim that the bill essentially will honor those who fought for the Nazis, something the Estonian defense minister denied.

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.

Putin’s Desire to Return to the Presidency of Russia    2 January 2012

Prime Minister Putin is determined to return to the Kremlin in the March 2012 elections, despite continued protests.  According to Democracy Now!, Sergei M. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, stated "Nobody sacked me (in 1991). I announced the termination of my presidency, but I explained why I did it. So he should do the same. I would go this way. It would be the best, because then anything positive that he did would be protected."

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.

Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day Concert    1 January 2012

The New Year's Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic has been a tradition since 1939 and is one of the most famous concerts in the world.  Tickets for the event are in such demand that the sponsors have instituted a lottery system  with registration occurring a year in advance.  Waltzes and other compositions from the Strauss family appear in all of the programs, and for years the performance has ended with the Radetzky March by the elder Johann Strauss.  In a display of gaiety uncommon for stayed concert goers, everyone claps to the chorus of the piece.

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!