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

2014 European Tour

Join me from 8 to 23 May on my 2014 tour, “The Second World War in Western and Central Europe” that will visit France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.  We will be traveling for sixteen days to Paris, the beaches of Normandy, Amiens, Aachen, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, and Prague.  The focus of the tour will be the war, but there will be many opportunities to explore other cultural sites, including museums and five medieval cathedrals.  The trip is great for individuals of any age, families, friends, and students.  Full details are available here.

Payments are due on 7 April 2014.

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

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

Table of Contents for the First Quarter of 2014


  1. 1 Kerry and Lavrov    30 March 2014
  2. 2 The Latest News about Ukraine    30 March 2014
  3. 3 Second World War Tour: Final Days    27 March 2014
  4. 4 Stephen Alexander Fischer-Galati (1924-2014)    27 March 2014
  5. 5 News about Ukraine    27 March 2014
  6. 6 (The) Ukraine    27 March 2014
  7. 7 Solomon Wank (1930-2014)    25 March 2014
  8. 8 Czech Republic Adopts EU Fiscal Pact    25 March 2014
  9. 9 Ukraine Withdraws from Crimea    25 March 2014
  10. 10 Saakashvili Will Not Return to Georgia    25 March 2014
  11. 11 Miroslav Štěpán (1945-2014)    25 March 2014
  12. 12 Brussels Forum and Crimea    23 March 2014    UPDATE!
  13. 13 One Tatar’s Death Brings Fears    22 March 2014
  14. 14 EU-Ukraine Sign Partial Association Treaty    22 March 2014
  15. 15 Two Commentators Consider Ukraine    21 March 2014
  16. 16 The EU Plays Wisely    21 March 2014
  17. 17 Slovak Presidential Elections    20 March 2014
  18. 18 Fears about Russia    20 March 2014
  19. 19 Putin’s Speech Regarding Crimea    19 March 2014    UPDATED!
  20. 20 Ukrainian Naval Base in Russian Hands    19 March 2014
  21. 21 Volkswagen Plant in Poland    18 March 2014
  22. 22 Putin Claims No Interest in Eastern Ukraine    18 March 2014
  23. 23 Crimea Annexed    18 March 2018
  24. 24 Sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians    17 March 2014
  25. 25 Referendum in Crimea    16 March 2014    UPDATE!
  26. 26 Putin Plays War Games    13 March 2014    UPDATE!
  27. 27 Crimean Independence    13 March 2014
  28. 28 Ukrainian National Guard    11 March 2014
  29. 29 Corruption and EU Elections in Romania    11 March 2014
  30. 30 Khodorkovsky in Ukraine    11 March 2014
  31. 31 Tatars in Crimea    11 March 2014
  32. 32 Update on Ukraine    11 March 2014
  33. 33 The Economics of the Crisis in Ukraine    11 March 2014
  34. 34 Latest Events in Ukraine    8 March 2014
  35. 35 Two Expert Opinions about Ukraine    8 March 2014
  36. 36 Update on Ukraine    6 March 2014
  37. 37 Ukraine in Crisis: A Historian’s View    5 March 2014
  38. 38 The West’s Alternatives Regarding Ukraine    4 March 2014
  39. 39 NATO Condemns Invasion of Crimea    3 March 2014
  40. 40 Ukraine Mobilizes    2 March 2014
  41. 41 Russia Prepares to Seize Crimea    1 March 2014
  42. 42 Carnuntum    28 February 2014
  43. 43 International Health Care Rankings    28 February 2014
  44. 44 Recent Events in Ukraine and Crimea    28 February 2014
  45. 45 Albania, Protests, and Civil Society    28 February 2014
  46. 46 EU Roma Inclusion Program    28 February 2014
  47. 47 Romania Coalition Government Collapsed    28 February 2014
  48. 48 Snyder, Petro, and Goodman on Ukraine    25 February 2014
  49. 49 Yanukovych on the Wanted List    24 February 2014
  50. 50 Slovakia's EU Election Campaign    24 February 2014
  51. 51 The Lessons of the First World War    23 February 2014
  52. 52 Maryland May Require Holocaust Reparations     23 February 2014
  53. 53 Maria von Trapp (1914-2014)    23 February 2014
  54. 54 Opposition Victory in Ukraine    23 February 2014
  55. 55 Hungary’s Second World War Monument    23 February 2014
  56. 56 The EU Vote in the Czech Republic    21 February 2014
  57. 57 Potential Solution in Ukraine    21 February 2014
  58. 58 Conflict in Ukraine Continues    20 February 2014
  59. 59 Romanian Labor Camp Commander under Investigation    20 February 2014
  60. 60 Eurozone Headed toward Federalization    18 February 2014
  61. 61 Josef Anderle (1924-2014)    18 February 2014
  62. 62 EU May Help to Stop Executions in the US    18 February 2014
  63. 63 Bloodshed in Ukraine    18 February 2014
  64. 64 Vasil’ Bil’ak (1917-2014)    16 February 2014
  65. 65 Vratislav Karel Novák (1942-2014)    15 February 2014
  66. 66 EU Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia and Germany    14 February 2014
  67. 67 What Is Liberalism?    15 February 2014
  68. 68 Nazi Mosquitoes    15 February 2014
  69. 69 Nazi Resort to Become Luxury Apartments    12 February 2014
  70. 70 Shirley Temple Black (1928-2004)    12 February 2014
  71. 71 Pussy Riot Criticizes Russia’s Prisons    12 February 2014
  72. 72 Disturbing Unrest in Bosnia    12 February 2014
  73. 73 Preserving Interwar Romanian Photographs    12 February 2014
  74. 74 Georgia, Moldova, and the EU    12 February 2014
  75. 75 American Faux Pas Concerning Ukraine  12 February 2014
  76. 76 Continued Stalemate in Ukraine    4 February 2014
  77. 77 New Czech Government    31 January 2014
  78. 78 Russian Aid to Ukraine    31 January 2014
  79. 79 Flatulent German Cows    30 January 2014
  80. 80 Yanukovych on Sick Leave    30 January 2014
  81. 81 Soviet and EU Free-Trade Zone?    29 January 2014
  82. 82 Lithuania Wants in the Eurozone    29 January 2014
  83. 83 Polish Kayaker    28 January 2014
  84. 84 Bulgaria, Romania, and the EU    28 January 2014
  85. 85 Developments in Kyiv    28 January 2014
  86. 86 Yanukovych Pledge    24 January 2014
  87. 87 Byzantine Church Discovered in Israel    24 January 2014
  88. 88 Two Protesters Dead in Kyiv    22 January 2014
  89. 89 Protesters and Police Clash in Kyiv    19 January 2014
  90. 90 Putin’s Opinions about Gays    19 January 2014
  91. 91 Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day Concert    18 January 2014
  92. 92 New Czech Prime Minister    18 January 2014
  93. 93 Guelph Treasure    18 January 2014
  94. 94 Anti-Protest Laws in Ukraine    18 January 2014
  95. 95 Ukraine's Oligarchs    16 January 2014
  96. 96 Moldova, the EU, and Russia    16 January 2015
  97. 97 Index of Economic Freedom    16 January 2014
  98. 98 Pigs for Merkel    16 January 2014
  99. 99 The Communist Pollution Record    14 January 2014
  100. 100 Reichstag Fire    13 January 2013
  101. 101 Opposition Leader Beaten in Kyiv    11 January 2014
  102. 102 Update on Ukraine    10 January 2014
  103. 103 Serbia and Kosovo    10 January 2014
  104. 104 Explosion in Prague    3 January 2014
  105. 105 Perković Arrested   3 January 2014
  106. 106 Slovakia Accepts Guantanamo Bay Prisoners    3 January 2014
  107. 107 New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna    1 January 2014
  108. 108 More Stolen Art in Germany    1 January 2014
  109. 109 Gone Is the Lat    1 January 2014

Kerry and Lavrov    30 March 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry met in Paris with the Russian foreign minister, Servei Lavrov, in hopes of diffusing the crisis over Ukraine.  Kerry reiterated America’s position that the Russian annexation of Ukraine was illegitimate, but in a televised address before the meeting, Lavrov had repeated that his country reserves the right to protect Russian speakers outside of Russia.  During Sunday’s meeting, Kerry urged Lavrov to pull back that 40,000 troops near the Ukrainian border to prevent them from destabilizing Ukraine.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/30/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA2S0K020140330 and http://news.yahoo.com/kerry-meets-lavrov-ukraine-urges-troop-pullback-011119771.html.

The Latest News about Ukraine    30 March 2014

In a televised address, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, indicated that Russia is not interested in more territory from Ukraine.  Nevertheless, he indicated that it would be best for Russian speakers if Ukraine federated, giving each portion political and economic control over its own territory.  Lavrov’s comments came as Tatars in Crimea, who constitute about 15 percent of the population, demanded autonomy.  Moscow is attempting to neutralize their demands.  Lavrov likely will reiterate his position when he meets with Secretary of State John Kerry on 31 March.

While on the surface, federation seems a logical choice, it is not easily instituted in areas where there has been a tradition of central rule.  Furthermore, Ukrainians may fear federalization as a means of giving the large minority of Russian speakers in the east the freedom they need to begin demanding that they become a part of Russia.

The presidential election in Ukraine, set for May, has taken an interesting twist.  One of the main contenders, the former boxer and opposition leader, Vitaly Klitschko, has withdrawn his candidacy and has given his backing to “the chocolate king,” Petro Poroshenko, who also was prominent in the opposition to former President Viktor Yanukovych.  In the race, which essentially is between Poroshenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Poroshenko appears to have a respectable lead.

Second World War Tour: Final Days    27 March 2014

Lenka Kocková and Dr. Daniel E. Miller are in the final stages of putting together the 2014 Second World War tour that will take place from 8 to 23 May 2014.  Those interested in participating in the tour should reserve a place by at least 31 March since payment is due on 7 April.  The tour will visit noted Second World War sites in Paris and Normandy in France; Cologne, Berlin, and Dresden in Germany; and Prague in the Czech Republic.  In addition, there will be visits to other cultural sites, and participants will have plenty of opportunities to explore on their own.  For example, there will be five medieval cathedrals on the tour: Paris, Amiens, Aachen, Cologne, and Prague.  Those who are interested in taking the tour for undergraduate or graduate credit may do so through the Department of History at University of West Florida or through their home institution.  Adult participants from the general public from anywhere in the world and of any age are welcome to join the tour.  In fact, most of the participants on these tours are from the public as opposed to students, and they have ranged in age from their early 20s to their middle 70s.  The only requirements are a willingness to be adventuresome and to have good walking shoes!

Bon voyage!

Stephen Alexander Fischer-Galati (1924-2014)    27 March 2014

The historian Stephen Alexander Fischer-Galati died on 10 March in Boulder, CO.  He was born in Romania and left when the Second World War began.  Fischer-Galati completed his doctoral work at Harvard, and he held a number of positions in the United States, including the New College of the University of South Florida in Sarasota.  He was the founder and editor of the East European Quarterly and established the publishing firm East European Monographs that Columbia University Press distributes.  See http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailycamera/obituary.aspx?n=stephen-fischer-galati&pid=170123186.

News about Ukraine    27 March 2014

In return for reforms, the International Monetary Fund announced that it is providing Ukraine with $14-18 billion in standby credit.  That is in addition to the $15 billion from the European Union.  A much smaller loan package from the United States of $1 billion worked its way through Congress on 17 March, and the House and Senate should reconcile the differences between their two bills shortly.  In Ukraine, the controversial former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was imprisoned under Viktor Yanukovych, announced that she will run for the country’s presidency in the May elections.  The strongest contender among many for the position is Vitaly Klitschko, the former boxer who became famous as one of the leaders of the protesters against Yanukovych.

Russia will pay a price for its annexation of Ukraine.  Its economics minister, Alexei Ulyukayev, predicted that the outflow of capital from the country in 2014 could reach $100 billion.  The World Bank anticipates that Russia’s economy will shrink by 1.8 percent, not counting the effect of sanctions.

(The) Ukraine    27 March 2014

The Washington Post recently published an article about whether it is proper to write Ukraine with or without an article, but it was filled with inaccuracies.  The controversy emerged at least four decades ago when Ukrainian immigrants in English-speaking countries argued that since England, France, Germany, and other countries appear without an article, Ukraine should as well–no matter that the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and even United States require an article.  Out of deference to their wishes, academics and publishers began to eliminate the article after 1991, when Ukraine became an independent state..  Similarly, the New York Times announced that it would spell Romania with an o instead of a u after the 1989 revolution.  The Communist regime had demanded the change, which the Americans largely ignored, but the preference of the newly democratic state and the euphoria of the fall of communism in East-Central Europe and the Balkans melted the cold-war stubbornness.  The presence or absence of the article has nothing to do with the independence of Ukraine from the standpoint of grammar.  Certainly, it has no connection with a precise translation from Ukrainian because that Slavic language does not have an article.  In fact, the only Slavic language with an article is Bulgarian, which adds articles as an ending to nouns.
Another difficulty with the piece in The Washington Post is the confusion of the preposition in Slavic languages with the article in English, but prepositions never are translated as articles.  Furthermore, the author addressed the use of two prepositions when referring to Ukraine in Slavic languages.   In the past, Russians spoke of going to or being in Ukraine as na, but since 1991, the Ukrainians preferred v.  Both prepositions mean in, but na also can mean on.  This also has nothing to do with the question of independence, aside from the perception of some Ukrainians.  In Slavic languages, certain locations require v and others must use na.  In Czech, for example, one speaks of being v Washingtonu, that is, in Washington, but because Florida is a peninsula, the proper usage is na Floridě, which one could translate literally as on Florida.  Similarly, in Czech and Slovak, one goes to or is in Ukraine using the preposition na, not v.

Finally, Ukraine, as a name, means at the border, but that can imply a region, as it does in the case of Ukraine, and not simply a strip of land a few kilometers away from an actual border.  Some interpretations of the origin of the term imply that the name relates more to territory, since kraj in Slavic languages may mean district, province, country, and the like.  Those living in the region are an ethnic mix of Eastern Slavs who inhabited the territory since the medieval state of Kievan Rus’, along with Poles, Russians, and Lithuanians, who migrated to the area, and finally Tatars (Mongols) and others who either traversed the area or once ruled it.

The country has no natural boundaries, aside from a small portion in the western border that runs along the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea.  The rivers that help define the territory are hardly a barrier to human movement.  As a result, Ukraine the middle ages and in early-modern Europe has been the cradle of Kievan Rus’, part of Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and the Mongol Horde, or independent.  In modern times, parts of Ukraine have been in Russia, Austria (after 1867 Austria-Hungary), Poland, and Czechoslovakia.  Much of Ukraine was independent for a few years as a result of the March 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the Soviet Union and the Central Powers.  Portions of it entered the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1922, depending on the location.  During the Second World War, certain areas were in the General Government or the Reichskommissariat Ukraine.  As the Red Army repelled the Germans, the territory returned to the Soviet Union.

Solomon Wank (1930-2014)    25 March 2014

The noted Habsburg historian, Solomon Wank, passed away on 19 March.  He taught at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, and his research centered on Austro-Hungarian foreign policy.  He was the former editor of the Austrian History Yearbook and a member of a number of the professional organizations, including the Czechoslovak Studies Association.  See http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=HABSBURG&month=1403&week=d&msg=TSIYJn0mRiVVdp9MCPPRJw.

Czech Republic Adopts EU Fiscal Pact    25 March 2014

The Czech government, now more liberal than in the past, has adopted the European Union’s Fiscal Pact, making the United Kingdom the only member state the only exception.  It requires deficits of 3 percent, debt levels of 60 percent of GDP, and structural deficits of a maximum of 0.5 percent of economic output.  The government has approved the Fiscal Pact, which the legislature must ratify, as a step toward the eventual adoption of the euro.  The country is only required to meet the targets once it enters the eurozone.  See http://euobserver.com/news/123615 and http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/czech-government-approves-joining-eu-fiscal-pact.

Ukraine Withdraws from Crimea    25 March 2014

On Monday, 24 March, a number of news items related to the Crimean crises and Ukraine.  First, Ukraine has ordered its forces to withdraw from Crimea, and the Ukrainian general staff estimated that half of its officers in Crimea have defected to the Russians.  Second, the G7 met at The Hague and formally announced that it is cancelling the Sochi meeting in the summer with Russia.  Also at The Hague, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for the first time with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andriy Deshchytsia, as well as with the American secretary of state, John Kerry.  The major issue was the ongoing crisis in the eastern part of Ukraine.  Finally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin both agreed in a phone call to support an OSCE observer team in eastern Ukraine. See http://news.yahoo.com/russian-troops-seize-ukraine-marine-crimea-soldiers-064157958.html; http://news.yahoo.com/putin-merkel-back-ukraine-osce-mission-phone-call-181957615.html; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26713727; and http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russian-and-ukrainian-foreign-ministers-meet/2014/03/24/88ade884-b382-11e3-bab2-b9602293021d_story.html.

Saakashvili Will Not Return to Georgia    25 March 2014

Georgia’s former president, Mikhail Saakashvili, stated that he will not return to Georgia for questioning about a variety of matters, including the death of the prime minister while he was in office.  Many perceive the charges against him and his associates as politically motivated, and several European Union politicians have encouraged Saakashvili to remain in his wife’s native country, the Netherlands.  See http://news.yahoo.com/saakashvili-says-not-return-georgia-160812902.html.

Miroslav Štěpán (1945-2014)    25 March 2014

The former leader of the Prague Communist party and former member of the Presidium of the Communist party, Miroslav Štěpán, has died.  He was a supporter of harsh crackdowns on protesters in 1988 and 1989, including the famous 17 November 1989 student protest march.  During the 1989 revolution, he once addressed workers, stating that “in no country–not developing, socialist, or capitalist–it is impossible that fifteen-year-old children would determine when the president should go or when he should come and who he should be.”  The workers drowned out his speech, many yelling that they were not children.  For his orders to use water canons and tear gas during the 1989 Velvet Revolution, a court in 1989 sentenced him to four years in prison, but in October 1991, he was released.  He established an extreme left movement in 1993 and in 1995 became the general secretary of the ultraleft Czechoslovak Party of Communists.  He was an unrepentant Communist who never held political office after 1989, even though he twice ran for the Czech Senate.  See http://news.yahoo.com/czech-communist-hardliner-jailed-abuse-power-dies-prague-192451895.html and http://radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/former-communist-hardliner-miroslav-stepan-dies-unrepentant.

Brussels Forum and Crimea    23 March 2014    UPDATE!

For a report on the Brussels Forum, an annual meeting that included European Union, American, and Russian diplomats, see http://euobserver.com/foreign/123577.  There were lively exchanges between Russian and western diplomats, and a major issue was how to prevent further Russian partitions of countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.  Another NATO official speaking at a different event reiterated the threat of a Russian takeover of the Russian-speaking Transnistria in Moldova, a country between Romania and Ukraine.  See http://news.yahoo.com/nato-commander-warns-russian-threat-separatist-moldova-region-121716150.html.  For detailed information on the comments of General Philip Breedlove about Transnistria and elsewhere, see http://euobserver.com/foreign/123588.

Meanwhile, Russian forces are consolidating their hold over Crimea by taking the last remaining military bases.  There has been only a limited amount of resistance, to the credit of the Ukrainian forces, but many of the Ukrainian soldiers are frustrated with their government’s unwillingness to defend the country against Russia.  For the latest base takeovers, see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/world/europe/ukraine.html?hpw&rref=world&_r=0 and http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/22/292834063/major-ukrainian-air-base-in-crimea-handed-over-to-russia.

The European Union was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Ukrainian military should be next, given the remarkable restraint it has shown over the past weeks.  Had its commanders ignored the civilian leaders in Ukraine or had its troops not been so well disciplined, the world would now be facing an ethnic war on the European Union and NATO’s doorstep.

One Tatar’s Death Brings Fears    22 March 2014

Scott Simon of NPR considers the implications around the death of one young Tatar, whom unknown pro-Russian forces in Crimea beat and tortured before disposing his body in a forest.  Tatars in Crimea fear that Russian occupation has unleashed heretofore hidden anti-Tatar sentiments.  The signs of potential persecution may be minor, such as Xs painted on the doors of Tatars, but they are ominous.

EU-Ukraine Sign Partial Association Treaty    22 March 2014

European Union and Ukrainian leaders signed the historic partnership agreement on 21 March, but only 2 percent of the 1,378 pages.  The two sides agreed on political issues, such as joint recognition and the guarantee of Ukraine’s borders.  Another ceremony will take place shortly after the 25 May Ukrainian presidential elections to cover the economic terms, including a free-trade agreement.  There were several reasons for a partial treaty: the desire not to provoke Russia politically and economically, the need for Ukrainian politicians to prepare their citizens for the difficult economic reforms that the treaty will entail, and the desire to placate some EU states that are against enlargement. The complete treaty implies that Ukraine has a right to EU membership if it fulfills all of the treaty’s provisions.  Despite signing a partial agreement, the Ukrainians came away with an important economic concession.  After the ceremony, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, stated: “The European Union also stands ready to help restore macro-economic stability in the country and to remove custom duties on Ukrainian exports to the EU for a while, so as to advance some of the full Agreement's trade benefits. It is a sign of our solidarity.”  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123574; http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/21/us-ukraine-crisis-eu-agreement-idUSBREA2K0JY20140321; and http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/141733.pdf. The text of the full agreement is at http://eeas.europa.eu/ukraine/assoagreement/assoagreement-2013_en.htm.

Two Commentators Consider Ukraine    21 March 2014

In an essay for The New Republic, the author and journalist Anne Applebaum considered the role of crowds in recent revolutionary transformations.  She essentially poses a chicken-egg scenario: do crowds make the revolution (this is unlikely, according to Applebaum) or do the people who take power on the heels of the protest make the difference (for her, this is the crucial factor).  The answer–rather the question–is more nuanced. Crowds usually have leadership, which is what guarantees their growth in number and influence.  So the real deciding factors that will yield a positive outcome of a popular revolution are the type of crowd, its leadership, the people who assume power, and the willingness of the crowd to continue backing the new leaders.  Ukraine is in that final stage, and it seems that, for now, the crowd, although much diminished, is willing to grant its new leaders  more time to consolidate the democratic revolution that Maidan represented.  See http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117091/ukraine-and-other-people-powered-revolutions-are-overrated.

In an article for The Los Angeles Times, historian Timothy Garton Ash, who is at Oxford and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, believes that Ukraine has to abandon hopes of getting back Crimea and focus on not losing more of its territory to Russia.  Its leaders need to promise and deliver reforms that amount to federalization, even though that is something the Russians have encouraged.  For their part, the West must aid through diplomacy, advice, and funding.  Ash’s advice is sound, and it appears that politicians in Brussels, Washington, and Kyiv are doing the sorts of things that Ash recommends.  The question is whether they will manage to do enough and do it quickly to stave of frustration among Ukrainians and separatism among Russian-Ukrainians.  See http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-0321-garton-ash-ukraine-crimea-putin-20140321,0,2390003.story#axzz2wZQHiN1c.

The EU Plays Wisely    21 March 2014

As the European Union and the United States were placing additional sanctions on Russia for invading and annexing Crimea, the AP reported that pro-Russian crowds captured two Ukrainian naval vessels in Sevastopol without any casualties.  The EU announced that it has included another 11 individuals around President Vladimir Putin on its list of those facing sanctions.  It also cancelled the EU-Russia summit scheduled later this year, and both Germany and France also have scuttled high-level meetings with Russia.  The Americans expanded their list of those facing sanctions to 20 individuals and one bank in an effort to target Putin’s financial contacts.  Both the US and the EU are considering even more sanctions should the crisis escalate.  In retaliation, Putin placed travel sanctions on top US officials, including President Barack Obama.  He promised no new sanctions, in the face of the added sanctions from the West, and he mocked the most recent ones, stating that he will open an account at the bank the US targeted. Russia, however, is demanding that Ukraine pay $5 billion in loans and may require the return of $11 billion in previously granted rebates for Russian gas.

The EU’s most important move, however, was not directly linked with Crimea but well may diffuse future Crimea-like crises.  The EU has announced that it will sign an association agreement with Ukraine in a matter of days and prepare a broader agreement within a few months.  It will take similar steps with Georgia and Moldova, both of which have break-away states that Russia recognizes.  This is the sort of approach that the Moldovan president was hoping for in his remarks on 19 March that this web site noted here.  The EU’s policy not only reassures the majority of Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians, but it also will make separation, the loss of EU benefits, and association with Russia less attractive for the break-away regions.

Slovak Presidential Elections    20 March 2014

On 15 March, Slovaks went to the polls to elect a new president, and the two candidates who will face a run-off election on 29 March are the socialist Robert Fico of Smer-SD, who is a native of Topoľčany and the likely winner of the second round, and the entrepreneur and independent candidate Andrej Kiska, who is from Poprad.  Kiska is campaigning as an outsider divorced from the corruption of current parties and politicians.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26588683.

Fears about Russia    20 March 2014

Russia now has control of two Ukrainian naval bases in Crimea and has taken a factory that is part of the assets of Petro Poroshenko, the “chocolate king” who supported the opposition against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.  Ukraine recently announced that it will leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which in 1991 succeeded the Soviet Union, and may require visas for Russians wishing to enter Ukraine  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26659578 and http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1116-conflict-in-crimea.

After imposing some economic sanctions in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and cancelling the G8 economic summit in Sochi that was scheduled for June 2014, European Union leaders are unsure as to their next steps should the Russians take more of Ukraine.  Germany would increase the number of those included on the sanction list.  The French have suggested they would cancel the construction of two Mistral amphibious assault ships for the Russian Navy.  The French foreign minister also noted that the United Kingdom, which hosts a great deal of Russian investment, must share in the economic pain that accompany sanctions.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123536.

The head of NATO,  Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has indicated that Russia may be contemplating a move against Estonia because of stepped-up accusations that the Estonians are mistreating their  Russian-speaking minority.  The border of Estonia, the northern most Baltic State, is less than 100 miles from St. Petersburg, Russia.  There is another concern in the south, where Moldova’s president, Nicolae Timofti, has requested that the EU increase the pace of his country’s accession to the EU.  Moldova borders Ukraine and Romania, and the elongated territory of Transnistria, a 1,600 square mile territory situated between Moldava and Ukraine on the left bank of the Nistru (Dnester) River, has proclaimed its independence from Moldova and wishes to join Russia.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123545 and http://euobserver.com/tickers/123541.  An extremely good article on the situation in Transnistria and Moldova is at http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1136-crimean-gagauzia.

Putin’s Speech Regarding Crimea    19 March 2014    UPDATED!

Upon annexing Crimea on 18 March 2014, President Vladimir Putin addressed deputies of the State Duma, members of the Federation Council, heads of Russian regions, and civic leaders.  He first outlined the historic justifications for Russia’s claim on the peninsula:

Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea. This is also Sevastopol – a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolising Russian military glory and outstanding valour.

In citing Crimea as an important territory of Kievan Rus’, Putin assumed that it was a Russian state.  In fact, it was an early East Slavic state, which developed at a time when differentiations between Russian, Belarussian, and Ukrainian were in their infancy.  In terms of early East Slavic history, Ukraine has as much right to claim Crimea as Russia.  Using history as a justification for claiming territory is always tenuous the farther one goes back in time, and were it not for a strong Russian presence on the peninsula, it would be possible for the Tatars to claim it as part of their historic Mongol Horde (Tatars, of course, are an important minority on the peninsula), and the same could be said for the Greeks and Turks, both of whom controlled Crimea.

Putin also accounted for why Russia suddenly wanted the territory that has been part of Ukraine since 1954:

We accommodated Ukraine not only regarding Crimea, but also on such a complicated matter as the maritime boundary in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. What we proceeded from back then was that good relations with Ukraine matter most for us and they should not fall hostage to deadlock territorial disputes. However, we expected Ukraine to remain our good neighbour . . . . However, this is not how the situation developed. Time and time again attempts were made to deprive Russians of their historical memory, even of their language and to subject them to forced assimilation. Moreover, Russians, just as other citizens of Ukraine are suffering from the constant political and state crisis that has been rocking the country for over 20 years.

The Russian president has been relatively quiet about his analysis of the situation in Ukraine immediately before and shortly after the flight of former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych.  In this speech, however, he explained that:

I understand those who came out on Maidan [the epicenter of the protests that overthrew Yanukovych–DEM] with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. . . . However, those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. . . . Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day.

Putin went on to explain that the new Ukrainian government was preparing a language law that would have tramped on the rights of non-Ukrainian speakers, but Western leaders pressured the Ukrainian government to shelve the proposal, which they likely will revisit in the future.  He called the current government “the ideological heirs of [Stepan] Bandera” (1909-1959), who in the 1930s had struggled for Ukrainian independence.  When the Germans invaded in 1941, Bandera established an independent Ukraine, with the hopes that an alliance with Nazi Germany would guarantee its existence.  The Germans arrested Bandera, eventually holding him at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.  In 1944, the Germans realized that Bandera might be useful in organizing Ukrainian resistance to the Soviets as the Germans retreated.  Once unleashed in the countryside, Bandera’s forces not only fought the Soviets but also persecuted Poles and Jews in an effort to clear Ukraine of minorities.  Putin reasoned that, with the chaos in Ukraine and the lack of respect for non-Ukrainians, the Russians “could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress.”

He addressed Ukraine directly, stating the “we do not want to harm you in any way, or to hurt your national feelings. We have always respected the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state . . . We do not want to divide Ukraine; we do not need that. As for Crimea, it was and remains a Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean-Tatar land.”

In his speech, Putin noted that, since the eighteenth century, Russia has faced attempts to “contain” it.  Furthermore, he decried the efforts of the European Union and the United States, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, to advance their influence eastward, without regard to Russian strategic interests.  He also reassured Russians that the country will weather the sanctions that the West has imposed in it.

Given the gravity of the Crimean crisis in the context of Russian strategic and ethnic interests, Putin’s speech is a crucial window to understanding the Kremlim’s perspective on Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region.  It will remain one of the landmark documents of post-1991 Russian history.  For the complete text of Putin’s speech, see http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/6889#sel=.

Ukrainian Naval Base in Russian Hands    19 March 2014

Russian troops have taken the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy in the port city of Sevastopol.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russian-forces-storm-ukraine-naval-headquarters-crimea-121414731--finance.html.

Volkswagen Plant in Poland    18 March 2014

Volkswagen has announced that it will construct a plant to produce the Crafter delivery van in Września, Poland, just east of Poznań.  The facility will employ at least 2300 individuals, and it will begin to produce vehicles in late 2016. The Polish worker is approximately 5.5 times cheaper than a German worker.  See http://news.yahoo.com/volkswagen-spend-over-1-billion-van-plant-poland-111731886--sector.html.

Putin Claims No Interest in Eastern Ukraine    18 March 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that he has no interest in the eastern part of Ukraine but that reattaching Crimea to Russia corrected an injustice that took place 60 years ago.  In other events related to the crisis, Russians allegedly shot to death a Ukrainian officer in Crimea while they were taking over part of a base.  The United States and Germany will send inspectors to fly over Belarus and Russia to determine specifics about troop movements as part of the Open Skies agreement.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/world/europe/ukraine.html?hpw&rref=world&_r=0; and http://rt.com/news/usa-inspection-russia-skies-258/.

Crimea Annexed    18 March 2018

On 18 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea into the Russian Federation, after having recognized Crimea as an independent state the day before.  The celebratory atmosphere among the Crimean representatives as well as Putin and those around him during the signing did not resound abroad in the same manner.  Ukraine responded with a vow that it never will acknowledge the Russian seizure of Crimea, and western countries have begun to announce their support of Kiv.  Putin still must secure ratification and approval of the annexation treaty, but that appears to be a formality.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26630062.

Sanctions against Russians and Ukrainians    17 March 2014

The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions that involve travel bans and asset freezes against Russians and Ukrainians after the referendum on Sunday, 16 March, in Crimea.  Of those who voted, 96.77 percent expressed their desire to become part of Russia (the voter turnout was 83 percent).  The US and EU do not recognize Russia’s occupation of Crimea or the validity of the referendum.  In response to the voting, the US named 11 individuals, including former Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych and two individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The EU list of sanctions includes 21 individuals, but officials did not make it public.

The press release from the White House that describes the sanctions and includes the list of names is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/03/17/fact-sheet-ukraine-related-sanctions.  See also http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/03/17/ukraine-crisis-idINL6N0ME0TR20140317.

Referendum in Crimea    16 March 2014    UPDATE!

Authorities in Crimea claim that more than 95 percent of voters have elected to have Crimea join Russia.  Ukraine and many in Crimea, including the Crimean Tatars, are criticizing the results and the conditions under which the referendum took place.  Depending on Russia’s next steps, the West may impose sanctions on Russia.  With tens of thousands in Moscow protesting Russia’s handling of the situation in Crimea, President Vladimir Putin may at least delay Russia’s annexation of Crimea and may hesitate to take more Ukrainian territory.  See http://news.yahoo.com/crimeans-overwhelmingly-vote-secession-203613036.html and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26593249.


The White House released a statement condemning the referendum in Crimea, even before the authorities released the final results.  It is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/03/16/statement-press-secretary-ukraine.

Putin Plays War Games    13 March 2014    UPDATE!

Russia initiated war games close to the Ukrainian border, and the United States sent fighter jets to central Poland. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has attempted to keep good ties with Russia, warned that ineffective negotiations over Crimea will result in the European Union taking actions that “will cause massive damage to Russia, both economically and politically.”  Merkel ruled out military action.

Early Friday morning, 14 March (13 March in the US), rival Ukrainian and Russian demonstrators in Donetsk scuffled after managing to break a police line, and one person died.

This is the sort of incident that President Vladimir Putin will use as a pretext for invading the eastern part of Ukraine in order to partition the country or to occupy all of Ukraine.  With his prior remarks that Russia has the right to intervene in Ukraine to protect its interests, Putin would not exclude an invasion of Ukraine.  He also is aware that the West will do nothing militarily to risk a war with Russia over Ukraine.  Furthermore, because the West’s need for Russian petroleum products, including natural gas, and rubles for investment, he likely will gamble on the fact that sanctions would not be so economically disruptive, especially in the long run.  There are many who are drawing parallels between Ukraine and Georgia in 2008 and recent examples of countries fracturing,, but the most appropriate parallel, although not precise, by any means, is the Munich Agreement of 1938, when France, Britain, and Italy allowed Germany to partition Czechoslovakia.  On the dangers of such comparisons, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/10/why-america-must-stop-comparing-ukraine-to-world-war-ii.html and http://hnn.us/article/154995.

The referendum in Crimea is this Sunday.

Crimean Independence    13 March 2014

The Crimean parliament has voted to declare independence from Ukraine, but if the referendum to be held on Sunday shows that the majority are in favor of unification with Russia, Crimea will open negotiations to become a republic within Russia.  For details and other updates, see http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1116-conflict-in-crimea.  Meanwhile, the president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, stated that the country will not use force against Russia   Action in Crimea would expose the eastern border regions.  Furthermore, he reasoned that “"no one should doubt that Ukrainians are prepared to defend their country . . . [but] “the memory of our people's terrible losses during the [recent] protests in Kiev is still fresh; we cannot permit more bloodshed.”  See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/12/289398287/ukraine-wont-fight-russia-in-crimea-acting-president-says?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140312.

Ukrainian National Guard    11 March 2014

The Ukrainian government has created a national guard to supplement its military forces, which it said are ineffective because of the misrule of President Victor Yanukovych.  The government stressed that the national guard and the military are not to provoke Russia, which would welcome any opportunity to escalate the ongoing crisis, and it emphasized that the national guard is to protect citizens “from criminals and from internal or external aggression.”  The Ukrainian prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, claimed that the1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances required that Russia remove its troops from Crimea and that the United States, United Kingdom, France, and China help defend Ukraine, although the treaty contains no specific intervention clauses.  At the same time, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons when it joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994, and Yatseniuk warned that the outcome of the standoff with Russia will determine whether world leaders can persuade North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear weapons.  See http://news.yahoo.com/confrontation-ukraine-diplomacy-stalls-011314222.html.

Corruption and EU Elections in Romania    11 March 2014

As Romania approaches the elections for members of the European Parliament, its governing coalition split, and the two former allies are running separately: the Social Democratic party under the prime minister, Victor Ponta, and the National Liberal party of Crin Antonescu.  Corruption continues to be a major problem in the country, and several political bribes are in the news.  As a sign of the corrupt nature of Romanian politics, Ponta’s wife is running as a European Parliament candidate, as is the wife of Antonescu and perhaps the daughter of Romania’s president.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123389.

Khodorkovsky in Ukraine    11 March 2014

The Russian dissident, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was released from prison through an amnesty program and is now living in Switzerland, addressed several audiences while on a tour of Ukraine.  He contends that Russian President Vladimir Putin billed the Ukrainian revolution as a coup d’etat because he fears the repercussions for Russian politics.  He noted that “Ukraine could become a new beacon and source of values, values for a new Russia, which has not yet been created.”  Khodorkovsky warned Ukrainians not to expect help from the West to solve the Crimean crisis, but he encouraged his audiences by claiming that Ukraine can solve the crisis on its own and should do so peacefully.  He suggested wide-ranging autonomy as a solution.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123419.

Tatars in Crimea    11 March 2014

Several articles have appeared that consider the fears of Tatars in Crimea if the peninsula comes under Russian rule.  See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/05/tartar-ukraine-sunni-muslims-threat-russian-rule-crimea; http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-03-05/crimean-tatars-ukraine-russia-standoff-full-risk; and

Update on Ukraine    11 March 2014

●A summary of the military tensions over the last few days in Crimea is available at http://news.yahoo.com/russian-forces-tighten-grip-crimea-despite-u-warning-100820755.html.
●Tensions between Russians and Ukrainian inhabitants of Crimea are high but now have flared in the eastern part of Ukraine.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26503478.
●Vitaly Klitschko, a presidential candidate in Ukraine, cancelled a rally for Ukrainian unity in Donetsk because of the potential for ethnic violence.  Some women supporting Ukrainian unity nevertheless came to the meeting place and had to flee Russian activists, and one was beaten.  See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10686420/Ukraine-crisis-Vitaly-Klitschko-forced-to-cancel-rally-as-violence-flares-in-Crimea.html.

The Economics of the Crisis in Ukraine    11 March 2014

In a recent editorial for Al Jazeera, Remi Piet, who teaches international affairs at Qatar University in Doha, Qatar, explains the role of economic moguls in the ouster of President Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine and the potential impact of economics on the current Crimean crisis.  See http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/03/ukraine-goodbye-cold-war-hello-g-20143645051692739.html.

For a lighter approach to the issue, see Kai Rissdal’s commentary “Loving the Global Economy” for PRI’s Marketplace at http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/new-cold-war/loving-global-economy.

Latest Events in Ukraine    8 March 2014

●On 8 March, Russians have seized a missile defense post and a guard post from Ukrainians.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-standoff-intensifies-russia-says-sanctions-boomerang-021849044.html.
●On 7 March, at a convention of the the European People’s party, which includes Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-Christian Socialist Union and Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform in Poland, expressed its support for Ukraine eventually becoming a member of the European Union.  France is hesitant about supporting Ukraine’s membership.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123396.
●On 7 March, the American Defense Intelligence Agency stated that it was aware of Russian preparations to invade Crimea a week to ten days before it began.  See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/07/286922555/u-s-knew-of-imminent-move-in-crimea-top-official-says?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140307.

Two Expert Opinions about Ukraine    8 March 2014

●Walter G. Moss, a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University, discusses the historical parallels to Russia’s Crimean invasion at http://hnn.us/article/154906.
●Charles King, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, examines the historical importance of Crimea to Russia at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/03/opinion/crimea-the-tinderbox.html?_r=0.

Update on Ukraine    6 March 2014

On 6 March, Crimea’s parliament has voted to join Russia and to hold a referendum on 16 March on the issue, a move diplomats argue could not have occurred without the approval of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.  The projected referendum is earlier than previously announced dates.  Meanwhile, the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, offered to grant Crimea more autonomy to prevent it from entering Russia.

On 5 March, the United States Department of State released “President Putin’s Fiction: Ten False Claims about Ukraine,” which debunks Putin’s assertions that Russia is not engaging in a military occupation of Crimea.  The web address for the site is http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/03/222988.htm.  On the same day, the American secretary of state, John Kerry, attempted to arrange a meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers, but the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, declined the invitation.  Kerry’s attempt may have been genuine, but it may have been a publicity stunt.  Logically, Lavrov could not engage in any negotiation with his Ukrainian counterpart because Russia does not recognize the new government of Ukraine.

Because of the crisis, the value of the Russian rouble dropped 10-12 percent on 3 March, gained 5-6 percent on 4 March, and then fell again by less than 2 percent on 5 March.  Also on 5 March, the European Union voted to provide Ukraine with €11 billion ($15 billion) in loans and grants over the next year and to consider visa-free travel for Ukrainians wishing to visit the EU.  The day before, the Ukrainian parliament ratified a €610 million loan from the EU that officials had negotiated during the Yanukovych regime.  The EU Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, indicated that the EU could provide the €610 million  quickly.

Supporters of Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych bugged a phone conversation between the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs, Catherine Ashton, and the Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet, after the latter’s one-day visit to Ukraine.  “The impressions are sad,” Paet admitted, because the politicians in the coalition have a “dirty past.”  He was referring to the fact that many of the ministers have ties with the old regime, but many believe their expertise is useful.  Paet noted that the physician and respected opposition leader, Olga Bohomolets, would enter the government only if she could have her own team and enact real healthcare reforms.  The Regions party has accepted the new government, but there have been assaults against parliament members.  Furthermore, the protesters will remain on the streets until real reforms begin.  Paet recommended a loan package and real reforms.  He expressed concerns that unrest may spread among Russians in the east and that some in the city of Donetsk already want to join Russia.  Ashton noted that she admonished the victorious opposition about needing “to get through the short term first,” focusing on anti-corruption, and cooperating with “people working alongside until elections,” by which she meant advisors from the EU who are experts on political and economic reforms.  That way, the citizens can become “confident in the [political] process.”  According to Paet, Bogomolets claimed, based on her medical experience, that before the ouster of Yanukovych, the snipers killed both protesters and police.  The current government does not want to investigate the matter, leading Paet to suspect that those responsible might be within the new coalition.  Ashton stated that an investigation would be appropriate, and Paet concluded that such information could discredit the new government.  The Estonian foreign ministry confirmed the conversation as genuine.

Ukraine in Crisis: A Historian’s View    5 March 2014

David Austin Walsh, the editor of History News Network, interviewed Indiana University’s Padraic Kenney, a professor of history who specializes in the history of East-Central and Eastern Europe.  The interview is at http://hnn.us/article/154891.

The West’s Alternatives Regarding Ukraine    4 March 2014

The response of the United Kingdom to the Crimean crisis now is apparent, even though the government claims that the secret document the BBC mistakenly photographed and leaked was not a policy roadmap (the photograph and readable text is available at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-26426969).  Apparently, the UK places business profits before Ukraine’s interests because it will not harm Russia’s assets in The City over the matter.  Similarly, it decided that it only will humor Poland, which requested an emergency meeting of NATO, evoking Paragraph Four of the treaty because it feels its borders are threatened.  The signal to President Vladimir Putin is clear: Ukraine does not fall within the economic or military interests of the UK.  The EU may announce an economic aid package on Wednesday, while the International Monetary Fund wants more political stability and may wait until the 25 May presidential elections in Ukraine.  Support for Ukraine is slow in coming from these quarters as well.  America is more determined to at least embarrass or even punish Russia for its actions in Crimea than its allies because it is considering economic sanctions against Russian leaders.  Furthermore, it has cancelled various military cooperative efforts.  Finally, Secretary of State John Kerry, while visiting Ukraine, has promised a billion dollars in aid, primarily in an effort to offset Russia’s anticipated economic retaliation against Ukraine, which is dependent on Russian natural gas, as is Germany and much of the European Union.

On 4 March, Putin stated that Russia will not take military action against Ukraine, unless it is a matter of last resort.  The unanswered questions, of course, are how patient Russia would be and what it demands of Ukraine.  Profits are paramount, however, and the Russian rouble, which lost value as of Monday over the occupation of Crimea and the threat of economic sanctions from the West, is rebounding on Tuesday, after Putin’s statement.  

Based on the West’s economic and strategic concerns, Ukraine is of marginal interest.  Were it to be more important, the EU would have acted in a more concerted way to bolster the new government in Kyiv through diplomatic and economic support.  Furthermore, the US, EU, and IMF would have taken steps quickly and in unison and not spent days discussing what action they might take in the near or distant future.  At least the United States has been more resolute in demonstrating its support of Ukraine.  In the end, Ukraine may never recover Crimea, but now policy makers must ask how shaken is the Ukrainians’ faith in the West and its willingness to aid in the economic and military defense of Ukraine, should that country form a closer partnership with the EU and NATO.  Apparently, neither Russia nor the West has abandoned cold-war thinking.

NATO Condemns Invasion of Crimea    3 March 2014

At a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO has condemned the Russian invasion of Crimea and has called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, which is one of the members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.  NATO’s statement, which is available at http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_107681.htm, is diplomatic in nature and lists no consequences for Russia’s actions.  See also http://euobserver.com/foreign/123329.

Ukraine Mobilizes    2 March 2014

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke separately with President Vladimir Putin as tensions escalated over the Russian invasion of Crimea and the continued threat of additional Russian action against its neighbor to the west.  In response to Russia’s actions, the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, announced the mobilization of his country’s military, claiming that Russia’s action “ is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country.”  The US at the United Nations has called for Russian-Ukrainian negotiations with international observers on the ground in Ukraine to prevent conflict.  The US secretary of state, John Kerry, will visit Ukraine in a show of support of Ukrainiane and to discuss options.  See http://news.yahoo.com/putin-ready-invade-ukraine-kiev-warns-war-011805827--finance.html and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/02/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA1Q1E820140302.

Russia Prepares to Seize Crimea    1 March 2014

Russia’s parliament has approved President Vladimir Putin’s request for troops to be stationed in Ukraine until the situation there “normalizes,” a phrase reminiscent of the terminology associated with the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  On 28 February, President Barack Obama warned Russia that there would be “costs” for invading Ukraine after soldiers in unmarked uniforms took over two airports in Crimea, reinforcements arrived at Russian bases in Crimea, Russian troop exercises occurred near Ukraine’s borders, and Russian rhetoric against Ukraine’s new government was belligerent.  Furthermore, the Crimean legislature and Sergey Aksyonov, its prime minister (the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea), have called on Russia for assistance.  President Obama has praised the new Ukrainian government for its restraint.  The president of Ukraine, Olexander Turchynov, appealed to the Russian government to stop provocations that it can use as a prelude to annexing Crimea and to begin negotiations.  Some in Ukraine, however, are calling for military mobilization.

Shy of a civil war and a war with a much more powerful Russia that it certainly would not win, Ukraine can do little to prevent Russia from having its way regarding Crimea, which has been a part of Ukraine only for the past 60 years.  For this reason, the situation in Ukraine is reminiscent to that of 2008 in Georgia.  Ukraine may well lose Crimea, but another question will be whether Russia will tolerate the presence of additional Russian minorities in a Ukraine that is abandoning Moscow and is looking toward Brussels.  In all of Ukraine, which has approximately 45.5 million people, Russians are approximately 17 percent of the population, while Ukrainians account for about 78 percent.  Aside from Crimea, there are approximately seven million Russians in Ukraine.  More than two dozen of Ukraine’s 490 districts and more than three dozen out of 118 city districts are more than 50 percent Russian.  Most of these districts are in the east and close to the Russian border.  Since geography has not endowed Ukraine with natural borders, Ukraine historically has had fluid borders, Russian desires to partition Ukraine, assuming it cannot bring the entire country back into its fold, may not stop with Crimea.  Unfortunately for the Ukrainians, their country has become a test case of how close the Russians will tolerate the potential expansion of the European Union and NATO.

Carnuntum    28 February 2014

In September 2011, there was a posting on this website about the discovery of a gladiator school in the ancient Roman settlement of Carnuntum, not far from Vienna, Austria.  Archaeological research has determined that the school of more than 30,000 square feet had living quarters, recovery facilities for gladiators, courtyards for various training purposes, and a small wooden practice stadium.  Researchers have constructed a virtual three-dimensional model of the school that is available at http://www.livescience.com/43709-ancient-gladiator-school-found-in-austria.html.

International Health Care Rankings    28 February 2014

Bloomberg regularly posts various lists, and the most recent among its scores of offerings covers health care.  There are 48 categories, each with an efficiency score based on life expectancy, health-care cost as a percentage of GDP, and health-care cost per capita.  The most efficient, at 92.6 percent, is Hong Kong, while the least efficient is Brazil, at 17.4 percent.  The United States is ranked at 46th place, with 30.8 percent, just above Serbia and Brazil.  Doing better than the US is Iran (45th place), Turkey (44th place), the Dominican Republic (43rd place), and Columbia (42nd place).  Communist-run Cuba came in at 28th place, with an efficiency of 46.8 percent (North Korea is not ranked).  Results for the ranked Central European and Balkan countries, most of which inherited the communist health-care systems and all of which have national health-care systems, are as follows:

Austria – 16th (54.4 percent)
Poland – 21st (50.6 percent)
Czech Republic – 24th (48.9 percent)
Germany and Greece – 30th (45.5. percent)
Romania – 33rd (44.9 percent)
Slovakia – 36th (41.1 percent)
Hungary – 38th (38.1 percent)
Bulgaria – 41st (37.0 percent)

Life expectancy in the US is at 78.6 years (24th on the list), while the highest, Hong Kong, is at 83.4 years, and the worst is Iran, with 73.0 years.  In Central Europe and the Balkans, Austria, Germany, and Greece have better life expectancies than the US.

Recent Events in Ukraine and Crimea    28 February 2014

After the euphoria in much of Ukraine after former President Victor Yanukovych fled Kyiv, problems emerged.  As the Ukrainians pieced together a new government that reflected a wide range of interests and included experts, diplomats, and former dissidents, Russia refused to recognize the country’s new president and government.  On 26 February Russia began what it claimed were previously scheduled military maneuvers near Ukraine’s borders.

Yanukovych is now on the Ukrainian government’s most wanted list for mass murder, and the government wants him tried in The Hague.  The Ukrainian authorities also have warrants out on approximately 50 of Yanukovych’s associates.  On 28 February, Yanukovych defended himself during a television appearance from Rostov-on-Don, Russia, blaming fascists for driving him from power and vowing to continue struggling “for Ukraine’s future.”  Meanwhile, various countries are taking steps to freeze the assets of Yanukovych and those around him.  Ukrainian government sources revealed that Yanukovych, his son, and their associates stole approximately $37 billion from government coffers.  Ironically, the United States, European Union, and International Monetary Fund are considering a €25 billion loan over the next two years for Ukraine to avoid bankruptcy.

Events in Crimea have been most disturbing.  Unrest broke out in the predominantly Russian province, and on 27 February, gunmen seized the local parliament, where they hoisted a Russian flag.  On Friday, 28 February, the local parliament voted to conduct a referendum regarding Crimea’s sovereignty.  On that same day, commandos in more than ten Russian helicopters took over two airports in the province.  The Russians have denied involvement, claiming the men were local irregular commandos, but Ukrainian border police stated that the helicopters had entered Ukrainian air space from Russia.  Despite the roadblocks and the presence of armed men with no insignia, the airports are functioning normally.  In the past few days, the West has urged Russia to respect Ukraine’s integrity, and both the Russians and Western powers have agreed that Ukraine must remain united.  The question is whether Russia believes that it must invade Ukraine to preserve its unity and insure its friendliness to Moscow.  During an interview on 27 February with NPR, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, responded this way when pushed to comment about Russian involvement in a separatist movement and whether Russia would invade Ukraine: “We can't know for sure how Russia will react to these events. But I don't think, I, as British foreign secretary, should be talking up the tension in any way. So I hope that all countries will approach it in that way. And I'm not going to feed the sense of an intensifying crisis in what I say.”

In antiquity, Crimea hosted a number of people, including the Greeks.  Kievan Rus had the peninsula in the tenth and eleventh centuries, after which it went to the Byzantine Empire and then other states.  It was a tributary state under the Ottoman Empire until the Russians came into possession of it through the important 1774 Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, which also placed Christians in the Ottoman Empire under Russian protection, giving the Russians an excuse to intervene in Ottoman affairs.  In 1783, Russia annexed Crimea, which remained a part of Russia into the twentieth century.  During the Second World War, the Germans occupied Crimea, and once they departed, Joseph Stalin ordered the expulsion of non-Russian groups, including the Crimean Tatars, claiming that they had collaborated with the enemy.  Immediately before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Crimean Tatars began to return legally to Crimea.  In February 1945, at the end of the Second World War, Winston S. Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Stalin met in the Crimean city of Yalta to discuss strategies for the last stages of the war, including the new Polish borders.  In 1954, Nikita S. Khrushchev, who was Russian but who had spent a part of his early career in Ukraine, transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine.  When Ukraine became independent in 1991, Crimea, with its large Russian population, received autonomy.  The Russians and Ukrainians divided the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet, and the Russian fleet remained at its base in Sevastopol.  The population of Crimea is just shy of two million, 58 percent of which are Russian, 24 percent are Ukrainian, and 12 percent are Tatar.

See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10665800/Ukraines-new-government-Whos-who.html; http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-warns-russia-gunmen-seize-crimea-parliament-144917725--sector.html;  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2014/02/ukraine-rivals-clash-as-russia-drills-troops-2014226133046510360.html; http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1050-crisis-in-kyiv-continuing-coverage-of-euromaidan-protests-in-ukraine; http://news.yahoo.com/alarm-ukraine-putin-puts-russian-troops-alert-131539654.html; http://news.yahoo.com/u-warns-banks-watch-ousted-ukraine-leader-moving-051953118--sector.html; http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/28/283878194/ousted-president-is-ready-to-fight-for-the-future-of-ukraine?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140228; http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-yanukovich-says-continue-struggle-ukraines-future-132905478--finance.html; http://news.yahoo.com/armed-standoff-pro-russian-region-raises-ukraine-tension-033318395.html; http://euobserver.com/foreign/123261; http://www.npr.org/2014/02/28/283779824/ukraine-says-russian-forces-block-airport?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140228; http://nprberlin.de/post/british-diplomat-weighs-continental-crises (Hague interview); and http://hnn.us/article/154867 (an interview with Charles E. King, a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University that provides background on the recent history of Crimea).

Albania, Protests, and Civil Society    28 February 2014

When the Albanian government recently indicated that it would accept Syrian chemical weapons for disposal, Albanians protested, and the government reversed its decision.  Protests in Albania have become commonplace, and their targets are policies of the right and the left.  For a decade, a student protest organization, Mjaft (Enough), has been effective in getting people out on the streets.  It does not welcome political interference, and it has an uneasy relationship with its former leader, Erion Veliaj, who became a Socialist and government minister.  See http://euobserver.com/news/123272.

EU Roma Inclusion Program    28 February 2014

László Andor, the European Union commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion, has announced a program targeted to improve the record of social inclusion of Roma in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Romania.  The EU will invest approximately a million euros into education, employment, housing, and health for Roma citizens in the target countries to reduce “prejudice, intolerance, abuse, and social exclusion on a daily basis.”  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/123271 and http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-193_en.htm.

Romania Coalition Government Collapsed    28 February 2014

The Liberals have withdrawn from the center-left government of  Victor Ponta in Romania, and Ponta’s Social Democratic party is suffering from infighting.  The difficulties involve a combination of policies and political infighting.  Despite the difficulties, analysts expect Ponta to continue in office.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/123274; http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/25/romania-politics-idUSL3N0LU41B20140225; http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/25/us-romania-government-idUSBREA1O1ON20140225; and http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/2014/february/romanian-government-teeters-on-collapse/79821.aspx.

Snyder, Petro, and Goodman on Ukraine    25 February 2014

Timothy Snyder of Yale University, Nicolai Petro of Rhode Island University, and the reporter Amy Goodman discuss events in Ukraine at Democracy Now!  They consider the nature of the coup d’etat that ultimately removed former President Victor Yanukovych from power and the current political role of Right Sector, which was instrumental in causing Yanukovych to flee but has no base in the Rada or in the government that is forming.  Other topics are Yulia Tymoshenko and the potential of an east-west division of Ukraine.  See http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/24/a_coup_or_a_revolution_ukraine.

Yanukovych on the Wanted List    24 February 2014

Ex-President Victor Yanukovych is wanted for mass murder, according to an announcement Ukrainian officials made today.  Meanwhile, Ukrainian citizens toured his lavish residence and marveled at the ostentatious display of luxury.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-sets-european-course-ouster-yanukovich-022458499--business.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/documents-ukraine-leader-39-home-detail-spending-193927272.html?vp=1.

Slovakia's EU Election Campaign    24 February 2014

Smer-SD, the ruling socialist party in Slovakia, has announced that Maroš Šefčovič, who is a commission vice president and who heads inter-institutional relations and administration in Brussels, will lead the party’s ticket and will campaign energetically before the May EU Parliament elections.  The party has not yet announced its entire slate of candidates.  With Šefčovič’s energetic approach, the party is not only hoping to claim a victory in the elections but to increase citizens’ awareness and interest in the European Parliament.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123241.

The Lessons of the First World War    23 February 2014

As the world approaches the centenary of the opening of the First World War this coming August, Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has written an essay in The National Review that considers the lessons of the First World War.  Hanson notes several lessons, including the faulty diplomacy and the German military’s mistaken notion that it could defeat France quickly, but he focuses in the end on the need for America to remain engaged in international affairs.  The question, of course, is whether the US can remain engaged without resorting to conflict with the hopes of preventing conflict and whether it can learn from the European Union that sanctions and economic diplomacy may be just as strong as sabre rattling.  Other factors that Hanson could have included in his essay were the belief in the invincibility of modern weapons, chauvinistic nationalism (Hanson mentions but does not discuss “unchecked nationalism”), and a press that reveled in the profits it garnered from feeding the nationalist bravado.  Hanson has other problematic approaches, such as the notion that “Versailles was not harsh.”   For Hanson’s essay, see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/371300/lessons-world-war-i-victor-davis-hanson.

Maryland May Require Holocaust Reparations     23 February 2014

Maryland may require Keolis, a French firm bidding to construct a rail line in the state, to pay reparations for the role of its predecessor company in transporting Jews to concentration camps during the holocaust.  Keolis denies playing a role in the transports, claiming that it did not exist in its current form during the war, that there were no options but to transport the Jews, and that there were no profits to be had on such a venture.  See http://www.npr.org/2014/02/21/280286640/maryland-bill-may-require-holocaust-reparations-from-rail-company?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140221.

Maria von Trapp (1914-2014)    23 February 2014

The last remaining child of the von Trapp family to flee Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 that inspired The Sound of Music, Maria von Trapp, died on 18 February at her Vermont home.  See http://movies.yahoo.com/news/maria-von-trapp-99-dies-vermont-005546425.html.

Opposition Victory in Ukraine    23 February 2014

The European Union and American economic sanctions against Ukraine that were imposed on 20 February as well as the settlement that same day that the foreign ministers of Poland, Germany, and France negotiated between the opposition leaders in Ukraine and President Victor Yanukovych that received a nod of approval from the United States were effective.  Afterward, on 22 February, the Ukrainian Rada, including Yanukovych’s own party, voted to oust Yanukovych as president and to free Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was imprisoned in October 2011, allegedly for political purposes.  In her first act as a free woman, Tymoshenko addressed the protesters in Kyiv, congratulating them for their courage and success.  She is well-known and may run for president, but many Ukrainians associate her with the country’s troubled past.  Finally, she may need to seek medical attention since her health was an issue during her incarceration.  In the meantime, as the Rada released Tymoshenko and stripped Yanukovych of his dictatorial powers, the security forces disappeared from Kyiv, and Yanukovych fled the capital for the eastern part of the country, where he referred to the change in power as a coup, an opinion which the Russians officially echoed.  In Kyiv, protesters occupied the presidential grounds and revealed the opulent lifestyle of Yanukovych.  On 22 February, the Rada elected Oleksander Turchinov (born 1964), the new speaker of the Rada and an ally of Tymoshenko, as interim president.  The Rada also removed most of the members of Yanukovych’s government, and Turchinov is in the process of appointing new ministers.  He set the date of 25 May for new presidential elections.

A combination months of unrelenting protests as well as the last-minute imposition of economic sanctions along with EU-led negotiations brought down one of Eastern Europe’s dictators.  By forcing Yanukovych from power, Ukraine avoided the scenario that gripped Romania in 1989, when security forces rallied with the communist leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu, against the police, military, and protesters during a brief civil war that ended with the dramatic capture, trial, and execution of Ceauşescu and his wife.  The successes in Ukraine of the past few days pave the way for another chance at building democracy, which was unsuccessful after the November 2004 Orange Revolution that occurred after Viktor Yanukovych had rigged the presidential elections.  He did not get into office then, but he managed to do so in 2010, after elections that observers accepted as fair.  Now, the Ukrainians may be more savvy about their political choices, but the fact that they are willing to draw closer to the EU and that the EU will welcome Ukraine with an association agreement and billions of euros of investment may improve Ukraine’s chances for economic recover and prosperity as well as political stability.

Although Russia is openly critical of the recent events that removed Yanukovych, it is unlikely that Russia would risk international condemnation with any covert or overt intervention.  There still is a risk of unrest in Ukraine because the eastern and southern parts of the country have large Russian minorities, but there is a Russian majority only in Crimea.  Furthermore, Yanukovych, whose own party abandoned him, is discredited and cannot serve as a rallying point to draw together the few Ukrainians who had supported him and Russians in Ukraine.  There is no solidified Russian resistance in Ukraine, and one is unlikely to develop if a pluralistic democracy emerges.  In that case, Ukraine will avoid civil war and ultimately will serve as a democratic example to Belarus, Russia, and other former Soviet states.

Media Sources

2) On interviews with protesters, see http://euobserver.com/foreign/123240.

Hungary’s Second World War Monument    23 February 2014

Prime Minister Victor Orbán has announced that he will postpone the construction of a World War II memorial in the heart of Budapest until after European Union and national parliamentary elections, contests his ruling Fidesz party likely will win.  The memorial includes a German eagle descending on the Archangel Gabriel, representing Hungary.  Critics claim that it inadequately depicts the anti-Semitic actions of the regime of Admiral Miklós Horthy, who ruled Hungary between the two world wars and who allied Hungary with Germany during the Second World War.

Horthy is a controversial figure because, despite his anti-Semitism, he was far less cooperative with the Germans about turning over Jews for transport and extermination than, for example, his counterpart ruling Slovakia.  Late in the war, after Adolf Hitler realized that Horthy was attempting to arrange a separate peace with the Allies, Hitler removed Horthy from power and installed a truly fascist regime under Ferenc Szálasi.  In the months Szálasi was in power, the Nazi SS and Szálasi’s supporters murdered thousands of Jews.  This was the period when the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, was active in saving Jews in Hungary.  See http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2014/02/20/hungary-postpones-plan-to-erect-controversial-monument/?KEYWORDS=history.

The EU Vote in the Czech Republic    21 February 2014

The upcoming 23-24 May vote to elect representatives to the European Union Parliament in the Czech Republic may bring some surprises.  The populist and anti-Roma Usvit (Dawn) party, under the leadership of a former travel agent, Tomio Okamura, himself half Czech and half Japanese-Korean, made inroads in the last Czech parliamentary elections and may attract voters once more.  Another question is whether the former president, Václav Klaus, who is a staunch Eurosceptic, will run to become a member of the European Parliament.  If he decides to do so, it is not known which political group will back him.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123074.

Potential Solution in Ukraine    21 February 2014

After 70 people were killed in Ukraine on Thursday alone, President Victor Yanukovych has announced an agreement that the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland have brokered.  In a statement he released today, he has promised a return to the 2004 constitution, early presidential elections, and an interim government.  Although many protesters want Yanukovych’s immediate resignation, the three main opposition leaders have signed the agreement with Yanukovych.  It still is unclear whether the president’s promises are enough to stop the violence.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-president-announces-early-election-112902642.html and http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/1050-crisis-in-kyiv-continuing-coverage-of-euromaidan-protests-in-ukraine, and http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-leader-announces-39-truce-39-start-talks-212036733.html?vp=1.

Conflict in Ukraine Continues    20 February 2014

Despite the efforts of President Victor Yanukovych to quell the violence in Ukraine through an another truce with the opposition and the sacking of the country’s military leader, unrest continues with scores dead and hundreds wounded.  In the meantime, the European Union and the United States are seeking to coordinate sanctions against Ukraine, which would hurt the top leadership and the economic magnates who support it, and have decried the deteriorating situation in the country.

Yanukovych blamed the opposition leaders for the violence, and the military has referred to the protesters as terrorists.  The Russians have alleged a coup attempt, a belief which the telephone conversation between American diplomats that sources leaked in the first week of February has fueled.

While approximately 8 percent of the country’s inhabitants are Ukrainian, about 17 percent is Russian.  Most of the violence is concentrated in the western part of the country, which is largely Ukrainian.  The Russians are scattered in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine (they form a majority in Crimea) and are supportive of the pro-Russian Yanukovych regime.

20 February 2014

2) http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/20/a_new_cold_war_ukraine_violence (this includes an interview with Steven Cohen, an expert on Russian affairs).


Romanian Labor Camp Commander under Investigation
   20 February 2014

The former commander of the Cernavoda Stalinst labor camp in Romania may face criminal charges for his role in the deaths of more than a hundred inmates.  On 18 February, the Institute for Investigating the Crimes of Communism turned over information about the activities of the infamous commander, Florian Cormos, to prosecutors.  See http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/institute-accuses-labor-camp-boss-115-deaths-22458319.

Eurozone Headed toward Federalization    18 February 2014

The Luxembourg politician and vice president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, has stated that the Eurozone is on the path to becoming a federated state.  Furthermore, she has cautioned the United Kingdom not to abandon the European Union and promised close ties between the UK and the emerging federated Eurozone.  Some have speculated that her comments were designed to pave the way for her to become the next president of the European Commission, but she is supporting another politician from Luxembourg for the post.

Josef Anderle (1924-2014)    18 February 2014

The noted Czech and Slovak historian, Joseph Anderle, died at the age of 89.  He taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for several decades and was one of the founders of the Czechoslovak History Conference, now the Czechoslovak Studies Association.  Before his retirement, he authored a number of chapters and articles as well as Major Contributions of Czechs and Slovaks to Austrian and Hungarian History, 1918-1945 (Rice University Press, 1971).  See http://www.walkersfuneralservice.com/obituaries/Josef-Anderle/#!/Obituary.

EU May Help to Stop Executions in the US    18 February 2014

European Union pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply states in the United States with drugs that are used in lethal injection in compliance with EU and EU member states’ regulations.  Furthermore, American drug companies and suppliers are hesitant to deliver drugs to states when they will be used for executions because of the potential for bad publicity.  As a result, certain drugs that also are necessary for operations are in short supply, and states are considering alternatives to lethal injection, including a return to firing squads and gas chambers.  A solution is not forthcoming, since the numbers of Americans who support capital punishment are declining but still hover around 60 percent.  America is one of 40 countries that actively uses capital punishment along with Belarus, China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Vietnam.  See http://news.yahoo.com/europe-origin-chronic-us-execution-dilemma-092415415--finance.html.

Bloodshed in Ukraine    18 February 2014

Recent developments in Ukraine have been disheartening.  On 16 February, the stalemate between the government and opposition forces seemed to have ended when protesters agreed to abandon the government buildings they had been occupying in Kiev and to begin negotiating with President Victor Yanukovych after the latter had offered a broad amnesty for the demonstrators.  The opposition planned to negotiate with Yanukovych and to work in the legislature to seek a political solution to the crisis.  Then, on 17 February, Yanukovych accepted the Russian offer to buy €2 billion of Ukrainian debt as part of a much larger financial package Russia had promised once the crisis in Ukraine eased.  Violence broke out once more because protesters assumed the deal indicated that the Russians viewed the political situation in Ukraine as stabilizing in favor of Yanukovych.  In response, police stormed the protesters’ encampment, resulting in numerous deaths on both sides.  The clashes in Kyiv continue, and by the early hours of 19 February, Ukraine time, protests had spread to Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil.

Vasil’ Bil’ak (1917-2014)    16 February 2014

Vasiľ Biľak, who was on the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist party between 1968 and 1988, died on 6 February at the age of 96.  Biľak was of Rusin heritage and was born in Slovakia.  He worked as a taylor and formally joined the Communist party in 1945.  He received a degree in Marxist ideology in 1953, after which he began his ascent in the Communist party.  Biľak opposed the Prague Spring liberalization effort in 1968 and was one of the coauthors of a letter to the leadership of the Soviet Union encouraging that country to stop the reforms.  After the Warsaw Pact invasion of 20-21 August 1968, Biľak joined the presidium of the party as an expert in ideology.  After 1985, he led the opposition in the country to Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union.  After the Velvet Revolution, there was an effort to try Biľak for treason, but the case was dropped because of a lack of witnesses.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/07/world/vasil-bilak-czechoslovak-communist-who-encouraged-1968-soviet-invasion-dies-at-96.html?_r=0.

Vratislav Karel Novák (1942-2014)    15 February 2014

The noted Czech sculptor, Vratislav Karel Novák, has died at the age of 71.  His most famous work is the Metronome on Letná in Prague on the former site of the gigantic statue of Joseph Stalin.  Originally erected in 1991 as a temporary installation, the Metronome became a permanent feature of the Prague skyline.  Novák also is known for his other kinetic and light sculptures throughout the world, including some in the United States.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/news-2014-02-15.

EU Parliamentary Elections in Slovakia and Germany    14 February 2014

Elections to the European Parliament are scheduled for this year between 22 and 25 May.  In Slovakia, the elections will take place just after the presidential elections.  As a result, there is little interest in the EU contest, but voter turnout for EU elections in Slovakia is historically low.  Furthermore, there is some concern about possible victories for Eurosceptics as well as far-right politicians in the EU election.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123068.

Similarly, German voters in the EU elections may find Eurosceptics attractive, even if they are within the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union, the party of the Chancellor Angela Merkel, because they believe Merkel has moved the party too far to the left.  Another concern is the small Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which supports dismantling the eurozone and prohibiting bailouts for banks.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/122985.

What Is Liberalism?    15 February 2014

When I was taking my comprehensive exams in 1985 at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Joseph White asked me a deceptively simple question: What is liberalism?  I stumbled over my words because I had not memorized any concise definition of the term, and I finally admitted that fact.  I then offered him a satisfactory solution to my deficiency by talking about political and economic liberalism in the nineteenth century and various authors associated with the concept.  I was very pleased, therefore, when I found that Daniel B. Klein, a professor of economics at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA), traced the origin of the term liberalism in an article in The Atlantic that is available at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/02/the-origin-of-liberalism/283780/.

Nazi Mosquitoes    15 February 2014

A researcher has determined that, during the Second World War, the Nazis were experimenting with the use of mosquitoes to carry malaria as an offensive biological weapon.  See http://www.thelocal.de/20140214/nazis-mosquitos-weapon-biological-warfare.

Nazi Resort to Become Luxury Apartments    12 February 2014

A 10,000-room Nazi-era resort for workers on the island of Rügen in the Baltic that German construction workers never completed because of the Second World War has been vacant for years.  Now, two real estate groups are turning it into luxury apartments and vacation rentals that will be complete by 2015.  Other sections of the complex already include a museum (documentation center) and a youth hostel.  See http://travel.yahoo.com/blogs/compass/nazi-resort-never-opened-luxury-vacation-spot-224346831.html.

Shirley Temple Black (1928-2004)    12 February 2014

Shirley Temple Black, the American child film star and diplomat, died on 10 February.  She served as the American ambassador to Czechoslovakia from August 1989, shortly before the Velvet Revolution there brought an end to Communist party rule, until July 1992, a few months before Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.  See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/11/275190468/shirley-temple-dies-childhood-movie-star-became-diplomat?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140211.  An article in Czech from Radio Prague about Ms. Temple Black’s passing is at http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/amerika/_zprava/zemrela-shirley-templeova-herecka-a-prvni-velvyslankyne-usa-v-praze-po-roce-1989--1314522.

Pussy Riot Criticizes Russia’s Prisons    12 February 2014

Two members of Pussy Riot recently released from imprisonment have criticized President Vladimir Putin’s amnesty and decried the conditions in the prison system.  They also noted that the sort of abuse that resulted in the death of the whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky (1972-2009) is common.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123073.

Disturbing Unrest in Bosnia    12 February 2014

Unrest has gone on in Bosnia for nearly a week, with protesters in Sarajevo and elsewhere demanding the resignation of the government and other elected officials.  Corruption, ethnic political competition, and unemployment that has ranged between 27 and 40 percent are at the root of the problems.  See http://euobserver.com/news/123089 and http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/world/europe/bosnians-furious-with-politicians-shut-down-central-sarajevo.html?_r=0.

Preserving Interwar Romanian Photographs    12 February 2014

Archivists are digitizing and putting on line stunning black-and-white photographs from the 1930s by the Romanian photographer, Costică Acsinte (1897-1984).  The web site for the project is at http://colectiacosticaacsinte.eu/, and the collection of images, which is in the public domain, is at http://www.flickr.com/photos/costicaacsinte/sets.  An article about the preservation efforts is at http://lightbox.time.com/2014/02/04/costica-acsinte-archive/#1.

Georgia, Moldova, and the EU    12 February 2014

European Union officials are considering various options to strengthen ties with Georgia and Moldova, including signing association agreements with them and providing them with generous funding to prevent Russia from intimidating them and from disrupting the ties the two states have made with the EU.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123055.

American Faux Pas Concerning Ukraine  12 February 2014

The leaked phone conversation of the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Victoria Nuland, with the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoff Pyatt, that included her exclaiming “fuck the EU” and her comment about not having the opposition leader, Vitaly Klitschko, play a role in a new government has been the brunt of jokes throughout the world and has been a source of embarrassment for the United States.  Those who bugged the conversation and put the recording on Youtube still are unknown, but many suspect that it was a Russian effort to embarrass the Americans and discredit the Ukrainian opposition.  Various articles about the matter, including one that describes the jokes journalists have made about Nuland’s reference to the EU are at http://euobserver.com/foreign/123078; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/world/europe/ukraine.html?_r=1; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26080715, and http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/top-us-diplomat-fuck-the-eu.

In other news regarding Ukraine, the former prime minister, Mykola Azarov, reportedly has left the country and may be in Austria.

Continued Stalemate in Ukraine    4 February 2014

Negotiations between the opposition and President Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine again have stalemated, and the opposition has accused Yanukovych of stalling.  For a complete update, see http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-opposition-seeks-cut-president-39-powers-132958175.html.

New Czech Government    31 January 2014

After elections in October, the Czech Republic finally has a new government.  On 29 January, President Miloš Zeman swore in the center-left government of Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrat) that consists of eight ministers Social Democratic party, six members from the ANO party, and three from the Christian Democratic party.  The new ANO party (“Yes” party) is under the leadership of the Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babiš and promises to eliminate corruption.  Its politicians are untested, and Babiš faces charges that he cooperated with the police when the Communists were in power.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/new-czech-centre-left-government-sworn-in.  The full list of government ministers is at http://www.vlada.cz/en/vlada/.

Russian Aid to Ukraine    31 January 2014

The Russian has decided to delay delivering $15 million in aid to Ukraine until it has a stable government and a clear economic policy.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/world/europe/ukraine-protests.html?_r=1.

Flatulent German Cows    30 January 2014

Here is the brief complete text of a humorous press release from AP that needs no commentary:

BERLIN (AP) — A herd of dairy cows nearly lifted the roof off their barn in central Germany when methane released by the animals caused an explosion.

Police in Hesse state said in a statement that a static electric charge apparently triggered the detonation, and a spurt of flame, on Monday at a farm in Rasdorf. The roof was slightly damaged and one cow suffered light burns. No people were hurt.
Police say 90 cows are kept in the shed and it wasn't clear why quantities of methane had built up. Bovine belching and flatulence releases large quantities of the gas.

Yanukovych on Sick Leave    30 January 2014

President Victor Yanukovych has announced that he has taken sick leave because of a respiratory illness.  Some speculate that he wants to avoid negotiating with the opposition, while many think that his absence is a prelude to a crackdown that he can blame on others.  It is possible, of course, that if Yanukovych indeed has a political illness, he may be preparing to relinquish power in the face of unceasing protests against his rule.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-president-takes-sick-leave-amid-crisis-172445401.html.  The announcement on President Yanukovych’s website is at http://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/30033.html.

Soviet and EU Free-Trade Zone?    29 January 2014

President Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in establishing a free trade zone between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Community that Russia dominates.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/122906.  The United States and the EU currently are negotiating a free-trade agreement.

Lithuania Wants in the Eurozone    29 January 2014

Lithuania’s finance minister stated that his country is interested in abandoning the litas in 2015 and joining the eurozone.  For more information, see http://euobserver.com/news/122900.

Polish Kayaker    28 January 2014

The 67-year-old Polish kayaker, Olek Doba, who is in the midst of a trans-Atlantic voyage from Europe to North America on a kayak, refused help after he may have accidentally sent a SOS.  Three years ago, Doba completed a kayak trip from Senegal to Brazil.  See 

Bulgaria, Romania, and the EU    28 January 2014

The Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report of the European Union that measures the progress the Romania and Bulgaria are making toward reforms, has noted that Romania has made progress, but that is not necessarily the case in Bulgaria.  Problems that Sofia politicians must tackle include the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the fight against organized crime, and the struggle against corruption.  See http://euobserver.com/opinion/122862.  For the reports, see http://ec.europa.eu/cvm/progress_reports_en.htm#thirteen.

Developments in Kyiv    28 January 2014

President Victor Yanukovych attempted to calm tensions in Ukraine when he offered several cabinet posts to dissidents, but they refused to be coopted into his regime.  Shortly afterward, the Rada repealed the hated stringent anti-protest laws that it recently had passed, and Yanukovych’s ally, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, resigned.  Yanukovych apparently understands that his embattled regime has few options, but his the resignation of his prime minister and the repeal of his anti-protest laws reveal the extent of his weakened position.

For an excellent series of maps that explain the background to the crisis in Ukraine, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/01/24/this-is-the-one-map-you-need-to-understand-ukraines-crisis/.

Yanukovych Pledge    24 January 2014

President Yanukovych pledged to reshuffle his cabinet and to amend the recently passed anti-protest laws during a special session of the Rada next week.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-39-yanukovich-promises-reshuffle-government-next-week-152711595--sector.html.

While there are claims of up to four deaths as a result of the unrest, it appears that there are only two confirmed fatalities.  See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25853329.

Byzantine Church Discovered in Israel    24 January 2014

Archaeologists working in southern Israel in a construction site for a new neighborhood have discovered the remains of a 40'x72' Byzantine church that is approximately 1,500 years old.  The floor mosaic will be disassembled and placed on display.  See http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/01/22/byzantine-era-church-uncovered-in-israel/.

Two Protesters Dead in Kyiv    22 January 2014

A young male demonstrator has died in Kiev today during clashes between protesters and the police when he received bullet wounds to the head.  The opposition claims that a second protester was killed as well, and the authorities later confirmed that report.  The opposition also maintains that three more people have been killed.  Meanwhile, President Victor Yanukovych first cancelled a scheduled meeting with the opposition and then held the meeting, which was inconclusive.  The opposition leaders have given Yanukovych 24 hours to call for new elections or face widespread violence.  To prepare for a possible conflict, the authorities gave the police powers to use water cannons and close off streets.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122824, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/three-protesters-dead-as-standoff-with-riot-police-in-ukraine-continues/2014/01/22/8bfbda5a-8330-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html.u, and http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-opposition-sets-24-hour-deadline-184553595.html.

Protesters and Police Clash in Kyiv    19 January 2014

Protesters fought with riot police in Ukraine on Sunday, 19 January, after the government passed strict anti-protest laws that included such provisions that protesters cannot wear masks or hard hats.  The protesters even attacked Vitali Klitschko, an opposition leader and former boxer, when he tried to mediate between the protesters and the police.  See http://news.yahoo.com/protesters-police-clash-ukraine-39-capital-140507855.html.

Putin’s Opinions about Gays    19 January 2014

President Vladimir Putin recently has made several statements regarding the coming Olympic games at Sochi and has granted an interview with select members of the international press.  As a result, small glimpses into his opinions about the LGBT community have emerged in the media.  For example, he believes that homosexuality is connected to pedophile activity.  He refused to answer whether he thinks individuals are born gay or learn the behavior, but he remarked that he was not prejudiced in any way.  Putin also stated that homosexuals can conduct their personal relations as they wish but that they should “leave children in peace.”  See http://news.yahoo.com/russian-president-putin-links-gays-pedophiles-122800122--spt.html, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25799499, and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25785161.

Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day Concert    18 January 2014

For those who could not view the Vienna Philharmonic’s concert on New Year’s Day, there are a few Youtube links to the event.  One complete program is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xEaha2h0Ag.

New Czech Prime Minister    18 January 2014

In the Czech Republic, President Miloš Zeman has appointed the Social Democrat Bohuslav Sobotka as the new prime minister many weeks after the October 2013 elections.  The Social Democrats will hold ministries with ANO, a populist party under the leadership of the wealthy Andrej Babiš, and the Christian Democrats.  The coalition commands 111 out of 200 votes in the parliament.  The negotiations for the cabinet positions still are taking place.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/sobotka-becomes-11th-czech-pm-since-93but-how-long-will-he-last.

Guelph Treasure    18 January 2014

A German court will decide whether the Medieval Ghelph collection, worth $250, will be returned to the heirs of Jewish art dealers or remain in a German Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts).  The defendants in the case claim that the Nazi government forced the sale of the collection in 1935 to the Prussian state for an undervalued amount.  See http://www.medievalists.net/2014/01/16/who-should-own-this-medieval-treasure/.

Anti-Protest Laws in Ukraine    18 January 2014

On 17 January, the Ukrainian Rada passed new laws that restrict the freedom of speech, the right to protest, and the freedom of NGOs through the efforts of President Victor Yanukovych’s supporters.  One stipulation, for example, is that those who block access to government buildings can face jail sentences for up to ten years.  Yanukovych signed the bills into law shortly after they were passed.  A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany stated that the new laws “will have consequences on EU-Ukrainian relations,” but another German source said that Germany is planning no sanctions against Ukraine because of them.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukrainian-leader-signs-anti-protest-bills-200054647.html and http://euobserver.com/foreign/122766.

Ukraine's Oligarchs    16 January 2014

Paweł Pieniążek, a journalist, examined the balance sheet of the Ukrainian oligarchs to find that a large percentage of the most wealthy support the opposition.  The question, therefore, is how long President Victor Yanukovych can remain in power if he loses the support of the country's economic elite.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/node/1100.

Moldova, the EU, and Russia    16 January 2015

The journalist Mila Corlateanu has examined the opinions in Moldova about joining the European Union after the country signed an association agreement with the EU late last year.  A significant minority of citizens desire closer ties with Russia, but their number may diminish as the Russians continue to block wine from Moldova on the basis that it contains impurities.  The Russians also are considering demanding visas for Moldovan workers.  Complicating matters is that many supporters of the association agreement think that it will result in Moldova entering the EU in the near future, perhaps within a few months.  Before that can happen, Corlateanu notes, Moldova must carry out a multitude of reforms, improve the business climate, and solve the Transnistrian problem.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/node/1104.

Index of Economic Freedom    16 January 2014

The conservative Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal have released their 2014 “Index of Economic Freedom.”  The press release provides the following overview of the survey:

Launched in 1995, the Index evaluates countries in four broad areas of economic freedom: rule of law; regulatory efficiency; limited government; and open markets. Based on an aggregate score, each of 178 countries graded in the 2014 Index is classified as “free” (i.e. combined scores of 80 or higher); “mostly free” (70-79.9); “moderately free” (60-69.9); “mostly unfree” (50-59.9); or “repressed” (under 50).
There are 10 specific categories: property rights, freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, government spending, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom. Scores in these categories are averaged to create an overall score.

Those countries receiving the top score of “free” are Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Canada.  The remaining countries in the Baltics, Central Europe, Balkans, and Eastern Europe, with the United States and the United Kingdom included for comparison, are:

Mostly Free
11 Estonia
12 United States
14 United Kingdom
18 Germany
21 Lithuania
24 Austria
26 Czech Republic
Moderately Free
42 Latvia
43 Macedonia
46 Cyprus
50 Poland
51 Hungary
54 Albania
58 Slovakia
51 Bulgaria
52 Romania
64 Turkey
68 Montenegro
74 Slovenia
85 Kyrgyz Republic
87 Croatia
Mostly Unfree
95 Serbia
101 Bosnia and Herzegovina
110 Moldova
119 Greece
140 Russia
150 Belarus
155 Ukraine
164 Uzbekistan
Not Ranked

The index is available at http://www.heritage.org/index/.

Pigs for Merkel    16 January 2014

Pig farmers and their livestock in Germany protested free-trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States in front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office because it would mean cheaper pork for Europeans, harming the livelihood of many European farmers, and pork that includes growth hormones, which Europeans do not permit.  For more, see http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/01/15/262752555/german-farmers-fear-for-europes-bacon-with-u-s-trade-deal.

The Communist Pollution Record    14 January 2014

Colin Grabow, writing in The Federalist, examines the environmental record of the communist-controlled governments in the former Eastern Europe and Soviet Union.  He presents an excellent summary of the environmental disasters of these regimes.  Between 1985 and 1989, I experienced a number of horrors Grabow did not mention.  I was canoeing on the Vltava River around Český Krumlov, a UNESCO-protected city.  To keep the river clean as it ran through the city, the authorities pumped the sludge from a paper plant that made newsprint for the Communist paper Rudé právo over some hills and past the city, dumping the smelly goo into the river at that point.  Then there were the strip mining facilities and dead forests in the northern part of Bohemia.  Nevertheless, Grabow’s approach is flawed.  It is counterproductive to distract from the fact that capitalism has harmed the environment by arguing that the communist system in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which mercifully went into the dustbin of history, was worse.  See http://thefederalist.com/2014/01/13/if-you-think-communism-is-bad-for-people-check-out-what-it-did-to-the-environment/.

Reichstag Fire    13 January 2013

In his book, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Last Mystery of Hitler’s Reich (Oxford, 2014), Benjamin Carter Hett of Hunter College, CUNY, maintains that the Reichstag fire in 1933 was not the work of a Communist conspiracy or the sole effort of the largely blind and somewhat mentally unstable Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe (1909-1934) but a small conspiratorial group of Nazis.  The authorities used the fire and a claim that the Communists were planning a coup to arrest thousands of opponents to the regime and place them in concentration camps.  See http://hnn.us/article/154429.

Opposition Leader Beaten in Kyiv    11 January 2014

Yuriy Lutsenko, once an interior minister and now a main opposition leader, was beaten severely on 11 January when he tried to stop violence during a protest.  The incident may bring the European union closer to imposing sanctions against individual Ukraine authorities.  See  http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140111/ukraine-opposition-leader-yuriy-lutsenko-beaten-during-renewed-c.

Update on Ukraine    10 January 2014

Between 500 and 2,000 protesters each day continue to hold government buildings in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.  To punish the regime for its repression of the demonstrators and its unyielding stance with respect to popular demands, the United States is preparing a list of Ukrainians who are forbidden to travel to the US, including the country’s interior minister.  In the meantime, European Union officials have shunned sanctions and prefer to continue negotiations to help negotiate a settlement.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122688.

Serbia and Kosovo    10 January 2014

In an Jeton Zulfaj of Lund University in Sweden explains in an article for EU Observer how European Union foreign ministers decided that they would begin negotiations about accession with Serbia but that Kosovo, which negotiated in good faith to secure its sovereignty and still has to deal with Serbian control of Mitrovica, received only a nod of thanks.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122677.

Explosion in Prague    3 January 2014

The Palestinian ambassador in Prague died on 1 January when a booby-trapped safe exploded.  The Czech authorities determined that it was not a terrorist act, but they discovered illegal weapons in the embassy.  Inhabitants of the neighborhood surrounding the embassy have expressed dismay with the behavior of the Palestinian diplomats, who may have to close their embassy.  See http://news.yahoo.com/prague-locals-want-oust-palestinian-embassy-113013990.html and http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/news-2014-01-02#1.

Perković Arrested   3 January 2014

Croatians have arrested Josip Perković, the former Yugoslav intelligence operative implicated in the death of a Yugoslav dissident in Germany in 1983.  The Croatian authorities finally acted on a German arrest warrant that had strained EU-Croatian relations for several months.  See http://www.euronews.com/2014/01/01/former-yugoslav-intelligence-agent-josip-perkovic-arrested-in-zagreb/.

Slovakia Accepts Guantanamo Bay Prisoners    3 January 2014

Slovakia has accepted the last three Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to join other Uighurs in Slovakia.  The Americans captured the prisoners in 2001 in Afghanistan and held them, even though they were not affiliated with the Taliban and were not acting against the US.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/122619 and http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/31/uighur-men-leave-guantanamo-bay-slovakia.

New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna    1 January 2014

PBS stations around the country will be carrying the New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra on Wednesday, 1 January at 2.30 pm, EST (1.30 pm, CST), which will repeat at 8.00 pm, EST (7.00 pm, CST).  Check local listings for details and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2014/about-the-concert/1952/.  The conductor will be Daniel Barenboim, and Julie Andrews will host the event.  A video of the 2013 concert, with commentary in German, is available on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDnR3vRk1aU.  Get ready to follow the Austrian tradition and clap with the audience as the orchestra plays the closing piece, "The Radetzky March," by the older Johann Strauss.

I wish you along with your family and friends all the best for 2014!
May this new year be better and brighter than any!

2013 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year's Day Concert (commentary in German)

More Stolen Art in Germany    1 January 2014

A historian has discovered approximately 4,000 works of art in the German Parliament that the Nazis likely stole.  It is not known whether these pieces are related to the recent discovery of stolen art in Munich.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/30/us-germany-art-nazi-idUSBRE9BT0GB20131230.

Gone Is the Lat    1 January 2014

As of 1 January 2014, Latvia has joined the eurozone, and Latvians have exchanged their lats for euros.  The adoption of the euro, which the government had supported, was something that nearly 60 percent of Latvians had opposed.  Part of the reason was that instead of devaluing the lat as part of the process of preparing for the euro’s adoption, the government supported wage cuts.  The benefits of adopting the euro are enormous, such as increasing investment, easing trade, diminishing risk, and reducing transaction costs.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/122600 and http://www.economist.com/blogs/theworldin2014/2014/01/latvia-and-euro.