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

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

Check this web page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  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 2021

Gorbachev Turned 90    2 March 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mikhail S. Gorbachev celebrated his ninetieth birthday in self-quarantine because of the COVID virus.  In 1985, when he came to power as the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev began instituting a series of reforms that both contributed to and were unable to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.  He also encouraged reforms in what was known as Eastern Europe and refused to intervene when hardline regimes were about to fall.  Gorbachev’s goal was to abandon Marxist-Leninist communism and to transform the Soviet Union into a socialist state, on the order of Sweden, which he explained during discussions with his Czech friend, Zdeněk Mlynář (1930-1997) in Conversations with Gorbachev on Perestroika, the Prague Spring , and the Crossroads of Socialism (2002).  See the article about Gorbachev’s legacy at https://www.euronews.com/2021/03/02/mikhail-gorbachev-last-soviet-leader-turns-90-in-quarantine?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=en&utm_content=mikhail-gorbachev-last-soviet-leader-turns-90-in-quarantine&_ope=eyJndWlkIjoiZDRkM2Q2MTRjMjNjMTIzNWM0YzhmNWQ2MzEwOWI0ZDQifQ%3D%3D.

The US Deported a Former Nazi Camp Guard    22 February 2021

On 20 February 2021, the United States deported Friedrich Karl Berger to Germany for having been a guard at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, which was near Hamburg.  With no witnesses, the only hard evidence against Berger was the appearance of his name on a list of camp guards retrieved from a shipwreck.  Berger, who now is 95 years old and who had worked in a factory in Tennessee, was drafted when he was 19, and he claimed that he did not even carry a gun.  He was in the German Navy, and near the end of the war, he was transferred, for a few months, to Neuengamme.   In 1959, he entered the US legally and told US authorities that he had been a member of the Wehrmacht, but a 1978 law made it illegal for anyone who had assisted in genocide to hold US residency or citizenship.  Berger will not face prosecution in Germany because there is no specific charge or evidence against him, and he now is in an assisted-living facility.

A number of years ago, the US Department of Justice dramatically pared down its active search for Nazi-era war criminals because so many had died.  The thrust shifted to more recent crimes against humanity.  As a result, the Berger case may be the last dealing with Nazi Germany.  The US has no genocide law, so the only recourse the authorities have is to deport someone for illegally entering the United Sates.

A Delightful Gift from Mozart    29 January 2021

In 2018, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Allegro in D, known as a lost work, resurfaced.  A delightful piece of only 94 seconds, the Allegro in D shows the characteristics of a young Mozart, who composed it in his teens.  A video that includes a performance of the piece is at https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/28/previously-unknown-mozart-masterpiece-premieres-at-mozart-week?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=en&utm_content=&_ope=eyJndWlkIjoiZDRkM2Q2MTRjMjNjMTIzNWM0YzhmNWQ2MzEwOWI0ZDQifQ%3D%3D.

40,000 Protesters in Moscow   28 January 2021

The Russian authorities may have arrested Alexey Navalny, upon his return to Russia after recovering, in Germany, from a botched murder attempt by Russian agents, but they were unable to silence him.  While in custody, Navalny had his close supporters release a two-hour video showing Vladimir Putin’s lavish mansion on the Black Sea coast–a video that 100,000,000 viewers have seen to date.  A Palace for Putin: A History of the Biggest Bribe is available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipAnwilMncI and includes a setting for English subtitles (a less accurate translation of the film’s title is Putin’s Palace: A History of the World’s Biggest Bribe).

The film accomplishes several things.  First, the film has made Navalny even more renowned at home, not just abroad, so Putin must do everything in his power to keep Navalny safe, at least for now.  Second, the popularity of the film enables more citizens to understand the kleptocracy that Putin heads.  Third, it instigated some of the largest anti-Putin (and pro-Navalny) protests, attracting approximately 40,000 people in Moscow, on Sarturday, 23 January.  People also braved the subfreezing temperature in other cities to protest, despite police warnings and arrests.

There is no dearth of information on Navalny’s arrest, A Palace for Putin, or the recent protests.  Nevertheless, an excellent source is an editorial in The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/putin-navalny-russia-protests/2021/01/25/ba424592-5f34-11eb-9430-e7c77b5b0297_story.html.  It outlines the main points of Navalny’s recent saga and contains links to pertinent articles.

Anti-Abortion Law Sparked Protests in Poland    28 January 2021

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has monopolized power in the state, in part, by seizing the courts, and the European Union is hoping to persuade Poland to restore an independent judiciary.  Hungary has taken similar steps, and it is impossible to argue that either country remains democratic.

The Polish government, the Sjem, and the courts have been attacking reproductive rights for some time, based on the strict morality principles of PiS.  Now, a new law has come into effect that bans abortions for fetal abnormalities.  The only justifications for abortion are rape, incest, and the health of the mother.  Women who desire an abortion have no recourse, aside from resorting to illegal abortions or undergoing the procedure abroad, often an expensive alternative.  About 200,000 Polish women get abortions abroad each year.  Only 2,000 legal abortions took place in 2020.

The implementation of the new restriction, on 27 January, prompted thousands of protesters to take to the streets, despite the winter cold and the pandemic.  The measure already had sparked widespread opposition before becoming law.

Taking out the Garbage    26 January 2021

Lake Potpeć (Potpećko Jezero) serves a hydroelectric dam in Western Serbia.  Its waters come from the Lim River, which begins in Montenegro, passes through Serbia, and meets the Drina River, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Drina then flows into the Sava River, which then empties into the Danube River in Belgrade, Serbia.  Garbage from communities along the Lim River and its tributaries flow toward the Potpeć Dam, a problem that intensifies with swollen streams and rivers in the winter.  The result is that Lake Potpeć becomes a sea of floating garbage.  Crews clean the mess, but Montenegro and Serbia are attempting to address the problem with better municipal waste management.  A report on the problem, including 20 images, is available at https://apnews.com/article/europe-dams-serbia-lakes-europe-8e2fd7db45763b8fe36c68c6e0292342.  Information about a similar situation involving the Iskar River, whose course takes it near Sofia, Bulgaria, appears here: https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/26/nearly-600-tonnes-of-rubbish-and-debris-removed-from-bulgarian-river?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=en&utm_content=nearly-600-tonnes-of-rubbish-and-debris-removed-from-bulgarian-river&_ope=eyJndWlkIjoiZDRkM2Q2MTRjMjNjMTIzNWM0YzhmNWQ2MzEwOWI0ZDQifQ%3D%3D.

Navalny’s Return to Russia    25 January 2021

Alexey Navalny is Russia’s most famous dissident.  Like the Czech playwright Václav Havel (1936-2011), who was among the most noted dissidents in communist-controlled East-Central Europe and the Balkans, Navalny is a constant irritant for the regime of Vladimir Putin.  He is dogged in his determination to point out the abuses of Putin and his associates, but he is well known in Russia and abroad.  Despite the botched effort to poison him by tainting his underwear with a variant of Novichok, Putin’s operatives must be cautious when it comes to persecuting Navalny.  Each time he lands in prison, his reputation and popularity grows.  While the Russian authorities may succeed in abusing many other dissidents who are nameless to western readers, they must be cautious about their actions with respect to Navalny 

On 17 January, after his recovery from the Novichok attempted murder, Navalny returned to Russia, knowing that the authorities would arrest him immediately.  Since his detention, mass protests have rocked Russia.

Navalny’s immense courage inspires not only Russians but dissidents in Belarus and those who defend democracy in any country.

For an overview of Navalny’s activities that focuses on recent events, see https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/alexey-navalnys-fearless-return-to-russia?utm_source=pocket-newtab.  On the protests this past weekend, see https://www.npr.org/2021/01/23/959923454/protests-swell-across-russia-calling-for-the-release-of-kremlin-critic-alexei-na.

Vienna’s New Year 2021 Concert    25 January 2021

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates every new year with a concert on 1 January.  For more about the tradition, see https://www.euronews.com/2020/01/16/vienna-philharmonic-marches-to-its-own-tune-as-it-rings-in-the-new-year?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=en&utm_content=page&_ope=eyJndWlkIjoiZDRkM2Q2MTRjMjNjMTIzNWM0YzhmNWQ2MzEwOWI0ZDQifQ%3D%3D.  To watch this year’s concert, see https://www.pbs.org/video/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2021-rgvzrs/.