"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 Second Quarter of 2013


  1. 1 Latvia Is Ready for the Euro    7 June 2013
  2. 2 Czech Recession    5 June 2013
  3. 3 Continued Unrest in Turkey    5 June 2013
  4. 4 Flooding Recedes in Prague    4 June 2013
  5. 5 Flooding in Central Europe    2 June 2013
  6. 6 Protests in Turkey    2 June 2013
  7. 7 First Kosovan-Serbian Deadline Missed    2 June 2013
  8. 8 Nazi Germany’s Drug Addiction    2 June 2013
  9. 9 News Briefs    31 May 2013
  10. 10 Ritual Slaughter in Poland    23 April 2013
  11. 11 Details of the Serbia-Kosovo Agreement    22 April 2013
  12. 12 New Jewish Museum in Warsaw    20 April 2013
  13. 13 West, Texas, Explosion    20 April 2013
  14. 14 Chechen, Not Czech    20 April 2013
  15. 15 Yugosphere    20 April 2013
  16. 16 Serbia-Kosovo Deal    20 April 2013
  17. 17 Kosovo and Serbia Talks Fail   18 April 2013
  18. 18 Hungary’s Special EU Tax    18 April 2013
  19. 19 Greek Financial Claims against Germany    17 April 2013
  20. 20 Croatia’s Election to the EU Parliament    15 April 2013
  21. 21 UWF Lecture Announcement: "Kurds of the Middle East"    14 April 2013
  22. 22 News Briefs    14 April 2013
  23. 23 The Kosovo-Serbia Standoff    14 April 2013
  24. 24 Underwater Munitions from the Second World War in Germany    11 April 2013
  25. 25 Shootings in Serbia    13 April 2013
  26. 26 Lutsenko’s Pardon    9 April 2013
  27. 27 Nude Protesters against Putin    9 April 2013
  28. 28 Stalin in Georgia    8 April 2013
  29. 29 Incumbent Wins Presidency in Montenegro    8 April 2013
  30. 30 Serbia to Reject EU Proposal    8 April 2013
  31. 31 Increased Anti-Semitic Violence in 2012    7 April 2013
  32. 32 Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising    6 April 2013
  33. 33 Turmoil in the Ukrainian Rada    4 April 2013
  34. 34 Free Transportation in Tallinn    4 April 2013
  35. 35 Mosque in Thessaloniki Again Used for Prayer    3 April 2013
  36. 36 World War II Bomb Discovered Near Berlin's Main Railway Station    3 April 2013
  37. 37 Zeman Fulfilled Three Electoral Promises    3 April 2013
  38. 38 Three Ghosts of the Balkan Past    2 April 2013
  39. 39 New Web Pages: Traveling in Central Europe    1 April 2013

Latvia Is Ready for the Euro    7 June 2013

The European Commission has determined that Latvia is prepared to become the next member of the eurozone.  The plan is for Latvia to adopt the euro in January 2014 to replace the lat.  The report from the European Commission is available at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-500_en.htm.

Czech Recession    5 June 2013

The Czech economy is in its fifth quarter of recession with domestic product down 2.2 percent.  Its manufacturing sector is down 6.0 percent, and its construction industry is down 20.6 percent.  An article in Forbes with the title "The Stunning Failure of the Czech Republic's Austerity Experiment" is an indictment of the government's efforts to cut investment and to raise the VAT tax over the past few years.  Analysts expect the recession to continue for the remainder of the year.  See http://www.czso.cz/csu/csu.nsf/aktualniinformace (in Czech), http://www.mzv.cz/ottawa/en/economy_and_trade/czech_economy_recession_deepens.html, http://news.yahoo.com/czech-economy-stuck-recession-082729464.html, and http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2013/05/30/the-stunning-failure-of-the-czech-republics-austerity-experiment/.

Continued Unrest in Turkey    5 June 2013

Unrest continues to spread in Turkey, where many have grown weary of the efforts of Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development party to introduce traditional Islamic restrictions.  An article in the City Journal at http://www.city-journal.org/2013/eon0603cb.html by Claire Berlinski, an American journalist living in Istanbul, explains the background to the protests from a decidedly liberal standpoint.

Flooding Recedes in Prague    4 June 2013

Eight people have died in the Czech Republic as a result of flooding, and approximately 9,000 people have been evacuated.  The damage in Prague, which saw the Vltava River four meters above its normal level, were not nearly as bad as in the 2002 flood.  The metro still has closed stations, but the city gradually is returning to normal.  In other parts of the country, however, the damage is extensive in low-lying areas.  The worst hit is the northern part of the country.  Flood waters still have not crested along the Elbe in Germany.  Information for this posting came from Czech television news broadcasts and personal observations.  Also see the preceding post.

Flooding in Central Europe    2 June 2013

Czechs are joking that if warm weather in July and August do not ruin things, they will experience a wonderful winter.  In reality, the cold and rainy weather that Central Europe is experiencing is no laughing matter.  With temperatures in the teens on the centigrade thermometer (in the 50s on the Fahrenheit thermometer) and incessant rains, the Danube, Inn, Vltava, and Elbe Rivers along with many others are swelling.  There already is flooding in some areas, and Prague has closed the flood gate that blocks the Čertovka Canal and protects the Lesser Town.  Flooding is expected to actually hit Prague on the evening of 2 June, which will be a serious test of the anti-flooding measures that the city took in the aftermath of the 2002 flooding.  As of 5.00 PM local time on Sunday, 2 June, authorities in Prague closed eight Metro stations.  See http://envis.praha-mesto.cz/%28dqwkfzanojs20fz5dtue02zy%29/default.aspx?id=64073&ido=6153&sh=1107582488, http://www.radio.cz/en/news#1 (2 June 2013), and http://news.yahoo.com/central-europe-hit-floods-days-rain-110603316.html.

Protests in Turkey    2 June 2013

Demonstrations began on 28 May in Turkey against a shopping mall the government had decided to build in a park on Taksim Square in Istanbul.  Starting as a public outcry against a development project that would eliminate a popular green space, the protests widened to criticize the prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan.  Despite Erdogan’s accomplishments and popularity, many claim that he and his Justice and Development party, which is grounded in Islamist beliefs, is intruding into the personal lives of Turks and is becoming dictatorial.  Nearly a thousand people have been arrested throughout the country, and many were injured in clashes with the police.  See http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-turkey-protestsbre94u0j9-20130531,0,2600785.story and http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0601/In-Turkey-s-Taksim-protest-angry-citizens-and-a-defiant-prime-minister-video.

First Kosovan-Serbian Deadline Missed    2 June 2013

Kosovan and Serb negotiators missed the 31 May deadline to create an implementation committee that would put into effect the two countries’ recent agreement regarding mutual recognition.  The talks continue under European Union supervision, and a major incentive for both sides to normalize relations is the hope of closer relations with the EU.  More on the story is at http://euobserver.com/enlargement/120331.  A copy of the implementation timetable is at http://euobserver.com/media/src/0807580ad8281aefa2a89e38c49689f9.pdf.  The posting about the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on this website is here.

Nazi Germany’s Drug Addiction    2 June 2013

Nazi Germany gave 200 million crystal meth pills called Pervitin to hundreds of thousands of soldiers, including the famous writer and 1972 Nobel Prize winner for literature Heinrich Böll (1917-1985), the author of Billiards at Half-Past Nine (1959), The Clown (1963), and Group Portrait with Lady (1971).  German scientists tested Pervitin on inmates at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and even college students, and the energy boost that they noted resulted in the German military issuing the pills to soldiers, despite the problem with addiction.  In a letter to his family, Böll asked them to get him more of the pills to give him energy and to improve his mood.  Both the East and West German militaries supplied crystal meth to their soldiers for several decades after the Second World War.  See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1371512/Nazis-fed-speed-infantrymen-tested-cocaine-like-stimulant-concentration-camps.html and http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/crystal-meth-origins-link-back-to-nazi-germany-and-world-war-ii-a-901755.html.

News Briefs    31 May 2013

Because of several research projects, the end of the spring 2013 semester, and other commitments, I was unable to post news items.  As a result, the most important entries for the past several weeks appear below in their skeleton form.

USSteel Plant in Košice, Slovakia, to Remain Open (26 March 2013) -- The Slovak government signed an agreement with USSteel to keep open for at least another five years the Košice plant, which employs more than 12,000 individuals.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130326/eu-slovakia-us-steel/?ir=media.

Trial of Alexei Navalny (24 April 2013) -- The corruption trial of the anti-Putin politician and presidential candidate Alexei Navalny began in Kirov, Russia, on 17 April.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russian-protest-leader-trial-show-innocence-095833474.html.

Czech Government Provided $200,000 to West, TX, after Blast (24 April 2013) -- After the devastating explosion of a fertilizer plant, the Czech government agreed to provide $200,000 to help rebuild the community.  In the nineteenth century, a large number of Czechs immigrated to West and surrounding communities.  See http://news.yahoo.com/czechs-send-funds-blast-hit-texas-town-181551812.html.

The Czech Republic and the Euro (25 April 2013) -- President Miloš Zeman stated that the Czech Republic might adopt the euro within five years, but his comment brought words of caution from the prime minister, Petr Nečas.  Under the previous president and eurosceptic, Václav Klaus, there was no movement toward adopting the euro.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/necas-urges-caution-referendum-on-euro-in-wake-of-zeman-comments.

Chernobyl after More Than 25 Years (April 2013) -- A slide show of Chernobyl, Ukraine, more than 25 years after the disaster at the nuclear plant on 26 April 1986, reveals a ghost town frozen in the era of late socialism.  See http://news.yahoo.com/lightbox/chernobyl-today-slideshow/guard-stands-dityatki-checkpoint-marking-30-km-zone-photo-192826723.html.

Serbian Legislators Support Agreement with Kosovo (26 April 2013) -- The Serbian parliament has approved the agreement with Kosovo, ending the differences between the two countries and paving the way for both to have closer ties with the European Union.  See http://news.yahoo.com/serbian-lawmakers-vote-support-kosovo-deal-201504497.html.  Earlier reports about the talks between Serbia and Kosovo appear on this website.

Franz Joseph’s Hair (26 April 2013) -- A lock of hair from the Franz Joseph, the ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy from 1848 to 1916, sold at auction for nearly $18,000.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/26/emperor-franz-josephs-hair-auctioned_n_3160549.html.

Hitler’s Food Taster
(26 April 2013) -- Margot Woelk remembers her time as Adolf Hitler’s food taster and the horrors of the Second World War in an interview at http://news.yahoo.com/hitlers-food-taster-tells-poisoning-fears-150032362.html.

Excellent Whiskey Emerges from a Communist-Era Experiment
(28 April 2013) -- An attempt to make whiskey in communist Czechoslovakia has yielded an excellent blend named Hammer Head.  See http://news.yahoo.com/czech-communist-whisky-matures-excellence-143044322.html.

ECHR Decision Regarding Tymoshenko
(30 April 2013) -- The European Court of Human Rights has determined that the pre-trial detention of the former Ukrainian prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was “arbitrary and unlawful.”  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/119996.

Soviet Jews in the Second World War
(April 2013) -- A slide show of Jewish Soviet war heroes from the Second World War is available at http://news.yahoo.com/lightbox/soviet-jews-in-the-red-army-slideshow/.

EU Assists Croatia after Flooding
(1 May 2013) -- The European Union has given Croatia €14.6 to recover from spring flooding.  See http://www.croatiantimes.com/news/General_News/2013-05-01/33208/EU_Solidarity_Fund_helps_Croatia_to_cover_floods_damage.

German Warnings about Anti-Semitism in Hungary
(6 May 2013) -- The foreign minister of Germany has warned Hungary that it is not doing enough to prevent the spread of anti-Semitism.  See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10039952/German-warning-to-Hungary-over-rise-of-anti-Semitism.html.  See also http://euobserver.com/political/120171 regarding the uproar in Germany a few weeks later over the Hungarian prime minister’s comparison of Angela Merkel’s policies with Nazi Germany.

Europeans’ Common Ancestors
(7 May 2013) -- A study of DNA has revealed that Europeans had common ancestors as recently as 1,000 years ago.  Read more at http://news.yahoo.com/europeans-had-common-ancestors-1-000-years-ago-210129852.html.

Slovenia’s Economic Measures
(9 May 2013) -- In order to avoid a bailout from the European Union, Slovenia has adopted a series of new taxes and has cut its budget.  More information is available at http://news.yahoo.com/slovenia-announces-anti-bailout-measures-161246698.html.

Nazis in West German Politics
(9 May 2013) -- The German journalist Malte Herwig has published a book titled Die Flakhelfer that outlines how former Nazis hid their past and held prominent positions in West Germany.  See http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/09/new-book-reveals-postwar-germany-s-nazi-party-ties-cover-up.html.

Charlemagne Prize for Lithuanian President
(10 May 2013) -- The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, has received the Charlemagne Prize for her dedication to European politics.  See http://euobserver.com/political/120070.

Bulgaria’s Elections
(12-29 May 2013) -- Neither the GERB nor the Socialist party emerged as winners of the 12 May 2013 Bulgarian parliamentary elections.  See http://euobserver.com/political/120090,
http://news.yahoo.com/exit-polls-no-clear-winner-bulgarian-vote-173911307.html, and
and http://news.yahoo.com/bulgarias-center-party-wants-vote-canceled-114135623.html.  On 29 May, Bulgaria’s former non-partisan finance minister, Plamen Oresharski, became the prime minister and will build a government of experts.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/world/europe/bulgaria-naming-of-prime-minister-ends-stalemate.html?_r=0.

Transnistria and Moldova
(12 May 2013) -- Tension continues to build between Moldova and its breakaway Transnistria region, and an interview at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/805 with the Transnistrian politician and political scientist Andrey Safonov provides insight into the problems.

Political Protests in Ukraine
(23 May 2013) -- A report on the political protests against the regime in Ukraine is at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/820.

Yugoslavia’s Royal Family Reinterred
(26 May 2013) -- The last reigning king of Yugoslavia and three of his family members who were buried in the United States after the Second World War were reinterred in Serbia.  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/serbia-holds-funeral-for-yugoslavias-last-king-3-other-members-of-royal-family/2013/05/26/38de2958-c608-11e2-9cd9-3b9a22a4000a_story.html.

Problems for Bosnian Farmers
(30 May 2013) -- Croatia is one of Bosnia’s most important trading partners, but that likely will change when Croatia enters the European Union in July.  Although Bosnia’s farmers meet EU requirements, the separate agricultural ministries in Bosnia are unable to reach agreements in order to prove their compliance with EU standards.  As a result, Bosnian farmers may not have a market for their produce.  See http://www.dw.de/croatias-eu-membership-spells-trouble-for-bosnias-farmers/a-16849517.

Ritual Slaughter in Poland    23 April 2013

In November 2012, the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland ruled against the government’s exemption for ritual slaughter of animals to meet Jewish and Muslim regulations.  In a case that animal rights groups initiated, the court ruled that all animals, according to Polish law, must be stunned before they have their throats slit and are bled to death.  That brought protests from religious groups and put into question the profitability of 24 slaughter houses that slaughter not only for the home market but also produce $259 million in exports.  Now, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, has promised to draft a law that would reduce the animals’ suffering and meet the various religious requirements.

See http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Polish-court-rules-against-ritual-slaughter and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/poland-to-step-up-ritual-animal-slaughter-regulations-to-minimize-suffering/article11497997/.

Details of the Serbia-Kosovo Agreement    22 April 2013

The details that Serbia and Kosovo reached on 19 April have become public.  Areas in Kosovo where Serbs form a majority, that is, in Northern Kosovo, "will have full overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning," according to the fourth point.  The police will be under the control of the Kosovan authorities, but the Serb areas will be able to nominate the police chiefs.  The parliament in Kosovo approved the agreement today.  The Serbian government has approved the plan and voted to begin implementing it, and the Serbian parliament will take up the issue later in the week.  Serbian nationalists in Serbia and Kosovo remain unsatisfied with the agreement.  Apparently, the Russians encouraged the Serbs to return to the negotiating table, and Russian support for an agreement may have encouraged the Serbs to accept a compromise.

See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/kosovo-approves-resolution-on-agreement-with-serbia, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130421/eu-serbia-kosovo/?utm_hp_ref=homepage&ir=homepage, http://www.scotsman.com/news/international/serbia-approves-normalisation-deal-with-kosovo-1-2904435, and http://euobserver.com/enlargement/119873.  Background to Serbia's decision to come to an agreement with Kosovans is at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/768.  Finally, the 15-point agreement is available at http://euobserver.com/media/src/e04cf94895edb5ad13bdcff237ea2008.pdf.  An earlier posting about the agreement is available here.

New Jewish Museum in Warsaw    20 April 2013

On 19 April, the Polish-Jewish-American philanthropist Tad Taube presided over the opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is located in the former Jewish ghetto of Warsaw.  Taube, noted for his successful real estate business and many other business ventures,  leads two organizations that raises money for the museum.  Despite the festivities, the main exhibitions of the museum remain incomplete, but the museum administrators wanted the opening to coincide with the celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  Once completed, the museum will be among the largest Jewish museums in the world.  See http://news.yahoo.com/us-philanthropist-savors-opening-jewish-museum-100042573.html.  The museum’s website is http://www.jewishmuseum.org.pl/en/cms/home-page/.

For additional news about the celebrations in Poland to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, see http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2013/04/warsaw-ghetto-uprising, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/warsaw-ghetto-uprising-70th-anniversary_n_3115348.html, and http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/poland-commemorates-70th-anniversary-of-warsaw-ghetto-uprising-a-895375.html.

West, Texas, Explosion    20 April 2013

West, Texas, the location of the horrific blast at a fertilizer company on 17 April that destroyed so much of the town, has strong roots in Czech immigration.  West, “the Czech heritage capital of Texas,” is as one of the many centers of Czech culture in the state.  The Czechs began to arrive there and elsewhere in Texas in the late nineteenth century, the same time they established communities throughout the Midwest.  McLennan County, the location of West, was one of a half dozen counties in Texas where significant numbers of Czechs, mostly Catholics and largely from Moravia, made their homes.  The other counties were Austin, Burleson, Fayette, Lavaca, and Williamson.  By the turn of the century, the Czechs in Texas were known for their efficient agriculture and their use of the latest agricultural machines.  More information is available at http://news.yahoo.com/town-hit-explosion-known-czech-heritage-222653915.html.  Additional details for this posting came from Stanislav Klíma, Cechové a Slováci za hranicemi (Prague Nakladatelstvi J. Otto, spol. s r.o., 1925), 203.

Chechen, Not Czech    20 April 2013

The horrific terrorist bombing on 15 April at the Boston Marathon, the work of two Chechen brothers living in America, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, brought the conflict in Chechnya to the fore for Americans.  Some, however, have had difficulties differentiating between Chechens and Czechs.  As a result, the Czech ambassador in the United States has had to clarify that his country is not Chechnya in a statement available at http://www.mzv.cz/washington/en/czech_u_s_relations/news/statement_of_the_ambassador_of_the_czech.html.  Meanwhile, some Tweets from Americans have identified the perpetrators as Czech, much to the consternation of their fellow Tweeters.  More on this story is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/chechnya-czech-republic-twitter_n_3116773.html.

Yugosphere    20 April 2013

In 2009, the journalist Tim Judah, who covers the Balkans for the Economist, suggested the existence of the Yugosphere, a continuation of relationships among the now independent components of the former Yugoslavia.  It has at its basis not only international agreements for cooperation, but military partnerships, business dealings, tourism, and even criminal activity.  Furthermore, it extends beyond the borders of the old Yugoslavia to cover much of the Balkans.  Judah’s original paper published with the London School of Economics is at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/48041/.  Now, professor Anna Jagiełło-Szostak, who teaches political science at the Wyższa Szkola Handlowa in Wrocław, presents a progress report on the development of the Yugosphere at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/761.

Serbia-Kosovo Deal    20 April 2013

The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security has brokered a deal between Serbia and Kosovo.  The details are unknown, but the Serb-dominated Northern Kosovo will receive some degree of police autonomy in return for Serbian recognition of Kosovo.  The agreement, assuming both sides ratify it, will pave the way for Serbia and Kosovo to initiate closer cooperation with the European Union.  See http://www.rferl.org/content/eu-serbia-kosovo-talks/24962271.html.  See also the posting immediately below dated 18 April 2013 and an even earlier posting here.

Kosovo and Serbia Talks Fail   18 April 2013

A special round of talks in Brussels on 17-18 April between Kosovo and Serbia broke down when Serbia insisted that the Serbs in North Kosovo receive a greater degree of autonomy, including their own parliament and police force.  Meanwhile, Germany has sided with Kosovo and has called on Serbia to stop supporting the strengthening of North Kosovo’s institutions.  See http://www.rferl.org/content/kosovo-eu/24960899.html, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/18/us-serbia-kosovo-idUSBRE93G1AF20130418, and http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/germany-pushes-serbia-to-normalise-relations-with-kosovo.

Hungary’s Special EU Tax    18 April 2013

Authorities in the European Union are criticizing Hungary for a new tax that will force its citizens to pay for any fines the EU levies on Hungary for not complying with EU decisions.  Currently, the EU is adamant that the Hungarians repeal recent laws that allow a judicial administrative body to determine the venue of court cases, that restrict political advertisements during elections, and that institute a new tax levied to pay EU fines.  See http://euobserver.com/justice/119835.

Greek Financial Claims against Germany    17 April 2013

A German historian, Hagen Fleischer, who has taught in Greece for years, argues that certain Greek financial claims against Germany that date from the Second World War are valid.  While he believes it is unlikely that Germany would pay Greece reparations, the issue of a loan the Germans forced the Greeks to arrange during the war is another issue.  The amount the Germans never paid to settle the loan would run into the hundreds of billions of euros, after inflation.  That might cover at least one-third of the Greek public debt, which hovers around €350 billion.  The Germans never fully addressed the question of what they owe the Greeks because they claimed that the division of Germany during the cold war prevented such a discussion and that the peace treaty with Germany in 1990 settled all claims.  Furthermore, Fleischer maintains that the 1960 Greek-German settlement was too low.  The Netherlands, for example, received much more than Greece and faced far less destruction.  See http://www.enetenglish.gr/?i=news.en.newsmain&id=664.  On the issue of Greek financial claims against Germany, see http://www.dw.de/greece-ponders-german-war-reparations/a-16744823.

Croatia’s Election to the EU Parliament    15 April 2013

In yesterday’s election for the European Parliament, in anticipation of Croatia’s entry into the European Union, the voter turnout was low, approximately 20 percent of the electorate.  Two parties in the opposition did well.  The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) won six seats, and one of the victors was a former Canadian police woman.  The Liberal party (LS) won one seat.  The ruling Social Democrats (SDP) and Croatian People’s party (HNS) won five seats.

See http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Croatias+first+elections+show+lukewarm+support+membership/8240981/story.html, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/774895.shtml#.UWxajUpc1Zc, and http://www.croatiantimes.com/news/General_News/2013-04-15/32951/EU_skeptic_wins_the_first_European_Parliament_elections_in_Croatia.

UWF Lecture Announcement: "Kurds of the Middle East"    14 April 2013

Sara Zandi Karimi will present a lecture on “The Kurds of the Middle East” on Friday, 26 April 2013, at 2.00 PM in the Nautilus Chamber on the second floor of the University Commons at the main campus of the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

The lecture will focus on the Kurds, the largest and most important national minority of the Middle East, and the role they have played in the politics of the region since the First World War.  It will trace the Kurds’ socio-political development in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria and examine their relationships with the central governments of these countries.

Sara Zandi Karimi holds a M.Phil from Oxford University in the UK and is a University of West Florida alumna.  Her research focuses on the history of modern Iran and its Kurdish regions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This announcement also is available at http://events.uwf.edu/EventList.aspx?fromdate=4/1/2013&todate=4/30/2013&display=Month&type=public&eventidn=1673&view=EventDetails&information_id=5872.

UPDATE! On 30 April, Ms. Karimi will give a lecture titled “Between Scylla and Charybdis:The Kurds and Iran in the Interwar Period” at the University of South Alabama in Mobile at 3.30 PM in Room 122 of the Humanities Building.

News Briefs    14 April 2013

Father Emil Kapaun (1916-1951) -- On 11 April 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Father Emil Kapaun, a Roman Catholic army chaplain who died in captivity during the Korean War.  Kapaun, who was born near Pilsen, KS, of Czech immigrant parents, served in the Second World War as well as the Korean conflict.  While in Korea, he saved several men during battle, comforted the injured, and chose to remain with the men, even though it meant his capture.  The Catholic Church designated him as a Servant of God in 1993, which placed him in the first of four categories in the process of canonization as a saint.  See http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/04/11/president-obama-awards-medal-honor-father-emil-kapaun-0.

Political Prisoners in Belarus -- The case of the Nobel Prize nominee Ales Bialiatski, who is in a maximum-security prison for 4.5 years, allegedly on a false charge of tax evasion, calls attention to the fate of political prisoners and the cause of free speech in Belarus.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/119757.

Wrocław’s Economic Success --
A brief report from Al Jazeera about the economic appeal of Wrocław, Poland, is at http://aje.me/YD06y8.

Margaret Thatcher and 1989 --
An analysis of the late Margaret Thatcher’s role in the collapse of communism, particularly from the Polish perspective, is at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/751.

Klaus’s Amnesties -- The Constitutional Court will reexamine the validity of the amnesties that Václav Klaus issued before leaving office as the president of the Czech Republic.  They are controversial not only in the number of people released--more than 6,000--but because many of those covered in the act of goodwill were high-profile economic criminals.  See http://praguemonitor.com/2013/04/10/ln-constitutional-court-check-klauss-presidential-amnesty-again.

The Kosovo-Serbia Standoff    14 April 2013

The prime minister of Serbia, Ivica Dačić, indicated that a land swap that would give the Serbs in north Kosovo to Serbia and the Albanians in Preševo, Serbia, to Kosovo was an arrangement that could have led to a solution to the improvement of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.  Preševo is contiguous to Kosovo, and North Kosovo, which is much larger than Preševo, is contiguous to Central Serbia.  Dačić claimed that the United States rejected the idea because it would threaten Macedonia, where a quarter of the population is Albanian.  It is not known whether the failed talks between Serbia and Kosovo that the European Union recently brokered had included the land-swap proposal that Dačić outlined.  It has been a solution that Albanians in Preševo have discussed.  See http://euobserver.com/enlargement/119742 and http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/south-serbia-albanians-request-exhange-of-territories-to-be-on-agenda.

Underwater Munitions from the Second World War in Germany    11 April 2013

Germany is dealing with 50 million bombs and other types of German and Allied munitions from the Second World War off the shores of the Baltic and Black Sea.  They occasionally wash ashore, and some beach goers have been harmed, for example, from phosphorus burns from the remains of incendiary bombs.  Other than dealing with the immediate thread of unexploded ordinance that come ashore or that are in the way of wind farms, the German authorities have decided that they will continue to let the munitions deteriorate on their own under water because they pose a minimal danger to shipping.  Read more at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/dangers-of-unexploded-wwii-munitions-in-north-and-baltic-seas-a-893113.html.  See also the earlier report about an unexploded bomb at the Main Railway Station in Berlin here.

Shootings in Serbia    13 April 2013

Ljubiša Bogdanović, a resident of a village some 30 miles from Belgrade, killed thirteen people before police apprehended him.  A former soldier in the Serbian army during the wars who participated in the 1992 attack against the Croatian city of Vukovar, Bogdanović admitted to his brother that he had seen horrific things during the war.  Although his brother stated that the war had changed him, Ljubiša Bogdanović still commanded the respect of villagers, and nobody understands what motivated him to commit the crimes.  See the B92 report at http://www.b92.net/eng/news/crimes-article.php?yyyy=2013&mm=04&dd=09&nav_id=85598 and the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/man-kills-13-people-serbian-shooting-rampage-200054568.html.

Lutsenko’s Pardon    9 April 2013

On 7 April, the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, pardoned Yuriy Lutsenko, a close associate of Yulia Tymoshenko and a former interior minister.  Upon his release from prison, Lutsenko vowed to remain in politics, saying, "I will be in the streets, among the people."  Yanukovych simultaneously pardoned five other politicians who were imprisoned, but not Tymoshenko.

The motives for the pardons may be varied.  Analysts speculate that they are to appease the European Union ahead of signing an association agreement with Ukraine.  Another possibility is to further crowd the opposition slates with well-known potential candidates in various political races, especially the upcoming Kyiv mayoral race.  The government stated that prison overcrowding was a contributing factor.

For more information on the pardons, see http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-yanukovych-lutsenko-pardon/24950001.html and http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/744.

Nude Protesters against Putin    9 April 2013

While Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel were visiting a trade fair in Hanover, Germany, that this year is highlighting economic exchanges between Russia and Germany, women from Femen staged a topless protest against him.  The women wanted to call attention to the new restrictions in Russia against nongovernmental organizations, two of which are the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation (the first is linked to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the second to the German Social Democratic party).  Merkel was embarrassed, but Putin gave the action two thumbs up, stating that it helped to promote the fair (the photos show Putin’s initial surprise).  The Kremlin labeled the protesters’ action as hooliganism and called for their strict punishment.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/world/europe/08iht-putin08.html?_r=0, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/putin-visibly-amused-by-topless-femen-protest-in-germany-a-893128.html and http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/04/08/wrd-putin-topless-protest.html.

Stalin in Georgia    8 April 2013

As Georgia is about to experience a transition to a presidency that may test the country’s democratic direction, Stalin is raising in popularity.  Alicia Hooper, a graduate student at George Mason University, considers the implications of developments in Georgia at http://hnn.us/articles/georgias-againoff-again-relationship-joseph-stalin.

Incumbent Wins Presidency in Montenegro    8 April 2013

The president of Montenegro, Filip Vujanović, has won reelection by a narrow margin.  The contender, Miodrag Lekić, is challenging the vote, which may raise questions about Montenegro's democracy as it positions itself for European Union membership.  Vujanović has the support of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists and Social Democratic party, while the opposition Socialist People's party, which is in the center and more conservative than the ruling coalition, backs Lekić.  The position of president in Montenegro is largely ceremonial, although as in other countries where the prime minister is the real source of power, the president still is influential.  See http://www.dw.de/vujanovic-declares-victory-in-ex-yugoslavia-state-montenegro/a-16726672 and http://news.yahoo.com/incumbent-declared-winner-montenegro-election-165652012.html.

Serbia to Reject EU Proposal    8 April 2013

The Serbian deputy prime minister stated that his government will formally reject the plan of the European Union for a settlement with Kosovo because the proposal does not include autonomy for the Serbs in the northern part of the state.  Currently, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, which the EU has set as a precondition for Serbia's accession to the EU.  The issue also is blocking progress on Kosovo's Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU.  Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy, indicated that she will not continue with further talks.  See the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/serbia-reject-eu-brokered-kosovo-deal-105504417.html.  See the earlier post on this topic here.

Increased Anti-Semitic Violence in 2012    7 April 2013

Tel Aviv University and the European Jewish Congress have released a report stating that anti-Semitic violence rose 30 percent last year.  In 2012, there were 686 incidents, such as physical violence and vandalism against Jewish institutions and cemeteries, in 34 countries, an increase in violence from the last two years.  More information on the report is available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/israeli-researchers-find-30-percent-rise-in-anti-semitic-incidents-worldwide-in-2012/2013/04/07/a5c59b96-9f5c-11e2-9219-51eb8387e8f1_story.html.

Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising    6 April 2013

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which reached its peak in April and May of 1943, exactly 70 years ago, was a heroic act of Jewish resistance against the Nazi regime and the Holocaust.  Aliza Vitis-Shomron (née Mendel, born 1929), who participated in the resistance as a young teenager and received orders to escape from the ghetto before the fighting began because of her age, recalled her experiences in an interview with the journalist Aron Heller.  See the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/warsaw-ghetto-survivor-israel-recalls-uprising-173855032.html.

Turmoil in the Ukrainian Rada    4 April 2013

The opposition and the ruling Party of Regions in the Ukrainian Rada have been sparring for some time, but tensions heightened today when representatives of the Party of Regions walked out of the Rada and started meeting elsewhere.  The opposition claims that the ruling party's actions are illegal, and the opposition is preparing for early elections.  See the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-parliament-session-seized-ruling-party-112743482.html.

Free Transportation in Tallinn    4 April 2013

Public transportation in Tallinn, Estonia, is free for all city residents.  While some claim it is a ploy before elections, the idea has paid off for the capital.  There has been a spike in individuals claiming residency in Tallinn, and the new tax revenue easily offsets the cost of providing free transportation.  See http://news.yahoo.com/estonias-capital-gives-residents-free-ride-065441258.html.  The new policy is not surprising, considering that Tallinn also offers its residents free wireless Internet service in a program that covers almost the entire country.

Mosque in Thessaloniki Again Used for Prayer    3 April 2013

In 1902, an Italian architect, Vitaliano Poselli (1838-1918), constructed the New Mosque for Dönmeh believers, that is, Jews who converted to Islam but maintained Jewish identity and kept certain Jewish beliefs and rituals.  After the First World War, conflict between Greece and Turkey led to population exchanges, and the Dönmeh had to relocate in Turkey.  On 30 March, 50 Greek Muslims from Komotini, Thrace, prayed at the New Mosque, which is an exhibition hall and before was a museum.  Commenting on the decision of the Thessaloniki mayor to arrange the service, the Turkish consul general in the city, Tuğrul Biltekin, stated: “I hope mosques in Thessaloniki and other locations in the region will be open to Muslims during holy days.”

See http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/first-prayer-in-thessaloniki-mosque-after-90-years.aspx?pageID=238&nID=44096&NewsCatID=393.

World War II Bomb Discovered Near Berlin's Main Railway Station    3 April 2013

A survey of a construction site near the Main Railway Station in Berlin revealed an unexploded bomb from the Second World War.  The discovery disrupted rail services until munitions experts defused the bomb, which was approximately six feet away from one of the train tracks.  See http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-rail-services-face-disruption-after-wwii-bomb-found-in-berlin-a-892180.html and http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/03/world/europe/germany-berlin-bomb/index.html.

Zeman Fulfilled Three Electoral Promises    3 April 2013

The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has fulfilled three promises he made during his electoral campaign.  First, on 3 April, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, visited the Hrad.  Second, Zeman ordered the EU flag flown at the Prague Castle, something that his predecessor, the eurosceptic Václav Klaus had refused to do.  Klaus once remarked that "the Czech state flag belongs at the Prague Castle, the symbol of Czech statehood.  Certainly other paths lead to full-fledged membership in the European Union than Euro flag-waiving."  Aside from these largely symbolic acts, Zeman ratified the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).  Klaus would not sign the amendment to the Lisbon Treaty, referring to it as "monstrous and absurd," and Zeman's signature means that the Czech Republic is no longer the only state in the European Union not to complete the ratification process.  Immediately afterward, Zeman told reporters: “What has just happened took place with some delay but fortunately, it did happen. It’s a symbol of our allegiance to the mainstream of European integration. Mr Barroso and I have similar views and I think we both belong to what you might call the EU’s mainstream, or hard core.”

See the English report from Radio Prague at http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/president-zeman-hoists-eu-flag-at-prague-castle.  Information for this posting also came from the Czech-language reports at http://www.lidovky.cz/prileti-barroso-se-zemanem-vyvesi-na-hrade-vlajku-eu-f9n-/zpravy-domov.aspx?c=A130402_121120_ln_domov_pef and

Three Ghosts of the Balkan Past    2 April 2013

Three news items in recent days remind observers of the Balkans that the conflicts resulting in the breakup of Yugoslavia have left deep scars.

First, the issue of street signs in Cyrillic in and around the city of Vukovar, which has a substantial Serbian population, still is meeting with resistance from the majority Croats.  Natalia Zielińska, a graduate student who specializes in European Union regional policy and integration of the components of the former Yugoslavia, has written an update about the situation at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/722.  An earlier post about this topic on this web site is here.

The Turks recently have floated a proposal to end the standoff in Cyprus between the Greek Cypriot government and the breakaway Turkish region.  They did not release the details to the public, but it is apparent that they are proposing a two-state solution.  The Turks maintain that a settlement would enable the island to exploit its natural resources, including valuable natural gas.  The Greek and Cypriot governments claim that the Turks are taking advantage of the economic difficulties of Cyprus in order to arrange a deal that is favorable to them and the Turks on Cyprus.  More details are at http://euobserver.com/foreign/119638.

Finally, on 2 April, talks between Serbia and Kosovo over the recognition of Kosovo apparently have collapsed.  The European Union, which is serving as the mediator, is unlikely to begin accession talks with Serbia or conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo if the two sides cannot reach an agreement.  News about the 2 April meeting is at http://news.yahoo.com/serbia-kosovo-talks-fail-reach-accord-223842673.html.  An opinion piece by Jeton Zulfaj, a postgraduate student at Lund University, is at http://euobserver.com/opinion/119633.

New Web Pages: Traveling in Central Europe    1 April 2013

Originally designed for the benefit of those participating in Dr. Daneil E. Miller's 2013 Central European Tour, Traveling in Central Europe, the new section of this web site, will benefit anyone planning a journey to Central Europe, whether it is for business or pleasure.  Magical Central Europe contains information about specific destinations in Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary.  Tips for Travelers provides suggestions about making the travel experience more pleasurable and effective.  Finally, Travel Links provides additional web sites to help plan a tour and schedule events at specific locations.