"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 2014


  1. 1 28 June 1914    28 June 2014
  2. 2 Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia Sign Pact with EU    28 June 2014
  3. 3 In Europe, the East Works the Most    28 June 2014
  4. 4 Putin Welcomed in Austria    28 June 2014
  5. 5 Church-Mosque-Synagogue in Berlin    28 June 2014
  6. 6 Poroshenko’s Week-Long Truce    21 June 2014
  7. 7 Fighting Resumes in Ukraine    19 June 2014
  8. 8 Ukraine’s Unilateral Cease Fire    18 June 2014
  9. 9 News about Ukraine    18 June 2014
  10. 10 Czech President Zeman on the EU and the Euro    18 June 2014
  11. 11 New Insights on Neanderthals    18 June 2014
  12. 12 Slovenia’s Ex-Prime Minister to Be Jailed    18 June 2014
  13. 13 Two Second World War Accounts    18 July 2014
  14. 14 Hungarian Media Protest    6 June 2014
  15. 15 Fighting in Eastern Ukraine     5 June 2014
  16. 16 Obama in Warsaw    5 June 2014
  17. 17 Lithuania to Enter the Eurozone    5 June 2014
  18. 18 The US Pledges Help to Eastern EU States and Ukraine    3 June 2014
  19. 19 Wojciech Jaruzelski (1923-2014)    29 May 2014
  20. 20 Ukrainian Elections    28 May 2014
  21. 21 EU Elections    28 May 2014
  22. 22 Who Caused World War I?    21 May 2014
  23. 23 Chechens in Eastern Ukraine    21 May 2014
  24. 24 Possible Majdanek Trials    21 May 2014
  25. 25 Rasmussen on Russia    20 May 2014
  26. 26 Viktor Sukhodrev (1932-2014)    20 May 2014
  27. 27 Flooding in Bosnia and Serbia    20 May 2014
  28. 28 Winton’s Letter to Roosevelt    19 May 2014
  29. 29 Will Russian Troops Leave?    19 May 2014
  30. 30 Oligarchs to the Rescue?    19 May 2014
  31. 31 Ukraine: Recipe for Failure    18 May 2014
  32. 32 Slovak National Party    17 May 2014
  33. 33 New Journal: Central European Papers    16 May 2014
  34. 34 Hungarian Minorities    16 May 2014
  35. 35 Ukraine-Slovakia Reverse-Flow Agreement    16 May 2014
  36. 36 Moldova-EU Trade Agreement    16 May 2014
  37. 37 Eurovision Winner: Conchita    16 May 2014
  38. 38 Croatia’s EU Elections    16 May 2014
  39. 39 Hitler’s Second Book    16 May 2014
  40. 40 Continued Suspense in Ukraine    15 May 2014
  41. 41 Ten Years in the EU    15 May 2014
  42. 42 EU Elections in Romania and Hungary    15 May 2014
  43. 43 The Polish-German Border    12 May 2014
  44. 44 Eleven Days in May: The Situation in Ukraine    12 May 2014
  45. 45 Value-Added Teaching    12 May 2014
  46. 46 Sixty Minutes on Nicholas Winton    30 April 2014
  47. 47 John Paul II Canonized    27 April 2014
  48. 48 Slovak Tax Receipt Lottery    27 April 2014
  49. 49 Oh Deer!    27 April 2014
  50. 50 Situation in Ukraine Calm    27 April 2014
  51. 51 G7 Sanctions against Russia    26 April 2014
  52. 52 The Beguines of Medieval Paris    26 April 2014
  53. 53 Ukraine’s Catch 22    25 April 2014    UPDATE!
  54. 54 Earthquake in Slovenia    23 April 2014
  55. 55 Tensions in Ukraine Continue to Rise    23 April 2014
  56. 56 Ukraine: Still Holding    21 April 2014
  57. 57 Ukraine: Easter Truce    19 April 2014
  58. 58 Success in Geneva    18 April 2014
  59. 59 China’s Minsky Moment: Repercussions for Europe and the World    18 April 2014
  60. 60 Geneva Talks about Ukraine    17 April 2014
  61. 61 Analyses of the Fidesz Victory    17 April 2014
  62. 62 Relic from the Last Habsburg Emperor    17 April 2014
  63. 63 Tensions Mount before Talks about Ukraine    16 April 2014
  64. 64 Tensions Rise over Ukraine    14 April 2014    UPDATE!
  65. 65 The Voynich Manuscript    13 April 2014
  66. 66 Slaviansk Standoff Ended    13 April 2014
  67. 67 Tension in Ukraine Continues    12 April 2014
  68. 68 Potential and Past Sanctions    9 April 2014
  69. 69 Deal on Art the Nazis Looted    9 April 2014
  70. 70 EU Elections in Poland    8 April 2014
  71. 71 Austria’s Freedom Party and EU Elections    8 April 2014
  72. 72 Ukraine–Fueling Unrest in the East    8 April 2014
  73. 73 Unrest in Eastern Ukraine    6 April 2014
  74. 74 Elections in Hungary    6 April 2014
  75. 75 Becherovka for Sale    4 April 2014
  76. 76 Amazon in the Czech Republic    4 April 2014
  77. 77 Germany Returns Stolen Art to Poland    4 April 2014
  78. 78 Russian Professor Offered Position in the Czech Republic    4 April 2014
  79. 79 Roma in the Czech Elections    4 April 2014
  80. 80 EU Eliminates Visas for Moldova    4 April 2014
  81. 81 News about Ukraine    4 April 2014
  82. 82 Reichstag Fire    4 April 2014
  83. 83 Origins of the Medieval Plague    4 April 2014
  84. 84 Kiska Elected Slovak President    1 April 2014
  85. 85 Former Latvian President on the Russian Threat    1 April 2014
  86. 86 Attila Tomb Hoax    1 April 2014

28 June 1914    28 June 2014

Today is the anniversary of the assassination of Ferdinand d’Este, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, and his wife during their visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which in 1908 Austria-Hungary had annexed.  Commemorations of what many call the opening shot of the First World War are taking place throughout the world, particularly in Europe.  See http://news.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-lancashire/plain/A11873900.

Historians are well aware that, given the tensions among the great powers in Europe, the desire to strengthen their global position through colonies, economic competition, nationalism that had grown to intense proportions, and the belief that modern weaponry and technology would result in a brief war (the leaders knew better but did nothing to warn their citizens), anything could have started a major conflict.  With the ties the great powers had with the relatively new Balkan states, that spark became Sarajevo assassination that was the work of the Black Hand, a Serbian conspiratorial group bent on creating a greater Serbia.  The resulting war not only cost millions their lives but brought about the fall of four dynasties–Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov, and Ottoman–as well as the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia Sign Pact with EU    28 June 2014

On 27 June, the European Union signed partnership agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, despite Russian objections and pressure on the three former components of the Soviet Union.  In Ukraine, fighting continues, and the numbers of refugees fleeing the eastern part of the country continues to mount.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28052645; and http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-pressures-moldova-as-date-for-signing-of-eu-deal/2014/06/25/0d9ed50f-42d3-47db-90f6-3073c03746b1_story.html.

In Europe, the East Works the Most    28 June 2014

A research institute in Paris determined that the Romanians and Greeks work the longest hours in Europe with the Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Poles, Latvians, Slovaks, Estonians, and Cypriots behind them.  The Finns and French worked the least, and the British and Germans were in the middle.  The research dispels the popular belief that those in the East, particularly those living in the Balkans, work very little.  See http://euobserver.com/social/124761.

Putin Welcomed in Austria    28 June 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin began a visit in Austria, where he received a warm welcome.  The Austrian president, Heinz Fischer, supports the South Stream pipeline, which will bring Russian natural gas to Europe by bypassing Ukraine.  In his speech, Putin claimed that the United States is trying to discredit Russia and stop the South Stream pipeline so it can sell its liquefied natural gas to Europe.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/124742.

Church-Mosque-Synagogue in Berlin    28 June 2014

In Berlin, a single structure on the site of a church in former East Berlin dating from the twelfth century that was destroyed during the Second World War will be the new house of worship for congregations of three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Protestantism.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27872551.

Poroshenko’s Week-Long Truce    21 June 2014

On Friday, 20 June, after several days of fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine announced another unilateral truce, this time to last one week.  He essentially offered the separatists the same possibilities he did with his first truce: the separatists are to put down their weapons and not face prosecution, assuming they committed no crimes, and they could have safe passage to Russia, should they want to emigrate.  Poroshenko warned that the truce does not prevent his troops from responding to aggression.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-poroshenko-declares-week-long-ceasefire-warns-rebels-193501871.html.

Fighting Resumes in Ukraine    19 June 2014

Pro-Russian separatists rejected President Petro Poroshenko’s unilateral cease fire, and Ukrainian forces resumed their advances against the rebels, who now report heavy losses.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-forces-fight-fierce-battle-eastern-separatists-070812533.html.

Ukraine’s Unilateral Cease Fire    18 June 2014

Petro Poroshenko intends to declare a unilateral cease fire that he hopes will include peace talks with pro-Russian separatists.  See 

News about Ukraine    18 June 2014

Russian Tanks--It appears that Russian tanks have made an appearance in Eastern Ukraine.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27849437 and http://euobserver.com/foreign/124597.

Gas Wars--Gazprom no longer will supply Ukraine with natural gas unless it pays in advance.  The Russian firm rejected a compromise arrangement the European Union had suggested.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/124612.

Ukrainian Plane Shot Down--On 14 June, Russian separatists in Ukraine managed to shoot down a Ukrainian plane, killing 49, mostly military personnel.  See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/06/14/321951650/ukraine-promises-adequate-response-after-rebels-shoot-down-plane?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140614&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews.

Russia Does Not Oppose Ukrainian-EU Economic Agreement--Servei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, stated on 11 June that his country does not object to the economic agreement Ukraine will sign with the European Union.  Ukraine already signed the political portion of the agreement in March.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/124545.

Poroshenko’s Peace Plan--During his inauguration on 8 June, Ukraine’s newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, has proposed to create a corridor for Russian separatists who wish to leave Ukraine for Russia and who have not committed a crime.  He also promised a decentralized state, with language rights for Russian speakers, but the official language of Ukraine still would be Ukrainian.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/124525.

Hunter Biden on Board of Ukrainian Gas Company--Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, was appointed to the board of Burisma, Ukraine’s gas company, which still may have ties to the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych.  There are other Americans with political connections on the board, and there is some speculation that the company wishes to find ways of becoming more competitive using American experience and contacts.  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/14/hunter-bidens-new-job-at-a-ukrainian-gas-company-is-a-problem-for-u-s-soft-power/.

Tax Cheats--During the old administration in Ukraine, tax cheats stole billions from the treasury, with help in part from a secret room that included a transparent table that would reveal any listening devices.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ap-impact-tax-cheats-took-billions-ukraine-011611058--politics.html.

Czech President Zeman on the EU and the Euro    18 June 2014

Czech president, Miloš Zeman, addressed the European Parliament on 4 June and called for federation and federation but not a unitary state that eliminates all differences.  He added that Europe does not need one uniform beer and that the MPs need to taste Czech beer to understand the value of being different.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/president-zeman-addresses-european-parliament.  Zeman also remarked on a separate occasion that the Czech Republic will enter the eurozone by 2017, which many in the Czech Republic fear will cause their standard of living to decline.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/124566 and the dated but informative article at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/world/europe/czechs-split-deeply-over-joining-the-euro.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

New Insights on Neanderthals    18 June 2014

Anthropologists argue that Neanderthals were not inferior to modern humans and likely could communicate and plan in advance.  Most likely, the Neanderthals interbred with modern humans, and the males that resulted were less fertile than their modern human counterparts.  Neanderthals also tended to live in small groups and were overwhelmed by modern humans.  See http://hnn.us/article/155860.

Slovenia’s Ex-Prime Minister to Be Jailed    18 June 2014

Janez Jansa, Slovenia’s ex-premier and head of the conservative Slovenia Democratic party, will begin a two-year prison term for corruption, although he maintains he is innocent.  Elections will be held in Slovenia on 13 July, and Jansa is not barred from running for a seat and even becoming prime minister.  Slovenia’s political landscape includes a multitude of parties and divided loyalties that are typical of the consociational states that emerged from the Habsburg Monarchy, especially those that once were part of Austria.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124569.

Two Second World War Accounts    18 July 2014

Kinjo Shigeaki, who now is 85 years old, recalled in an interview how he survived a mass suicide after participating in the killing of his own family on Tokashiki Island, Okinawa, in March 1945.  His chilling story is at http://hnn.us/article/155869

Paul Fairbrook recalls his family’s escape from Nazi Germany as anti-Semitism heightened in an interview available at http://www.humphreys.edu/pdf/newsletter/newsletter_2014_spring_supplement.pdf.

Hungarian Media Protest    6 June 2014

Hungarian TV had a 15 minute blackout on 5 June, and Hungarian newspapers printed a blank page on 6 June to protest a new tax on the media, including Facebook and other outlets, that will require them to pay 40 percent of revenues over 20 billion forints (€65 million).  Even the newspaper close to the government, Magyar Nemzet, has criticized the tax.  Opponents claim that it will add little revenue to the government coffers but will hamper the freedom of the press.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124515.

Fighting in Eastern Ukraine     5 June 2014

Fierce fighting between separatists and the Ukrainian army is occurring in the city of Slaviansk, and both sides claiming they have made success.  The Ukrainian government accuses Moscow of sending in volunteer reinforcements for the separatist side.  The G7 countries, which met in Brussels, indicated their willingness to step up sanctions against Russia if it does not agree to help restore peace in Ukraine.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-government-claims-heavy-rebel-losses-fighting-rages-092241758.html; and http://news.yahoo.com/merkel-urges-putin-cooperate-ahead-russia-less-g7-131133694--business.html.

Obama in Warsaw    5 June 2014

On 4 June, President Barack Obama visited Warsaw, where he gave a well-received speech and met with the newly elected president of Ukraine.  A report on the visit is at http://euobserver.com/defence/124480.

Lithuania to Enter the Eurozone    5 June 2014

After having been rejected for admission to the eurozone in 2006, Lithuania has received the approval of the European Commission to adopt the euro on 1 January 2015.  The deeper integration of Lithuania into the European Union is reassuring for its citizens since the country is a former Soviet Republic, borders on Belarus and the Kaliningrad exclave of Russia, and has a Russian minority that is nearly 6 percent of its population.  Other countries–Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Sweden–are not ready to enter the eurozone, according to Olli Rehn, vice president of the European Commission, but they each have made progress toward that goal.   See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-14-425_en.htm and http://euobserver.com/news/124488.

The US Pledges Help to Eastern EU States and Ukraine    3 June 2014

President Barack Obama pledged $1 billion to help NATO states bordering Russia to solidify their defenses and to give more assistance to Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.  There are no plans to base more American or other NATO troops in the area because of the expense associated with such a commitment and the possibility of heightening tensions with Russia.  Obama is in Europe for four days, with stops in Poland, where he met with the Polish president; Brussels, were on Wednesday he will attend a meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven; and then Normandy, where he will join in the commemoration of D-Day.  On Wednesday, he plans to meet the newly-elected president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.  Ukraine is still battling separatist forces, which are entrenched in the city of Slaviansk.   See http://news.yahoo.com/obama-arrives-poland-reassure-eastern-europe-over-ukraine-083936036.html.

Wojciech Jaruzelski (1923-2014)    29 May 2014

The last communist ruler of Poland, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, died after suffering a stroke.  He took power in 1981, creating the only military regime in the history of a communist country, and he ruled until 1989 and the fall of communism in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.  His decision to take power resulted from the weakness of the communist political authorities, the wave of strikes at the time, and the popularity of Solidarity, the independent trade union.  Although critical of his actions, many feel that he spared Poland from a Soviet or Warsaw Pact invasion.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/world/europe/gen-wojciech-jaruzelski-polands-last-communist-leader-dies-at-90.html?_r=0; and http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/171922,National-mourning-for-General-Jaruzelski-unnecessary-.  Pictures of Jaruzelski are available at http://www.rferl.org/media/photogallery/25397865.html.

Ukrainian Elections    28 May 2014

Petro Poroshenko, the so-called chocolate king who owns Roshen Confectionery Corporation, won the 25 May presidential election in Ukraine with nearly 55 percent of the votes. Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was imprisoned under the regime of Viktor Yanukovych, received nearly 13 percent of the votes. In the eastern part of the country, voter turnout was low because of the threats separatists made to shoot people going to the polls, and approximately 20 people were killed as the election approached. Poroshenko has vowed to unify the country and stated that he never will recognize the loss of Crimea.  Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to recognize Poroshenko’s victory.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27569057.

EU Elections    28 May 2014

In last weekend’s elections to the European Parliament, center-right parties in the European People’s party claimed victory, with 213 seats out of 751, but throughout Europe, parties further to the right made important gains.  The most impressive gain for the far right was the National Front in France, under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, who came to head the party in 2011, after her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had resigned.  The ruling Socialists did poorly in the French elections, and Marine Le Pen called on the French president to dissolve the legislature and hold new elections.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124325.  Continuing negotiations that started before the election, several European parties are considering the possibility of creating a new far-right grouping in the European Parliament.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124366; and http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124320.  For a color diagram showing the current parties’ share of the seats in the European Parliament, see http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/election-results-2014.html.

In Slovakia, the Social Democrats won the election, despite losing one seat, but the big news was the low voter turnout of approximately 13 percent.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124278.  The Freedom and Solidarity party in Slovakia may move from the liberal ALDE group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, to the Eurosceptic ECR–European Conservatives and Reformists.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124374.

In the Czech Republic, ANO (translates to yes), the new centrist party of the wealthy Andrej Babiš, gained a slim victory in the European Parliament elections with 16.1 percent of the votes.  TOP, which is in the opposition, received 15.9 percent of the votes to come in second.  Finally, the Social Democrats, who are in the governing coalition with ANO, received 14.2 percent.  See http://radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/ano-edge-top-09-social-democrats-in-european-elections; and http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/seats-member-state-absolut.html.

In one sense, the victory of the center-right parties in the elections changes little.  The concern, however, is the rising strength of the far-right, Eurosceptic parties.  Those who support the deepening integration of the EU in the last decades fear that the Eurosceptics will be successful in slowing the process, although it is unlikely that the far right will manage to reverse the accomplishments of the past.

Who Caused World War I?    21 May 2014

There is one European history topic that students never fail to consider for high-school or even college history papers: who caused the First World War.  Historians cannot solve the issue either, and the most recent contribution to the debate comes from Christopher Clark, who is a professor at Cambridge University.  His book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Harper, 2013), which is now in paperback in English and has a German edition, does not present a particularly novel approach to the topic since he claims that all of Europe’s major powers shared some blame in the outbreak of the war.  Nevertheless, his book is controversial in Germany, where historians long have accepted the notion of Fritz Fischer (1908-1999) that Germany had the same notions of expansion in 1914 as it did in 1939, showing a continuity in German foreign policy.  The implications are that the Nazis’ desire for Lebensraum and the willingness to go to war to achieve it were not merely ideals that Adolf Hitler convinced Germans to accept.  With the publication of Clark’s book, it seems that the old generation of German historians still accept Fischer’s ideas, but the young generation is more inclined to agree with Clark.  News about a recent conference in Germany that highlighted the controversy is at http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/historians-dispute-bestseller-s-thesis-one-of-shared-guilt-1.1786636.

Chechens in Eastern Ukraine    21 May 2014

It appears that the Russians are using Chechen fighters to support the separatists in eastern Ukraine.  The reasoning is that the Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, is a staunch supporter of Russia, which, in turn, permits him to run a dictatorial Islamic regime in Chechnya.  Using Chechens instead of Russians takes international pressure off of Russia and adds to the chaos in eastern Ukraine.  See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/05/20/ozy-russia-ukraine-players/9320009/.

There is one other reason for the Russians to use Chechen fighters: reliability.  When the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia occurred, many of the Soviet troops were from the so-called Asiatic republics, partly because their Russian was less than adequate.  That would make their verbal and written communication with Czechs and Slovaks more difficult.  While that is not a sole reason to use Chechens in Ukraine, it is one to consider.

Possible Majdanek Trials    21 May 2014

German prosecutors may try 20 former guards at the Majdanek death camp and are investigating 220 others on possible charges of accessory to murder.  Ten more former guards who may have been prosecuted already have died. See http://news.yahoo.com/german-probe-finds-20-former-death-camp-guards-113514963.html.

Rasmussen on Russia    20 May 2014

The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, criticized Russia during a regularly scheduled press briefing.  He called Russia’s partition of Ukraine “outrageous” and noted that “in the Russian military doctrine, NATO, is considered as an adversary, and I think we should take that seriously.”  He promised that NATO will deploy more defensive units in the East because of Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine and other former components of the Soviet Union that have expressed an interest in closer ties with the European Union.  Nevertheless, he stated that the basic agreements between Russia and NATO remain and that nuclear weapons targeting Russia will not appear on NATO’s eastern border.  See http://euobserver.com/defence/124184.

Viktor Sukhodrev (1932-2014)    20 May 2014

The interpreter for the Kremlin, Viktor Sukhodrev, who interpreted for Nikita S. Khrushchev, Leonid I. Brezhnev, Constantin U. Chernenko, and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, died on 16 May.  In addition to his remarkable linguistic skills, he was a very perceptive observer of events.  During an interview with NPR, the journalist and expert on Soviet and Russian affairs, Marvin Kalb, remarked: “I think that he was one of the smartest guys I had ever met among the Soviet leaders. Khrushchev, whom I had some dealings with, I put at the very top but Sukhodrev was there interpreting Khrushchev for the world and Khrushchev used very earthy Russian when he spoke. And Sukhodrev would try very hard to smooth out the edges and to make Khrushchev seem a bit more sophisticated than perhaps he was.”  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/viktor-sukhodrev-polished-interpreter-for-soviet-leaders-dies-at-81/2014/05/17/674731d8-dde8-11e3-b745-87d39690c5c0_story.html; and http://www.npr.org/2014/05/19/313996727/interpreter-viktor-sukhodrev-fulcrum-of-the-cold-war-dies-at-81.

Flooding in Bosnia and Serbia    20 May 2014

The European Union is sending equipment and personnel to Bosnia and Serbia to help with springtime flooding.  See http://euobserver.com/enlargement/124191.

Winton’s Letter to Roosevelt    19 May 2014

Immediately before the Second World War, Nicholas Winton, a British subject, saved hundreds of Czech children, mostly Jewish, by sending them to the United Kingdom.  Winton claimed to have written a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt to see if America could take some of the children.  After hearing about Winton on the television news magazine Sixty Minutes, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, David Langbart, found the letter and other related correspondence.  Roosevelt forwarded the letter to the American Department of State, which stated there was no legal mechanism for America to admit the children, other than the standard application process. Sixty Minutes, has made portions of the texts available on line at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/1939-letter-found-plea-to-fdr-to-save-jewish-kids/.  For information on the Sixty Minutes broadcast about Winton, see the post on this website here.

Will Russian Troops Leave?    19 May 2014

President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to leave the vicinity of the Ukrainian border and has called for the peaceful resolution of the crisis in that country.  This is the second time that Putin has given such an order, but like before, there is no visible change in the deployment of the troops.  With this coming weekend’s presidential elections in Ukraine and the stalemate in the eastern part of the country continuing, the Kremlin may have decided that it no longer is in Russia’s best interest to antagonize Ukraine and the West, as some analysts claim.  Of course, Putin can withdraw the troops, creating an excellent media ploy, and quickly mobilize them again after the elections either to intimidate Ukraine or to invade.    See http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/7195 and http://news.yahoo.com/putin-orders-troops-back-bases-drills-near-ukraine-083525239.html.

Oligarchs to the Rescue?    19 May 2014

Rinat Akhmetov, a steel magnate, and Igor Kolomoisky, who is in banking and aviation, are two magnates in the eastern part of Ukraine who finally have announced their support for a unified Ukraine.  Their pronouncements now may result from their belief that Russia no longer is a threat, even though separatists hold a dozen city centers.  Their influence with their workers and in their communities in addition to the pressure they exert on other wealthy businessmen in Ukraine may help tip the balance of public support in the east in favor of Kiev.  In throwing their weight on the side of a unified Ukraine, they join one oligarch who long has supported unity, the so-called chocolate king, Petro Poroshenko, a favorite in the race for the presidency.  Read more in the Los Angeles Times article at http://www.latimes.com/world/.

Ukraine: Recipe for Failure    18 May 2014

An unstamped and unsigned document from July 2013, allegedly from the Kremlin, spells out how Russia can use chaos to destabilize Ukraine and entice it to enter its sphere of economic influence instead of associating with the European Union.  The tactics include relying on pro-Russian individuals and institutions, such as the Ukrainian Choice party.  They also involve punishing those critical of Russia, for example, with financial disincentives.   The speculation now is that Russia wants to postpone the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine or paint them as illegitimate in order to prolong the crisis and prevent any EU-Ukrainian ties from solidifying.  See http://news.yahoo.com/failing-ukraine-state-plays-russias-hands-084106006.html.

For a listing of the latest news events about the continued standoff in Ukraine, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/.

Slovak National Party    17 May 2014

The far-right Slovak National party, which currently has no seats in the Slovak National Council and one in the European Parliament, is in a European-wide grouping known as Europe of Freedom and Democracy, which is Eurosceptic.  Its leaders currently are negotiating with Marine Le Pen about forming a far-right block after elections next week.  Read more at http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124158.

New Journal: Central European Papers    16 May 2014

The premier issues of Central European Papers are available!

Central European Papers brings to readers articles, reviews, and other items of interest relating to the history, politics, and society of Central Europe.  It is a publication of the Silesian University, Faculty of Public Policies (Opava, Czech Republic) and the János Kodolányi University (Székesfehérvár, Hungary), and it has an international board of editors. CEP appears biannually in English both online and in print.

The first issue contains articles on whether Austria-Hungary truly was a great power (Milály Miklós Nagy and László Gulyás), the Romanian Concordat and Hungarian Catholics in the 1920s (Csaba Máté Sarnyai), the Hungarian effort to annex Slovakia (István Janek), the failure of Oto Šik’s economic reforms in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring (Tomáš Nikodym), and the League of Communists of Serbia (Lukáš Vomlela).  

In the second issue are articles about the historical development of Székesfehérvár (Péter Szabó) and Rijeka (Lóránt Bali), studies about Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman relations (Roman Kodet) and the Machník Decree of 1936 (Lukáš Novotný), as well as continuing articles on the Hungarian attempts to annex Slovakia in 1938 (István Janek) and the League of Communists of Serbia (István Janek).

To view the first two issues of Central European Papers free of charge along with more information about the journal, including submission guidelines, click on http://www.slu.cz/fvp/cz/web-cep-en.

Hungarian Minorities    16 May 2014

Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, angered leaders in neighboring countries recently when he called for a special status for Hungarian minorities that reside in Ukraine, Slovakia, Austria, Serbia, and Romania.  Hungarian diplomats pointed out that he did not demand autonomy, and Orbán justified his position, stating that the Hungarian minority question remains unresolved since the Second World War.  Hungarians are Europe’s largest minority that live outside their country’s borders.  While the issue is genuine, it gains more attention during Hungarian elections, and Hungarian politicians now are campaigning for elections to the European Parliament.  For example, the first non-Communist prime minister of Hungary, József Antall (1932–1993), caused a stir during an election campaign when he claimed that he wanted to be prime minister of 15 million Hungarians.  Hungary has a population of approximately 10 million, so he was adding the five million Hungarians that lived outside of te country’s borders.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/124145.

Ukraine-Slovakia Reverse-Flow Agreement    16 May 2014

At the end of April, Slovakia signed a reverse-flow agreement to supply Ukraine with natural gas.  Slovakia joins Poland and Hungary in having agreed to pump gas back to Ukraine, including gas from Gazprom, in order to help Ukraine overcome supply problems in the winter resulting from the high gas prices that Russia uses to punish Ukraine.  Such agreements anger Moscow, and it threatens to retaliate against the EU, which is dependent on Russia for nearly a third of its natural gas.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123946.

Moldova-EU Trade Agreement    16 May 2014

On 27 June, the European Union and Moldova will sign a free trade agreement.  The EU-Moldova Association Agreement will be of economic benefit to Moldova and help stabilize its independence with respect to Russia.  Advocates also hope that the Russian-speaking inhabitants of the breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russians have 1,400 troops and a Russian deputy prime minister recently collected signatures on petitions for independence, will realize the benefits of cooperation with the EU.  The agreement means that Moldovan wine will be flowing to the EU and financial assistance will be pouring from Brussels to Chişinău.  The EU also committed to build a pipeline so that Moldova will be linked to the EU network for natural gas and break the country’s complete dependency on Russia for that resource.  The EU also began visa-free travel for Moldovans on 28 April.  The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, hailed the treaty as a step in the efforts of Moldova to join the EU.  In the middle of April, American Senator John McCain visited Moldova and supported the rapid integration of both that country and Georgia into the EU.

Eurovision Winner: Conchita    16 May 2014

On 10 May, Conchita from Austria won the popular music contest, Eurovision.  She is the svelte, bearded drag queen whose “Rise Like a Phoenix” is extremely popular in Europe.  Armenia, Belarus, and Russia tried to have her banned from the program, and highly-placed Russian politicians criticized her victory.  During her acceptance speech, Conchita stated that “Europe showed that we are a unity full of respect and tolerance.”  Conchita’s performance is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QRUIava4WRM.  See also http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-27360706.

Croatia’s EU Elections    16 May 2014

The center-right coalition under the Croatian Democratic Union is poised to win the elections for the European Parliament in Croatia over the ruling Social Democrats.  The Greens are expected to gain approximately 10 percent of the votes, which is quite respectable for a new party.  Croatia has 11 seats in the partliament.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/124009.

Hitler’s Second Book    16 May 2014

In an article for HistoryNet.com, the German-born American historian, Gerhard L. Weinberg, recalled how he stumbled across Adolf Hitler’s second book, which the Führer never published, as he was working with captured war documents before the United States Army returned them to Germany.  Weinberg edited and published the volume, which appears in English as: Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s Second Book: The Unpublished Sequal to Mein Kampf, ed. Gerhard L. Weinberg, trans. Krista Smith (New York: Enigma Books, 2003).  Weinberg’s article is at http://www.historynet.com/mein-kampf-the-sequel.htm.

Continued Suspense in Ukraine    15 May 2014

Neither side in Ukraine is making much headway in breaking the stalemate between the government and the separatists.  The Geneva agreement terms are dead, since the separatists refused to abide by them.  In recent fighting, several Ukrainian soldiers died, but the military has taken several separatist strongholds.  Thus far, Russia has refrained from recognizing the breakaway provinces, but it has demanded that, as of 1 June, Ukraine pay in advance for natural gas.  In response, the Ukrainians stated that they will use International Monetary Fund and European Union funds to pay market price for Russian gas but not the “political price” the Russians are demanding.  The Ukrainian government also claims that the Russians’ annexation of Crimea robbed the country of energy assets, including gas fields and wells, and that the value of those assets is much higher than the amount of debt Ukraine owes Russia for past natural gas deliveries.

The United States and the EU also are poised to add more economic sanctions on Russia if that country or separatists disrupt voting in Ukraine’s 25 May presidential elections.  The French government also is under pressure at home and abroad to halt the sale of Mistral-class ships to Russia.  With the two warships under contract, the Russian navy would have an edge in the Black Sea.  Most likely, the French will hold that card until they see the outcome of the Ukrainian elections and the response of the EU and US.

Finally, CNN recently reported that a poll showed that the majority of Ukrainians support association with the EU.  In the separatist provinces, only about one-third support association with Russia.  Some in the east favor ties with the EU, but nearly half believe that the country would be best to avoid allying with either the EU or Russia.

Ten Years in the EU    15 May 2014

Laszlo Ander, the European commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion, has written an article, originally published in Hungarian, that considered the score card of the Central European and Balkan states that entered the European Union ten years ago.  On the whole, their economic and social experience has been positive, but they still have not caught up to the standard of living that the member states already in the EU as of 2004 experience.  See http://www.social-europe.eu/2014/05/now-ten-years-eastern-enlargement/.

EU Elections in Romania and Hungary    15 May 2014

In Romania, various candidates in the approaching May elections to the Parliament of the European Union have received the backing of the major contenders in the November presidential elections: Victor Ponta, the Social Democratic prime minister, Crin Antonescu, of the National Liberal party, and Elena Udrea from the Popular Movement.  The outcome of the European Parliament elections may well predict the outcome of the presidential elections.  In Hungary, the ruling Fidesz party is likely to win the EU parliamentary election, but the far-right Jobbik party likely will come in second.  Meanwhile, looking at the situation in Europe as a whole, the president of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, stated that, as a “Euro-optimist and a Euro-federalist,” he is concerned that the Eurosceptics may win surprising victories in the approaching elections.

The Polish-German Border    12 May 2014

It has been ten years since the opening of the border between Germany and Poland within the European Union, the and population in both Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, and Słubice, Poland, now take it for granted that they can travel effortlessly across the Oder River.  In the past, the two cities were one–Frankfurt an der Oder.  They have been separated since 1945, after the border of Poland shifted westward, at the expense of  defeated Germany, to the so-called Oder-Niesse Line (the Niesse is a tributary of the Oder).  A report about how life has changed remarkably on both sides of the river is at http://euobserver.com/regions/123962.

Eleven Days in May: The Situation in Ukraine    12 May 2014

On 12 May, separatist provinces in the eastern part of Ukraine held unofficial referenda on independence, and the results are in the 90s in favor of creating sovereign states.  Self-appointed officials also are talking about the possibility of additional referenda on the issue of uniting with Russia.  The difficulty is that the votes are skewed because Ukrainians avoided the polls.  Furthermore, according to a study the Pew Research Center released on 8 May, more than three-quarters of the population of Ukraine wanted to keep the country together.  Even more than half of the Russian speakers in the east did not hope for independence.

Events in Russia and Ukraine for the past eleven days since the beginning of May have been tense.  Separatists occupied more buildings, the Ukrainian government sent in its military to retake cities and buildings in the hands of separatists, and the death toll mounted on both sides.  It seemed many times as though Russia was on the verge of invading the eastern part of the country and that a full civil war was about to begin, but those possibilities eased.

The month began innocently enough, with news agencies reporting about Russia’s revived May Day parades that commemorated labor.  Nevertheless, on 2 May, 42 pro-Russian activists died when clashes broke out in Odessa.  Separatists sought refuge in a building into which Ukrainians threw Molotov cocktails.  Reports also stated that those inside the building were throwing Molotov cocktails and other objects at the crowd outside.  The Ukrainian prime minister blamed the country’s own security forces for letting the matter get out of hand.  On 3 May, the rebel leader in Slovyansk released all remaining seven peacekeepers his forces had taken hostage (he had authorized the release of one earlier because of health issues).  Supposedly, they were at risk because of violence in the city because of a Ukrainian offensive.  President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea for the first time since Russia annexed the peninsula, and many condemned his trip as a provocative move since it was so close to referenda in various separatist-held regions to determine eastern Ukraine’s future.  Days before the referenda, President Vladimir Putin made a belated effort to encourage the separatists to postpone the voting.  He also spoke against violence and encouraged dialogue with Kyiv.  In an effort to find a solution to the problem, the Ukrainian government announced that it will meet this coming Wednesday with civic groups.  The fear lingers that there will be renewed violence in the aftermath of this weekend’s voting.

For other sources, see

Value-Added Teaching    12 May 2014

David Patten has written “This State Pays a Company $2.3 Million to Rank Teachers by an Algorithmic Formula?” that is in the 11 May 2014 issue of History News Network at http://www.hnn.us/article/155515.  He explains how Ohio and other states are paying more than $2 million per year for a company to evaluate their teachers using a secret formula based on the standardized testing of students.  The claim is that the numbers can determine whether or not a teacher adds value to a student’s testing scores.  In an effort to account for a dysfunctional education system, administrators and politicians are foisting the blame squarely on the teachers.  Instead, Patten suggests that emphasizing professionalism in the classroom would be more productive.  In the game of high-stakes testing, the students continue to lose.

Sixty Minutes on Nicholas Winton    30 April 2014

On 19 May, Sir Nicholas Winton will be 105 years old, and he still is thriving.  As a result of his efforts in 1938 and 1939, Winton managed to transport to London a total of 669 children, mostly Jews, from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which Nazi Germany had incorporated on 15 March 1938 from the western portion of Czechoslovakia.  He had a career in finance and began his activities to save the children during a brief vacation in Prague.  He never talked about his accomplishment until 1988, when his late wife found papers in their attic related to his humanitarian activities.  He was knighted for his work, and he has received several honors in the Czech Republic.  A BBC clip from 1988, showing a surprised Winton with many of those he had rescued, is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_nFuJAF5F0.  Now, the American news magazine, Sixty Minutes, has produced a segment about Winton that is available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-on-eve-of-world-war-11-60-minutes/.  The posting on this website of 1 December 2013 about Winton is located at http://www.centraleuropeanobserver.com/-what-s-new-how-is-the-world-treating-you-4q2013#TOC-Sir-Nicholas-Winton-1-December-2013.

John Paul II Canonized    27 April 2014

On 26 April, Pope Francis has canonized Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła (1920-2005, reigned 1978-2005) in Wadowice, Poland, and John XXIII (reigned 1958-1963), who initiated the reforms of the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council.  See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/04/27/307320319/st-peters-jammed-packed-for-historic-day-of-four-popes?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140427&utm_campaign=dailydigest&utm_term=nprnews.

Slovak Tax Receipt Lottery    27 April 2014

Slovakia has initiated a lottery for cars, cash, and other prizes that only requires participants to register their receipts on a government website.  The intent is to catch fraudulent receipts in order to force merchants and service providers to pay the sales taxes they owe to the state.  So far, the plan is working, and Portugal is the next country to experiment with such a lottery.

Oh Deer!    27 April 2014

Czech scientists have determined that a new generation of deer refuse to venture into the area where electrified fences separated Czechoslovakia from Germany during the cold war.  The deer learned to avoid the lethal fences. Apparently, they then taught their migratory patterns to their offspring, who continue to keep their distance from the international border, even though the fence and the guards are long gone.  Since deer live for about 15 years, none alive today would have experienced the fence first hand (well, first hoof).  See http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/apr/23/czech-deer-iron-curtain-fences.

Situation in Ukraine Calm    27 April 2014

Russian separatists in Sloviansk still are holding 13 military observers that fall under the Geneva agreement that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is moderating.  The Russian separatists have proposed exchanging the 13 prisoners for separatists that are in Ukrainian custody.  In the meantime, although Russia is doing nothing to encourage the separatists to return to their homes, the Russian dissident, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, personally attempted to persuade the separatists to abandon their struggle.

The latest news on the mediation activities of the OSCE in Europe is at http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm.

G7 Sanctions against Russia    26 April 2014

On 26 April, the G7 countries have agreed to impose new sanctions against Russia because it has made no efforts to defuse the situation in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have detained 13 mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Each of the G7 countries will establish their own list of sanctions.  The communique from the G7 stated: “While we continue to prepare to move to broader, coordinated sanctions, including sectoral measures should circumstances warrant, as we committed to in The Hague on March 24, we underscore that the door remains open to a diplomatic resolution of this crisis, on the basis of the Geneva accord. We urge Russia to join us in committing to that path.”  The text of the G7 announcement is at http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/04/26/ukraine-crisis-g-idUKL6N0NI02J20140426.  See also http://news.yahoo.com/swift-sanctions-imposed-russia-mediators-held-ukraine-080202928.html.

The Beguines of Medieval Paris    26 April 2014

A former undergraduate and graduate of the University of West Florida’s history program, Tanya Stabler Miller, recently published The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority with the University of Pennsylvania Press.  The beguines of thirteenth-century Paris were women who lived Christian lives but did not take vows.  Their community in Paris benefited from the patronage of the nobility and crown, and it had the respect of the university clerics because of their members’ devotion to education.  Tanya Stabler Miller is associate professor of history at the Purdue University Calumet.  More information about her book is available at http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15228.html.

Ukraine’s Catch 22    25 April 2014    UPDATE!

If Ukraine does not respond to Russia’s orchestrated crisis in its eastern provinces, Russia will annex them, and if it takes steps to displace Russian separatists who occupy buildings in various eastern cities, Russia will construe the effort as a pretext for invasion and a justification for annexing the eastern provinces.  As a result, the Ukrainians have responded with measured force, taking some buildings and killing five separatists on Thursday.  Russia has retorted, staging military maneuvers within a kilometer of Ukraine’s borders.  Meanwhile, the United States has threatened more sanctions on Russia since Russia has made no attempt to convince the separatists to abandon their positions.  One proposal is that high-level Russian, Ukrainian, and American representatives visit the cities in question in an effort to convince the separatists to accept the Geneva agreements and work for political representation within a reformed Ukraine.

A military analyst with Novaya Gazeta, Pavel Felgenhauer (also Felgengauer because Russian does not have an h), reasons that because of the cycle of a yearly draft in Russia and the need for training new recruits, the middle of May, just before Ukraine’s scheduled presidential elections, is the latest time Russia could invade Ukraine with the most effectiveness.  Afterward, relatively inexperienced Russian forces along with the experienced and well-trained professional Russian forces would confront the Ukrainian military (see below for the links to Felgenhauer’s March 2014 article in Foreign Policy and to an article from NPR that references it).  Although it appears well armed, Ukraine’s military has equipment that is in disrepair, an army is cash strapped, and troops that appear to be intimidated, in some cases, and at times even unreliable.  Unfortunately, a Russian advance on Ukraine after the middle of May will not do much to even the odds.


The pro-Russian mayor of Slaviansk announced the detention of 13 mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe because Russian separatists believe a pro-Kyiv spy is in the group.  The incident further cements the resolve of the European Union and United States to impose more sanctions on Russia.  One anonymous source indicated that sanctions from the EU and US will be forthcoming on Monday, in the event that Russia does nothing in the meantime to ease the crisis.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/25/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA3O16720140425 and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/25/us-ukraine-crisis-sanctions-exclusive-idUSBREA3O22B20140425?feedType=RSS.

France is sending four fighter jets to Poland in order to patrol the Baltic states, which do not have enough aircraft to secure their borders.  See the article in RT (previously Russia Today) at http://rt.com/news/154668-france-planes-nato-patrols/.  America already has sent 600 troops to Poland and the Baltic region and has dispatched a war ship to the Black Sea to join French ships already there.

Given the threat of further sanctions, a slow buildup of NATO troops along the eastern border of the EU, the issue of Russia's temporary decline in military preparedness after the middle of May, and the upcoming May elections in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin may well decide to act decisively in the coming days.  To him, it may be a reasonable risk for Russia to weather any temporary economic downturn and international condemnation if its troops march into Ukraine for three reasons: first, Putin's image, already soaring because of Russia's annexation of Crimea, will soar even higher if he brings the eastern Ukrainian provinces into Russia; second, Russia will gain a large Russian population, at least a portion of which wishes to be part of Russia; and third, Russia will benefit from  the acquisition of a technologically and industrially developed region.  One must wonder if Putin considers that Russia also would gain an extremely dissatisfied Ukrainian minority, adding to the already significant number non-Russian minorities that are unhappy with Moscow's rule. Furthermore, should he advance Russian troops into Ukraine, it would seem that Putin would exclude the possibility of any long-term negative economic consequences along with any persistent difficulties for his country's internal and external policies.  To any reasonable observer, the risks may seem too high, but past successes, including Crimea, may make Putin overconfident in his abilities.

Earthquake in Slovenia    23 April 2014

An earthquake of 4.4 on the Richter Scale struck southwest of Ljubljana, Slovenia.  Nearby is a nuclear power plant that scientists claim should not be present in the area because of frequent earthquakes.  The plant reported no damage from the quake.  See http://rt.com/news/153988-earthquake-nuclear-plant-slovenia/.

Tensions in Ukraine Continue to Rise    23 April 2014

Ukrainian officials have announced that they will resume efforts to remove the separatists holding government buildings in the eastern part of the country, but it is unclear what they will do.  The separatists refuse to leave, and violence is increasing.  Reports of separatist intimidating their opponents abound, and two bodies, one of a Ukrainian politician, have been discovered.

The Ukrainians claim that they have the backing of the United States in the resumption of their efforts to secure the eastern provinces.  There is no concrete statement from the US or Ukraine of what those commitments may entail, aside from continued diplomatic support for Ukraine and the US promise of $50 million in aid for political and military reform and $8 million in non-lethal military aid.  The Russian Foreign Ministry continues to repeat that they have no control over the separatists, despite the fact that the Ukrainian authorities have released photographs they claim prove that certain Russian special forces personnel who had appeared in Crimea now are in eastern Ukraine.  US Secretary of State Joe Biden again has called on Russia to pull back its “green men.”

To reassure NATO members in Central Europe, the US is sending approximately 600 troops to the Baltic states and Poland for exercises.  Although most likely unrelated to the crisis in Ukraine, Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, has signed a memorandum of understanding to have NATO refurbish Finnish ships and planes.  The Finnish defense minister stated that the agreement is not a step for Finland to join NATO.

Ukraine: Still Holding    21 April 2014

There is no progress in eastern Ukraine, where separatists still are holding government buildings in ten cities.  The OSCE has 100 monitors on the scene, and they are informing separatists about the Geneva agreement.  There are unconfirmed reports of some leaving the buildings they have occupied, but that certainly is not the case in the major cities.  There also have been disturbing incidents on Easter.  A few separatists attacked a Ukrainian position and were captured.  Elsewhere, some right-wing Ukrainians allegedly attacked a separatist position, resulting in two deaths, but Right Sector denies any involvement in the conflict, claiming that Russian provocateurs were at fault.  Right Sector actually has surrendered at least some of its arms in one area to the Ukrainian authorities.  The United States continues to threaten Russia with more sanctions if it does not use its weight with the separatists to convince them to return to their homes.

Ukraine: Easter Truce    19 April 2014

As a concession to the Russian separatists, the Ukrainian government has postponed the order to evacuate the occupied buildings in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk because of the Easter holiday.  (Easter, a moveable feast, falls this year on the same Sunday for Westerners and Orthodox believers.)   Kyiv has offered more permanent concessions in order to fulfill its part of the 17 April Geneva agreement.  In a joint televised address on 18 April, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and President Oleksander Turchinov promised to back constitutional reform that would grant the eastern provinces greater autonomy by replacing centrally appointed officials with locally elected politicians.  They also proposed to give the local councils increased powers that would enable them to determine the official language of a region.  Yatsenyuk stated that "We will strengthen the special status of the Russian language and protect this language.”

The United States has proposed more sanctions against Russia if Moscow does not prevail upon the separatists to stand down, and a Kremlin spokesperson responded by with a statement that included the phrase "you can't treat Russia like a guilty schoolboy,” which will strengthen President Vladimir Putin’s support at home.

The Russians continue to claim that they have no control over the separatists.  Most observers believe that is unlikely, since events in eastern Ukraine in the beginning paralleled those in Crimea, when “little green men” with no insignia were Russian forces masquerading as Russian separatists.  Given the international economic and political pressure on Russia, it is likely that the Kremlin has abandoned its annexation project in eastern Ukraine and now disavows any connection to its operatives and those in Donetsk and Luhansk who support them.  Were Russia to cooperate fully, however, it would make more forceful statements to encourage the separatists to return home and remove the 40,000 Russian troops it still maintains on Ukraine’s borders.  Those forces serve to encourage the separatists by indicating that Russia is poised to invade and annex eastern Ukraine should violence erupt.  There are signs, however, that the romance with Russia is fading.  Many separatists are disappointed with Putin’s concessions to the Ukraine and the West, and the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, Denis Pushilin, has stated that the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, “did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation.”  Perhaps the best hopes for peace in the region will begin when the Russians distance themselves further from the possibility of annexing eastern Ukraine.  Then Pushilin as well as those around him may realize that Donetsk independence is unviable, Russian annexation is impossible, and their chances for political influence are greater in a newly restructured Ukraine.  The Easter truce may be more than humanitarian.  It may give the political actors the time they need to reconsider their options.

Success in Geneva    18 April 2014

During their meeting on 17 April in Geneva, the United States, European Union, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to a series of steps to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine, where Russian separatists have occupied buildings in approximately ten cities in the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk and where three separatists died when they were involved in an attack against a Ukrainian military base.  Many are surprised not only that Russia cooperated with the talks but that Moscow agreed to a means of diffusing the crisis.  The threat of additional economic sanctions may have played a role in winning Russia’s cooperation.

The joint agreement calls for an end to violence, the disarming of illegal groups, an amnesty for those who leave occupied buildings and who have not committed capital crimes, the help of a monitoring commission from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to assist Ukrainian authorities in implementing the plan, and an additional group of monitors from the US, EU, and Russia.  The three powers offered further economic assistance to Ukraine once it puts the agreement into effect.  The final point addressed Ukraine’s political future:

The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.

After the conclusion of the talks, the American secretary of state, John Kerry, condemned the reported notices Jews in eastern Ukraine received demanding that they register with the authorities.

The situation is calm in eastern Ukraine, but separatists are claiming that they need more assurances in order to leave the occupied buildings.  Some demand that the occupiers of Maidan Square in Kyiv abandon their positions first. Others are disappointed that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has deserted them.

China’s Minsky Moment: Repercussions for Europe and the World    18 April 2014

An article from the Wharton School of Business titled “China’s Debt Bomb” summarizes a report by Morgan Stanley that considers the pending financial crisis in China.  Debt is mounting, while growth is slowing, and the country has reached a point when it no longer will be able to borrow or roll over loans to meet its commitments–the Minsky moment.  The article explains the concept:

By the Minsky Moment, Morgan Stanley refers to economist Hyman Minsky’s framework identifying three scenarios for an economy: Hedge finance, where borrowers have enough cash flow to pay both interest and principal on their debt; speculative finance, where borrowers have the cash flow to pay only interest and must rollover their debt; and Ponzi finance, where borrowers can’t pay interest or principal and must borrow more or sell assets just to pay interest. The Minsky Moment comes when borrowers can no longer roll over their loans or borrow to pay their interest — often occurring at the same time as the central bank is tightening credit to combat inflationary pressures.

The question now is whether China will solve the problem gradually or will end up with a crisis.  Should the latter happen, there will be grave financial consequences for Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world.  See http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/chinas-ticking-debt-bomb/.

Geneva Talks about Ukraine    17 April 2014

There seems to be little progress at the talks in Geneva involving the United States, European Union, Ukraine, and Russia over Ukraine.  The Ukrainians insist that the Russians are destabilizing their country, and President Vladimir Putin blames the Ukrainian government with incompetency.  In a televised address, he stated that "I hope that they are able to realize what a pit, what an abyss the current authorities are in and dragging the country into” and did not rule out the use of force.  Putin also admitted that "Crimean self-defense forces were of course backed by Russian servicemen,” a scenario that is replaying itself in eastern Ukraine.

The standoff in the east continues.  Three Russian separatists died in a failed attempt to take a Ukrainian base, but a Ukrainian unit dissolved when it faced separatist forces.  There also are reports that some Ukrainian soldiers have switched to the separatist side.

Analyses of the Fidesz Victory    17 April 2014

The Hungarian elections a week ago reaffirmed Fidesz’s control of the government, and the results were no surprise, given the pre-election opinion polls and the grip on power of the party and its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.  The dramatic reduction in the number of seats in the parliament and the shift in the electoral law from proportional representation to a mix of single constituency and proportional representation alone do not account for the success of Fidesz.  The electoral victory also was a result of Orbán’s appeal to Hungarian nationalism, his party’s popular social policies, and the inability of opposition parties to mount a credible campaign against Fidesz.

Relic from the Last Habsburg Emperor    17 April 2014

The Czech version of Radio Prague carried information about a lock of hair from the last Habsburg ruler, Karl (Charles) I (I [1887-1922, reigned 1916-1918] that now is a relic in the Brno Minorite (Franciscan) Monastery that dates from the thirteenth century.  A translation of the Czech text appears below:

The Minorite Monastery in Brno maintains, as a relic, hair from the last Habsburg Emperor, Karl I, whom the Roman Catholic Church beatified in 2004 for, among other things, his attempt to end the First World War.  A mass was celebrated for the memory of Karl I and his wife, Zita [1892-1989], who also is a candidate for beatification.  Taking part [in the service] was their grandson, Rudolf [born 1950], and heirs of Bohemian and Moravian noble families.  According to the Ostrava-Opava archbishop, František Lobkowicze, the example of Karl I serves as a challenge for current politicians.

Tensions Mount before Talks about Ukraine    16 April 2014

Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces are taunting each other in advance of talks tomorrow that will involve Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the European Union.  The negotiations may be inconclusive if the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations is correct when he stated that Ukraine will not accept discussions about its internal affairs, including the federalization of the country.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/16/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSBREA3A1B520140416; and http://www.thelocal.ch/20140415/ukraine-rules-out-internal-affairs-talk-in-geneva.

Tensions Rise over Ukraine    14 April 2014    UPDATE!

Russian separatists are holding buildings in ten eastern Ukrainian towns.  Kyiv still threatens to retaliate, and Ukrainian tanks are a short distance from Slaviansk.  Only in the city of Kramatorsk did occupiers surrender the building they were holding.  The Ukrainian authorities either are showing restraint or are having difficulties responding, and the country’s president has replaced the security chief.  Ukraine still blames Russia for leading the surprisingly capable separatist groups, a charge which Moscow denies.  Ukraine also has called on the United Nations to supply peace keepers in the eastern part of the country, but Russia will veto such a move in the Security Council.  The director of the CIA, John O. Brennan, visited Ukraine on the weekend, and Russia has pointed to the supposedly secret visit as proof that the United States is meddling in Ukrainian affairs.  Russian President Vladimir Putin is viewing the events closely, and to deter Russia from further intervention in Ukraine, Germany has announced that arms exports and a satellite project with Russia are suspended.  .  The EU also will expand its list of sanctions but has yet to name any individuals or firms.

The Voynich Manuscript    13 April 2014

In a 13 April issue of the BBC Magazine titled “The Voynich Manuscript,” the journalist Simon Worrall speculated that the medieval manuscript with an indecipherable language and illustrations of unknown flora and fauna is a forgery from the pen of the person who allegedly discovered it, the chemist-turned-bookseller, Wilfrid Voynich (1865-1930), a Polish revolutionary who had escaped to London.  Voynich had studied chemistry and possibly imitated medieval inks, he knew rare books, and he had acquired some medieval paper.  Worrall’s assumption would end the speculation that the manuscript was the work of John Dee (1527-1608 or 1609), Edward Kelley (1555-1597), or Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294) and that it was once in the library of Rudolf II  (1552-1612; reigned, 1576-1612), the Habsburg who ruled in Prague.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26881734.

Slaviansk Standoff Ended    13 April 2014

On Sunday, Ukrainian security forces forcibly removed Russian sympathizers from a government building in Slaviansk, near the Russian border.  Two individuals, one on each side, are dead, and several are wounded.  On Saturday, protesters and security forces in the nearby town of Kramatorsk also exchanged gunfire.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-prepares-armed-response-city-seized-pro-russia-015414884--finance.html and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10763320/Ukrainian-forces-launch-anti-terrorist-operation-in-Slaviansk.html.

Tension in Ukraine Continues    12 April 2014

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned that Ukraine must pay its $2.2 billion debt for natural gas if it wishes to receive gas from Russia in the future and wants to avoid paying in advance.  The American State Department’s spokesperson, Jen Psaki, condemned “Russia's efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion against Ukraine.”  The Ukrainian government called on the European Union for assistance, but the most logical alternative of diverting to Ukraine some of the Russian natural gas headed to Central Europe may be illegal and may result in Russians cutting off gas flow to the EU.  

Relatively small numbers of separatist protesters in Eastern Ukraine still hold government buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk.  Now, armed men have taken two government buildings in Slaviansk.  The Ukrainian government offered an amnesty to those occupying buildings, but the deadline has passed without any action.  Fears of a Russian invasion of the eastern part of Ukraine are building, and the United States released reconnaissance photos of the Russian military units, which amount to approximately 40,000 soldiers, near the Ukrainian border.  

Potential and Past Sanctions    9 April 2014

The United States and the European Union are preparing a new list of sanctions against Russian banks and energy firms that would target financial and technology exchanges should Russia invade more of Ukraine.  The possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is very real, and some expect it within days.  Russian troops still are amassed on the Ukrainian border, while in Luhansk and Donetsk, protesters, who are demanding that their region become part of Russia, hold government buildings.  The Ukrainian authorities say they have no plans to storm the building at this point.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123797; http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/08/world/europe/ukraine-donetsk-protesters-walsh/; and http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-says-separatists-hold-hostages-activists-deny-charge-052350926.html.  For a glimpse of the contrast in Donetsk between the protesters and the majority who are living their lives normally, see http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/04/09/300606344/in-eastern-ukraine-normality-rules-except-at-ground-zero.

While more sanctions are in the works for Russia, a total of four Ukrainians associated with the regime of former President Viktor Yanukovych are attempting to have their assets unfrozen: the former prime minister, Mykola Azarov, and his son; the businessman dealing in banks, media, and energy, Serhiy Kurchenko; and Oleksandr Yanukovych, the son of the former president.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/123787.

Deal on Art the Nazis Looted    9 April 2014

The German government has reached an agreement with Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father amassed the so-called Munich art trove, which authorities discovered in 2012 while investigating Gurlitt for tax evasion.  The arrangement gives investigators one year to determine which art may have been stolen and return it to its heirs.  Gurlitt claims that his father acquired all of the works legally.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/08/arts/design/germany-announces-deal-on-art-looted-by-nazis.html?_r=0.

EU Elections in Poland    8 April 2014

The visibility of Poland in solving the Ukrainian crisis and in the coordinated response to the Russian annexation of Crimea has been good for Poland’s ruling party of Prime Minister Donald Tusk..  Civic Platform (PO) was trailing in the polls ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, but now, it is slightly ahead of its strongest rival, Law and Justice (PIS), the party of the former prime minister, Jarosław Kaczyński.  See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123773.

Austria’s Freedom Party and EU Elections    8 April 2014

Austria’s far-right Freedom party is virtually tied in the polls before the elections to the European Parliament with Austria’s two traditional ruling parties, the Social Democrats and the People’s party.  Its top politician and member of the European Parliament, Andreas Moelzer, has faced widespread condemnation for claiming that the European Union is becoming a “conglomerate of Negroes” and that, in comparison, Nazi Germany was “informal and liberal.”  He has since apologized, but the Austrian president, Heinz Fischer, has called on him to withdraw from the race.  The Freedom party will meet on 9 April to determine whether to withdraw Moelzer from its electoral list.  The Freedom party rose in stature under Jörg Haider (1950-2008) and formed a coalition between 1999 and 2005 with the People’s party.  At that time, the far-right stance of the Freedom party brought sanctions on Austria from the EU.  See http://euobserver.com/news/123781.

Ukraine–Fueling Unrest in the East
   8 April 2014

Ukrainian authorities have cleared a regional administrative building in Kharkiv of pro-Russian occupiers and have blamed Russia for financing and instigating the operation.  Standoffs continue in other cities, including Donets, where protesters have proclaimed a separate republic, and Luhansk.  Meanwhile, Russia has denied any involvement, and NATO has warned Russia not to intervene militarily in Ukraine.  The Russian Foreign Ministry also claimed that Americans dressed as Ukrainians are active in the protests in the eastern part of Ukraine.  To help diffuse the crisis, the United States and Russia have agreed that there will be a summit of US, EU, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders within the next ten days.

The question of how to supply Ukraine with natural gas in order to ease the country’s economic crisis.  One suggestion is reverse flow, that is, to send Russian natural gas from the European Union to Ukraine.  Slovakia, where there are pipelines that could aid in the reverse flow process, has raised technical questions, and Gazprom claims that reverse flow is illegal.  Some have countered that there is a constellation of EU states, such as Slovakia, and other interests that are sympathetic to Russia.

Unrest in Eastern Ukraine    6 April 2014

On Saturday, 5 April, a pro-Russian crowd seized a government building in Donetsk.  There also were pro-Russian disturbances in other eastern cities, such as Kharkiv and Luhansk.  The Ukrainian authorities continue to blame Russia for instigating the unrest.  See http://news.yahoo.com/pro-russia-protesters-storm-regional-government-building-east-141656184.html.

Elections in Hungary    6 April 2014

The controversial Fidesz party and its leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, appears to have won 135 out of 199 seats in the Hungarian parliament in today’s elections, giving Fidesz the two-thirds majority it needs to carry out constitutional changes.  Fides appears to have 45 percent of the votes, while the Social Democratic party won 25 percent of the vote.  The far-right, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma Jobbik party won approximately 21 percent of the votes, which is a gain of nearly 16 percent.  See http://news.yahoo.com/hungarians-set-return-maverick-orban-power-sunday-vote-065119015--sector.html and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26908404.

Becherovka for Sale    4 April 2014

The French distiller, Pernod Ricard, is looking to sell the Becherovka production facility in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, for approximately $200 million.  The sweet aperitif, made since 1807, contains a secret combination of herbs and spices that only two individuals know.  It is a popular beverage for any occasion, and mixing Becherovka with tonic water produces the mixed drink known as beton, which means concrete.  See http://radio.cz/en/section/news/jan-becher-karlovarska-becherovka-said-to-be-up-for-sale.

Amazon in the Czech Republic    4 April 2014

Amazon proposed to build two distribution centers in the Czech Republic, one in Brno and the other in the Dobrovíz area of Prague, near Václav Havel International Airport.  The facility in Brno, no longer is a possibility because of disagreement among the political authorities over changing land use plans.  The facility would have employed 2000 in a city where unemployment is more than eleven times that number.  Amazon is considering alternative locations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  For the Prague facility, the firm is hiring managers and support staff, but most of the hiring will take place later, before the facility opens in the middle of 2015.  There will be 2000 permanent and 3000 seasonal employees.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/business/brno-blocks-investment-by-e-commerce-giant-amazon; http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/amazon-rejection-could-cost-future-investments-says-industry-leader; and http://radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/amazon-uz-hleda-zamestnance-pro-distribucni-centrum-v-dobrovizi (in Czech).

Germany Returns Stolen Art to Poland    4 April 2014

The Germans have returned the painting “Palace Stairs” by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) to Poland after the Nazis confiscated it during the Second World War.  The goodwill gesture on the part of the Germans comes as they are negotiating for the return of the Berlinka collection, which contains 300,000 items, including the musical scores of several noted composers.  The Berlinka collection is now at Jagellonian University in Kraków.

Russian Professor Offered Position in the Czech Republic    4 April 2014

Andreyi Zubov, who taught at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, lost his position because he compared the Russian takeover of Crimea to the 1938 German occupation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.  Now, Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, has offered Zubov a position.  See http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_CZECH_RUSSIA_PROFESSOR?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT.

Roma in the Czech Elections    4 April 2014

Two Roma political parties are competing in the elections for the European Parliament in the Czech Republic, something which neither of the country’s Slovak nor Hungarian neighbors can claim.  It is unlikely that they will succeed because of the relatively small number of Roma in the country and the poor voter turnout among Roma.

The Czech Republic has a reputation for discriminating against Roma, but anti-Roma activities there tend to get more international press than elsewhere in Central Europe.  Part of the explanation is the international attention the country had beginning in the 1990s, when Roma from the Czech Republic sought asylum in Canada.

See http://euobserver.com/eu-elections/123710.  One of many studies that attempts to account for the asylum claims is available at http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?lng=en&id=123709.

EU Eliminates Visas for Moldova    4 April 2014

The European Union has announced that it will eliminate visa requirements for Moldovans visiting the EU.  The move is one of the latest in a series the EU has designed to boost support in the country for stronger ties with the EU. Approximately 1200 Russian peace-keeping troops separate Moldova from its break-away Russian-speaking region of Transnistria.  See http://euobserver.com/justice/123747.

News about Ukraine    4 April 2014

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained 25 Ukrainians in Crimea for planning terrorist activities ahead of the recent Crimean vote for independence.  Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government stated that Russians were involved in the efforts to quell the protests that ousted former President Victor Yanukovych.  There were more than 30 FSB agents involved, and they brought a great deal of explosives and weapons with them.  Furthermore, the Ukrainian government stated that a dozen of the country’s Berkut police had served as snipers who were killing protesters.  Between 18 and 20 February, 76 individuals were killed.  The Ukrainian prime minister holds Yanukovych personally responsible for the killings.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26878193 and http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-protesters-were-killed-under-yanukovichs-direct-leadership-102404069.html.

On 1 April, NATO announced that it was suspending all civilian and military cooperation with Russia because of its annexation of Crimea.  On the same day, the German government, which is hesitant to become involved in military ventures, extended an offer to send planes to help bolster eastern border surveillance.  The United States also may send a war ship to the Black Sea as a display of support to Ukraine.  See http://www.navytimes.com/article/20140401/NEWS08/304010067/U-S-may-move-warship-into-Black-Sea; http://news.yahoo.com/nato-plans-more-support-east-europeans-worried-crimea-030211754.html; and http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/468042/Germany-preparing-to-mobilise-once-mighty-Luftwaffe-in-response-to-Russia-s-Crimea-crisis

The Russian natural gas supplier, Gazprom, has announced that Ukraine will have to pay 40 percent more for natural gas in the future, forcing Ukraine to turn westward for more of its energy.  Perhaps the company is bent on extracting cash from Ukraine to bolster its declining profits.  Its deputy chief executive officer once claimed that Gazprom wants to become the world’s largest cooperation, but that claim now appears to be misguided.  Furthermore, Russia’s economy has faced a declining growth rate and may experience a recession this year, according to the World Bank.  Complicating matters for firms in Russians and investors elsewhere is the fact that Russian assets linked to businesses outside of Russia that are linked to them cannot access their assets because of the sanctions on Russia.  On 3 April, the Ukrainian prime minister, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, stated in an interview that despite the economic pressure his country faces from Russia, it will continue with its austerity measures and its western course.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/04/us-ukraine-crisis-yatseniuk-idUSBREA330MN20140404; http://www.euronews.com/business-newswires/2433950-wests-targeted-russian-sanctions-ensnare-investors/; and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/01/ukraine-crisis-gas-idUSL5N0MT14Z20140401.

For an assessment of how Russia and Ukraine are using history in their war of words, see http://news.yahoo.com/history-becomes-political-weapon-ukraine-russia-crisis-025938257.html.

Reichstag Fire    4 April 2014

The trial-lawyer-turned-historian, Benjamin Carter Hett, argued in a recently published book that Nazis conspired to burn the Reichstag in 1934 and that Marinus van der Lubbe, the Dutch Communist who was executed for the crime, was not responsible for it.  His claim is based on a mountain of archival evidence that now has become available.  One problem is that van der Lubbe, working alone and with the materials he claimed he had available, could not have caused a fire that would have consumed the core of the building within 15 minutes.  Different combustibles in the hands of several individuals would have been necessary to cause a fire of such intensity.  Furthermore, Fritz Tobias, the individual responsible for advancing the theory after the Second World War that van der Lubbe actually had worked alone, was in the German intelligence community and had ties with former Nazi police officers.  He intimidated and threatened anyone who advanced theories that were in opposition to his.  See the BBC interview with Hett at http://www.historyextra.com/feature/was-burning-reichstag-nazis%E2%80%99-first-crime.

Origins of the Medieval Plague    4 April 2014

For years, the assumption about the Black Plague was that fleas carried the bacteria that caused the disease and that one of the common ways that the flea would come in contact with humans was through the black rat, which would climb on to thatched roofs.  Recent research, however, that compared DNA from the bacteria of plague victims in London from the 1348-1349 plague with a modern plague in Madagascar determined that the bacteria causing both was air bourne, that is, pneumonic plague and not bubonic plague.  Those who were malnourished or who otherwise suffered from ill health were highly susceptible to getting the plague from the coughs and sneezes of those who already had the disease.   See http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/29/black-death-not-spread-rat-fleas-london-plague.

Kiska Elected Slovak President    1 April 2014

The entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist, Andrej Kiska, defeated the socialist candidate, prime minister Robert Fico, in the Slovak presidential elections this past Sunday.  Many analysts believe voters feared that the Smer–Social Democracy party, which Fico leads, would gain too much power with Fico in the presidency.  Furthermore, voters may have found Fico, the traditional party candidate, less appealing, in light of past scandals and political machinations, than Kiska, a man who has devoted the last eight years of his life heading the charity Good Angel, which assists families of those with serious illnesses.  Kiska will take office in June.  Fico indicated that he likely will remain as prime minister.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/30/us-slovakia-election-idUSBREA2S0NN20140330; and http://en.rsi.rtvs.sk/clanok/rubriky/news/andrej-kiska-is-the-new-slovak-president-7.

Former Latvian President on the Russian Threat    1 April 2014

The former president of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, granted an interview to NPR in which she expressed her concerns about the expansionist desires of Russia.  The interview is at http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/04/01/297156083/latvias-ex-president-we-have-to-worry-about-russia?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=DailyDigest&utm_campaign=20140401.

Attila Tomb Hoax    1 April 2014

Although this entry appears to be an April Fool’s Day prank, it is not.  On 27 March, “What’s New?” included information that Hungarian workers found the tomb of Attila the Hun along the banks of the Danube River. Unfortunately, the World News Daily Report article was a hoax.  Unfortunately, this fabrication took several days to discover.  Information about the construction of the false report is available at http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/does-newly-discovered-tomb-hungary-belong-attila-hun-001488.  In order to eliminate any possible confusion, the original 27 March entry on this web site has been deleted.