"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"
Table of Contents for the Second Quarter of 2016
In the House of Commons, David Cameron indicated that he initiated a bureaucracy for taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union, but he will not formally invoke Article 50 in the near future. He also stated that he will work with the devolved parliaments as well as Gibraltar and London, all of which voted to remain in the EU, as the plans for Brexit continue. He rejected the possibility of a second referendum.
On the parliamentary website, the Petitions Committee posted the following response to the call for a renewed referendum:
There still is no formal government response or debate date. The number of signers, as of 28 June, 10.15 am Central Daylight Savings Time, was 3,966,509.
In a related story, Danuta Hübner, the chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, noted that the EU will drop English as an official language, once the UK leaves the EU. Ireland or Malta, which have Gaelic and Maltese as their official languages, even though those countries also use English, could request the readmission of English as an official language, which most likely would pass.
Finally, Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, is negotiating with Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, about keeping Gibraltar and Scotland in the EU, and the talks may include Northern Ireland. The idea is that these areas of the UK would have a special arrangement with the EU, parallel to the status of Greenland, which has autonomy from Denmark and is not in the EU.
See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215; https://euobserver.com/uk-referendum/134057; http://www.politico.eu/article/english-will-not-be-an-official-eu-language-after-brexit-senior-mep/; and http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36639770.
In an interview with Rzeczpospolita, Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, laid out his plans for the future of the European Union. Although he sees Poland as committed to the EU, he would like to see changes that reflect the reality that the Lisbon Treaty’s “strong vision” of the EU is lost. The new EU would not interfere in the governing of its member states and would concentrate on ensuring a common market that guarantees the movement of labor and capital. States would retain their militaries, which would be tied to NATO, but a common military also may exist. The EU needs a president, whose selection would result from regional compromises that prevent the domination of the large states and whose task would be to represent the EU abroad. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would remain to guarantee food supply. The members of the European Parliament would be members of the individual countries’ legislatures. Finally, decision making would be more consensual, with certain requirements of unanimity.
See http://www.rp.pl/Brexit/160629410-Kaczynski-Musimy-wyjsc-z-inicjatywa-zmian-UE.html (in Polish).
On the surface, Kaczyński’s plan seem to take the EU back to the 1950s, when its major concerns were economic and its parliament was an appointed consulting body. In reality, his plan does not satisfy the demands of the original framers of the European Economic Community, whose vision for the future involved intense political cooperation. The Euroskeptics’ arguments invoke images of an overly bureaucratic and undemocratic EU whose decisions it foists on member states. Those notions are far from reality. The EU bureaucracy reduces the need for member states to augment their own bureaucracies. Its decision-making process ensures the involvement of elected representatives, including those in the European Parliament, as well as the cabinets and legislatures of member states.
In reality, certain politicians on the far right, like Kaczyński and Viktor Orbán, who manipulate the levers of power in their states, and those, like Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage, who aspire to do so, hope to gain from a substantial weakening of the EU. First, their popularized misperceptions of the EU and its policies allow them to cull more voters. Second, they realize that a weakened EU would be less able to challenge their antidemocratic tendencies.
In related news, the prime minister of Poland, Beata Szydło, spoke by phone with David Cameron to express the Polish government’s desire that, after Brexit, Polish immigrants in the UK maintain the rights they enjoy while Britain is part of the EU. Since the Brexit vote, Poles and Muslims in Britain have been targets of hate speech and other ultra-nationalist actions. See http://www.fakt.pl/wydarzenia/polityka/cameron-rozmawial-z-beata-szydlo-brytyjski-premier-dzwonil-do-szydlo/l8xdkhn (in Polish); and http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/27/europe/racist-attacks-post-brexit/.
Marek Novák, a student at the Czech Technical University in Prague (ČVUT), has invented a glucose measuring device that is the size of a credit card and interacts with an iPhone, so it requires no batteries or wires. It links with the iPhone, using NFC technology, and information is uploaded to the cloud. The device will be commercially available in approximately two years. See https://www.novinky.cz/veda-skoly/407797-student-cvut-vynalezl-glukometr-ktery-lze-nabit-z-mobilu.html (in Czech); and http://www.xglu.cz/.
As European Union leaders call on the British government to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that initiates the process of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, the British have yet to respond. Voices from the Continent talk of the need for a quick and orderly process of ending ties with Britain, but the British have issued no time line. Instead of accepting full responsibility for defeat and resigning immediately, the British prime minister, David Cameron, indicated that he is leaving office, but he will not do so until October. He also stated that the next prime minister will have to formally notify the EU, thus beginning the process of leaving the union. Although the Brexit vote is beginning to reshape the leadership in both of Britain’s major parties, it seems that nothing will happen to take the UK out of the EU for at least three months.
Perhaps this unapologetic Europtimist is grasping for straws, but it appears that the British establishment is attempting to buy time in order to find a way to avoid Brexit, despite the results of the 23 June vote. The silence is deafening. For example, a formal petition is circulating that states: “we the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum.” At this writing, it has 3,259,792 signatures, yet it needs a mere 100,000 to have the House of Commons consider a debate and 10,000 signatures for the government to respond. Neither body has taken action, and the number of signers increases with each click of the refresh button. It is hard to imagine that the British government would conduct yet another referendum, but the question is what it will do with the one that just took place. In reality, the government and Parliament are not bound to the results, so some maneuverability is possible.
Cameron is a risk taker. In campaigning during the May 2015 general election, Cameron pushed for a referendum on staying in the EU, gambling that the chances of the voters demanding withdrawal would be slim, especially if he could muster some concessions from the EU, which he did. The risk was worth taking, in Cameron’s mind, because he hoped that a defeat for withdrawal might silence the Euroskeptics, especially those in his own party. Instead, he faced a political defeat, one that the migration crisis, which looked dire in the summer of 2015, all but ensured.
Cameron might have been willing to pull the UK out of the EU, but it is doubtful that he wants to be known as the prime minister who facilitated the breakup of the United Kingdom. At this point, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that a second referendum on Scottish independence is likely because of the Brexit victory. Furthermore, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, announced that Northern Ireland should conduct a border poll to determine if the country should unite with Ireland, in order to avoid leaving Europe. Such a referendum is part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Meanwhile, the markets are having their say in the matter. The British pound has fallen and major companies are planning on relocating some of their offices to the Continent. Moodies has given the UK a negative outlook, and Standard and Poors earlier had warned of a potential downgrade if Brexit scored a victory.
Instead of executing Brexit, Cameron may be exhausting the little political capital he has to avoid both Brexit and the breakup of the UK.
See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215; http://news.sky.com/story/1717236/uk-exit-juncker-calls-for-speedy-divorce; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-scotland-idUSKCN0ZA0S2; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-northern-ireland-eu-referendum-result-latest-live-border-poll-united-martin-mcguinness-a7099276.html; and https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-changes-outlook-on-UK-sovereign-rating-to-negative-from--PR_350566.
All those watching the polls before the 23 June Brexit vote realized that those seeking to withdraw from the European Union may have had a slight edge, but many hoped that those wanting to remain in the EU would receive a last-minute boost. Despite all of the political, corporate, academic, journalistic, and financial warnings about the negative consequences of Brexit, the citizens of the United Kingdom decided to leave the EU, with a narrow vote of 48.1 percent to 51.9 percent. The vote had regional and generational splits: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay, as did London, Gibraltar, and several other areas, while the rest of the UK voted to opt out of the EU. Those 44 years of age and younger wanted to keep the status quo, while those 45 and older wanted to abandon the EU.
The path ahead will be complicated, as diplomats sever the ties with the EU that have existed since the UK’s entry in 1973, and the process can take up to two years, according to EU procedures. In the interim, the UK will have a new prime minister by October, when David Cameron said he would relinquish the post, and it is possible that there will be new elections, in which the decision to leave the EU will play a major role. Furthermore, as Brexit progresses, referenda for independence may take place in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, were many more inhabitants view EU membership in a positive light than in England and Wales. Even Gibraltar’s fate within the UK is in question, since only 4.3 percent of the voters opted for Brexit.
To those supporting the EU, the Brexit vote not only means the loss of the UK but also the possibility of other exit referenda in states with large numbers of Euroskeptic voters. Denmark may be first, since it ranks as one of the most Euroskeptic countries in the EU and generally follows Britain’s lead because of the two countries’ historic economic ties–Denmark and Ireland joined the EU at the same time as Britain.
The official responses to the Brexit vote in Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been marked with regret. Slovakia will assume the presidency of the European Council in a few days, and its prime minister, Robert Fico, a mild Euroskeptic and opponent to lax immigration standards, stated that the Brexit vote “is not a tragedy, but a reality to which the remaining 27 EU countries must respond quickly. It would be a great mistake if the reaction of the 27 countries was [to maintain] the current policies of the EU. A large proportion of people in Europe rejects EU migration policy and is dissatisfied with the Union’s economic policy. It is up to us to say that the EU policy must undergo fundamental changes.” The former Slovak prime minister, Iveta Radičová, stated that “as long as the EU and its institutions do not reflect and will not accept reforms to its current structure, there is a serious risk that Britain will not be the sole player that decides to proceed” down the road of withdrawal from the EU.
The prime minister of the Czech Republic, Bohuslav Sobotka, summed up the situation eloquently:
Miloš Zeman, the president of the Czech Republic, remarked that he was “disappointed, as were many other people, who considered what kind of results it will bring for both Great Britain as well as the European Union.” He noted that the immigration situation in the UK as well as the EU’s approach to the crisis certainly influenced the vote. He also speculated that, with the departure of the UK, the European Commission will be able to operate with “a freer hand.”
The economist and former president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, is an outspoken Euroskptic, and he welcomed the Brexit vote, during an interview, with Radiožurnál, the day after the vote. He said, with an excited voice: “I wanted to stress that today is a wonderful day, a special day because what happened yesterday, in the UK, is a huge victory for all European democrats, for all the people who want to live in a free world and who are totally dissatisfied with the way the European Union is going.” For Klaus, it is a day to celebrate that is as important as the 2005 scuttling of the European constitution. He quipped that Britain, “the cradle of democracy, the cradle of capitalism” that saved Europe from Napoleon and Hitler, now has saved Europe from the “monster” that is the “Brussels elite.” He reiterated his opinion that the European Union is on a misguided path (bludná cesta) and has gone down “a blind alley” that it should have not taken. It is, in Klaus’s opinion, weak and cannot get any weaker. What Europe needs, according to Klaus, is reasonable cooperation but not overregulation from the center. Klaus did not think that Brexit would strengthen the radical right. When the moderator asked him about the impact of Brexit on the Czech economy, Klaus answered “zero, zero, zero” and that “absolutely nothing” will happen. He remarked that claims to the contrary are merely scare tactics. Even when the division of Czechoslovakia occurred, he added, “the next day absolutely nothing [unusual] happened.”
Klaus, who celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday a few days before the Brexit vote, told a ČTK interviewer that the British should opt out of the EU. He also stated that a new organization, Alternatives for Europe, should unite movements that are struggling against what he terms Europism, that is, European integration, environmentalism, gender equality, feminism, multiculturalism, and more. The proposed name of his group is based on the German Euroskeptic and right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland, AfD.
See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-idUSKCN0Z902K; http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36616028; http://www.rozhlas.cz/radiozurnal/zajimavosti/_zprava/vaclav-klaus-dnes-je-uzasny-den-brexit-nas-zachranuje-od-bruselskeho-monstra--1626864 (in Czech); http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/3947 (in Czech); http://zpravy.idnes.cz/vaclav-klaus-alternativa-pro-evropu-d78-/domaci.aspx?c=A160616_154128_domaci_ane; https://www.facebook.com/prezidentcr (24 June 2016 at 9.00, in Czech); https://cs-cz.facebook.com/sobotka.bohuslav/ (23 June 2016 at 23.03, in Czech); http://www.cas.sk/clanok/416883/premier-fico-o-nasledkoch-brexitu-velka-zodpovednost-bude-na-pleciach-slovenskej-vlady/ (in Slovak); http://domov.sme.sk/c/20199349/reakcie-osobnosti-na-brexit-realita-na-ktoru-treba-zareagovat-hovori-fico.html (in Slovak).
On 21 June, the European Union decided to continue sanctions against Russia for another six months. Although the EU, American, and other sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, the low price for petroleum products is also to blame. The EU sees sanctions as a means of keeping Russia engaged in the Minsk Process to bring a permanent settlement to the crisis in Ukraine. Despite the extension of sanctions, several leaders in the EU, including France and certain Central European states, would like to see them lifted. See http://www.dw.com/en/eu-to-extend-russia-economic-sanctions-for-another-six-months/a-19345180; and http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21701184-blocking-investment-has-only-slightly-restrained-russia-small-carrot-medium-stick.
On 15 June, the Croatian coalition government fell, after a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, Tihomir Orešković, an independent, who had accused the vice premier and leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Tomislav Karamarko, of conflict of interest. Karamarko’s wife had received a payment of at least €60,000 from MOL, a Hungarian energy firm that owns 49 percent of Croatia’s energy firm, INA, and it is in a dispute with the government over the management of INA. The parliament will dissolve on 15 July, and elections likely will take place in September.
The last government was a coalition of HDZ and Most (Most nezavisnih lista or Bridge of Independent Lists), a small center-right party with no European party affiliation. It is likely that neither the HDZ nor the Social Democratic party (SDP) will win the upcoming elections, nor is it probable that the two will join to form a coalition. As a result, Most may emerge again, perhaps strengthened, given the likelihood of voters deserting it for Most, as crucial for the establishment of a coalition government. Another potentially popular small party of the center is Human Shield (Živi zid, sometimes translated Living Wall), whose main goal has been to prevent foreclosures by occupying property.
See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/croatia-dependent-of-third-way-parties-in-different-setting-06-23-2016; http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/croatian-govt-fals-after-pm-non-confidence-vote-06-16-2016; and http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21700837-balkan-problem-child-unable-stop-squabbling-even-football-pitch-its-government.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, sent a letter to several European Union governments about his concerns that the Nord Stream 2 project will face legality issues in the EU. He reiterated his concerns, a few days later, during a visit to Moscow. Several Eastern members of the EU have expressed their concerns that project would bypass Ukraine’s pipeline and harm its economy. Other issues are that Nord Stream 2 does not provide for a new source of supply or a new supplier, thus creating an issue with maintaining a competitive market. See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-energy-nordstream-eu-juncker-exclusiv-idUSKCN0Z229I.
The Bulgarian prime minister, Boyko Borissov, said that Bulgaria will not participate in the creation of a NATO Black Sea fleet that combined the forces of Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Turkey because it would provoke Russia unnecessarily and harm tourism. He noted that "I want to see sailboats, yachts, tourists, peace and love in our Black Sea resorts, I do not want frigates crisscrossing the sea. We can have Bulgarian-Romanian exercises any time we want, but that other thing would be opting for a military conflict." Otherwise, Borissov reiterated his commitment to NATO, including Bulgaria’s contribution to ground forces to create a multinational brigade in Romania. Michael Kofman, a military analyst, noted that a Black Sea fleet would be of minimal use because of Russia’s strong presence in the Black Sea and its land-based defenses that can target enemy ships. He remarked that, in this matter, “ Bulgaria simply has more common sense than some others.” See http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79286; and http://www.bta.bg/en/c/DF/id/1358234.
On 13 June, the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, announced that four countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, will receive four rotating battalions, each with approximately 1,000 troops. The NATO summit in Warsaw, which will take place in July, will give the final approval to the expansion. The troop increase is in response to continued tensions with Russia, and likely will elicit a similar reaction from the Kremlin, despite the fact that the rotational nature of the battalions complies with the 1997 NATO-Russian agreement that there will be no permanent bases in countries formerly in the Soviet orbit. See http://www.dw.com/en/nato-chief-announces-battalion-deployments-to-baltic-states-poland/a-19327782.
In a podcast on the meaning of Brexit for the European Union and the United Kingdom, Mauro Guillen, a professor of management at the Warton School of Business and the director of the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, is convinced that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would be harmful to both sides. At one point in the podcast, he stated:
Guillen concludes that, while Brexit is a problem, the EU’s economic future is in question because of its diminishing population. From that standpoint, the influx of refugees can have an unforseen positive influence in Eruope.
Stephan Templ, the historian who published a book about unclaimed Jewish property and has criticized Austria’s approach to the Holocaust, has been released from an Austrian prison, after serving eight months of a one-year sentence for fraud. The authorities charged him with failing to list his estranged aunt on a claim for property, but her name appears on at least six documents. Templ believes he was persecuted for his views, is moving to the Czech Republic, and will seek to overturn his conviction. See http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/europe/116089-160608-jewish-historian-leaves-austrian-jail-says-conviction-was-revenge-for-criticism.
The director of the Mamerki Museum, located in the former headquarters of the German army on the Eastern Front, claims to have found the location of the fabled Amber Room, which once was in Peterhof, the palace that Peter the Great built in St. Petersburg, Russia. Based on historical documentation and the recollections of local inhabitants, Bartlomiej Plebanczyk believes the room is in a concealed chamber of an underground bunker. Ground-penetrating radar has confirmed the existence of the uncharted room, and Polish authorities are planning to investigate. Other Nazi treasure hunters have claimed that the room is buried in Silesia, and some believe that it sunk with a Nazi ship. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/11/world/what-in-the-world/could-long-lost-amber-room-be-stashed-under-a-nazi-bunker-in-poland.html?_r=0.
On 14 June, the Washington Post reported that two different Russian hackers, perhaps the military and civilian spy organizations, hacked into the Democratic National Committee, about a year ago, to mine information about Donald Trump. The DNC ejected the hackers when they discovered their presence. The Washington Post noted that the Russian government also targeted the Republican party’s computer files, but information on those breaches is not available. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-government-hackers-penetrated-dnc-stole-opposition-research-on-trump/2016/06/14/cf006cb4-316e-11e6-8ff7-7b6c1998b7a0_story.html.
Although the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has supported Russia’s position on Ukraine and sanctions and has what is known, in America, as a bully pulpit, he does not have a great deal of power, according to the constitution. Nevertheless, Jakub Janda, the deputy director of the European Values think tank in Prague, warns that more people are paying attention to Zeman, not only at home but elsewhere in Europe, and that Zeman has some potential allies who may enable his pro-Russian attitudes to become policy. Chief among them are members of the Social Democratic party and the Czech minister of finance, the wealthy Slovak-born entrepreneur Andrej Babiš. See https://euobserver.com/opinion/133789.
The Czech NGO Gulag.cz has cooperated with the Study of Totalitarian Regimes to release a virtual museum of the Soviet Gulag system. The website, which is at http://www.gulag.online/articles/polaci-a-gulag?locale=en, which went live on 9 June, includes a 3D camp, artifacts, and documents. The site has three languages, Czech, English, and Russian, which the viewer can switch using the settings icon. The movement through the camp is not smooth, because of the need for web browsers to accommodate the files, but the viewer can spend hours perusing the People, Places, Items, and Wiki tabs that are available on the right side of the 3D image. On the left are tabs for the 3D, Panorama photographs, and Map features.
The project began in 2008, when Czech researchers started investigating the so-called Dead Road, a railroad between Salekhard and Igarka, Siberia, that Gulag prisoners, including Czechs and Slovaks, helped build during the 1950s. Archaeologists examined abandoned camps, which accounts for the 3D photographs of the various items in the exhibit. The Dead Road provides the core of the exhibition, but the website also features other locations.
The designers intend to provide additional information on the virtual Gulag website, so visitors should check the site from time to time.
On 26 May, the European Commission sent letters to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, requesting them to stop placing so many Roma in special schools. There is a long history leading up to these letters. For example, in 2012, a Prešov court condemned the separation of Roma children in separate classrooms in Eastern Slovakia. In 2013, Amnesty International, Open Society Justice Initiative, and European Roma Rights Center sent a report to the European Commission about education discrimination of Roma in the Czech Republic. Yet, in April 2015, the EU commended Slovakia for making progress in Roma education and employment, although it noted that the country needed to make even more progress. Failures to make changes in Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic prompted last month’s first step in the infringement procedures, on the part of the EU, which will lead to an investigation that could result in referrals to the European Court of Justice if these countries do not cease the discrimination.
The situation is not a result of a specific policy of discrimination on behalf of the central governments of Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia but local practices and prejudices. As far back as 2011, the Czech government knew it had no statistics of how many children are in special schools for the disabled, according to nationality, but one independent organization estimated that the chances of a Roma child attending such a school was four times higher than average. In 2014, the Czech public defender of rights stated that the situation had not changed, and school administrators simply send Roma students, who need additional help in school, to the special schools. One elementary-school teacher in Slovakia told this writer that the majority of her Roma students do not speak Slovak.
See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-1823_en.htm; http://www.errc.org/cms/upload/file/czech-roma-submission-the-czech-republics-discriminatory-treatment-of-roma-breaches-eu-race-directive-19-april-2013.pdf; https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2012/10/slovak-court-rules-segregation-roma-schools-unlawful/; http://ec.europa.eu/justice/discrimination/roma-integration/slovakia/national-strategy/national_en.htm; http://domaci.eurozpravy.cz/skolstvi/39006-proc-stat-romy-posila-do-zvlastnich-skol/ (in Czech); http://www.errc.org/article/eu-commission-probe-must-spell-the-end-of-romani-segregation-in-hungarian-schools/4485; http://www.tyden.cz/rubriky/domaci/sabatova-musime-snizit-pocet-romu-ve-zvlastnich-skolach_325344.html (in Czech); and http://www.respekt.cz/externi-hlasy/mame-vedet-kolik-je-romu-v-praktickych-skolach (in Czech).
Representatives of Slovak and Bulgarian natural gas pipeline companies signed a memorandum of understanding to build a pipeline to link the two countries. The intent is to link the line from Ukraine to the West with the one from Ukraine to the Balkans, with the northern connection in Slovakia and the southern connection either in Romania or in Bulgaria. The latter option also involves extending the line to Turkey. The pipeline can serve as an alternate source for natural gas, should there be some difficulty in one of the lines coming out of Ukraine, and in the future, it would enable Western Europe to gain access to gas reserves from the Caucasus. It also is a step closer to creating a European-wide gas market that will enable natural gas to transfer throughout Western and Central Europe as well as the Balkans. See http://www.eastring.eu/page.php?page=news; http://www.eastring.eu/page.php?page=routing; and http://www.eastring.eu/page.php?page=vision-mission.
During an interview, the Georgian president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, stated that “Russia is ready to destabilize half the Eurasian continent” and will use frozen conflicts as a means of guaranteeing its influence in neighboring states. He stated that “Russia can’t block Nato. It can’t veto NATO” membership for Georgia, in reference to a televised comment by Bidzina Ivanishvili that Georgia must “wait for the right time, when Russia realises, and when our allies see that it is time for Georgia to become a member of NATO and the EU.” Ivanishvili is a financier and the founder of the Dream Coalition, which won the 2012 election, and in 2011-2012, he was Georgia’s prime minister. Many suspect that Ivanishvili dictates Georgian politics from behind the scenes, including attacks on the government’s opposition. See https://euobserver.com/foreign/133777.
Because of Germany’s objection and the hesitation of other European Union ambassadors, largely because of organized criminal activity, Georgian citizens will not enjoy visa-free travel to the EU, for the time being. Turkish citizens also were supposed to travel to the EU without visas, but the antidemocratic actions of that country’s president have undermined the implementation of the program. Furthermore, the mood of the ambassadors is to delay the decision regarding visa-free travel for Kosovo and Ukraine. In response, the leaders of those two countries urged the EU to uphold their commitments, since both Kosovo and Ukraine have met the EU requirements and have been anticipating visa-free travel. If not, they both warned that the citizens in those countries may view both their leaders, who have been supportive of European integration, and the EU itself as unreliable. See http://www.wsj.com/articles/georgia-kosovo-ukraines-visa-free-access-to-eu-delayed-1465486485.
UPDATE! On 9 June, the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania sent a letter to the Council of the European Union and the EU foreign affairs representative, urging the EU to grant Georgian citizens visa-free travel since it fulfilled the requirements the EU had set. One EU diplomat indicated that the delay of granting visa-free travel to any state is a means of gaining leverage in order to press Ukraine to uphold its side of the Minsk Agreement and give autonomy to the southeastern part of the country. See https://euobserver.com/foreign/133768.
The Austrian Freedom party (FPÖ) is challenging the 22 May second round of Austria’s presidential election, which it lost by 31,000 votes to an independent candidate, Alexander van der Bellen, the former head of the country’s Green party. Van der Bellen won the election on the basis of mailed ballots, and the FPÖ claims that there were 573,275 improperly processed postal ballots. The Ministry of the Interior disputes the number, stating that the rejected ballots were legitimate and accounted for far fewer than the 31,000 that gave van der Bellen the victory. Had the FPÖ candidate won, he would have been the first democratically-elected far-right leader of a European country since the Second World War. See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-austria-election-idUSKCN0YU0UJ.
The Visegrád Group, also known as the Visegrád Four (V4), brings together the governments of Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary to determine joint approaches to common issues. When it was created, 25 years ago, many believed that it will have little impact on European affairs and that it will fade into oblivion. Instead, it has given its member countries a common voice that represents the concerns of 64 million people in a European Union of 508 million.
The Czech Republic is concluding its 2015-2016 presidency of the Visegrád Group, and in July, it will turn over the leadership to Poland. On 8 June, during the recent summit of the V4 leaders, in Prague, the prime ministers of the member states issued a joint declaration that expresses their common positions regarding the most pressing domestic and foreign issues facing the European Union.
In the area of migration, the V4 countries favor policies that eliminate the root cause of migration, including civil war in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that better identify those genuinely worthy of asylum, as opposed to economic migrants. They dislike quotas for settling migrants or penalties imposed on EU member states. The V4 had favorable opinions about the current NATO training exercise in Poland and the upcoming Warsaw summit, and the member states called for increased abilities in defense and deterrence, “while promoting the unity of the NATO and the comprehensive approach to the Transatlantic security to be able to respond to all challenges and threats emanating from different directions.” The document did not identify Russia or any other country or organization as a threat. In a brief statement regarding the referendum in the United Kingdom, the V4 unequivocally indicated its position, noting that solving Europe’s problems “will be easier with the United Kingdom remaining the Member of the European Union.” On the matter of Ukraine, the V4 gave their endorsement to visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU, once Ukraine has satisfied the EU’s requirements. They lauded the Minsk Agreements as a means of bringing a peaceful solution to Ukraine’s ongoing conflict in the east, and they praised Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO. They also supported the continued use of Ukraine’s pipeline between Russia and Europe for natural gas. The V4 backed the Multiannual Financial Framework, the seven-year process for preparing the EU budget, and hopes the future budget will strengthen “investment, competitiveness, and employment.” Finally, the V4 expressed its concern about the difficulties in the dairy and pork markets, calling on the European Commission to address the problems.
The Turkish parliament approved a constitutional measure that eliminates parliamentary immunity for legislators. The law further undermines Turkish democracy because it leaves lawmakers open to prosecution if they oppose the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his Justice and Development party (AKP). Those currently at risk are 138 opposition members, including Kurdish representatives, all of whom may face terrorism and treason charges. During a plenary session of the European Parliament, various members condemned the new law, the passage of which makes it even less likely that Turkish citizens will enjoy visa-free travel to the European Union. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/21/world/europe/turkey-parliament-immunity-kurds.html?_r=0; and http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20160608IPR31206/Stripping-138-Turkish-MPs-of-immunity-undermines-the-rule-of-law-say-MEPs.
Presidential elections will take place in Transnistria in December, but it is unlikely that the current president, Yevgeny Shevchuk, will gain reelection if he even decides to run for the post. The economy is partly to blame, but more crucial is the opposition Obnovlene (Renewal) party, itself a tool of one of the country’s largest firms, Sheriff. A conglomerate that owns all sorts of business, including gas stations and super markets, Sheriff likely is under the control of Igor Smirnov, who was Transnistria’s president, until 2011, when Shevchuk won the election. Obnovlene accuses Shevchuk of stealing from the country’s coffers and of treason because of his attempts to improve economic ties with Moldova. It also appears that the party’s leader, Vadim Krasnosielski, will be its presidential candidate. For the time being, Russia is not supporting any candidate. Only three countries–themselves breakaway states in the Caucasus–recognize Transnistria, a breakaway state from Moldova. For an in-depth examination of Transnistria’s presidential politics, see http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2019-transnistrian-house-of-cards.
For six months, beginning in July, Slovakia will chair the Council of the European Union, and the custom is that each country has an official logo, some of which are light and others are serious. The winner of the competition for the Slovak logo is a twenty-three-year-old graphic arts student from Trenčín, Jakub Dušička, who is studying at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (Vysoká škola výtvarných umení) in Bratislava. Based on Slovak diacritical marks, the logo has nine variations, including happy, sad, angry, and perplexed. Dušička explained that the logo also includes a design manual of several hundred pages. Many feel the selection does not reflect the seriousness that should accompany the role of Slovakia’s task as chair of the Council, but others like it and even have begun to play with it. The basic form of the logo appears on this website's welcome page for the second half of 2016.
See http://www.startitup.sk/co-hovori-na-kontroverzne-logo-slovenskeho-predsednictva-v-rade-europskej-unie-samotny-autor/ (in Slovak); http://sk16.eu/archive/logo_skpres2016/eu2016sk_logo_autor.pdf (In Slovak); http://www.noviny.sk/c/slovensko/nove-logo-vyvolalo-rozne-reakcie-usmievat-sa-bude-na-miliony-europanov (in Slovak); https://twitter.com/skpres2016; https://twitter.com/eu2016sk; and https://dennikn.sk/378886/takto-vyzera-logo-slovenskeho-predsednictva-eu-loga-minulosti/ (in Slovak but with examples of past logos).
In 2015-2016, the Czech Republic has been chairing the Visegrád Four–Poland (the next chair), Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Tomáš Prouza, the Czech secretary of state for European affairs, recently stated, in an interview, that the V4 states had the right approach regarding immigration and that the European Union finally is adopting V4 principles. These include the need for a unified European border and coast guard, deportations of economic immigrants, and tying economic aid to developing countries dependent on their cooperation regarding migrants. See https://euobserver.com/migration/133735.
Despite the low demand for petroleum products and the fact that the existing Nord Stream I Pipeline, from Russia to Germany, only operated at 70 percent capacity last year, plans to complete Nord Stream II, also from Russia to Germany, are continuing. The expansion project began in 2011, and it was reinvigorated in 2015 with an agreement between Gazprom, in Russia, and the Western energy firms BASF, E.ON, Engie, OMV, and Shell. Sanctions may scuttle the project, and European Union regulators may deem that it violates antitrust laws. Some politicians argue that it is a way of isolating Ukraine, which hosts a Russian pipeline. Nevertheless, certain politicians in the EU have supported it. There even is division within Germany: Angela Merkel is critical of it, while the Social Democrats in her coalition support it. Despite the controversy and the economics, the plans for the pipeline progress, and the consortium announced that it will begin laying pipes in four years. It seems that the Western energy suppliers and Gazprom anticipate an increase in currently depressed energy prices. From the Russian end, it is possible that the Kremlin views the completion of the project as a matter of diplomatic pride. It has shown great interest in the venture, and Gazprom, which is known to be remarkably corrupt, has various ties to those around Vladimir Putin. See https://euobserver.com/business/133720.
The younger brother of Adolf Hitler, Otto (1892), died of hydrocephalus, exactly one week after being born. Adolf Hitler was three at the time, and the experience may have had some bearing, in later years, on his attitude toward the disabled. Florian Kotanko, a retired director of a gymnasium and a local historian in the town of Hitler’s birth, Braunau am Inn, made the discovery about how Otto Hitler died while examining church records. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/06/hitler-had-a-secret-younger-disabled-brother-claims-historian/.
More than 31,000 troops, 3,000 vehicles, 105 aircraft, and 12 ships from 24 countries are participating in Anakonda, the NATO exercise in Poland that is the largest since the collapse of Communism. The operation, which is under Polish command, is at a site 750 miles west of a new Russian military base, and Vladimir Putin responded by staging more troops along the Ukrainian border. See http://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/poland-nato-military-exercises/3365376.html; http://www.eur.army.mil/anakonda/; and http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3630064/Putin-deploys-troops-Ukrainian-border-response-NATO-exercises-Poland-thousands-troops-continue-display-military-skills-send-warning-Russia.html.
Azerbaijan and the European Union may sign a new association agreement that will enable more Azerbaijani goods to enter the EU. The announcement came from the head of the EU delegation in Azerbaijan on 8 June, a day after the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, had visited Germany, where he discussed economic issues and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. See the reports from Trend, the private Central Asian news agency, located in Azerbaijan, at http://en.trend.az/azerbaijan/politics/2542937.html. See also http://en.president.az/articles/20229; and http://www.today.az/news/politics/151520.html.
On 4 June, according to organizers, 50,000 people (police say 10,000) joined in a protest, in Warsaw, against the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and its policies. Planning the event was the work of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Komitet Obrony Demokracji, KOD), a group that emerged, in November 2015, to work against the antidemocratic actions of PiS. KOD supports but does not aim to replace the weak opposition parties in the Sejm.
The timing of the protest was no coincidence because 4 June is the anniversary of the 1989 election, one of the steps in the process that brought down Communist party rule in Poland. It also occurred just days after the European Commission delivered its report from its Rule of Law Commission that criticizes PiS reforms that make the Constitutional Tribunal and the state media its tools. Finally, on 3 June, KOD was one of the 50 recipients of the European Union’s European Civic Prize.
The crowd tended to be middle-age citizens or older–those who remember the years of communist socialism. Younger voters still support PiS because of the social programs it has sponsored, including a subsidy for having two or more children. Nevertheless, KOD has an ongoing campaign to organize more events and to swell its ranks. Recent economic trends may aid KOD’s efforts. Poland’s economy is beginning to suffer because investors are wary of the antidemocratic tendencies of PiS and are withholding investments in Poland.
Two former Polish presidents, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski, joined the crowd, but Poland’s most famous former politician, Lech Wałęsa, was absent for good reason. PiS launched an effort to discredit Wałęsa, claiming that he was a police agent, during the Communist Era. Part of the animosity that PiS has for Wałęsa is not only his outspoken criticism for the policies of PiS but also the personal pride of the leader of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, whom Wałęsa once dismissed as one of his aids because of his radicalism. Wałęsa’s presence at the rally would have given PiS ammunition to discredit the protest.
See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36453480; http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2016/03/04/for-poles-defending-their-democracy-and-defending-walesa-are-the-same/; https://euobserver.com/political/133698; http://inside-poland.com/t/kod-honoured-opponents-of-polands-government-win-major-european-prize/; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20150604STO62606/European-Citizen's-Prize-honouring-engaged-Europeans; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/resources/library/media/20160603RES30254/20160603RES30254.pdf; and http://www.ruchkod.pl/ (in Polish).
Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák, who also is a candidate for the position of United Nations secretary general, told journalists that Slovakia will not force its objection to immigrant quotas on the EU when it takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. Lajčák insisted that Slovakia will work for consensus in this area and others. He indicated that it was necessary to devise a common energy policy for the EU and reiterated his country’s opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Lajčák also supports the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen, which is another matter of contention. Otherwise, Lajčák reiterated the four goals for the Slovak presidency that, Ivan Korčok, the Slovak state secretary for European affairs, had outlined previously: economic affairs, including EU budgets; internal markets of the EU, including the Single Digital Market and a common energy policy; immigration and border policies that are acceptable to all member states; and foreign affairs, including EU enlargement and the trade agreements with the United States, Canada, and China. See http://www.euractiv.com/section/eu-priorities-2020/news/slovak-presidency-will-work-for-overcoming-east-west-divide-in-eu/; and http://www.euractiv.com/section/eu-priorities-2020/news/lajcak-reassures-brussels-ahead-of-slovak-presidency/.
On 2 June, Croatia withdrew its objection about opening Chapter 23, which pertains to the judiciary and fundamental rights, thereby allowing the accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union to advance. Several issues still exist between Serbia and Croatia, including minor border disputes, that could negatively impact Serbia’s entry into the EU. See http://www.novinite.com/articles/174712/Croatia+Unblocks+Serbia%E2%80%99s+EU+Accession+Path.
On 2 June, the German Bundestag recognized the death of Armenians in Turkey, a century ago, as genocide, making it one of several countries in the European Union to do so. The vote was just shy of unanimous, but Angela Merkel and two leading Social Democrats abstained. Merkel is in a difficult position because she is attempting to cooperate with Turkey over the immigrant issue. She recently pleased the Turks but angered Germans and others in the EU when she allowed the prosecution of a German citizen because of a poem he wrote that was critical of Turkey’s president. It is apparent that, in permitting the genocide resolution to advance in the Bundestag, Merkel has engaged in the age-old tactic of resolving a political issue by making it more complex and multifaceted. Turkey recalled its ambassador, after the vote, but it is unlikely that there will be any serious damage to German-Turkish relations. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/world/europe/armenian-genocide-germany-turkey.html?_r=0.
As the issue of the independent judiciary in Poland continues to fester, influential Polish leaders, all associated with the Law and Justice party (PiS), are either supportive of the unconstitutional changes or backing the rule of law, but in either case, they are making a mockery of democracy and the separation of powers.
On 2 June, the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, spoke to members of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), which is a watchdog for legal fairness, about the importance of the independence of the judiciary. Meanwhile, one of the founding members of the ENCJ, the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which nominates all judges, whom the Polish president then appoints, is facing threats under the guise of reform. The minister of justice, also a PiS member, wants to replace certain KRS members and to give the country’s president more power over the body. KRS recently has backed the Constitutional Tribunal in its contest with the PiS-controlled government over reforms that reduce the Constitutional Tribunal’s independence. Duda’s actions are hardly supportive of democratic procedure. A law professor at Jagiellonian University commented that Duda already violated the constitution three times, when he issued a pardon, refused to install three justices from the previous government, and appointed judges who had PiS backing.
Far more blatant are the comments of the influential head of PiS, Jarosław Aleksander Kaczyński, who holds no government post. During an interview on 30 May, Kaczyński questioned the validity of the of the European Commission’s inquiry to determine the legality of the new judicial procedures in Poland and threatened to challenge it in the Court of Justice of the European Union. He remarked that “European centers do not respect [the member states’] . . . sovereignty, which means they do not respect Poland and do not respect the Poles.” Poland’s foreign minister echoed Kaczyński’s comments.
On 1 June, the European Commission sent to the Polish government the report of its Rule of Law Commission (the EU adopted the procedure in 2014), but the European Commission did not make the contents public. In question is not only the Constitutional Tribunal but also the independence of the media, based on recently adopted legislation. The Polish authorities downplayed the report, and the foreign minister said that he had not even looked at it. The Polish government will have an opportunity to respond, and if the European Commission still is not satisfied, it can invoke Article Seven, which, among other things, may bar Poland from voting in the European Council. Implementing Article Seven would require unanimity, but Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, stated that he would block such a measure. Hungary, too, has thwarted democratic procedures and also could be subject to EU sanctions, based on the Rule of Law procedure.
It is unfortunate that the notion of weakening democracy in favor of strong-man rule, which is present or strengthening in certain countries, including Russia and Turkey, is finding currency in certain EU member states. It appeared, for some time, that Romania would proceed down that path, but the inability of the Romanian would-be strong man, Victor Ponta, to gain the presidency helped secure democracy in Romania. The case of Poland and Hungary shows that democracy is something that cannot be taken for granted and that the judiciary and the press are among its most important guarantors. The situation in these countries also demonstrates that strong men arise when they can take advantage of voters’ apprehensions and the democratic actors are powerless because of internal squabbling, incompetency, and the lack of leadership.
See https://euobserver.com/political/133693; https://euobserver.com/justice/133620; https://euobserver.com/political/133669; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/01/the-eus-warning-to-poland-over-the-rule-of-law-comes-with-risks; http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-2017_en.htm; and http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2015_en.htm.
The president of the American Historical Association (AHA), James Grossman, published an editorial in the Los Angeles Times that encourages students to major in history.
Grossman noted a decline in history majors that began with the Great Recession. He recognized that fear about finding employment and a decent income is behind the decision of students not to major in history, the humanities, and social sciences, driven, in part, by the warnings of parents and even politicians. He pointed out, however, that “Over the long run . . . graduates in history and other humanities disciplines do well financially. . . . [After] 15 years, those philosophy majors have more lucrative careers than college graduates with business degrees. History majors’ mid-career salaries are on par with those holding business bachelor's degrees.” His evidence comes from the website PayScale.
While arguing that liberal arts degrees challenge students to learn, instead of training them for one task, Grossman also noted that they provide “the oft-invoked virtues of critical thinking and clear communication skills.” He went on to explain that “history students, in particular, sift through substantial amounts of information, organize it, and make sense of it. In the process they learn how to infer what drives and motivates human behavior from elections to social movements to board rooms.”
More information about majoring in history and possible career paths for those with history degrees is available on this website.
Later this year, the Council of the European Union will move into its new Europa Building. The European Council includes the executive of each EU member state and is theoretically the peak of the EU’s structure. The new building reflects that notion through the use of organic architecture, specifically the idea of a heart within a protective enclosure. The recent release of photos of the intensely colorful interior of the building sparked a flurry of press reports about the structure. Unfortunately, the British press has taken a negative stance against the building, referring to it as an overpriced and luxurious “gilded cage,” which was David Cameron’s comment about it in 2011, when the plans first emerged.
See https://www.wingsch.net/das-europa-gebaude-des-europaischen-rates-in-brussel/?lang=en; http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/contact/address/council-buildings/europa-building/; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3616643/The-bizarre-240million-Egg-Cage-EU-leaders-hold-summits-year.html; and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/8597299/EU-president-unveils-new-280m-gilded-cage.html.
On 29 May, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and François Hollande, the president of France, marked the hundredth commemoration of the Battle of Verdun. The battle was the longest of the First World War, lasting from February to June 1916, and resulted in 380,000 French casualties, of which about 60,000 were killed, and 330,000 German casualties, perhaps 140,000 killed. The German advance, which aimed at taking the city, ultimately failed, and the front changed by only a few meters. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/battle-of-verdun-100th-anniversary-1.3605493; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35626228; and http://www.dw.com/en/hollande-merkel-mark-centenary-of-battle-of-verdun/a-19291517.
On 27 May, the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, appointed Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former secretary general of NATO and former Danish prime minister, as one of his advisors. Rasumssen stated that he will press for intensifying efforts to fight corruption, improving ties with NATO, and strengthening security. Poroshenko often has turned to foreign specialists as governmental and administrative experts. For example, the former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is the governor of the Odessa Oblast, and Aivaras Abromavičius, a Lithuanian banker, was the country’s economics minister, from December 2014 until he resigned, in February 2016, because the government did not do enough to combat corruption. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, several East-Central European and Balkan states relied on foreign advisors, but the number in Ukraine, under Poroshenko, is far higher. Furthermore, many of them are far more prominent. Russian Television produced a humorous piece titled “Ukrainian President Needs Help Ruling Ukraine,” which lambasts Poroshenko’s selection of foreigners in advisors and other roles, some of whom he only courted for the positions. The chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Defense Committee, Sergey Zhigarev, stated that it is apparent that Poroshenko “does not trust his own citizens that entrusted him with leading their country.” See http://uatoday.tv/politics/ex-nato-chief-rasmussen-is-now-poroshenko-s-new-advisor-662891.html; and https://www.rt.com/news/344653-nato-rasmussen-poroshenko-adviser/.
In the spring of 1241, the Mongols invaded Hungary and a portion of Poland, and they seemed unstoppable. In the first two months of 1242, after advancing through Eastern Hungary, they crossed the frozen Danube. Only the spring thaw thwarted their progress. Then, the Mongols withdrew, presumably after receiving news about the death of Ögödei Khan (r. 1229–1241), who had died in December 1241. Two researchers, Ulf Büntgen, of the Swiss Federal Research Institute, the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research, and the Global Change Research Center of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, along with Nicola Di Cosmo, with the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Historical Studies, and Princeton University, Department of East Asian Studies, studied the paleoclimatic evidence, including the width of tree rings, to determine more about the Mongols’ withdrawal from Hungary.
The death of Ögödei may have played some role in the decision to leave Hungary, even though Ögödei’s wife, Töregene Khatun (1242–1246), effectively took power. Nevertheless, the most logical explanation for the sudden withdrawal of the Mongols was weather. The entire summer of 1242 was cold, a trend that lasted from 1242 until 1244, but it also was rainy in East-Central Europe. During this time, Hungary experienced a famine because the weather resulted in poor crop yields. The Mongols, unable to acquire proper food for themselves and their horses and unable to advance in the muddy terrain, decided to proceed, along the Danube, into the Balkans. They subjugated Serbia, Bulgaria, Wallachia, and Moldavia on their way back to the Russian Steppes.
From 27 May until 22 June, the American 2nd Cavalry Regiment is taking part in Dragon Ride II, a convoy that moves throughout the eastern NATO member states, and Saber Strike 16, a training exercise the US Army has with allied armies. Ths year, the militaries of 14 countries, including the US, are involved in the operation. As the convoy progresses, it will conduct various training operations with the armies of the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The convoy includes 420 soldiers and 224 vehicles. The first Dragon Ride through the Czech Republic, in 2015, brought a great deal of protest, but the demonstrations are more subdued this year. This is the third American convoy through the Czech Republic, the other two being Dragon Ride I, in March 2015, and transport through the Czech Republic, from Germany, to Hungary, in September 2015, for training exercises. See https://cz.usembassy.gov/dragoon-ride-2-saber-strike/; https://www.army.mil/article/165898/Saber_Strike_16_and_Dragoon_Ride_II/; and http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/domaci/1798313-hvezdy-a-pruhy-v-cesku-do-prahy-prijel-americky-konvoj.
Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean immigrant crisis, Slovakia has refused to admit Muslims, although it has been willing to accept Syrian Christians. The new government of Robert Fico will maintain that policy, based on Fico’s remarks, during an interview with the TASR press agency. He noted that “We don’t want to change the character of this country, based on Methodius-Cyrillic traditions. Something that has been here for many centuries. Therefore, let’s be honest with ourselves and say out loud that it can’t be that way in Slovakia.” He also speculated that Austria would not be facing its current problems had it pursued a similar policy. See http://newsnow.tasr.sk/policy/prime-minister-fico-no-room-for-islam-in-slovakia/.
Harald Sandner, an amateur historian and the author of many books, has assembled a four-volume work of more than 2,400 pages that details every day of Hitler’s life. In an interview with the German edition of Vice, Sander explained that “At some point, I started to notice how many discrepancies there were in terms of dates in Hitler's life. And the more I researched, the more mistakes and inconsistencies I found. So I thought: there should be a complete log out there somewhere. But there wasn't.” The project, which took approximately 25 years to complete, is based on published and archival sources. See http://www.berlinstory-verlag.de/vorankuendigungen/titel/258-Hitler_-_Das_Itinerar__CD.html; and http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/every-day-hitlers-life-itinerary-876.
At their Japan meeting, the Group of Seven (G7) countries and the European Union, a nonenumerated member of the organization, committed themselves to continuing sanctions against Russia, for its involvement in Ukraine, and increase them if necessary. They noted that the sanctions can end only with the implementation of the Minsk agreement. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, during a visit to Greece, repeated that Russia has no troops in Eastern Ukraine. When Russia joined the organization, in 1998, it was known as the Group of Eight, but the other member suspended Russia, in 2014, because of its annexation of Crimea.
The portion of the 27 May joint communique that pertains to Ukraine and Russia states:
See http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/summit/2016shima/ise-shima-declaration-en.html (joint communique); http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/summit/2016shima/index.html (all G7 documents); https://euobserver.com/foreign/133582; and http://www.caribflame.com/2016/05/g7-agree-to-extend-and-tighten-sanctions-against-russia/.
In a related matter, Ukraine banned Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, from traveling to Ukraine for five years. Although critical of the tension the annexation has caused as well as some of Putin’s internal policies, Gorbachev supported the Russian annexation of Crimea, in a recent interview, because it was the will of the majority of the inhabitants. See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crimea-gorbachev-idUSKCN0YH1UD.
In a recent article, Judy Dempsey, with Carnegie Europe, has tied together the politics of Germany, Austria and Turkey through the immigrant issue. Those following the crisis already see the connections, but Dempsey’s article is an excellent summary of the difficulties each country faces and the common ground among them. Angela Merkel is facing an electorate that is increasingly unhappy about the number of immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean. The immigrant issue also nearly drove Austrian voters to elect a far-right candidate as president. Merkel viewed Turkey as a solution to easing the humanitarian crisis and easing the political tension it has caused, and she arranged for the European Union to offer the Turks financial support and visa-free travel in exchange for taking back refugees who illegally entered the European Union through Greece. Turkey, however, is making the deal impossible to implement because its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, continues to increase his authority, further weakening the democratic process. He also is silencing his opponents, including the Kurdish minority, and refuses to alter Turkey’s anti-terrorist laws. See http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/?fa=63645.
On 25 May, Vladimir Putin pardoned Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot the Russians had convicted for having helped to kill two Russian journalists and for having been involved in various terrorist activities, and she already is back in Ukraine. In the meantime, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, pardoned two Russians accused of terrorist waging war against Ukraine. They already have returned to Russia.
Savchenko, who was captured in June 2014, was elected, in October 2014, to the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada as a member of the Fatherland party of Yulia Tymoshenko. Within hours after returning from Russia, Savchenko met with party leaders about assuming her role as a legislator, and the party announced that she will join the National Security and Defense Committee of the Rada.
When welcoming Savchenko back to Ukraine, Poroshenko awarded her the Hero of Ukraine star (of the two variations of the honor, the star is for the military). Savchenko remarked that “I cannot bring back the ones who died. But I’m ready to put my life on the battlefield for Ukraine one more time.” She is a dedicated nationalist, a stance that likely will shape her politics in the Rada.
Savchenko’s release gives hope to the Minsk agreement, which Germany and France brokered, that guarantees Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, while Ukraine is to conduct local elections in these areas and grant them local wide-ranging local rule.
Putin claimed to have pardoned Savchenko on humanitarian grounds, in response to the requests of the relatives of the two Russians that were in Ukrainian custody. In reality, the gesture comes ahead of the G7 meeting, which is taking place today and tomorrow, in Japan. The Russian negotiators, dealing with the Savchenko case, mentioned the elimination of economic sanctions against Russia as a condition for her release, but neither the United States nor the European Union appear to be ready to take that step. The EU’s high representative for foreign affairss and security policy, Federica Mogherini, already indicated that the sanctions will be renewed. The EU tied the lifting of sanctions to the implementation of the Minsk agreement, but sporadic violence in Eastern Ukraine continues elections may not take place for several months. The EU probably will maintain the sanctions as a means of encouraging Moscow’s cooperation with the process, even though several EU member states and a number of prominent politicians in the EU long have opposed the sanctions.
See https://euobserver.com/foreign/133562; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36378173; http://uatoday.tv/politics/savchenko-to-join-rada-s-national-security-and-defense-committee-mp-661636.html; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-eu-russia-idUSKCN0YA134; and https://www.rt.com/news/344375-poroshenko-savchenko-crimea-ukraine/.
While meeting with the European Commission, Poland’s prime minister, Beata Szydlo, stated that she sees an internal solution to the crisis involving the Constitutional Tribunal. She did not spell out the details, but the European Commission was satisfied and did not release a report that censured Poland for having restricted the powers of the Constitutional Court, rendering it a tool of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS). It is possible that a compromise is in the works between the PiS and the leaders of the opposition on the matter. See http://www.dw.com/en/european-commission-ec-pledges-support-in-finding-solution-to-polands-political-crisis/a-19280424.
In a close presidential runoff election, Alexander van der Bellen, an independent with the backing of the Green party, emerged victorious over the far-right Austrian Freedom party candidate, Norbert Hoffer. A mere 31,000 votes decided the election, with absent-tee ballots being crucial. In the end, Van der Bellen received 50.35 percent, while Hoffer garnered 49.65 percent of the vote.
The working class tended to support Hofer, and those who were educated and lived in urban areas backed Van der Bellen. The voting reflected the classical Austrian urban-rural split that the Social Democratic Christian Socialist parties normally experience. Although Austria has a weak presidency, Van der Bellen will have to strive to heal the country’s divisions in order to prevent them from deepening. He indicated his interest in such an undertaking when he stated, in his first speech as president-elect, that “there has been much talk of the dividing lines in this country, between left and right, and town and country, between inside and outside, upper and lower, young and old, and we still do not believe we have discovered all of the dividing lines. But I think one also can see the ties: we all are just the same.” Nevertheless, during the election campaign, he vowed not to appoint as chancellor the leader of the Austrian Freedom party, Heinz-Christian Strache, should he win in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Had Hoffer won, he would have been Europe’s first far-right head of state to come to power, through an election, since the end of the Second World War. As it now stands, the Greens are claiming Van den Bellen as the first Green head of state. The main issues, during the campaign, were focused on the political paralysis of the traditional parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists, as well as the immigrant crisis. They generated anger and fear among voters, who sought alternatives elsewhere on the political spectrum, the typical historical reaction in such circumstances. The election prompted a high voter turnout of 72.7 percent. With Van den Bellen’s extremely narrow victory, the 2016 Austrian presidential election is additional proof that every citizen’s vote matters.
Van den Bellen was born in Austria of Russian and Estonian parents. Before he retired, he was a professor of economics, with a specialization in public finance and policy, at institutions in Innsbruck, Berlin, and finally at the University of Vienna. He was in the Austrian Parliament as a Social Democrat and then joined the Green party, which he once chaired. Although he technically ran as an independent, Van den Bellen had the backing of the Green party.
See http://www.dw.com/en/independent-alexander-van-der-bellen-wins-austrian-presidential-election/a-19277920; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/23/who-is-austrias-new-president-alexander-van-der-bellen/; https://www.vanderbellen.at/ (first speech as president-elect); and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36362505.
As of Sunday afternoon, Central Daylight Savings Time, the result Austrian presidential election, between the Green party and Freedom party candidates, is still unknown, with candidates both having about 50 percent of the votes. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36353200.
The Czech artist, Adolf Born, who was born on 12 June 1930, died today. He was known as a painter, illustrator, and even screenwriter. Many of his works were fantastic or caricature-like interpretations of all sorts of subjects, and he illustrated many books for children. Born studied in Prague and was the recipient of many awards. Some of his works are at http://www.gallery.cz/gallery/en/Vystava/2000_06/index2.html. See http://kultura.zpravy.idnes.cz/zemrel-adolf-born-0zm-/vytvarne-umeni.aspx?c=A160522_111017_vytvarne-umeni_aha (in Czech).
On Sunday, Austrians will go to the polls to vote in the country’s second round of presidential elections. The field now is narrowed down to two candidates: Alexander Van der Bellen, from the Green Party, and Norbert Hofer, from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). Van der Bellen’s chances seem slim–he obtained only 21 percent of the vote in the first round to Hofer’s 35 percent. His only hope to defeat Hofer is to receive the backing enough voters who had supported the Social Democratic and Christian Socialist candidates.
Normally, with Austria’s parliamentary system, the contest for the presidency garners little attention, especially abroad. That has changed this year because Hofer’s FPÖ is a far-right party that some even identify as neo-Nazi. Motivating Austrian voters, in their swing to the right, is fallout from the paralysis of the Social Democrats and Christian Socialists in dealing with the economic crisis and the incessant wave of immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean. One of the fears, however, is that, once he is in power, Hofer will use his ability to dismiss governments, which presidents have not used, and the possibility of a FPÖ win in the next election. That would give Austria not only a right-wing president, the first in Europe since the Second World War, but also a right-wing government.
To get a sense of what the FPÖ stands for, it is possible to turn to an October 2013 article in the New Statesman. The author, Liam McLaughlin, described the party’s rhetoric as encompassing “racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.” Under its past leader, Jörg Haider (1950-2008), the party was part of a governing coalition, until 1995, when Haider left the party, because of infighting, and established the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), which stayed in the government until 2006. The FPÖ’s current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, is dynamic and ambitious, and his party made a respectable showing, in certain districts, in the 2013 elections, although not well enough to enter the government.
The appeal of both Hofer and Strache could enable the FPÖ to shape Austria’s future, and some fear that it could take the path of Poland and Hungary, even though the leadership of the FPÖ denies that is their goal. In many respects, Sunday’s vote will be a measure of whether the Austrian voters are more afraid of moving their country far to the right than they are of economic uncertainty and the perceived threat Eastern Mediterranean immigrants present to Austrian culture.
See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/133483; and http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/10/are-austrian-fpo-party-really-nazis.
Many have made comparisons about Weimar Germany, during the Great Depression, and America, especially with the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the global recession that followed it. Noam Chomsky, the liberal academic, gave an interview, in 2010, when he predicted that, with the Democratic and Republican parties outdoing each other to cater to big business, there was little concern about the well-being of the working class. At the time, Chomsky reasoned:
In an article for Salon, the journalist Jake Johnson reexamined Chomsky’s statements, in light of America’s current presidential primary contest. While Johnson accepts Chomsky’s analysis and sees Donald Trump as that direct, charismatic figure, one cannot draw the line of comparison between America and the Weimar Republic too finely. America has not undergone the debilitating peace and loss of territory that Germany had faced with the Versailles Treaty, and American citizens did not have to deal with two severe economic crises within less than a decade. Political stalemate and other similarities, notwithstanding, America is not Weimar. Nevertheless, democracies, in order to survive, must learn from the failings of earlier democracies. Weimar, unfortunately, had its share.
Johnson’s article is at http://www.salon.com/2016/05/19/noam_chomsky_predicted_the_rise_of_donald_trump_six_years_ago_partner/.
The European Commission will publish a report, on 23 May, censuring Poland for abusing democratic principles, with respect to its Constitutional Tribunal, if the current situation regarding the court continues. The Commission’s actions are based on the procedure the EU had established, in 2014, to monitor member states. Since the government’s actions to weaken the court and subject it to the will of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, various proposals have come before the Polish Sejm to restructure the court, including one from the Nowoczesta opposition party and another from a citizen initiative. See https://euobserver.com/political/133465.
Today, Montenegro became NATO’s twenty-ninth member. The act of bringing a small professional military, with less than 2,000 active personnel, into the alliance seems unimportant, but that is not the case. Russia warned that it will not tolerate losing its influence in the Western Balkans, and a pro-Russian party in Montenegro conducted an on-line referendum that rejected the country’s entry into NATO. There also have been demonstrations against NATO and a petition for the country to hold a referendum on the issue. Public opinion polls indicate that only half of the country supports joining NATO. A stronger NATO presence in the Balkans will help stabilize the region, and Montenegro helps NATO secure the Adriatic against possible Russian intrusion. Furthermore, Montenegro’s entry demonstrates the necessity and vibrance of the alliance. Other states with applications to join NATO are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Georgia. See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/montenegrins-vote-online-to-keep-military-neutrality-04-12-2016; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36311644.
Historians accuse Volodymyr Viatrovych, who heads the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, of distorting past events and fear that they will not gain access to materials if they resist Viatrovych’s interpretation of history. In question are the actions of partisan forces during the Second World War, including those under Stepan A. Bandera (1909-1959), who were implicit in the murder of Jews and Poles. The controversy has reached international proportions as Ukraine struggles to build its image as a democracy. See https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/02/the-historian-whitewashing-ukraines-past-volodymyr-viatrovych/.
A German court has ruled that the freedom of speech gives Jan Boehmermann, a German comedian, has the right to recite his poem about Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but he must remove the libelous references to bestiality and pedophilia. Germany has a controversial law that prevents such insults of foreign leaders and institutions. Many consider the row over the poem a test of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s willingness to stand up to Erdoğan, who regards the poem as an insult. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36317006.
Moody’s did not issue a downgrade for Poland but placed the country’s A2 rating on a negative watch. The first problem stems from political promises, including tax breaks and a reduction in the retirement age. The second issue is a deteriorating investment climate, resulting from converting Swiss-held mortgages into Polish currency at rates that are not favorable to Polish banks and the government’s standoff with the Constitutional Tribunal. On the positive side, Moody’s noted:
For more information, see https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-changes-outlook-on-Polands-A2-rating-to-negative-from--PR_348709.
Susana Jamaladinova, known as Jamala, has won the Eurovision contest. Her song, 1944 (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iExW72v0BSw), commemorates the expulsion of the Tatars, from the Crimean Peninsula, during the Second World War. Jamala, who hails from Ukraine, was born of Armenian and Tatar parents in Kyrgyzstan, where her great grandmother had been resettled, during the rule of Joseph Stalin. Jamala composed the music for the song, and both Jamala and Art Antonyan wrote the lyrics, which are based on the experience of Jamala’s great grandmother. The song, which is in English and Tatar, does not contain any reference to current politics, but many claim that its success reflects sentiments regarding Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s borders. The combined votes of judges and viewers placed Ukraine first, Australia second (Dami Im, Sound of Silence, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EG_Jtw4OyU), and Russia third (Sergey Lazarev, You Are the Only One, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7hRZS-nLhY). See also http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-36295168.
Czech scholars, working in the Natural Sciences Faculty of Charles University, Prague, along with researchers at the Biotechnology and Biomedicine Center of the Academy of Sciences, in Vestec, near Prague, (Biocev) and their colleagues in Canada, have identified a eukrayote, that is, an organism with cells containing organelles, that does not have mitochondria, which supply energy for the cell. The monocercomonoide, which they found in the stomach of a chinchilla, replaced the mitochondria with a cytosolic sulfur mobilization system (SUF) that bacteria use. The lead author of the study is Anna Karnkowska, who had a post-doctorate at Charles University and is on a post-doctorate at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. See http://www.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/cesti-vedci-objevili-organizmus-ktery-funguje-i-bez-mitochondrii (in Czech); http://www.biocev.eu/en/tiskova-zprava-prf-uk-a-biocev-organismus-bez-bunecnych-elektraren-i-to-je-mozne-hlasi-biologove-z-prirodovedecke-fakulty-uk/; and http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/12/477691018/look-ma-no-mitochondria. Their findings are available in Current Biology at http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2816%2930263-9.
The European Parliament’s Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF), a far-right European-wide party that includes Greece’s Golden Dawn and Germany’s National Democratic party, is facing a possible ban in the European Parliament, based on the outcome of an EU Parliament Constitutional Affairs Committee investigation. The APF’s collection of ultra-nationalist parties has good relations with conservative Russian groupings and supports Russia’s position with respect to Ukraine. The secretary general of the party is Stefan Jacobsson, from Sweden, who explains the rationale of the party at https://soundcloud.com/barritrad-podcast/6-with-stefan-jacobsson-from-alliance-for-peace-and-freedom). If the EU Parliament bans the APF, it will loose millions of euros in support. In 2016, the APF received EUR 400,000, although the largest blocks of money went to the European Parliament’s biggest parties, the European People’s party (EUR 8,683,552), which represents Christian Democratic and Christian Socialist interests, and the European Socialists (EUR 7,154,167).
The Alliance for Peace and Freedom Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/AlliancePeaceFreedom/. The resolution to investigate the party is at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20160512IPR27173/EP-to-check-Alliance-for-Peace-and-Freedom%E2%80%99s-compliance-with-EU-basic-principles. EU Parliament funding information is at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/contracts-and-grants/en/20150201PVL00101/Political-parties-and-foundations; and http://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/grants/Grant_amounts_parties_01-2016.pdf. NOTE: The European APF is not the same as the American Peace and Freedom party, which is an American socialist party whose website is at http://www.peaceandfreedom.org/home/.
In December, the European Union prolonged its sanctions regime against Russia that it implemented after the Russian annexation of Crimea and Russian involvement in the invasion of Eastern Ukraine. The EU will revisit them again in July. Several prominent EU politicians, including the Hungarian prime minister and the Czech president, long have opposed the sanctions, and now other EU politicians are joining their ranks. Furthermore, farmers, both independently and through the associations of farmers and cooperatives, COPA-COGECA, are upset, because the Russian counter-sanctions have hit the agricultural sector that exports food to Russia.
Julius Lorenzen, a journalist with Agricultural and Rural Convention (ARC2020), a NGO that focuses on future agricultural policy and has the backing of associations involved with organic agriculture and ecology, has outlined several long-term changes that could improve the agricultural sector, beyond simply restoring the trade that the sanctions disrupted. First, remove subsidies for export markets to reduce production that farmers hope they can send abroad. Second, ensure that farmers receive a fair profit, instead of large profits benefitting mainly the food production and distribution sectors. Third, improve internal market regulation and food health policies.
The European Council did not accept Austria’s request to initiate checks on the Austrian-Italian border because of immigration. The Austrians attempted to expand the border checks already in place with Slovenia and Hungary, and there still are certain legal measures they can use to institute temporary checks on the Italian border. See https://euobserver.com/justice/133418.
In July, Slovakia will assume the presidency of the European Union’s Council of Ministers. According to Ivan Korčok, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government for the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU, the major thrust of the Slovak presidency will be to stem the tide of fragmentation in the EU. Dealing with the immigration crisis is one problem, but other considerations are financial and economic issues, the single market, especially in the digital and energy fields, and external relations, particularly economic ties with the United States and China. See https://euobserver.com/institutional/133416; and http://www.foreign.gov.sk/web/en/news/current_issues/-/asset_publisher/lrJ2tDuQdEKp/content/riesenie-migracnej-krizy-temou-rokovani-statneho-tajomnika-i-korcoka-v-europskom-parlamente/10182?p_p_auth=8baYjwUd&_101_INSTANCE_lrJ2tDuQdEKp_redirect=%2Fweb%2Fen.
In February 2016, Reinhold Hanning, age 90, began his trial, in Detmold, Germany, for his work at the Auschwitz extermination camp, during the Second World War. German law allows the prosecution of anyone associated with genocide, during the Nazi era, and that includes Hanning, who was stationed at Auschwitz, first to register work details and then as a tower guard. Although he admits that he witnessed the selection process of Jews and saw the horrors of the camps, he claims that he never participated directly in any of the killing activity. He also made a statement in which he apologized for his involvement with the SS and condemned the killings.
Given the age of those who served in the concentration camps and those who were inmates, the number of such trials is diminishing. The most famous, in recent years, was the case of Ivan (John) M. Demjanjuk (1920-2012), whom a German court sentenced, in 2011, to five years in prison because of his involvement as a guard at the Sobibór concentration camp. He served at other camps, having volunteered for duty, after the Germans had captured him on the Eastern Front. Demjanjuk appealed his 2011 sentence but died before the case came to court, so his conviction became invalid.
Details about Hanning’s trial, including Americans who witnessed the camps, are at http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/nazi-guard-reinhold-hanning-s-trial-auschwitz-survivor-denied-voice-n573516; http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/reinhold-hanning-former-auschwitz-guard-goes-trial-germany-n516326; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36168688; and http://time.com/nazi-trials/.
The ideology of socialism, whether in its pure Marxist form or in its modern-day mainstream social-democratic variety, always has had an impact not only on Europe but also on America. Scholars at the University of Washington collaborated with others at various institutions to produce a series of interactive maps that trace the strength of socialism in the United States, from 1900 to 1940. Their project also extended to other social movements in America: NAACP, International Workers of the World, Communist party, United Farm Workers, Congress of Racial Equality, League of United Latin American Citizens, and Underground/Alternative Press. The link to the project is http://depts.washington.edu/moves/index.shtml. An article explaining the socialist mapping project is available at the Labor and Working-class History Association website at http://lawcha.org/wordpress/2016/05/05/socialists-won-elections/.
There has been plenty of speculation about the existence of a Nazi gold train buried in the hills of Poland’s Silesia. No proof exists that there is such a train or any cache of gold or jewels, but there are plenty of unexplained and unexplored tunnels. Some even believe that what the Nazis kept secluded was not gold but weaponry, specifically a secret flying weapon. The reporter Jake Halpern contacted Polish amateur archaeologists, who gave him a tour of what they have uncovered and told him about what they hope to find. His article, in The Atlantic, is available at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/09/searching-for-nazi-gold.
The Czech president, prime minister, foreign minister, and leading members of parliament support Czechia as a short version of the Czech Republic. Various informal terms exist, including Czecho and Czesko, but they have an odd sound. Frequently, when those in a conversation, understand the reference, whether they are speaking Czech or English, they simply use “the republic.” The problem stems from the Czech word for the country, Čech, which has an unusual sound in English. For Czechs, the ending for name varies, depending on its usage in a sentence. For example, to state that something is “in the Czech Republic,” one says “v Čechách.” In English, however, saying that someone is “from Czech” or going “to Czech” grates on the ear. Unfortunately, while Czechia might seem to solve the problem, it sounds like a bad public relations firm invented the name, and there is some fear that English speakers might confuse the Czechia with Chechnya. Fortunately, the decision is not final because the Czech government must approve the change, which also must go before the United Nations. Perhaps there still is time to convince the leading politicians that “the Czech Republic” is sufficient. After all, it is even one less syllable than Czechoslovakia. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/15/the-czech-republic-is-getting-a-new-name-czechia/; http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/czech-republic-aims-to-be-called-czechia-in-english; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/15/the-czech-republic-is-getting-a-new-name-czechia/; and http://www.denik.cz/z_domova/cizincum-zni-czechia-divne-pro-vetsinu-jsme-stale-czechoslovakia-20160508.html (in Czech).
On 6 May 2016, the foreign Ministry announced the decision to ask the United Nations to include not only Česko as an abbreviated name for the Czech Republic but also Czechia and other foreign names, such as Chequia, in Spanish. A recent poll found that 85.4 percent of Czech respondents did not like the new term, and there even is a move to have a referendum on the issue. See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/133419; and http://www.mzv.cz/jnp/en/issues_and_press/press_releases/x2016_05_06_the_government_approves_a_request_to.html.
Austria’s politics today is in the shadow of the first round of the country’s presidential elections, which took place on April and gave the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) candidate, Norbert Hofer, with approximately 36 percent of the votes. The second round will take place on 22 May.
As a result of the dismal loss of the presidential candidate of the Austrian Social Democratic party (SPÖ) and discontent within the party, in part, because it had announced the construction of border fences to keep out immigrants, the SPÖ chancellor, Werner Faymann, suddenly resigned, on 9 May, as chancellor and chairman of the party. Some are pressing for early elections but not Austria’s interim chancellor, Reinhold Mitterlehner, a member of the Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) and former vice chancellor in the SPÖ-ÖVP coalition. Mitterlehner fears that the current right-wing mood of the electorate could result in both a FPÖ chancellor and president.
See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36124256; https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/133379; and http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/10/world/europe/austrian-chancellor-werner-faymann-resign.html.
The Polish opposition, gathered in the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, which includes the important Civic Platform party, reported that, on 9 May, approximately 200,000 people protested against the threat to democracy from the Law and Justice party (PiS) and its leader, Jarosław Kaczynski. The progovernment marchers were far fewer in number. On 13 April, the European Parliament, in a resolution that passed 513 to 142, condemned Poland’s government for curbing democracy. In early April, the Council of Europe criticized the actions of the PiS that removed the freedoms of the state broadcasting system by placing its head under a cabinet minister. The ruling party also changed some procedures of the Constitutional Tribunal and the number of judges needed to render a decision. Recently, in light of Poland’s Constitution Day holiday that commemorates the 3 May 1795 constitution, the PiS leader, Kaczynski, stated that Poland should rewrite its constitution every two decades and that such a process is overdue. Presumably, his new constitution would strengthen the government’s hand, which the PiS now controls ever more effectively. See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-jagland-constitutionaltribunal-idUSKCN0X11L1; http://www.euronews.com/2016/05/07/pro-and-anti-government-protests-in-poland-over-eu-and-democracy; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2016-0123+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN; and http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/251137,Kaczynski-announces-aim-to-change-Polish-constitution.
In the Polish government’s continued efforts to isolate Poland internationally and the PiS at home, the Ministry of Culture is proposing changes to the World War II museum in Gdańsk. The idea is to merge the nearly completed museum with a museum commemorating Nazi Germany’s attack on Gdańsk, a project which still is in the conception stage. The merger likely would shift the national and international focus of the World War II museum to the local level. In the middle of April, the government also decided that it not only would stop selling land, in order to keep non-Poles from purchasing it, but placed restrictions on the sale of farm lands to non-Polish citizens. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pawel-adamowicz/world-war-ii-museum-in-th_b_9867292.html; and https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/133035.
In the growing list of less-than-democratic rulers in Europe, which include the prime ministers of Poland and Hungary, at the head of the list is Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On 6 May, the prime minister and head of the ruling Justice and Development party, Ahmet Davutoğlu, resigned because of disagreements with Erdoğan. Two days earlier, Davutoğlu had agreed with the European Union to cooperate with the EU to reduce the flow of immigrants into Europe, improve its handling of human rights, and change its approach to terrorism in return for liberalizing the EU-Turkish visa requirements, a fund for settling Syrian refugees, and starting a new round of EU accession talks.
Many in Europe felt that the EU had given too many concessions to the undemocratic Turkish regime. One issue was the German decision to allow the investigation of a comedian who made light of Erdoğan, based on a request of the Turkish president. However, the detractors of the agreement with Turkey now have little to fear. Since Davutoğlu’s resignation, Erdoğan rejected the deal, claiming that it cannot weaken its stance against terrorism. In the past weeks, Turkey has increased its arrest of Kurdish activists as well as Turkish journalists and opposition figures. Erdoğan also indicated that Turkey needs a new constitution that strengthens the position of the president.
Upon departing from the prime minister’s position, Davutoğlu paid a visit to the general staff to thank the military for its efforts against terrorism. Given the traditional role the military has played as Turkey’s guarantor of secularism, one must wonder if discontent with Erdoğan is reaching a crucial point, despite Erdoğan’s reprisals against about 50 military leaders who supposedly plotted against the Justice and Development party, after it had come to power in 2002.
See http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/outgoing-pm-davutoglu-bids-farewell-to-military.aspx?PageID=238&NID=98930&NewsCatID=338; https://euobserver.com/migration/133343; http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1968065,00.html; and https://euobserver.com/political/133081.
On 24 April, Serbia’s prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, and his Serbian Progressive party, handily won reelection and has more than half the seats in the legislature. Vučić called for early elections to get a stronger mandate for entering the European Union, which he received. At this point, Serbia must enact various economic reforms that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has demanded. Some fear, however, that Vučić also used the elections to remove the socialists from the governing coalition, which he did, and strengthen his position in his own party as well as his grip on power.
The European Commission hopes to open two new chapters in the EU accession talks: judiciary and fundamental rights (Chapter 23) as well as justice, freedom, and security (Chapter 24). The difficulty is that Croatia stated that it is not supportive of that initiative. Part of the problem is that Serbia claims jurisdiction over war crimes during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which Croatia wants Serbia to abolish, and minority rights.
See http://www.rferl.org/content/serbia-vucic-seeks-more-power-in-early-elections/27693341.html; https://euobserver.com/opinion/133226; https://euobserver.com/enlargement/133004; and https://euobserver.com/enlargement/133273.
The European Union and Ukraine were prepared to sign an association agreement when a movement in the Netherlands forced a referendum on the issue. The non-binding vote of 6 April saw 61 percent of the voters rejecting the agreement, but only 32 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls, just 2 percent above the requirement to make the referendum valid. On 19 April, despite the results of the referendum, the Dutch legislature voted to support the association agreement with Ukraine. See http://www.politico.eu/article/netherlands-sticks-with-eu-ukraine-deal-despite-referendum-no-vote/; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35976086.
On 12 April, Gjorge Ivanov, the president of Macedonia, pardoned those accused of corruption and halted the investigation of illegal wiretapping, claiming that the country needed to remain calm before it holds elections in June. The opposition, particularly the Social Democratic leader, Zoran Zaev, is angry with the move, which it considers illegal. The European Union also has condemned Ivanov’s actions. Demonstrations followed, along with pressure from the European Union, and the president stated that he may be willing to rescind the pardons. In the meantime, Ivanov has criticized the EU for not helping Macedonia financially in dealing with the migration crisis. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36031417; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/macedonia/12185464/Macedonia-is-defending-Europe-from-itself.html; and https://euobserver.com/foreign/133156.
The European Commission announced, on 4 May, that it will recommend that the European Parliament approve visa-free travel for Kosovars to the European Union. Part of the reasoning of the European Commission was that it would be hard to justify visa-free travel for Turks (a deal which apparently will fall through) and not Kosovars. Details must be worked out for how five EU states that do not recognize Kosovo–Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain–will process Kosovars. The government in Pristina is celebrating the occasion because it moves Kosovo one step closer to EU accession. Some are concerned that a flood of Kosovars will arrive in Europe to look for work, but others feel that Kosovars do not have the money to travel. See https://euobserver.com/migration/133344.
The Greeks long have maintained that the austerity programs its creditors demand for bailouts are economically crippling, and it appears that their message may be having some effect. The May 9 meeting of the European Union finance ministers did not result in releasing another tranche of money, which the Greeks need, but the ministers devised a plan that requires Greece to meet its commitments for implementing financial reform in return for reducing the debt burden. Such reductions may come in the form of interest rate and yearly payment caps as well as longer grace periods for loan repayments. Of Greece’s creditors–the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the European Stability Mechanism, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)–the IMF was first to recognize that the only way Greece will honor its commitments and avoid default is to make the requirements less burdensome. For its part, Greece still has to reform pensions, implement mechanisms to have creditors repay Greek banks, and institute a privatization fund. Another task of the finance ministers, who will meet again on 24 to flesh out the details of yesterday’s agreement, is to establish a series of future austerity mechanisms, should the Greek financial situation deteriorate. See https://euobserver.com/economic/133378.
Xi Jinping, the president of China, visited Prague, at the end of March, and signed agreements for 30 economic deals to the Czech Republic that are worth four billion dollars of investment this year alone. In one of the agreements, China’s CEFC energy company will purchase the stadium for Slavia, the football team in which CEFC is a majority holder. Aircraft Industries, a Czech manufacturer, also will deliver 20 planes to China.
During the visit, some protesters defaced Chinese flags along the highway from the airport to the center. Other protesters waved Tibetan flags, including one on the building of the Film and Television School ( Filmová a televizní fakulta Akademie múzických umění v Praze, FAMU). A controversy resulted because the Czech police suggested that the dean remove it because it was visible from the Castle, but the flag remained.
See http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2016-03-30/30-deals-signed-during-chinese-presidents-visit-to-prague; and http://praguemonitor.com/2016/04/15/police-say-only-famu-incident-tibetan-flag-regarded-breach-rules-during-chinese-visit.
Because of the uncertainty over the fate of Adolf Hitler’s birthplace, in Braunau, Austria, the Austrian government might purchase the property. The government did not say what it would do with the building, but it wants to prevent it from coming into the hands of a controversial owner.
Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, announced his resignation on 10 April, after his economics minister, Aivaras Abromavičius, a Lithuanian-born banker, resigned because the government was not doing enough to fight corruption. President Petro O. Poroshenko then nominated Volodymyr B. Groysman for the post of premier, and Groysman, along with his government, took office on 14 April. Groysman was the speaker of the parliament, and in 2014, he was a member of the government. He is a close associate of Poroshenko, which has brought about claims that Poroshenko is wielding too much authority in the country. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/world/europe/ukraine-prime-minister-volodymyr-groysman.html.
In late March, the United States outlined plans to create a deterrent force, within the NATO alliance, aimed at Russia. It will involve 4,500 soldiers, 250 tanks, armored personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery pieces, along with 1,700 trucks and other vehicles. The force will not have a specific base but will rotate in in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, where it will train with local forces. The Russian observer to NATO warned that Russia will take an asymmetrical response to the creation of the force, which indicates that Russia may respond with nonmilitary measures, such as diplomatic or economic action. He also warned that Russia will not tolerate the admission of Ukraine or Georgia into NATO. See https://euobserver.com/foreign/132853.
The Director of the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences, at the Higher School of Economics, in Moscow, Oleg Budnitsky, gave an interview to Russia beyond the Headlines (http://rbth.com/) about the American Lend-Lease Program for Russia, during the Second World War. When combined with assistance from the United Kingdom and Canada, the total amount of assistance was about 7 percent (not 4 percent, as earlier assumed) of the total Soviet production capacity. The aid provided the Soviets with three times the number of tanks it lost and 15 percent of the Soviet air force. The Western Allies provided the Soviets with 400,000 vehicles, mainly trucks. Chemicals, high-octane fuel, locomotives, rolling stock, telephone cable, and sugar were some of the other goods that the Western Allies supplied, noted Budnitsky. See http://rbth.com/business/2015/05/08/allies_gave_soviets_130_billion_under_lend-lease_45879.html.
On 24 March 2016, a United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia found Radovan Karadžić guilty of the 1995 murders of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica. At the time, Karadžić was the president of the Republika Srpska, within Bosnia and Herzegovina. For his involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison, which equates to a life sentence since he was born in 1945. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/europe/radovan-karadzic-verdict.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FKaradzic%2C%20Radovan&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=6&pgtype=collection&_r=0.
The Panama Papers, which the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released on 3 April, reveal the investments of 140 wealthy and powerful people, throughout the world, have in offshore accounts. In some, but not all cases, their financial activities may be illegal.
The list includes several European and Eurasian leaders or those tied to them: Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the prime minister, and Ólöf Nordal, the interior minister of Iceland; Pavlo Lazarenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine; Petro Poroshenko, the current president of Ukraine; Arkady and Boris Rotenberg as well as Sergey Roldugin, friends of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin; Ian Cameron, the late father of the British prime minister, David Cameron; Pilar de Borbón, the sister of the former King of Spain; Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former prime minister of Georgia; Stavros Papastavrou, an advisor of the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras; Zsolt Horváth, a former Hungarian National Assembly deputy for the Fidesz party; Micaela Domecq Solís-Beaumont, the wife of Miguel Arias Cañete, the European commissioner for climate action and energy, from Spain; Jérôme Cahuzac, a former French cabinet minister; Nurali Aliyev, the former deputy mayor of Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and grandson of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev; Konrad Mizzi, the minister of energy and health for the Republic of Malta; Paweł Piskorski, a former Warsaw mayor and member of the European Parliament for Poland; and Idalécio de Castro Rodrigues de Oliveira, a business executive in Portugal who is accused of corruption in Brazil. The list also includes a few more individuals living in Europe who have ties with leaders elsewhere in the world.
Several individuals on the list are from states in East-Central Europe, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. Three have ties to Putin. Two are from Ukraine–one from the current administration and another from the former regime. Finally there is one individual each from Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Malta, and Poland.
Democracy Now! Reported that, in many respects, Bernie Sanders, who is campaigning to become the presidential nominee for the Democratic party, anticipated the role of Panama in illegal financial activities during a speech in the Senate in 2011, when he opposed the Panama-United States Trade Promotion Agreement, which succeeded in passing. See http://www.democracynow.org/2016/4/5/did_bernie_sanders_predict_the_panama?utm_source=Democracy+Now!&utm_campaign=c24bef489b-Daily_Digest&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-c24bef489b-190309333.
A brief introduction the Panama Papers is at http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/04/world/panama-papers-explainer/.
The direct link to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is https://panamapapers.icij.org/. One can register, on the ICIJ website, for updates.
On Saturday, 2 April, fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. The violence shattered the uneasy 1994 truce, and brought immediate international calls for a halt to the fighting, including an appeal from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The two sides agreed on a cease fire today, after a few dozen soldiers had lost their lives, and the armistice appears to be holding. Negotiations between the two sides concerning the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh have not made any progress over the years. Armenia, an ally of Russia, holds territory in Azerbaijan, which is an ally of Turkey and an oil-exporting country. See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/world/europe/armenia-and-azerbaijan-halt-fighting-on-border.html?_r=0; and http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35964213.
On 21 March, a Russian court sentenced the captured Ukrainian pilot, Nadezhda Svachenko, to 22 years in prison and a fine that amounts to approximately USD 440 for having crossed the Russian border and for having participated in the killing of two Russian journalists. Savchenko maintains her innocence, stating that she was not responsible for directing the artillery fire that killed the journalists. There is speculation that she will be released, and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, offered to exchange her for two Russians in Ukrainian custody. Russia also is holding 27 other Ukrainian citizens.
Drawing from their experience in mapping sites through the Medieval Urban Landscape in the Northeastern Mesopotamia (MULINEM), Czech scholars from the Academy of Sciences have turned to mapping the destruction in Mosul in its Monuments of Mosul in Danger project. Both projects include interactive maps and specific information about the sites. The English versions of the two websites are: http://mulinem.net/home/; and http://monumentsofmosul.com/. For a description of the team’s work in Mosul, see http://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2016/03/czech-scholars-chart-the-destruction-of-mosul-heritage/.
The unofficial results are as follows: Smer-SD, with 28.5 percent; Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), with 11.7 percent; Ordinary People and Independent Personalities and NOVA (OľaNO-NOVA), with 10.9 percent; Slovak National Party (SNS), with 8.7 percent; People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), with 8.1 percent; We Are Family (Sme rodina), with 6.6 percent; Bridge (Most-Híd), with 6.5 percent; and Sieť , with 5.5 percent.
The success of Freedom and Solidarity, which is in second place, is shocking because it is a neo-Nazi party under Marian Kotleba, who, since 2013, has been the governor of the Banská Bystrica Region. His popularity is based, in large part, on his hatred of Roma, the European Union, and NATO. The current prime minister and head of Smer-SD, Robert Fico, said that he would not negotiate with Freedom and Solidarity in the process of constructing a cabinet.
See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35739551; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/world/europe/ruling-party-in-slovakia-loses-majority-in-elections.html; http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20110544/exit-poll-smer-down-far-right-in-the-parliament.html; and https://www.rt.com/news/334706-neo-nazis-elected-slovakia/.http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/opinion/leaving-the-eu-would-hurt-britains-economy.html?_r=1.http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-585_en.htm; and https://euobserver.com/migration/132557.
Professors Tim Haughton and Kevin Deegan-Krause attribute SMER’s likely success to several factors: solid party organization, successful economy, careful cultivation of the center-left electorate base of the party, divided opposition, and skillful leadership on the part of Fico.
See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/132547; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35718831; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/02/25/slovakia-will-probably-reelect-its-center-left-government-heres-why-that-party-has-held-on/; http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/03/04/world/europe/ap-eu-slovakia-election.html?_r=0; and http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/03/05/world/europe/ap-eu-slovakia-election.html.http://time.com/4233811/hitler-micropenis-nazi-genitals/; and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/12058755/Adolf-Hitler-really-did-have-only-one-testicle-according-to-new-medical-report.html.https://euobserver.com/justice/132494.