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

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

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

Table of Contents for the Third Quarter of 2016


  1. 1 Croatia’s Second World War Legacy    30 September 2016
  2. 2 Latvia to Remove Soviet-era Statue    28 September 2016
  3. 3 Juncker and Schulz Interview    28 September 2016
  4. 4 Karl Dietrich Bracher (1922-2016)    28 September 2016
  5. 5 Poland’s Xenophobia    28 September 2016
  6. 6 Fico: Quotas Are Dead    27 September 2016
  7. 7 Poles Protested against the PiS Government    26 September 2016
  8. 8 Serbs in Bosnia Approve Holiday    26 September 2016
  9. 9 Biden: Keep the Sanctions and Keep Reforming    22 September 2016
  10. 10 Bosnia: Referendum and EU Admission    21 September 2016
  11. 11 Transition in Uzbekistan    19 September 2016
  12. 12 Russia: “The Ruling Party Is in Power Again”    19 September 2016
  13. 13 Slovak PM: Ukraine Is Not the Good Guy    18 September 2016
  14. 14 Bratislava Summit No Surprise    17 September 2016
  15. 15 Nixon-Ford CIA Daily Briefings    16 September 2016
  16. 16 European Parliament Debate on Poland    14 September 2016
  17. 17 Elections in Belarus (Did Anyone Notice?)    14 September 2016
  18. 18 Hungary’s Future in the EU    13 September 2016
  19. 19 Drawing the Line in Kosovo    13 September 2016
  20. 20 Writing Like an Architect Designs    13 September 2016
  21. 21 The Austrian Elections Unglued    12 September 2016    UPDATE!
  22. 22 Conservatives Win Croatian Elections    12 September 2016
  23. 23 Moldova after 25 Years    9 September 2016
  24. 24 On the Ukrainian Front Lines    9 September 2016
  25. 25 Foreign Infiltration in the Czech Republic    7 September 2016
  26. 26 Hungary’s Two-tailed Dog Party    7 September 2016
  27. 27 Two Possibilities for Poland’s Crisis    1 September 2016
  28. 28 TTIP Dead–for the Time Being    29 August 2016    Update!
  29. 29 Merkel Defended Her Stance on Migrants    29 August 2016
  30. 30 Extremists Occupy Brandenburg Gate    29 August 2016
  31. 31 Visegrád Countries Want Common EU Military    26 August 2016    Update!
  32. 32 Merkel Tour    26 August 2016
  33. 33 Hungarian Media Sustains Fear about Migrants    26 August 2016
  34. 34 EU Commission’s Opinion Regarding Poland Made Public    20 August 2016
  35. 35 The Fate of Nord Stream 2 Is Sealed    19 August 2016
  36. 36 Got Terroir?  The Czech Winemakers Do.    18 August 2016
  37. 37 Europe and Turkey after the Coup    16 August 2016
  38. 38 Hungarian Online News Site under Investigation    15 August 2016
  39. 39 Journalists Consider the Murder of Sheremet    12 August 2016
  40. 40 Additional Court Complications in Poland    12 August 2016
  41. 41 Russian Threats against Ukraine    11 August 2016
  42. 42 Historians as Policy Advisors    10 August 2016
  43. 43 New Evidence about Wallenberg    10 August 2016
  44. 44 Commemorating Operation Storm    9 August 2016
  45. 45 Zeman on Migrants    4 August 2016
  46. 46 Cheating in Eastern Europe    4 August 2016
  47. 47 The Psychology of Top Nazi Leaders    30 July 2016
  48. 48 Czech Renaissance Shield in Philadelphia    30 July 2016
  49. 49 Trump and Clinton Connections in Eastern Europe    28 July 2016
  50. 50 The European Commission's Ultimatum to Poland    28 July 2016
  51. 51 Yiddish Historians of the Holocaust    27 July 2016
  52. 52 The Potential of Polish Fascism    25 July 2016
  53. 53 Orbán Supports Trump    25 July 2016
  54. 54 Posted Workers–Who Are They and Why the Fuss?    23 July 2016
  55. 55 Refugees in East-Central Europe    23 July 2016
  56. 56 Melania Trump and East European Plagiarism    23 July 2016
  57. 57 Turkish Coup Attempt: Unraveling Its Unraveling    17 July 2016
  58. 58 Slovak President on the Situation in the EU    11 July 2016
  59. 59 No New Brexit Referendum    9 July 2016
  60. 60 Obama on Polish Democracy    9 July 2016
  61. 61 Slovakia's Interior Minister Faces Fraud Accusations    8 July 2016
  62. 62 News from the NATO Summit    8 July 2016
  63. 63 Two Elections on 2 October    7 July 2016
  64. 64 Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)    6 July 2016
  65. 65 Bosnia’s Controversial Census    3 July 2016
  66. 66 Slovakia Begins Its Presidency of the European Council    3 July 2016
  67. 67 Disinformation Disrupts Democracy    3 July 2016
  68. 68 Austria Faces New Presidential Election    1 July 2016

Croatia’s Second World War Legacy    30 September 2016

Some Croatians seek to minimize the role their country played in mass killings during the Second World War, but an independent British researcher, Rory Yeomans, is quick to point out the murders the Ustasa committed and why.  See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/croatia-s-wwii-revisionism-terrifying-says-historian-09-26-2016.

Latvia to Remove Soviet-era Statue    28 September 2016

The Latvian authorities have approved the removal of another statue from the time of Soviet Rule, arguing that it is unsafe.  It commemorates the death of Soviet sailors, in Limbazi, during the Second World War.  Russia has complained about the elimination of such monuments not only in Latvia but also in the other Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania as well as Poland.  See http://www.newsweek.com/latvia-takes-down-soviet-sailor-monuments-public-safety-risk-503301.

Juncker and Schulz Interview    28 September 2016

France 24 and RFI recently interviewed Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, about the current problems facing the European Union.  Schulz noted that European “solidarity is a principle, not cheery picking,” meaning that the member states cannot select what they like, in terms of EU policy, and ignore what they deem inconvenient.  Both Schulz and Juncker agreed that all of the member states should accept migrants, in opposition to the opinion of the Visegrád states.  The two addressed other EU issues as well, including Brexit.  Listen to the seenteen-minute interview (in English) at http://www.france24.com/en/debate/20160927-juncker-schulz-debate-future-europe.

Karl Dietrich Bracher (1922-2016)    28 September 2016

The German historian who wrote The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure and Effects of National Socialism (English edition, 1970), died in Bonn, Germany, on 26 September.  His German Dictatorship was the most significant study of Nazism at the time and remains an essential book for students of German history.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/books/karl-dietrich-bracher-dead.html?_r=0.

In his review of Bracher’s book in Der Spegel, on 16 June 1969, the noted historian Joachim Fest (1926-2006), who assisted Albert Speer (1905-1981) in publishing Inside the Third Reich (English edition, 1970), considered the rise of Adolf Hitler and the horrors of the Nazi regime, asking “whether the price of modernity is not necessarily widespread feelings of fear and insecurity, which, at any time, can result in the development of authoritarianism.”  His answer to the question–“there is some evidence that this is so”–is pertinent to the Euro-Atlantic world today.  See http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-45589396.html (In German).

Poland’s Xenophobia    28 September 2016

In a recent article, Catherine Porter, a journalist with the Toronto Star, considered the interrelationship among Poland’s antidemocratic trend, continued unwillingness to admit Syrian refugees, rising nationalism and xenophobia, and staunch refusal to accept the findings of historian Jan T. Gross, who explained that some Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.  See https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/09/24/poland-wrestles-with-its-past-and-present.html.

Fico: Quotas Are Dead    27 September 2016

The Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, told journalists on Monday that “quotas today clearly divide the EU; therefore, I think they are politically finished.”  His position is that of the Visegrád Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), countries that propose assistance in other forms, including financial contributions to settle migrants.  “Whoever wants to divide Europe,” said Fico, “let them put quotas on the table; who wants to unite Europe, let them come up with a different concept of fight against illegal migration.”  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-slovakia-idUSKCN11W1LS.

Poles Protested against the PiS Government    26 September 2016

Approximately 30,000 Poles protested in Warsaw this past weekend against the government of the Law and Justice and its standoff with the Constitutional Tribunal.  See http://www.france24.com/en/20160925-tens-thousands-protest-polish-rightwing-government-pis?ns_campaign=reseaux_sociaux&ns_source=gplus&ns_mchannel=social&ns_linkname=editorial&aef_campaign_ref=partage_user&aef_campaign_date=2016-09-25.

Serbs in Bosnia Approve Holiday    26 September 2016

On 25 September, the Serbs in Bosnia held a referendum about celebrating 9 January as a national holiday, and more than 99 percent of the voters approved the measure.  The date marks the 1992 proclamation of an independent Serb state from Bosnia.  Many fear that the new holiday will raise tensions with non-Serb inhabitants of Bosnia and threaten the country’s stability.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37465653; and http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/republika-srpska-referendum-early-results-09-25-2016.

Biden: Keep the Sanctions and Keep Reforming    22 September 2016

Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, in New York, Vice President Joe Biden said that it is necessary to keep the sanctions regime but warned that five European Union member states are prepared to drop them.  According to their reasoning, Ukraine “was owned [by] Russia anyway. They had a puppet there. What difference does it make?”  He also revealed that, each week, he talks with the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, about stemming corruption in Ukraine and other matters.  With respect to the Minsk Agreement, Biden said that “Russia has done nothing, nothing to keep their end of the bargain.”  He also encouraged Ukraine to conclude its special arrangement with the Donbas, even though it is a hard choice.  He believes that progress in Ukraine is essential to keeping the sanctions in place: “So they have reason to be concerned, but not because we are not—we have not redoubled our commitment to make sure that we make it very difficult for Ukraine not to do what they’re supposed to do, but even more difficult for Europe to walk way knowing Russia has not met a single, solitary commitment they’ve made.”

Biden, known for his occasional folksy and humorous approach, moved to the next segment by making the audience laugh.  The president of the CFR, Richard N. Haass, said that he wanted “to talk about the vice presidency for a minute.”  Biden quickly retorted, “that’ll take a second.”

Bosnia: Referendum and EU Admission    21 September 2016

The Republika Srpska (RS) is planning a referendum, on 25 September, about whether the country should celebrate, as its holiday, 9 January, the 1992 date when the Republic of the Serbian Nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina came into existence.  The Constitutional Tribunal of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) ruled out the possibility of celebrating that date, and the referendum could upset the Dayton Agreement and destabilize the country.  Russia has backed RS leadership in their determination to hold the referendum, which many see as an effort to strengthen Russia’s ability to meddle in BiH affairs and a means of weakening the current leadership in Serbia, which has attempted to convince RS authorities to cancel the referendum.

BiH also is in the news because it applied to the European Council for entry into the European Union.  On 20 September, the European Council accepted the application and agreed to take the next step, which is having the European Commission begin the slow process of establishing that BiH qualifies for entry.

In addition to the social benefits and increased security that comes with EU entry, becoming a member state would mean a great economic opportunity for the citizens of BiH.  Whether or not the European Council planned the timing of its announcement to influence the outcome of the referendum, those in Bosnia who seek to keep the country stable certainly can employ the news to their advantage, in the few days remaining before the referendum.

Transition in Uzbekistan    19 September 2016

The long-time leader of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, died on 2 September, and presidential elections are scheduled for December.  According to Mariya Y. Omelicheva, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, the victor will not matter, and the election will enable the ruling elite, which operates through corruption and clans, will solidify the country’s dictatorial regime.  That comes as no surprise, according to Omelicheva, when authoritarianism is prevalent in the region and Russia is one of its guarantors.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2123-uzbekistan-stable-transition-into-volatile-future.

Russia: “The Ruling Party Is in Power Again”    19 September 2016

United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin, won Russia’s parliamentary elections, of 19 September, with 54.2 percent of the votes.  The other four parties that entered the State Duma are supporters of United Russia, including the Communist party, and the opposition parties did not even pass the threshold needed to enter the legislature.  There were reports of fraud, and Russia’s election commission stated that it may have to invalidate the ballots of three districts.  Some voters, disgusted with the election, spoiled their ballots and posted them on social media.  Voter apathy, in this election, may aid United Russia’s subsequent efforts to legitimize the election.

The headlines of the leading newspaper for business and finance, Kommersant, stated that “The Ruling Party Is in Power Again” (the BBC incorrectly translated it as “The Party of Power is in Power Again,” and the headline does not appear to snub the regime).  The article reported Putin’s comment that the victory demonstrated that the country is experiencing a “growing political maturity” and that citizens are intolerant of empty promises.

Slovak PM: Ukraine Is Not the Good Guy    18 September 2016

Despite the West’s acceptance of the fact that Ukraine is more observant of the Minsk Agreement than Russia, Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, which currently holds the presidency of the European Council, stated that it is incorrect to assume that Russia is the bad guy and Ukraine is the good guy, in terms of compliance.  He called on Ukraine to fulfill its commitments to the Minsk Agreement.  He also renewed his demand for the end of sanctions against Russia, which he claimed are ineffective.  Although he wants the end to sanctions, like the Czech president and the Hungarian prime minister, Fico stated that he will not break the unity of the EU. See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-slovakia-idUSKCN11N0HT.

Bratislava Summit No Surprise    17 September 2016

There was no stunning announcement from the European Union leaders, after their Bratislava summit.  They recommitted themselves to building a strong EU, agreed to strengthen the EU’s borders to reduce migrants, and resolved to improve the economy.  They did not state how they will change the EU, after the Brexit decision, or solve the problem of settling migrants.  Still, the show of solidarity was encouraging, aside from Italy’s separate statement of disunity, which may have been more of an election ploy than a sign of true division.  See http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/09/16/world/europe/ap-eu-europes-future.html?_r=0.

Nixon-Ford CIA Daily Briefings    16 September 2016

In August, the CIA released the president’s daily briefs (PDB) for the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, Jr., covering the years from 1969 to 1977.  The reports regularly contain information about the Soviet Union, and the countries of Eastern Europe appear on occasion.  For example, a report about events in Prague, one year after the Warsaw Pact invasion, is at https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0005976942.pdf.  The portal to the papers is at https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/presidents-daily-brief (click on “view all PDB documents).  The announcement about the releasing the president’s daily briefs is at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/intelligence-history/presidents-daily-brief-nixon-ford/index.html.

European Parliament Debate on Poland    14 September 2016

On 13 September, the European Parliament debated the political situation in Poland, where the standoff regarding the Constitutional Tribunal and the freedom of the media continue.  The MEPs passed a resolution, with 510 members in support, 160 in opposition, and 29 abstaining, that calls on Poland to respect the rule of law.  The debate proceeded along predictable lines.  Most of the speakers called on Poland to preserve its democracy, while Polish representatives and their supporters, including Hungarians, where democracy also is in peril, deflected the criticism by blaming the European Union for attempting to interfere in the domestic affairs of member states and claiming that the EU’s leadership is bringing about the collapse of the EU.  See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20160909STO41738/meps-urge-polish-government-to-solve-consitutional-crisis; and https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/european-parliament-polish-policy-still-against-democracy/2016/09/14/07df18de-7a88-11e6-8064-c1ddc8a724bb_story.html.

Elections in Belarus (Did Anyone Notice?)    14 September 2016

Parliamentary elections took place in Belarus, on 11 September, but they were not newsworthy, in the West  The party in power won, and Aleksander Lukashenko remains firmly in power, despite the country’s declining economy.  The only oddity, this time, was that two opposition figures, both women, entered the parliament.  Lukashenko permitted this seemingly amazing victory for democracy in order o bolster his image abroad (the country is seeking a loan) and to plant the seeds of discord in an already divided opposition.  See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/12/belarus-activists-unmoved-election-two-opposition-mps-lukashenko; and https://euobserver.com/foreign/135073.

Hungary’s Future in the EU    13 September 2016

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, stated that the European Union should exclude Hungary because of its violations of the press and human rights as well as its attack on the country’s independent judiciary.  His statements come in advance of a referendum in Hungary, which will take place on 2 October, that asks voters whether Hungary should reject the EU’s migration quotas.  In reality, Asselborn is sending the same message to Poland, where the Law and Justice party has resorted to the same methods as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, in order to secure power.  See https://euobserver.com/political/135050.

Drawing the Line in Kosovo    13 September 2016

The president and government of Kosovo want to sign a demarcation agreement with Montenegro, but contrary to the government, the opposition claims that the agreement will transfer 8,000 hectares (about 31 square miles) to Montenegro. The president and government have little credibility, but not all citizens are prepared to accept that the opposition is correct. Explosions have rocked government buildings, and the fear is that violence will escalate.  See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/kosovo-government-adopts-border-deal-with-montenegro-08-04-2016; and https://euobserver.com/opinion/135054.

Writing Like an Architect Designs    13 September 2016

Geoffrey K. Pullum, a professor of linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, recently published a blog, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which he compared writing with embellishments as something akin to designing an Art Deco or Secession (Art Nouveau) building.  Meanwhile, the alternative that William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White offer, in their Elements of Style, is like conceiving a building in the Modernist International trend.  Pullum prefers the former, although his last paragraph gives the reader the licence to choose.

Pullum’s nod to architecture made me think about my own style and how it has evolved over the years.  I had traditional training but then deviated from it.  My years in the world of construction, when I wrote and contributed to building specifications, allowed passive voice to creep into my prose.  Then the need to translate passages from letters and speeches in Czech and Slovak to English inspired me to write in a conversational tone.  Finally, the search for clarity brought me back to the principles that Roselyn M. Keenan and Leonard Jankowski expounded in my grade-school and high-school classes and that were evident in the writing of Keith Hitchins, one of my professors.

There is something to be said about writing with excitement or despair, but the products of the undisciplined mind, in such states, become burdensome, like a steady dose of Baroque ornamentation.  The answer is somewhere in the middle: add the emotion, but keep the discipline.  In that sense, I suppose my writing style is something like the Post-Modern architectural trend.  The influence of the plain and boxy International movement is clear, but Classical or Gothic features are apparent.  When Post-Modern architecture entered the stage, I was a young adult.  Since writing, like all the arts, reflects its era, the architectural characteristics of my sentences and paragraphs are no surprise.

The Austrian Elections Unglued    12 September 2016    UPDATE!

Because of faulty glue for the postal ballots, Austria will postpone its 2 October elections.  See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/12/austria-presidential-election-rerun-to-be-postponed-faulty-glue-ballot-papers.

UPDATE!    13 September 2016
For an additional perspective on Austria’s close presidential election, which pits a former Green party leader against a far-right candidate, see https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/135049.  

Conservatives Win Croatian Elections    12 September 2016

The conservative electoral coalition under the leadership of HDZ won Croatia’s 11 September elections, with 61 of the 151 seats (40 percent) in the parliament.  The electoral coalition that included the Social Democrats received 54 seats (36 percent).  Most (Bridge), a center-right party, won 13 seats (0.9 percent) and likely will be part of the next coalition.  The previous government, which HDZ led, collapsed in June because of a corruption scandal.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37331820; and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/12/croatias-conservatives-take-lead-preliminary-election-results.

Moldova after 25 Years    9 September 2016

In 1991, Moldova gained its independence from the Soviet Union, and many ethnic Romanians thought that they would join with Romania.  Non-Romanian resistance to the plan and a civil war ended that dream, and Moldova has remained an independent state.  Unfortunately, its democracy is strained, and like many post-Soviet states, politics is responsive to money interests and not the people.  In the case of Moldova, decisions largely rest on one businessman, Vlad Plahotniuc, whose tentacles extend throughout the political and administrative systems.  If his candidate for president wins the 30 October elections, his position will solidify further.  Meanwhile, the people are disillusioned with politics and have a keen sense that their country’s prospects are bleak.  See the article by the researcher and journalist, Kamil Całus, at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2109-moldova-25-years-of-state-of-emergency.

On the Ukrainian Front Lines    9 September 2016

Stefan Jajecznyk, a freelance journalist, spent time on the front lines with Ukrainian soldiers.  He noted that the military leadership is incompetent and that the government cannot properly supply the troops.  Such a situation, along with constant shelling from the Russian side, results in lower morale, but average Ukrainians, through social media and the efforts of activists, are filling the gap.  They personally bring various goods to the soldiers and boost their spirits.  As Jajecznyk wrote, in his article for the New Eastern Europe: “With the government initially struggling to modernise the armed forces, ravaged by years of neglect and illegal asset stripping–t once more came to the Ukrainian people to ensure that those defending their homeland’s freedom were equipped with everything necessary to accomplish their objective.”  Read the entire article at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2112-visiting-the-front-lines-with-ukrainian-volunteers.

Foreign Infiltration in the Czech Republic    7 September 2016

The Security Information Service (BIS) of the Czech Republic recently released its 2015 report.  BIS identified China and Russia as the states most active in intelligence gathering in the Czech Republic, with Russia by far in the lead.  The Russians focused not only on Czech politics and economics but also were active in matters dealing with Ukraine and Syria as well as technology.  The Russian diplomatic mission has more than 140 members and is much larger than others, including China and the United States, and the Russians do not reveal the functions of their diplomats, as do other states.  The Russian diplomats and their operatives were active in information gathering and spreading disinformation (including details against the European Union and NATO), obtaining intelligence about opposition to the Russian government, exploiting divisions in Czech society, and undermining the international position of Ukraine.  BIS noted that Russia has the potential of using its infiltrators to destabilize Czech society.

China has been active in infiltrating the Czech military, political, and economic spheres, but on a much smaller scale than Russia.  Iran also has been active in the Czech Republic.

The report from BIS may serve to weaken the public’s image of the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, who has been a proponent of the Kremlin.  On this issue, the government has not sided with Zeman, to whom the constitution gives little maneuverability to influence Czech foreign policy.  Zeman has not officially declared that he will stand for reelection in the 2018 election.

Hungary’s Two-tailed Dog Party    7 September 2016

The Hungarian government seems to have an advantage, going into the 2 October referendum about not accepting the European Union’s migration quotas.  Hoping to change the odds, a satirical party, known as the Two-tailed Dog party, is conducting an aggressive campaign of billboards and posters that ask “Did you know?,” just like the government posters, but the questions and answers appeal to the voters’ sense of moral decency and even take jabs directly at the government.  See https://euobserver.com/news/134869.

Two Possibilities for Poland’s Crisis    1 September 2016

Ryszard Terlecki, a deputy for the Law and Justice (PiS) party, said that the government may attempt to remove the Constitutional Court judges who declared illegal certain pieces of legislation regarding the court.  Prosecutors now are investigating Andrzej Rzepliński, who heads the Constitutional Court, for not approving the appointments of three new judges to the court who have PiS backing.  Another PiS deputy stated that the stalemate will end when Rzepliński steps down at the end of the year, when his nine-year term expires.  See https://euobserver.com/political/134833.

TTIP Dead–for the Time Being    29 August 2016    Update!

Germany’s economic minister, Sigmar Gabriel, stated during an interview on 28 August, that TTIP is effectively dead, an opinion which the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, echoed.  The difficulties stem from opposition on both sides of the Atlantic and the inability of the European Union to meet the demands of the United States.  Some diplomats hint that talks will resume after the 2016 American presidential election.  Gabriel indicated that concluding the free-trade agreement with Canada, known as CETA, may be more promising than TTIP.  Both are controversial among Gabriel’s Social Democrats, but the opposition to CETA is less vehement.  See http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/soziales/ttip-sigmar-gabriel-erklaert-verhandlungen-fuer-gescheitert-a-1109807.html; and http://www.france24.com/en/20160828-ttip-eu-usa-free-trade-talks-failed-german-minister-gabriel?ns_campaign=reseaux_sociaux&ns_source=gplus&ns_mchannel=social&ns_linkname=editorial&aef_campaign_ref=partage_user&aef_campaign_date=2016-08-28.

Not So Fast!    Update!    30 August 2016

The comment of Germany’s economic minister, Sigmar Gabriel, that TTIP was dead sparked a controversy throughout the EU.  In response, the chief negotiator for TTIP, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, noted that the talks continue, and a spokesperson for the European Commission said that Gabriel was not in charge of negotiations but “we are.”  Angela Merkel’s spokesperson added that the German chancellor continues to support TTIP and that major problems often are not solved until late in the negotiating process.  Finland and Sweden’s trade ministers also claim that Gabriel spoke too soon.  Nevertheless, the French minister of trade, Matthias Fekl, called for a formal end to the TTIP talks because of the lack of support form the agreement in France.  The French president, François Hollande, did not take such a strong position, but he remarked that it is unlikely that the negotiations could conclude before the end of Barack Obama’s term in office.  See https://euobserver.com/economic/134791; and https://www.yahoo.com/news/france-call-end-talks-eu-us-trade-deal-060948601.html.

Merkel Defended Her Stance on Migrants    29 August 2016

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, defended her position that all European Union countries should accept migrants.  Her position is unpopular in the Visegrád countries, and many Germans feel that they have been too lenient with admitting migrants and that the country should impose quotas on immigrants.  Merkel’s popularity is waning, and she has yet to announce whether she will run for another term in Germany’s 2017 general elections.  Merkel’s statements about migrants were in response to the comment of Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Socialist economic minister, that Germany was unprepared to deal with the volume of migrants that flooded the country (see the posting above).   The Socialists clearly are distancing themselves from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in advance of the general election.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-germany-gabriel-idUSKCN1120RP.

Extremists Occupy Brandenburg Gate    29 August 2016

For about an hour on 27 August, members of the Identity Movement (Identitäre Bewegung), a right-wing group that opposes multiculturalism and has a strong Internet presence, occupied the Brandenburg Gate.  They unfurled banner that nearly stretched across the length of the monument and stated “Secure Borders – Secure Future.”  The police managed to convince the activists to terminate their action.  See http://www.dw.com/en/right-wing-activists-scale-berlins-brandenburg-gate/a-19508752.

Visegrád Countries Want Common EU Military    26 August 2016    Update!

When meeting, in Warsaw, with Angela Merkel, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, urged the EU to build a common defense force.  The other Visegrád countries of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia agree.  Beate Szydło, the Polish premier, called for a common border guard.  See http://www.dw.com/en/visegrad-countries-urge-eu-to-build-a-common-army/a-19507603.  In the past, the EU met challenges with deeper integration, and defense, whether it is the Russian threat or migration, is no exception.

Update!    27 August 2016
Despite the agreement on defense matters and the notion that the EU should do more for youth and economic matters, the Visegrád countries prefer that the member states have control over social and immigration matters.  No specifics have emerged from the talks with Merkel, who will have additional meetings, with other heads of states, before the Bratislava conference.  See https://euobserver.com/news/134775; http://orf.at/stories/2355453/2355452/ (in German); and http://www.dw.com/en/visegrad-leaders-merkel-meets-european-critics-of-her-refugee-policies/a-19504957.

Merkel Tour    26 August 2016

Angela Merkel is touring the Visegrad countries, in anticipation of the September European Union summit in Bratislava.  Her mission is to have the summit focus on unity and positive developments in the EU, instead of letting the negative aspects of Brexit and migration dominate the discussions.  Both Slovakia and the Czech Republic are hesitant to open their doors to migrants, which is the same with Hungary and Poland, where relations with the EU also are strained over the illiberal nature of the two countries’ governments.  In Prague, on 26 August, an armed man was arrested as he tried to join Merkel’s motorcade, and authorities assumed that his intention was to assassinate Merkel.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/merkel-sobotka-find-common-ground-on-numerous-issues-with-notable-exception-of-migrant-quotas; and http://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/26/merkel-prague-police-halt-armed-assailant-from-attacking-motorcade-report.html.

Hungarian Media Sustains Fear about Migrants    26 August 2016

The government-controlled media in Hungary continues to distort information about migrants as a means of creating fear in the society and ensuring that Hungarians are receptive to the ruling party’s continued grip on power and its undemocratic measures.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/134762.

EU Commission’s Opinion Regarding Poland Made Public    20 August 2016

The European Commission received a request from Laurent Pech, a professor of law at Middlesex University, in London, to make public its 1 June decision regarding the rule of law in Poland.  It originally denied the request but then granted it, after Pech appealed.  On 19 August, Professor Pech published the document on his website.  He included some background on the controversy about the Constitutional Tribunal and an explanation of his request for the document.

The opinion provides a chronology of communication between the European Commission and the Polish government as well as a brief explanation of the scope of the opinion.  For each of the issues, the report explains the relevant facts and provides the European Commission’s assessment of the situation.

For those who are familiar with the crisis about the Constitutional Tribunal, the most important portion of the document will be the European Commission’s fact and assessment sections, which begins with Paragraph 40 and continues through Paragraph 73.  The conclusions appear in Paragraphs 74-77.  The opinion regarding the media follows the same structure: facts (Paragraph 78); assessment (Paragraphs 79-83); and conclusion (Paragraph 84).

The concluding section of the European Commission’s opinion (Paragraphs 85 through 90) contains the European Commission’s comprehensive remarks about the dangers to the rule of law that the Law and Justice (PiS) party has created.  It finds that there is “a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland.”  Changes to the Constitutional Tribunal have prevented the court “from fully ensuring an effective constitutional review adversely affects its integrity, stability and proper functioning, which is one of the essential safeguards of the rule of law established in Poland.”  This situation harms the guarantees in Article 2 of the 2007 Treaty of the European Union, which states that the EU is “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”  It also undermines the treaties of the EU and the mutual trust of EU citizens.  The European Commission recommended that the government should accept the three judges on the Constitutional Tribunal that the previous legislature nominated, publish the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal, including those that find the recent changes to the Constitutional Tribunal illegal.  Paragraph 89 of the opinion states: “More generally, the Commission underlines that the loyal cooperation which is required amongst the different state institutions in rule of law related matters is essential in order to find a solution in the present situation. This includes that all Polish authorities refrain from actions and public statements which could undermine the legitimacy and efficiency of the Constitutional Tribunal.”  There is no specific mention of the freedom of the media in the European Commission’s conclusion.

On 16 August, the Polish government published most of the decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal, but not the decisions of 9 March and 11 August that found the legislation regarding the reforms to the court unconstitutional.  As a result, the Polish government still has not complied with the requests of the European Commission.

The Fate of Nord Stream 2 Is Sealed    19 August 2016

In July, te Polish antimonopoly authority determined that Nord Stream 2 violated European Union antitrust laws, largely because the pipeline owner and the company supplying the product are the same.  Although the decision was not final, it was enough to prompt the EU companies involved in the venture–Engie, E.ON, OMV, Shell, and Wintershall–to abandon the project.  Russian Gazprom stated that it will go ahead with the Nord Stream 2 on its own, but the EU antimonopoly regulations likely will defeat the project.  This may cause the Russians to invest more in the completion of Turktream, a project which has been on hold.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/poland-gas-nordstream-idUSL8N1A825Z; and http://www.naturalgaseurope.com/gazprom-soldiers-on-with-nord-stream-ii-31101.

Got Terroir?  The Czech Winemakers Do.    18 August 2016

In the region of the Czech Republic on the border with Austria and Slovakia, around the town of Valtice, Moravia, the winemakers are learning how to produce premium wines, based on an old tradition that dates to the fifteenth century and a few pointers from an Australian expert.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/16/world/europe/czech-wine-moravia.html?_r=0.

Europe and Turkey after the Coup    16 August 2016

The biggest issues facing the European Union and Turkey, one month after the attempted coup d’etat, are the purges of those who allegedly had supported the coup and the problem of migrants.  To see how these are linked together and to learn more about the complex relationship between the EU and Turkey, see https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/134642.

Hungarian Online News Site under Investigation    15 August 2016

Direkt36, a Hungarian online news site recently published a report about how government officials, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, misrepresented information on their financial disclosure statements and used their spouses to hide assets.  As a result, the police are investigating Direkt36.  See http://www.direkt36.hu/en/2016/07/21/orban-vagyonbevallasainak-hibai-is-mutatjak-a-rendszer-gyenge-pontjait/.

Journalists Consider the Murder of Sheremet    12 August 2016

On 20 July 2016, the journalist Pavel Sheremet, who had left his native Belarus for Ukraine because of censorship, died in a car explosion.  He was an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, and many suspect that his death was a political murder that the Russians engineered.  Ukrainian authorities still are investigating the case.  A New Eastern Europe three-way interview, one of whose participants had recently interviewed Sheremet, considers Sheremet’s career and the implications of his death.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/interviews/2086-marta-dyczok-discusses-the-killing-of-journalist-pavel-sheremet-in-kyiv.

Additional Court Complications in Poland    12 August 2016

On 11 August, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal rendered its judgment on the July law that pertains to the court.  With three dissenting judges, all of whom are appointees of the Law and Justice party (PiS), the court struck down the provisions that enable four judges to block a decision for six months and that require the court to consider cases in chronological order, instead of selecting the most important ones first.  This last provision would delay the court’s decisions on recent laws the PiS passed because of the size of the current backlog.

Poland has until October to solve the constitutional problem or face sanctions from the European Union that could limit its ability to participate in the EU’s decision-making process.

Russian Threats against Ukraine    11 August 2016

Russia is accusing Ukraine of planning terrorist attacks in Crimea and has blamed the Ukrainians for the death of two Russians.  Vladimir Putin promised retaliations. Ukraine denied the allegations, and it is likely that Russia is trying to frighten Ukrainians, who, on 24 August, will celebrate 25 years of independence from Russia.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37037401.

Historians as Policy Advisors    10 August 2016

Jeremy Adelman, a professor of history at Princeton University, considers the contributions that historians could make as policy advisors but also warns of pitfalls.  One involves determining which historical experiences may apply to a case and which advisors may ignore.  The result may lead to bad advice.  The second difficulty is that historians may come to view their perspectives as a panacea that ultimately will lead them “to discover that we have oversold the importance of history.”  See http://chronicle.com/article/Who-Needs-Historians-/237415?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=9215de66186248ca9cf116e084e7c261&elq=f8f421dfc3944202a9f6b8db4928477c&elqaid=10180&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=3795.

New Evidence about Wallenberg    10 August 2016

Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1945 or after) saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from extermination, during the Second World War, but the Soviets thought he was a spy.  After they occupied Budapest, they took him into custody, and concentration-camp inmates indicated that he had died or had been executed, in 1947, in one of the camps.  The Soviet government also stated that he died, in 1947, of a heart attack.  No solid documentary evidence exists as to the fate of Wallenberg, but a new diary, found in the walls of a garage, indicate that Wallenberg was executed.  The author of the diary was Ivan A. Serov (1905-1990), who headed the KGB between 1954 and 1958.  Serov’s granddaughter published an edited form of the diary in 2016, and for now, it only exists in Russian.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/world/europe/from-a-dacha-wall-a-clue-to-raoul-wallenbergs-cold-war-fate.html?emc=edit_tnt_20160806&nlid=46945321&tntemail0=y&_r=1.

Commemorating Operation Storm    9 August 2016

In August 1995, the Croatian military undertook Operation Storm, which regained about one-third of the country that had been in Serbian hands since the beginning of the wars associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia.  During Operation Storm, the Croats ethnically cleansed the regained territory, just as the Serbs had done before.  An official ceremony took place, on 5 August, to commemorate Operation Storm, but a corresponding unofficial event included the burning of the Serbian flag and generated a protest from the Serbian government.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/134596; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-croatia-anniversary-serbia-idUSKCN0QA1MS20150805; and http://www.b92.net/eng/news/crimes.php?yyyy=2016&mm=08&dd=04&nav_id=98812.

Zeman on Migrants    4 August 2016

During a press conference, on 2 August, the press spokesperson for Miloš Zeman stated the president’s belief that “accepting migrants would spawn barbaric attacks on the Czech Republic’s territory.”  The Czech Republic is processing 80 applicants out of an EU quota of 2,691, but Zeman believes that none should enter the republic.  The Czechs have only four Syrian immigrants.

In response to Zeman’s belief, Günthera Oettingera, the European Union’s commissioner for the digital economy and society, stated that, although the Czech Republic does not have Germany’s historical background for accepting asylum seekers, “a large majority” had accepted the EU quota system and that Zeman’s “disregarding European legislation” weakens the EU.  He also stated that Europeans should do more for the besieged Syrians at Aleppo.

Cheating in Eastern Europe    4 August 2016

After commenting on the plagiarized Melania Trump speech, Monika Nalepa (Political Science, University of Chicago) provides statistics about cheating in the former Communist-dominated states in an article at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/08/02/heres-the-evidence-of-widespread-cheating-in-post-communist-countries/?wpisrc=nl_cage&wpmm=1.

During the Communist era, writing papers was not a common practice in university courses (surely, that was a relief to students because typewriter ownership was not widespread).  Exams were oral (one-on-one with the professor, perhaps after a brief period of time to prepare one’s thoughts on a randomly selected question) or written.  As a result, the cheat sheet was popular.  Concealing many small pieces of paper were common, and students even traded cheat sheets (tahák in Czech).  I heard one story about a mother who sewed special pockets into the lining of her son’s sport jacket to accommodate cheat sheets.  In another case, a teacher suspected students of cheating and made them change their seats.  The person who told me of the experience landed at a desk on which someone, presumably from the prior class period, had scrawled the answers to the test.

The statistics in Nalepa’s article only confirm the widespread attitude that students in the former Communist states cheated and that professors looked the other way, unless the student was clumsy and got caught.  Even if the professor caught a student cheating, the consequences tended to be minor.

The cheating culture was linked to a larger cultural phenomenon in the Communist-controlled states.  Shortages caused widespread pilfering, enabling an individual to barter for items he or she needed.  The lack of incentive resulted in efforts to avoid work.  The student’s job was to pass exams, and cheating was the equivalent of pilfering and evading work.

The Psychology of Top Nazi Leaders    30 July 2016

A psychiatrist and former professor at the University of California at San Diego, Joel E. Dimsdale, published a book that delves into the psyche of  Robert Ley, Julius Streicher, Rudolf Hess, and Hermann Göring titled Anatomy of Malice The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals (Yale University Press, 2016).  Dimsdale used material gathered on the Nazi leaders before their execution, including Rorschach tests.  He also recounted the debate between the American psychologist and psychiatrist who initially studied the subjects about whether they were pathological or normal.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/books/review/anatomy-of-malice-by-joel-e-dimsdale.html?_r=0.

Czech Renaissance Shield in Philadelphia    30 July 2016

A historian from Vimperk, Czech Republic, Ladislav Čepička, discovered that the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a Renaissance shield from the Konopiště Castle, in Southern Bohemia, that the Nazis had plundered.  The shield, which shows the siege of a city on one side and armed horsemen on the other, was to be part of Adolf Hitler’s museum in Linz, Austria.  At some point, near the end of the Second World War, while it was in storage in Vienna, someone stole it, and it ended up in Philadelphia.  The shield may be worth approximately USD 600,000, and Čepička is attempting to have it returned to Konopiště.  See http://www.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/vimpersky-historik-objevil-renesancni-stit-uloupeny-nacisty (in Czech).

Trump and Clinton Connections in Eastern Europe    28 July 2016

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have ties with Ukrainian individuals and institutions that, in turn, are linked with Russia.  The connections between Trump and Putin, however, are far more direct, suggesting that Trump could provide Putin with a means of influencing American foreign policy.  See http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/07/vladimir_putin_has_a_plan_for_destroying_the_west_and_it_looks_a_lot_like.html; and http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2073-a-real-house-of-cards-trump-putin-and-yanukovych.

The European Commission's Ultimatum to Poland    28 July 2016

On 27 July, Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, whose portfolio includes the rule of law, announced that the European Commission has reached a decision about the Polish case.  The Sejm adopted a law, on 22 July, that the government had hoped would resolve the conflict over the Constitutional Tribunal, but the European Commission found it inadequate.  Timmermans noted that “the Polish authorities have dropped the 2/3 majority for the adoption of decisions by the Constitutional Tribunal.  However, key issues such as publication and implementation of the judgments and the swearing in of the judges, remain unaddressed.  Moreover, new problematic provisions have been introduced in the legislative process on the functioning of the Tribunal, raising concerns on the effectiveness of constitutional review.”

The Commission made the following recommendations to Poland: 

The Polish authorities should also publish and fully implement the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal of 9 March, which ruled that a previous law on the Constitutional Tribunal was unconstitutional, as well as the subsequent judgments.  We also recommend that future judgments of the Tribunal are published automatically.

We ask the Polish authorities to ensure that any reform of the Law on the Constitutional Tribunal respects the judgments of the Tribunal and takes the opinion of the Venice Commission into account.  There should not be requirements which, whether separately or through their combined effect, undermine the effectiveness of constitutional review by the Tribunal.

As regards the new law adopted on 22 July, we ask the Polish authorities to ensure that the Tribunal can review its compatibility before its entry into force.  We also encourage the Polish authorities to seek the views of the Venice Commission on this law.

The Commission gave Poland three months to respond or face sanctions from the EU.

Yiddish Historians of the Holocaust    27 July 2016

Mark Smith, a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles, just completed his dissertation on Yiddish accounts of the Holocaust.  Historians have ignored the literature, largely because of language barriers, and Smith’s work seeks to integrate their narratives into current historiography.  He focused on five historians who published, between 1945 and 1985, in Poland, France, Israel, and the United States.  His dissertation is available at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9c41w4zt#page-83.  See also http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865658531/See-how-this-forgotten-Holocaust-history-is-being-given-new-life.html?pg=all.

The Potential of Polish Fascism    25 July 2016

The journalist Chris Hedges interviewed Jaroslaw Kurski and Piotr Stasinski, former Solidarity members and the founders of Gazeta Wyborcza, about the creeping fascist character of the Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland.  Among the various characteristics of fascism that the article cites are the intensive propaganda effort of the government, aimed, in part, at youths, who are solidly in the nationalist camp, and the creation of 11 new intelligence agencies to weed out resistance.  See http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_new_european_fascists_20160724.

Orbán Supports Trump    25 July 2016

During a speech at a summer university program in Băile Tuşnad, Romania, Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, expressed his support for Donald Trump as president.  He praised Trump’s willingness to tighten anti-terrorist screening, end regime change and nation building, and cease immigration from states that support terrorism.  Orbán sated that he “listened to the candidate and I must tell you he made three proposals to combat terrorism. And as a European I could have hardly articulated better what Europe needs.”

Surprisingly, Orbán ignored Trump’s qualifications about helping to defend America’s NATO allies.  Instead of the NATO pledge that an attack on one is an attack on all, Trump stated that he would commit American forces only “if they fulfill their obligations to us.”  Trump’s comments caused a furor among NATO states, including the Baltic states that have been solid NATO allies.  Trump also failed to criticize Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his undemocratic actions, especially in light of the purge he is undertaking in Turkey after the failed coup attempt.

Posted Workers–Who Are They and Why the Fuss?    23 July 2016

The EU recently experienced a minor controversy regarding posted workers.  These are employees of a firm who do most of their work at home for an employer located in another country.  Only 0.7 percent of the EU labor force qualify as posted workers, and Poland employs approximately one quarter of them.  The debate about how these workers should be treated was heated and resulted in several countries using so-called yellow cards, which require the EU to determine if rules regarding subsidiarity, that is, matters the individual states should handle, apply to an issue.  The EU Commission decided that posted workers were a Europe-wide problem and that it is necessary for everyone to receive equal treatment.  In the end, the EU ruled that the posted workers must receive the same pay and benefits as other workers in the company that employs them, not a reduced pay, based on where the posted worker resides.  The Polish government is angry because it fears that companies will have fewer incentives to use posted workers, costing many Poles their jobs.  The prime minister, Beata Szydło, stated that the EU has not learned from Brexit and that the issue should have been one that the member states decided.  See https://euobserver.com/economic/134433; and https://euobserver.com/economic/134458.

Refugees in East-Central Europe    23 July 2016

EUObserver recently ran four articles about the successes and difficulties of refugees in four East-Central European countries: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.  The refugees experience a mix of acceptance, suspicion, resistance from certain political quarters, and occasional governmental roadblocks.  The links to these brief yet informative articles are:

Melania Trump and East European Plagiarism    23 July 2016

At the recent Republican Convention, Melania Trump entertained attendees with a speech that plagiarized Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention address.  An article in the Washington Post explained that part of the reason for her plagiarism resulted from her post-Communist education, including courses at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia.  Another factor is the habit politicians have of mimicking a successful speech formula.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/07/20/melania-trump-and-the-culture-of-cheating-in-eastern-european-schools/?wpisrc=nl_cage&wpmm=1.  In fact, the person who assumed responsibility for writing the speech and failing to remove the lines from Michelle Obama from the final draft was Meredith McIver, who has authored books with Donald Trump.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/21/us/politics/melania-trump-speech-meredith-mciver.html?_r=0.

Turkish Coup Attempt: Unraveling Its Unraveling    17 July 2016

The Turkish coup attempt that began on 15 July at first appeared to be succeeding, but then troops and police loyal to the government gained the upper hand.  Details about the coup still are not available, and the same is true with regard to how the government succeeded in suppressing it.  A BBC article suggests that the coup was not well planned and that its leaders' failure to capture or kill Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who managed to fly back to Istanbul from his vacation, was their undoing. See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36814044.

Slovak President on the Situation in the EU    11 July 2016

On 78 July, the Slovak president, Andrej Kiska, gave a brief speech at a concert to open Slovakia’s presidency of the European Council.  He sought to inspire calm in Europe, particularly after the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU.  He stated,

We can agree that the European Union and its member states have enough power and resources to overcome any imaginable difficulties. But we need to rebuild trust and our self-confidence. To demonstrate that we are able to live in this big family not only to celebrate milestones and achievements, but also to tackle mistakes and weaknesses. Because that’s what real life is and the European Union is not immune to the risk of complicated reality.
Slovakia has prepared a useful package of specific priorities for our presidency. But our ultimate priority, ambition and contribution which we offer to our partners in the EU is the service of an honest broker and emphatic moderator. We will do our best to tender the virtue of respecting each other, the ability not only to listen but to actually to hear each other. Since there is too much emotion and hurt feelings felt across the EU right now. We all should try to lead by an example and respond with more tact and a genuine empathy. 

Kiska also noted that “need to get people excited about our European project, to rediscover passion for the integration once again.”

Afterward, he told reporters that Europe must be more compassionate about refugees and that “It’s our duty to help people fleeing war and terrorism.”  Kiska’s view, on this matter, is opposed to that of the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico.  Kiska also supports maintaining sanctions against Russia because of that country’s involvement in Ukraine.

No New Brexit Referendum    9 July 2016

The British government responded to a petition, calling for a new referendum on the decision to leave the European Union, stating that it will respect the outcome of the 23 June vote.  The Petitions Committee still is examining the signatures and already has removed 77 fraudulent signatures.  Parliament still has not set a date for debate on the petition.  See http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/09/485362241/u-k-government-dashes-hopes-of-a-brexit-vote-redo-in-response-to-petition; and https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215.

Obama on Polish Democracy    9 July 2016

While at the NATO summit, taking place in Warsaw, President Barack Obama told Polish President Andrzej Duda that Poland needs to do more to solve the crisis regarding the Constitutional Tribunal and the media.  In part, he stated, "that's what makes us democracies, not just by the words written in constitutions or in the fact that we vote in elections, but the institutions we depend on every day, such as rule of law, independent judiciaries and a free press."  In an effort to solve the judicial crisis, the government is pushing through the Sejm a measure that would keep the newly appointed judges on the Constitutional Tribunal, all of whom are supporters of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), grant the president a greater role in appointing the court president, and allow four judges the right to block a case for four months.  The bill also accepts the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal, aside from the one that overturned the original reform of the court that the PiS engineered.  The Polish opposition maintains that the compromises in the bill are insufficient.  See http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/07/08/world/europe/ap-eu-poland-politics.html; and https://euobserver.com/political/134266.

Slovakia's Interior Minister Faces Fraud Accusations    8 July 2016

On the eve of Slovakia’s assumption of the presidency of the European Council, the opposition in the Slovak parliament accused the interior minister, Robert Kalinak, of fraud.  Kalinak admits owning 17 percent of a construction company, which he purchased from a company that happens to be under investigation for tax evasion.  The opposition promises to protest until Kalinak resigns, claiming that the Interior Ministry he heads will not conduct a thorough investigation.   The prime minister, Robert Fico, rents an apartment from Kalinak and claims that the opposition merely wants to embarrass the government.  See http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-slovakia-government-minister-idUKKCN0ZG2HB.

News from the NATO Summit    8 July 2016

On 8 June, at the NATO summit, taking place in Warsaw, Poland, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg provided more details about the rotating battalions to be placed along part of NATO’s eastern border.  Canada will lead the effort in Latvia, Germany will be responsible for Lithuania, the United Kingdom will operate in Estonia, and the United States will be in Poland.  He also announced that NATO’s Basic Missile Defense is fully operational, with US ships in Spain, radar in Turkey, and interceptors in Romania.  See http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_133280.htm.

Two Elections on 2 October    7 July 2016

Voters will go to the polls in two Central European countries, on 2 October, and their decisions may have a great impact on European politics.  Neither country is holding national elections, which normally gain a great deal of attention.  In Hungary, there will be a referendum on immigration, and Austria will hold new presidential runoff.

On 2 October, Hungarians will decide a simple question:  “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?”  If the referendum passes, Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, will have leverage against EU institutions that advocate the settlement of migrants in member states, based on quotas.  The referendum also is another way Orbán can strengthen his hand against the EU, which has criticized his government’s anti-democratic tendencies.  In the interim, the campaign keeps migration at the forefront of Hungarian politics, serving as a distraction for domestic problems and deepening the grip on power of Orbán and his Fidesz party.  Hungarian law requires that 50 percent of the electorate participate in the referendum for it to be valid, so opposition parties, including the Socialist party, are urging voters to stay home.

In Austria, on 2 October, voters will have another chance to determine whom they want as their country’s president: Alexander Van der Bellen, the former head of the Green party, or Norbert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom party (FPÖ).  Supporters of democracy throughout the world let out a collective sigh of relief, on 22 May, when Van der Bellen won the second round of elections against Hofer, whose victory would have made him the first democratically elected far-right head of state in Europe since the Second World War.  After losing the election by less than 31,000 votes, the FPÖ challenged the election in Austria’s supreme court, which did not discover extensive voter fraud but found enough irregularities in voting procedure to order a new election.

On Hungary, see http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-hungary-referendum-idUSKCN0ZL0QW; and http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/07/05/world/europe/ap-eu-hungary-migrants-referendum.html?_r=0.  On Austria, see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36714480.  The BBC piece includes a map showing far-right victories in Europe.  In a proportional representation system, anti-system parties, of the extreme left or right, may well gain even 15 percent of the vote and have little clout because they usually are unwelcome as coalition partners.  In Austria, where the FPÖ gained 35 percent of the vote in the most recent election, the Christian Socialists and Social Democrats constructed a coalition, but in the past, the FPÖ was in two cabinets in 2000-2007 and two cabinets in 1983-1987.

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)    6 July 2016

On 2 July, the professor and author Elie Wiesel died.  Born in Romania, Wiesel survived the Holocaust and wrote 57 books, largely about the persecution of Jews.  His latest academic position was at Boston University, where he was a professor of humanities.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and many other awards.  Wiesel’s Night is about his time in the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald, where he witnessed his father’s death, shortly before the camp’s liberation.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/world/europe/elie-wiesel-auschwitz-survivor-and-nobel-peace-prize-winner-dies-at-87.html?_r=0.

Bosnia’s Controversial Census    3 July 2016

The full results of the 2013 census in Bosnia and Herzegovina are now public, after a lengthy scrutiny process that the European Union’s Eurostat has accepted as valid.  The country is 50.11 percent Muslim, 30.78 percent Serbian, and 15.43 percent Croatian.  Those who refuse to identify with one of the three major ethnic identities account for 2.73 percent of the population, with those with other identities make up the remainder.  The Serbs are furious and refuse to accept the census, claiming that the methodology was flawed.  Changes in the ethnic structure have an impact on various power-sharing arrangements.  In the last census, which took place in 1996, Muslims (Bosniaks) accounted for 46.1 percent of the population, while Serbs were 37.9 percent, and Croats were 14.6 percent.  The statistics are available at http://www.popis2013.ba/popis2013/doc/Popis2013prvoIzdanje.pdf (the results include English translations).  See http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/new-demographic-picture-of-bosnia-finally-revealed-06-30-2016.

Slovakia Begins Its Presidency of the European Council    3 July 2016

On 1 July, Slovakia assumed the rotating presidency of the European Council, which it will hold until the end of the calendar year.  This gives Slovakia the ability to strike deals in the European Council and then to negotiate with the European Parliament, which means that Slovakia will be able to influence which policies advance.  According to the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, who ceremoniously inaugurated Slovakia’s presidency, Slovakia seeks to strengthen Europe’s economy, advance the digital single market, gain a consensus on the reform of the EU’s migration and asylum policy, and increase the involvement of the EU abroad.  Specifically, with respect to migration and asylum, Slovakia wishes to see the implementation of a single EU border and coast guard, advancements in the “smart borders” project, regulations on returning migrants, and reforms to the Dublin asylum agreements.  To determine what the EU will look like without the United Kingdom, Slovakia is hosting a summit in Bratislava that will take place on 16 September, the first such summit that has not taken place in Brussels since 2000.  Finally, another indication of what the Slovak presidency may bring to the EU came from Slovakia’s foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák, who indicated that the EU should openly discuss the sanctions against Russia and not automatically prolong them every six months.  See http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20179838/slovak-presidency-symbolically-begins-in-brussels.html; https://euobserver.com/migration/134166; https://euobserver.com/institutional/134165; and https://euobserver.com/foreign/134133.

Disinformation Disrupts Democracy    3 July 2016

Disinformation from Russia and other states and associations, including Islamic extremists, regularly seeks to undermine democracy, European states, and the European Union.  Russia, for example, expended a great deal of time and money to influence the Dutch vote against an EU economic association with Ukraine and the “leave” campaign during the Brexit vote.  To examine this problem and to determine what the EU member states can do to combat it, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE), the organization for center-liberal political parties in the EU, held a two-hour seminar, on 23 June 2016, that is available at https://alde.livecasts.eu/kremlins-lies.

Austria Faces New Presidential Election    1 July 2016

The Austrian supreme court found too many irregularities in the close May presidential runoff election and has ordered a new election.  It did not find widespread electoral fraud but too many breaches of procedure that could have affected the count.  The government will set the date for the new election, and in the interim, the three presidents of the Lower House of Parliament will serve as the country’s executive.  Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) filed the complaint with the court, and its leadership, including Norbert Hofer, who is one of the presidents of the Lower House and who had lost the May election, is pleased with the court’s decision.  Elections likely will take place in the autumn.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-austria-election-idUSKCN0ZH4IC; and http://www.dw.com/en/new-elections-in-austria-the-right-decision/a-19372933.