"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 2018

Macedonia’s Referendum 30 September 2018

With approximately 85 percent of the votes counted, 90 percent of Macedonian voters have approved a name change for the country from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to North Macedonia.  The difficulty is that the voting turnout was only 36 percent, instead of the required 50 percent.  The prime minister urged the legislature to follow the will of the people and change the country’s name.  The measure’s opponents, who may have received the backing of Russia, which hopes to prevent Macedonia’s reconciliation with Greece and entry into the European Union and NATO, boycotted the referendum.  See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45699749.

Saving Democracy: EU Defunds Two Parties    29 September 2018

On 27 September, the European Union has removed all funding from two far-right European-wide parties, the Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF) and the Alliance of European National Movements (AEMN).

APF party affiliates include Greece’s Golden Dawn, whose founder and several others are on trial for establishing a criminal organization and for potential links to the murder of an entertainer associated with the party.  It is the strongest segment of APF and is the third largest party in Greece, with 17 seats.  The Workers’ Party of Social Justice in the Czech Republic also is a member, and in 2010, the Czech government banned its predecessor, the Workers’ party, some of whose members were involved in the 2009 arson attack on a building in the city of Vitkov where a Roma family was residing.  It also is the party of Kotleba–People's Party, Our Slovakia, which holds in high regard the Slovak State of Jozef Tiso (1887-1947), a puppet state of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.  It also is a party that stems from previously banned groups.  Its leader, Marian Kotleba, surprised many when voters elected him governor of the Banská Bystrica Region in 2013, but he lost the election in 2017.  His opponent, who won the support of the Smer-Social Democracy, succeeded in overturning Kotleba, in part, because he also won the backing of many other parties.  A coalition of reason succeeded in unseating a voice of reaction.  The APF also includes individual members, such as France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front, now the National Rally, and whose daughter, Marine Le Pen, expelled him in 2015.

Unlike APF, the AEMN has no current MEPs, and four their small member parties have no national representation.  Its former members, however, indicate the tenor of the grouping.  In 2016, Jobbik, the far-right Hungarian party, and in 2011, France’s National Front both left AEMN.  Jobbik currently has no EU party affiliation, and its only MEP is a non-inscrit (independent).  The National Front joined the European Alliance for Freedom, in an effort to appear more moderate and attract more voters.

The EU has been seeking ways to defund far-right parties for several years.  According to one report, the EU provided more than two million euros to such political parties between 2014 and 2016.  Since 2014, funding and other matters related to parties in the EU is under the auspices of the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations.

Parties in the APD and AEMN may deny links with fascist or Nazi ideology, but their rhetoric and actions contradict their claims.  They generally detest democracy, Roma, Jews, and foreigners.  Their members often resort to hate speech and violence.  While banning a party or cutting its funding is admittedly anti-democratic, it is necessary, in the defense of democracy, to take such steps to reduce the appeal of militant, anti-system parties that oppose openness in society.

Three Court Cases to Save Democracy    25 September 2018

Three court cases have started in the European Union to protect democracy in two increasingly dictatorial states, two against Hungary and the third against Poland.

The Open Society Foundations, which receive funding from George Soros, have taken Hungary to court over the so-called “stop Soros” legislation that prohibits foundations from assisting migrants and threatens foundations’ employees with a one-year jail terms for noncompliance.  It also taxes foundations 25 percent on foreign donations if the authorities determine that the agency assists illegal migration.  Although OSF closed its Budapest offices and moved its operations to Berlin, it is determined not to abandon its struggle against the undemocratic regime of Viktor Orbán.  OSF recently filed lawsuits in the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court, claiming that the Hungarian courts simply side with the government.  The president of OSF, Patrick Gaspard, noted that “there is only one thing this legislation will stop–and that’s democracy.”  See https://www.politico.eu/article/open-society-takes-hungary-to-court-over-stop-george-soros-law-asylum-seekers-ecj/.

Meanwhile, the European Commission initiated a law suit in the European Court of Justice against Poland’s law that forces judges on the Supreme Court to retire.  By lowering the retirement age, it the government is forcing 27 out of 72 judges to retire, and new regulations essentially give the ruling Law and Justice party the right to name their replacements.  The Commission stated that the situation is "creating a risk of serious and irreparable damage to judicial independence in Poland."  See https://www.dw.com/en/eu-takes-poland-to-court-over-judicial-reform/a-45614718.

The European Union has invoked proceedings against Poland and Hungary through Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty–Poland in December 2017 and Hungary in September 2018.  If successful, these states would be unable to vote in the EU, and they would lose their EU subsidies.  Doing so, however, requires unanimity among the EU member states, and each state has vowed not to vote against the other.  Coming to the aid of these two nondemocratic states is Bulgaria, where the government also is attacking democratic institutions.  Recently, the Bulgarian government voted to defend Poland against EU sanctions (see the posting of 20 September 2018 immediately below).

Birds of a Feather    20 September 2018

On 12 September, the European Union censured Hungary for departing from the rule of law and backtracking on democratic values.  Poland, which is suffering from the same sort of disease–creeping dictatorship that maintains the trappings of parliamentary democracy–supported Hungary.  Also on 12 September, this website supplied a link to an opinion piece by Radosveta Vassileva, who warned of Bulgaria’s departure from democracy.

On 19 September, the Bulgarian government announced that it will defend Hungary against attack from the EU.  Krasimir Karakachanov, Bulgaria’s defense minister, told reporters that the Bulgarian cabinet unanimously agreed to oppose any sanctions against Hungary.  Karakachanov, from the United Patriots party, which is in a coalition with GERB, stated, “Today it is Hungary, tomorrow it could be Poland, and one day it could be Bulgaria in the dock.  Central and eastern European countries should act in solidarity and help each other.”  The prime minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov, who leads the GERB party, interpreted the cabinet decision differently, claiming that it is not legally binding.  He noted that Hungary needs to change some of its policies.

The Finnish Swastika    14 September 2018

The Finnish Air Force first used the swastika in 1918, when it flew its first plane against the Red Army.  After the Second World War, the Soviets insisted that the Finnish Air Force discontinue painting it on planes, but some military units still have the symbol as part of their insignia.  The Finns’ use of the swastika not only predates that of the German National Socialist party, but it does not carry the same meaning.  Despite some concern that NATO allies may misconstrue the swastika, there are no plans to end its use.  See https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2018/0910/Finland-used-the-swastika-before-the-Nazis.-Why-do-they-still?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&cmpid=FB&utm_source=Facebook#Echobox=1536598725.

Poisoning in Moscow    13 September 2018

Pyotr Verzilov, of Pussy Riot, is in the toxicology department of a Moscow hospital, after having lost the ability to see, speak, and walk.  Verzilov was one of the individuals who protested by storming the final World Cup tournament in Moscow in July.  The illness began after he had appeared at a court hearing for Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina.  His wife, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, also of Pussy Riot, and other members of the protest group provided information about Verzilov, including the speculation that he may have been poisoned and that his mother was unable to visit him.  See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45505064.

Novichok Suspects Claim “Risible”    13 September 2018

British officials identified two Russian men likely to have used Novichok in an attempt to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter, but on Russian Television, the two claimed to have been sightseeing.  Vladimir Putin has backed their claims, which British authorities call “risible.”   See https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/13/russian-television-channel-rt-says-it-is-to-air-interview-with-skripal-salisbury-attack-suspects.

EU Censures Hungary    13 September 2018

On 12 September, the European Parliament voted to censure Hungary for breaking European Union values in a vote that won the support of 448 MEPs (197 voted against it, and 48 abstained).  Through Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, Hungary could lose voting rights in the EU.  All the leaders of the EU must approve the measure unanimously, but Poland, which also is at risk of censure, stated that it will oppose removing Hungary’s ability to vote.

The European Parliament’s actions come after lengthy negotiations about Hungary’s attacks on the media, its removal of judges, its interference with academic freedom, and its approach toward minorities and immigrants.  The European Parliament has similar grievances against Poland.

Bulgaria’s Hidden Crisis    12 September 2018

In a recent article, Radosveta Vassileva, a Bulgarian national who teaches law at University College London, UK, and blogs about social justice, human rights, and other issues, describes Bulgaria’s struggles with economic underperformance, corruption, lack of press freedoms, and government abuse that permeates the ruling GERB party and reaches to the prime minister, Boyko M. Borisov.  Vassileva maintains that Bulgaria is in danger of going down the path of Hungary and Poland, where democratic institutions function only on the surface and serve the interests of the ruling elite.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/142795.  Vassileva’s blog is at https://twitter.com/radosveta_vass?lang=en.

Sweden’s Election    11 September 2018

The far-right, neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats gained seats in Sweden’s parliamentary elections of 9 September to become the third largest party in the legislature.  The Social Democrats, with 28 percent of the votes, and Moderates, with nearly 20 percent of the votes, refuse to enter a governing coalition with the Sweden Democrats.  The current government, a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens, is a minority government that relies on the support of other parties in the legislature.  The Sweden Democrats, who received nearly 18 percent of the votes, had only 13 percent in the last election.  Their third-place finish in the elections signifies the growing discontent in Sweden with the number of immigrants entering the country.  See https://www.seattletimes.com/business/sweden-faces-weeks-of-uncertainty-after-close-election/.

Invasion!  21 August 1968    21 August 2018

Fifty years ago, the Warsaw Pact, under the leadership of the Soviet Union, invaded Czechoslovakia to stop its reform movement that was to give the country “socialism with a human face,” as the Communist leader Alexander Dubček (1921-1992) once stated.  Immediately after the invasion, Blahoslav Auředník (1937-2017) took several photographs of the invaders and the protesters that now appear for the first time.  See Auředník: Invasion! 21 August 2018 on this website

Research in Europe    21 August 2018

Forgive my inactivity over the past few weeks.  I have been researching in Prague and doing some traveling with my daughter, who was in Europe for several weeks.  She already has returned home, and I will be on my way within hours.  Soon, I will resume posting news items on this site.

Protests in Poland    6 July 2018

Tens of thousands protested in Warsaw against the Polish government’s efforts to force the retirement of judges, and one judge has defied the new law.  Lech Wałęsa, who played an important role in the fall of the Communist party in Poland and was once the country’s president, has joined the protests.  On several occasions, Wałęsa has warned that the policies of the Law and Justice party, which has a monopoly on power in Poland, could lead to a civil war.  See https://www.afp.com/en/news/23/top-polish-judge-defies-purge-walesa-joins-protests-doc-17513p6.