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


2014 European Tour

Join me from 8 to 23 May on my 2014 tour, “The Second World War in Western and Central Europe” that will visit France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.  We will be traveling for sixteen days to Paris, the beaches of Normandy, Amiens, Aachen, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, and Prague.  The focus of the tour will be the war, but there will be many opportunities to explore other cultural sites, including museums and five medieval cathedrals.  The trip is great for individuals of any age, families, friends, and students.  Full details are available here.

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 Fourth Quarter of 2013

Contents

  1. 1 New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna    27 December 2013
  2. 2 Yanukovych Threatens Action    26 December 2013
  3. 3 Protests in Ukraine    24 December 2013
  4. 4 Russian Amnesties    24 December 2013
  5. 5 First Russian Amnesty    21 December 2013
  6. 6 What Is New in Ukraine?    21 December 2013
  7. 7 Recent History PhD Employment Statistics    19 December 2013
  8. 8 EU Fines Global Banks    19 December 2013
  9. 9 Putin’s Thaw    19 December 2013
  10. 10 EU-Ukraine Talks Cease; Russian-Ukraine Talks Proceed    17 December 2013
  11. 11 Germany’s New Cabinet    17 December 2013
  12. 12 More Protests in Kyiv    15 December 2013
  13. 13 US Students' Performance on PISA    14 December 2013
  14. 14 Gay Rights in Croatia    14 December 2013
  15. 15 Kosovo-Serbia Border Crossing Incident    14 December 2013
  16. 16 Ukraine’s Stalemate Continues    13 December 2013
  17. 17 Will Yanukovych Sign?    12 December 2013
  18. 18 Romanian Politicians Legalize Corruption    11 December 2013
  19. 19 Sweden Was with the West during the Cold War    11 December 2013
  20. 20 Latest News about Ukraine    11 December 2013
  21. 21 Tensions in Ukraine Rise    9 December 2013
  22. 22 Protest in Ukraine    8 December 2013
  23. 23 Salvaging the EU-Ukraine Deal    6 December 2013
  24. 24 Character of the Protests in Ukraine    5 December 2013
  25. 25 Ukraine Update    4 December 2013
  26. 26 Cuba Today    1 December 2013
  27. 27 Sir Nicholas Winton    1 December 2013
  28. 28 Pavel Bobek (1927-2013)    1 December 2013
  29. 29 Slovak Far-Right Victory    1 December 2013
  30. 30 Vilnius EU Summit    1 December 2013
  31. 31 Protests against Ukraine’s Decision to Reject EU Agreement    1 December 2013
  32. 32 Warsaw Climate Talks    1 December 2013
  33. 33 Croats Banned Same-Sex Marriage    1 December 2013
  34. 34 Hagia Sophia Controversy    1 December 2013
  35. 35 Hannah Arendt    26 November 2013
  36. 36 Second World War Tour    19 November 2013
  37. 37 Commentary on the Recent Czech Elections    19 November 2013
  38. 38 Komm Frau    19 November 2013
  39. 39 UN Climate Summit and Coal    19 November 2013
  40. 40 Albert Camus’s Support for Hungary    19 November 2013
  41. 41 The Slow Movement    19 November 2013
  42. 42 EU-Ukraine Uncertainty    19 November 2013
  43. 43 Bust of Horthy Causes Controversy    19 November 2013
  44. 44 Artwork the Nazis Looted    19 November 2013
  45. 45 The Bosphorus Tunnel    19 November 2013
  46. 46 Romanian Gold Mine Project Scrapped    19 November 2013
  47. 47 Moldova-EU Visa Free Agreement    19 November 2013
  48. 48 Lou Reed (1942-2013)    19 November 2013
  49. 49 Kosovo Elections    7 November 2013
  50. 50 Golden Dawn    7 November 2013
  51. 51 Georg Friedrich Haas    7 November 2013
  52. 52 Mass Grave in Bosnia    7 November 2013
  53. 53 Obituaries    7 November 2013
  54. 54 New Georgian President    6 November 2013
  55. 55 Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1927-2013)    1 November 2013
  56. 56 The Oscar that Will Not Be    27 October 2013
  57. 57 Czech Parliamentary Elections    26 October 2013
  58. 58 Elections in Georgia and the Czech Republic    24 October 2013
    1. 58.1 Czech Parliamentary Elections    24 October 2013
    2. 58.2 Sunday’s Georgian Presidential Elections   24 October 2013
  59. 59 Polish Archbishop Poor Choice of Words    24 October 2013
  60. 60 Czech Archaeological Discovery in Egypt    23 October 2013
  61. 61 Amazon to Open Distribution Center in the Czech Republic    23 October 2013
  62. 62 Fire at Mata Hari's Home    23 October 2013
  63. 63 Czech Politics Is Smokin’!    23 October 2013
  64. 64 Art in Prague as Political Commentary    23 October 2013
  65. 65 Anti-Gay Violence in Montenegro    20 October 2013
  66. 66 German Sentenced for World War II Executions    20 October 2013
  67. 67 Albanian EU Membership Negotiations    17 October 2013
  68. 68 German Coalition Talks    17 October 2013
  69. 69 Protests against Fracking in Romania    16 October 2013
  70. 70 Navalny's Prison Sentence Suspended    16 October 2013
  71. 71 Tymoshenko’s Fate    16 October 2013
  72. 72 Czech Archaeologists Find Ancient City in Iraq    15 October 2013
  73. 73 Death of an Unrepentant Nazi    15 October 2013
  74. 74 Snowden Received Sam Adams Award    11 October 2013
  75. 75 Budvar Gains an Italian Victory    10 October 2013
  76. 76 Spat between Serbia and Kosovo    10 October 2013
  77. 77 Finding Suleiman the Magnificent in Hungary    10 October 2013
  78. 78 Lights Out for Golden Dawn?    10 October 2013
  79. 79 Austrian Coalition Holds    10 October 2013
  80. 80 Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II    10 October 2013
  81. 81 The Last of Hitler’s Autobahn    10 October 2013
  82. 82 University Dress Code Protest in Hungary    9 October 2013
  83. 83 Weimar America?    9 October 2013


New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna    27 December 2013

Get ready for New Year's revelry!

PBS stations around the country will be carrying the New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra on Wednesday, 1 January at 2.30 pm, EST (1.30 pm, CST), which will repeat at 8.00 pm, EST (7.00 pm, CST).  Check local listings for details and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2014/about-the-concert/1952/.  The conductor will be Daniel Barenboim, and Julie Andrews will host the event.  A video of the 2013 concert, with commentary in German, is available on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDnR3vRk1aU.  Get ready to follow the Austrian tradition and clap with the audience as the orchestra plays the closing piece, "The Radetzky March," by the older Johann Strauss.

I wish you along with your family and friends all the best for 2014!
May this new year be better and brighter than any!

2013 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's New Year's Day Concert (commentary in German)

Yanukovych Threatens Action    26 December 2013

Despite the current lack of attention to Ukraine in the Western media, events show that the protests against the regime still are strong.  President Victor Yanukovych has threatened to take action against the supporters of the protesters in the state bureaucracy in the western regions of the country.  Many have shown their defiance by taking unpaid leave, and the mayor of Lviv stated that the police there may defend demonstrators against the military, should Yanukovych decide on a crackdown.  On 25 December, several men dragged the investigative journalist, Tetyana Chornovol, from her car and severely beat her.   Finally, it was revealed that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has compiled a list of individuals who are banned from entering the country because they have supported the anti-government demonstrators.  The names on the list are unknown, but one list that a legislator proposed had three dozen names, including a large number of Georgians because of their support of the protests.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-leader-warns-defiant-regions-amid-protests-144811885.html; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25515838; and http://rt.com/news/ukraine-security-entry-ban-783/.

Protests in Ukraine    24 December 2013

Instead of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Independence Square in Kyiv, the protesters this last weekend numbered only 50,000.  It seems as though President Victor Yanukovych’s strategy is to ignore the protesters in hopes that the stalemate with them will end, and his plan seems to be working.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/122592.

Russian Amnesties    24 December 2013

First Russian Amnesty    21 December 2013

The Russian dissident, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is a free man and now is in Germany, where his ailing mother will receive medical treatment.  There is no indication as to whether he will return to Russia or live outside the country.  On his website, Khodorkovsky indicated that he had asked for the pardon for family reasons but that his request did not discuss the issue of guilt or innocence.  The other amnesties President Vladimir Putin promised will come into effect in future days as repressive measures against those resisting his rule continue.  Putin’s desire is to eliminate the most potentially embarrassing publicity in anticipation of the Olympic games at Sochi.

What Is New in Ukraine?    21 December 2013

Since President Yanukovych reached various economic agreements with Russia and abandoned the notion of an association agreement with the European Union, there has been little news about the Maidan protests in Kyiv, named after Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, the location of the demonstrations.  Still, Ukrainians meet in the bitter cold, determined to defy Yanukovych, who has vowed not to use force against his own people.  Such a stalemate is not newsworthy, and the lack of foreign media attention could have a dampening effect on Ukrainian desires to brave the cold winter winds to support the cause for liberty.  Certainly, that must be part of Yanukovych’s strategy to diffuse the situation.

EU statesmen are helping to draw attention away from Ukraine.  On 20 December, at a summit of European leaders, one after another expressed their solidarity with the Ukrainian people and washed their hands of Yanukovych, who has proven incapable of negotiating in good faith.  They have kept the path open for an association agreement with Ukraine, but they have no illusions that regime change in Kyiv must come first.  Those Ukrainians who are frozen by the cold and the political climate in their country only can take heart that the EU appears ready to impose sanctions on Ukraine, should Yanukovych turn to violence.  Sanctions, however, merely are another form of stalemate.

Three is no way of telling how the protests in Ukraine will end.  The pressure on the authorities can be so great that Yanukovych and his associates resign.  That was the scenario in Georgia.  The protesters may grow weary and dissipate.  After some time, when the West has forgotten about Maidan, Yanukovych can order a crackdown, knowing that the negative exposure in the foreign media would be brief.  That way, the situation in Ukraine might end like the failed protests in Russia, when Vladimir Putin was reelected, or in Belarus, when demonstrators attempted to remove Europe’s proverbial “last dictator.”  A recent report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (see reference below) reviews those possibilities and leaves the question open for consideration.

There are several certainties at this point.  One is that Yanukovych has moved Ukraine closer to Russia.  Second, Russian financial support for Ukraine will keep the country in the Russian orbit, demonstrating the sensitivity Russia has about losing its influence over its buffer zone with Central and Western Europe.  Finally, it is apparent that playing the Russian card for Yanukovych is a matter of personal gain if reports are true that Putin granted protection to him and his family.  These facts combine to indicate that Yanukovych will weather the crisis, just as non-democratic forces have in Belarus and Russia.  Much will depend on the resolve of the Maidan demonstrators and whether they can garner the support they need at home and abroad to continue putting pressure on Yanukovych.  The media’s abandonment of Ukraine is disheartening.

Recent History PhD Employment Statistics    19 December 2013

In a study for the American Historical Association, half of the recent doctoral graduates between 1998 and 2009 have tenure-track or tenured positions.  The study, which examined the career of 2500 individuals, also found that those who attended prestigious institutions were more likely to find employment in academia than those who studied at other institutions.  Approximately a quarter of the graduates are in non-tenured teaching positions, and roughly a quarter of the graduates are employed outside academia.

The statistics are as follows:

Tenure-track faculty position at a four-year institution: 50.6 %
Tenure-track faculty position at a two-year institution: 2.4 %
Faculty position without tenure-track at a four-year institution: 14.7 %
Faculty position without tenure-track at a two-year institution: 3.1 %
Other employment: 24.2 %
Miscellaneous (elementary or secondary teaching, libraries, museums, archives,
publishing and editing, research, independent scholarship, self-employed): 13.6 %
Federal, state, or local government: 4.0 %
Nonprofit: 3.3 %
Academic administration: 3.1 %
Business: 3.0 %
Not found: 2.8 %
Retired: 1.1 %
Deceased: 1.1 %

It is clear from the study that while not all graduates with doctorates have tenure-track positions at universities, they are not flipping burgers.  Although an advanced degree in history provides a pathway to academia, it also gives students skills that are valuable for a variety of employers.

EU Fines Global Banks    19 December 2013

In early December, the European Union fined several global banks $2.3 billion for fixing benchmark interest rates. Among the banks fined were JP Morgan and Citigroup in the United States.  Two banks, Barclays and UBS, avoided fines because they cooperated with authorities.  See http://news.yahoo.com/eu-fines-global-banks-2-3-bln-market-122035474--finance.html and http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/04/news/companies/libor-europe-fines/.

Putin’s Thaw    19 December 2013

Vladimir Putin announced a series of amnesties that he will approve in the near future.  He intends to release the two jailed members of Pussy Riot several months before they complete serving their sentence for having staged a protest performance inside a Russian Orthodox church.  He also will release 30 environmentalists from a Greenpeace ship that was in the Russian Arctic.  Finally, he will release Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of Yukos Oil, who was arrested in 2003 and who has been serving a prison sentence for corruption.  Before his arrest, Khodorkovsky had criticized Putin for abandoning liberal reforms, and he is regarded as Russia’s most prominent political prisoner.

Putin’s amnesty of these and other prisoners is an effort to improve Russia’s image in advance of the February 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  Located on the Black Sea close to Georgia, Sochi has a relatively warm climate, and the construction of the expensive Olympic facilities has been controversial, even though they will provide the area with a permanent luxury resort.  A major concern was that there might not be enough snow at Sochi, one of the warmest areas in Russia, but experts do not believe this to be a problem.  Should a snow shortage occur, authorities have stored snow in the mountains and have snow-making machines.  Nevertheless, Olympic organizers must be hoping that Putin’s thaw does not inspire Ded Moroz, the Slavic Grandfather Frost.

EU-Ukraine Talks Cease; Russian-Ukraine Talks Proceed    17 December 2013

Talks between the European Union and Ukraine ceased when the EU representative in charge of enlargement and Czech diplomat, Štefan Füle, became frustrated with President Yanukovich, especially when the latter threatened to prosecute those Ukrainians who drafted the original association agreement with the EU.  On 17 December, Yanukovich visited Russia and negotiated several deals.  Most important, Russia has agreed to purchase $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and has agreed to cut the price of natural gas from approximately $400 per 1000 cubic meters to $268.50 per 1000 cubic meters.  As expected, there was no mention of Ukraine signing a customs agreement with Russia, a move which would infuriate Ukrainian protesters.

Germany’s New Cabinet    17 December 2013

Angela Merkel has crafted a new Grand Coalition between her party, the Christian Democratic Union-Christian Socialist Union (CDU-CSU), and the Social Democratic party (SPD).  Today, the Bundestag confirmed the government, which has 504 out of 631 seats in the lower house.  See http://euobserver.com/political/122474 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25413519.

More Protests in Kyiv    15 December 2013

As approximately 200,000 protesters crowded Independence Square in Kyiv, a European Union representative indicated that discussions with Ukrainian authorities about signing an association pact with the EU again have stalled.  The Ukrainian government claims that the EU is not providing enough of a financial incentive to close the deal.  Meanwhile, President Victor Yanukovich of Ukraine is preparing to meet with president Vladimir Putin of Russia on Tuesday, and there are rumors that he will sign a trade deal with Russia at that time.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukrainian-opposition-presses-massive-rally-112911184.html.

US Students' Performance on PISA    14 December 2013

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tests students throughout the world in its Program for International Student Assessment.  Among 15-year old students in 2012, the United States did poorly in mathematics (placing 36 out of 65), reading (placing 24 out of 65), and science (placing 28 out of 65).  Shanghai was in first place across the board, and the top four countries in all three categories were Asian.  Among the top ten in math, reading, and science, Asian countries dominated: Shanghai, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Japan, and Vietnam.  Several Western countries appeared only a few times: Finland, Estonia, Ireland, Canada, Poland, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Liechtenstein.


John Stewart on The Daily Show made fun of America’s poor performance at the expense of Slovakia, which outperformed the US in mathematics, scoring 482 to the US 481 (Shanghai had 613 and the world average was 494).  Stewart remarked, “I always feel bad for whatever country is just above America on these lists because, invariably, that country is used as a standard for just how far we have fallen as a people.”  He got laughs when he said that the Slovaks eat their own vomit, their president is a cow, and their main export is farts.  Reaction from the Slovak community has been harsh, although some have understood that Stewart actually was making fun of the US, not Slovakia.  Stewart also made fun of the CNN report that showed the US placement in math, reading, and science by grouping of scores because the graphic CNN used showed the US position in science as 21th instead of 21st.

To watch Sewart’s segment, see http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-december-10-2013/american-horrible-story.  A report on the incident (in Slovak) is at http://www.topky.sk/cl/10/1371532/Utok-na-Slovakov-v-USA--Totalne-zosmiesnenie-v-priamom-prenose--ake-ste-este-nevideli-.  The headline reads “Attack against Slovakia in the United States.”

Gay Rights in Croatia    14 December 2013

Proposed legislation that has a good chance of passing in Croatia would allow gay couples to register their partnerships and to inherit property, but it would not allow them to adopt children or marry.  On 1 December, a majority of Croatians voted against allowing gay marriage, which now is constitutionally illegal in the country.  See http://news.yahoo.com/croatian-govt-proposes-rights-gays-133725552.html.

Kosovo-Serbia Border Crossing Incident    14 December 2013

Approximately 30 Serbs from Northern Kosovo blocked a border crossing with Serbia on 14 December to protest the customs fees that Kosovo and Serbia established in an agreement that the European Union brokered.  The funds resulting from the fees benefit Northern Kosovo, but the protesters object to the fees as a symbol of the separation of the region from Serbia.  See http://news.yahoo.com/serbs-block-northern-kosovo-border-crossing-140300405.html.

Ukraine’s Stalemate Continues    13 December 2013

The European Union is offering additional funds for Ukraine to sign an association agreement with the EU, but it is insisting that President Victor Yanukovych conducts round table talks with the opposition leading the protests, which have gathered hundreds of thousands in Kyiv.  On Friday, 13 December, Yanukovych offered an amnesty for arrested protesters, a proposal that may ease tensions but does not meet all the protesters’ demands, such as the resignation of the government and signing the EU association agreement.

The Swedish economist, Anders Åslund, has explained, in an article for Foreign Affairs, how those around Yanukovych are profiting as the protests continue.  High interest rates keep currency in the banks and put the inflation rate at zero, but because credit is expensive, businesses find it difficult to operate.  Furthermore, the political crisis further undervalues businesses.  Yanukovych’s associates, known as the Family (Ukrainian: Familia), are able to purchase these businesses.  One example of the interconnections the politicians have with the economy is that the mother of Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Serhiy Arbuzov, is the CEO of a bank that Yanukovych’s son happens to own.  Furthermore, corruption exists on a grand scale.  For example, the government purchases natural gas produced in Ukraine at slightly more than $50 per 1000 cubic meters and sells it at a low rate to others, who then resell it at a much higher rate.  Because the Family continues to make profits from its dealings, the government shuns the reforms the EU and the International Monetary Fund have demanded.  Åslund fears economic ruin, including a bank run, which will fuel further political unrest.

Will Yanukovych Sign?    12 December 2013

Catherine Ashton, the high representative for foreign and security affairs for the European Union, has reported that Victor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, promised to sign the association agreement with the EU.  She questioned his credibility, however, stating “I merely tell you that that’s what he’s been saying.”  The Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov, expressed an interest in an additional €20 billion for signing the agreement, beyond what the EU has promised in aid.  Ashton’s reply was: “This is not about bids for this country . . . This is not a decision about ‘Oh, here's x amount of money if only you'll sign.’  We're not interested in that.”  Signing the EU association agreement is one of the demands of the protesters in Kyiv.  There also is concern that Yanukovych will commit to a customs agreement with Russia during an upcoming visit to Moscow, effectively killing any sort of agreement with the EU and fueling more intense protests.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122444 and http://news.yahoo.com/eu-39-ashton-yanukovych-wants-sign-eu-deal-084457887.html.

Romanian Politicians Legalize Corruption    11 December 2013

The Romanian legislature passed a measure that removed members of both houses of parliament, the president, and lawyers from the list of public officials, thereby making them exempt from accusations of corruption.  The president criticized the measure and promised to return it to the legislature.  See http://euobserver.com/justice/122424.

Sweden Was with the West during the Cold War    11 December 2013

Documents from Edward Snowden reveal that Sweden signed an agreement in 1954 with the United States along with the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to exchange information, especially that garnered through monitoring communications.  Such an arrangement continues today.  Based on information the Swedes had gathered, they predicted the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia when the US did not expect it.  Sweden was officially neutral during the cold war, and Swedish officials claim that such an arrangement was necessary at the time and remains crucial for the country’s defense.  For the same reason, it had to be top secret.  See http://www.thelocal.se/20131209/secret-cold-war-treaty-confirms-sweden-was-never-neutral.

Latest News about Ukraine    11 December 2013

After meeting with three of Ukraine’s presidents, current president, Viktor Yanukovych, reportedly stated that he would release the protesters who were not involved in violence.  The main opposition leader, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, responded that Yanukovych’s concessions do not go far enough.  The protesters are demanding the government’s resignation, a new government that will sign the EU association agreement, the release of all protesters in custody, and the punishment of police who perpetrated violence against peaceful demonstrators.

In the early morning of 11 December, police cleared some of the streets leading to Independence Square.  The protesters still held the square and the city administration building, and they iced the steps to the entrance to discourage the police from attempting to take the building.  The minister of the inter then announced that the police no longer will disperse the peaceful crowd, and the police withdrew.  It is not clear whether his statements indicate a change in heart among the authorities, a division within their ranks, or a tactic to lull the protesters into the false belief that they have achieved a victory.  The events in the early hours of 11 December occurred as Catherine Ashton, the high representative for foreign affairs and security for the European Union, is in Kyiv to meet with President Yanukovych.


A time line of the recent problems in Ukraine is available at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/10/world/europe/ukraine-timeline.html?_r=0.

Tensions in Ukraine Rise    9 December 2013

The standoff in Ukraine between the government and protesters continues, and the solution remains as unpredictable as the actions of the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych.  While protests in Kyiv continue, riot police raided the offices of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, confiscating computers.  The authorities also have questioned several opposition leaders.  Meanwhile, President Yanukovych is to met with Ukraine’s past three presidents and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief.  The government also demanded that protesters leave the city administration building they are occupying, but they refuse to do so.  More details are at http://news.yahoo.com/riot-police-storm-opposition-offices-ukraine-173222492.html.

Protest in Ukraine    8 December 2013

On Sunday, 8 December, approximately a half million people gathered in another Euromaidan, the ongoing protests against the government on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, that is, Independence Square, in Kyiv.  Nearby, protesters toppled a statue of V. I. Lenin and smashed it, while chanting “Glory to Ukraine.”  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-sees-largest-anti-govt-protest-since-2004-165822325.html.

Given that this protest is larger than the crowds that brought about the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005 and the fact that the recent protests have taken place without police or military interference, aside from the violence of 1 December, it is possible that the current regime will not withstand the popular pressure.  The leaders of Ukraine’s opposition continue to express their willingness to negotiate, but their position steadily increases, lessening the pressure on them to compromise.

Salvaging the EU-Ukraine Deal    6 December 2013

Three events help revive the possibility that Ukraine will sign an association agreement with the European Union.  First, negotiators from Ukraine have come to Brussels to negotiate new terms for an association agreement that would provide Ukraine with up to €10 billion for development.  Second, the EU no longer is insisting that Ukraine release its former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, from prison.  Finally, EU action has saved Ukraine’s role as a transit for natural gas destined for the EU in light of Russian efforts to bypass the country.  The European Commission has deemed that the agreements creating the South Stream Pipeline through the Balkans does not meet EU law and cannot be built.  Russia demanded exclusive use of the line, which is against EU regulations.  Furthermore, the plan does not meet the EU requirement for separating the production and distribution of energy supplies.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122374.

Meanwhile, protests in Ukraine continue.  Three former Ukrainian presidents have expressed their solidarity with the protesters and have condemned the 1 December crackdown and other violence against the demonstrators.  An American diplomat, Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who substituted for the American secretary of state, John Kerry, during a meeting in Kyiv of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told protest leaders that they should negotiate with the authorities.  Although the demonstrators want the government to resign and early elections for the president, there is no constitutional provision for the latter, and they may have to settle for allowing President Viktor F. Yanukovich to complete his term in office and run for reelection.  See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25216727 and http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/06/world/europe/ukraine-protests.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0.

Character of the Protests in Ukraine    5 December 2013

A Ukrainian journalist, Anna Kotaleichuk has written a description of the nature of the protests in Kyiv for New Eastern Europe.  She characterizes them as turning from mere demonstrations to becoming a revolutionary movement.  She estimated the crowd on 1 December to be 700,000.  See http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1056.

Ukraine Update    4 December 2013

Protests in Ukraine resumed after a no-confidence vote against the government on 3 December failed in the legislature.  The prime minister, Mykola Azarov, noted that he will negotiate with the protesters but warned that “we have extended our hand to you, but if we encounter a fist, I will be frank, we have enough force.”  Protests resumed after the vote failed, and protesters hold several government buildings.  See http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-opposition-fails-force-govt-vote-134926477.html

Ukraine is hosting the meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Kiev, and is being snubbed.  Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative on foreign and security affairs, will not attend the meeting because she has another engagement, and is sending another diplomat in her place.  The American secretary of state, John Kerry, openly stated that he will not attend the meeting because Ukraine has not signed the EU association agreement and has used force against protesters.  He will travel to Moldova, which signed an association agreement just days ago in Vilnius, Lithuania.  Some sources speculate about whether the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, may reverse course and sign the association agreement in the near future.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122346.  Given his propensity to shift course abruptly, anything is possible.

In earlier news, it is unlikely, according to EU sources, that the EU will impose sanctions against Ukraine for the brutal Saturday, 30 November, crackdown against protesters.  The US, EU, and NATO have condemned the assault.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/122301.

Cuba Today    1 December 2013

The journalist Michael J. Trotten has authored an article based on his first-hand observations of Cuba for World Affairs.  In many respects, the world he describes with respect to police surveillance is comparable to the situation that existed in Eastern Europe before the 1989 candlelight revolutions.  Unfortunately, he did not reveal how he was able to get his notes and photographs out of Cuba because he claimed that he might need to use that same method some time in the future.  The article is available at http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/welcome-cuba.

Sir Nicholas Winton    1 December 2013

Born on 19 May 1909 and now 104 years old, Sir Nicholas Winton was responsible for transporting 669 children in 1938 from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, now the Czech Republic, to Britain.  Most of them were Jewish, and many of their parents died in the Holocaust.  Winton, who had a career in finance, kept his humanitarian work a secret, but his wife discovered information in 1988 about the Prague rescue in their attic.  Children from Berlin and Vienna also benefitted from Winton’s efforts.  Winton, whose family converted from Judaism to Christianity, has received a number of honors, and a statue to him stands at the Wilson Train Station in Prague.  A BBC clip from 1988 with Winton and some of the children he saved is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_nFuJAF5F0.

Pavel Bobek (1927-2013)    1 December 2013

The Czech country and western singer, Pavel Bobek, died on 20 November after a long illness.  Trained as an architect, he began his singing career in the early 1960s with the rock group Olympic before devoting the remainder of his career to country music.  He sang Czech versions of famous songs from Kenny Rogers, Lou Reed, John Denver, and Johnny Cash, whom he met in 1978.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/special/tribute-to-pavel-bobek-part-1 and http://www.radio.cz/en/section/special/tribute-to-pavel-bobek-part-2.

Slovak Far-Right Victory    1 December 2013

In Slovak local elections of 23 November, Marian Kotleba (born 1977) of the People’s Party–Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) won 55.5 percent of the votes to lead the Banska Bystrica region.  Kotleba is known for his racist statements, targeting the Roma in particular, along with his desire to pull Slovakia out of NATO and the eurozone.  He wants more independence for Slovakia in the European Union.  A former secondary school teacher, Kotleba also has worn fascist uniforms and has demonstrated in support of the clerico-fascist Slovak state that was in existence during the Second World War.  It is likely that Kotleba won largely because of poor voter turnout and voter apathy, which favored the well-mobilized far right voters.  The political party that won the most votes in the election throughout the country was the ruling Smer-Social Democracy party.

Vilnius EU Summit    1 December 2013

The EU summit with Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova took place on 28-29 November in Vilnius, Lithuania, in the shadow of the Ukranian refusal to participate in the meeting and to sign an association and trade agreement with the EU.  Georgia and Moldova initialed association and trade agreements with the EU, and the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, stated on 29 November that she expects that the parties will sign those documents in the autumn of next year.  Azerbaijan signed an agreement to liberalize certain types of visa applications for entry into the EU. Armenia also was to take part in the summit, but it announced in early September that it joined Russia’s customs union instead because of economic pressure from Russia.  An earlier post on this website about Armenia is here.

On the statement from Grybauskaite, see http://euobserver.com/tickers/122294.  On corruption in Moldova, see http://euobserver.com/foreign/122157.  See also http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25134682.

Protests against Ukraine’s Decision to Reject EU Agreement    1 December 2013

On 21 November, the Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov, announced that the country would not sign an association and free-trade agreement with the European Union because of concerns about the country’s security and its lost revenue due to Russian bans, essentially boycotts of Ukrainian products.  The International Monetary Fund immediately warned that the country’s hopes of gaining a $10-$15 million line of credit the country requires to service its debt is in jeopardy; however, Azarov subsequently blamed the IMF that it refused to help Ukraine financially, which is why the country had to scrap the EU treaty and improve relations with Russia.  An additional problem, and likely the most important, is that the EU continues to pressure Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, to liberalize the country and to free the jailed former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Several EU leaders criticized the Ukrainian leadership for its decision.  Furthermore, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, stated that he would tell President Putin to stop bullying neighboring countries when the two have their next summit.

After the 21 November announcement, Tymoshenko called for protests against the government’s decision not to sign the EU agreement, which came at the same time the Ukrainian parliament voted not to allow her to travel to Germany for treatment of a back ailment.  Less than a week later, on 26 November, Tymoshenko announced that she would begin a hunger strike, her third since entering prison in August 2011, until President Yanukovych respects the wishes of the people and signs the treaty.  Protests in Kyiv began immediately after the government rejected the EU treaty, with at least 50,000 taking to the streets the day after the announcement.  The number of protesters mounted over the days, and on 1 December, 300,000 protesters clashed with police.  Journalists throughout the world, including some in Russia, like Open Democracy, signed a petition condemning the violence the Ukrainian police are using against the protesters.

Information for this post came from: http://euobserver.com/foreign/122190; http://euobserver.com/foreign/122201; http://euobserver.com/tickers/122206; http://euobserver.com/tickers/122204; http://euobserver.com/foreign/122235; http://euobserver.com/foreign/122292; http://euobserver.com/foreign/122299; http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/1125/Pro-Europe-Ukrainians-march-as-Kiev-balances-Moscow-and-Brussels-video; http://www.dw.de/ukraine-police-crack-down-on-anti-government-pro-europe-protests-in-kyiv/a-17263033; http://news.yahoo.com/anti-govt-mass-rally-ukraine-turns-violent-191906466.html; and http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/in-defence-of-freedom-of-expression.  See also http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1046 and http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1049.

An earlier post on this website about the possibility that Ukraine will not sign the agreement with the EU is located here.

Warsaw Climate Talks    1 December 2013

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ended in Warsaw, Poland, with an agreement on 24 November to limit the increase in the global temperature by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  The next meeting will be in 2015 in Paris.  The participants also decided to create the Warsaw International Mechanism, which will assist less-developed countries in coping with rising ocean levels, droughts and desertification, as well as floods.  Critics claim that the agreement did not go far enough to prevent ecological disaster.  See http://euobserver.com/environment/122213.

Croats Banned Same-Sex Marriage    1 December 2013

In a 65-34 vote on 1 December, Croatians decided to amend their constitution to ban same-sex marriage.  The ban received the full support of the Roman Catholic Church.  See http://news.yahoo.com/croatians-vote-against-same-sex-marriage-192741473.html.

Hagia Sophia Controversy    1 December 2013

The Turkish deputy prime minister wants to turn Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, and the proposal has brought condemnation by Greece.  The Byzantine church, once the seat of the patriarch, was converted to a mosque after the fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453 to the Turks.  The structure became a museum in 1935, during the presidency of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  See http://news.yahoo.com/turkey-greece-feud-over-hagia-sophia-184603662.html.

Hannah Arendt    26 November 2013

Democracy Now! has interviewed the director of the film Hannah Arendt (2012), Margarethe von Trotta, and the lead actress, Barbara Sukowa.  Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), the German-Jewish writer and political theorist, fled to France from Germany when the Nazis were in power and landed in a concentration camp after the fall of France.  She escaped and managed to get to the United States.  She spent her remaining years studying totalitarianism and anti-Semitism.  Von Trotta also directed Rosa Luxemburg (1986), a film about the socialist leader who was of Polish birth and who was murdered when the Freikorps put down the Bolshevik-style revolution she helped lead in 1919 Berlin.  The interview is at http://www.democracynow.org/2013/11/26/hannah_arendt_revisits_fiery_debate_over.

Second World War Tour    19 November 2013

In May 2014, Dr. Daniel E. Miller will lead “The Second World War in Western and Central Europe,” another tour in cooperation with Aura-Prague Travel Agency in the Czech Republic.  This will be Dr. Miller’s ninth tour to Europe that brings together members of the public from throughout the US as well as both undergraduate and graduate students to explore various parts of Europe.

The Second World War tour will begin on 9 May (8 May departure from the US) and conclude on 23 May 2014.  It will begin with four nights of springtime in Paris.  From there, it will proceed to the beaches of Normandy, which will be in the final preparations for the 6 June celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.  There will be stops in Amiens, France, and Aachen, Germany, where there will be enough time to visit the historic cathedrals of those two cities before departing for two nights in Cologne, Germany.  Next, there will be three nights in Berlin.  Finally, there will be a stopover in Dresden before the tour reaches its last destination, Prague, Czech Republic.

Throughout the tour, Dr. Miller will describe various historical aspects of the Second World War.  Ing. Lenka Kocková, the tour organizer with her vast knowledge of European history and culture, will accompany the group as a technical tour guide.  Transportation between Paris and Prague will be by private coach.  The price of the tour is $3495 plus airfare, certain meals, and incidentals.  The cost of a single supplement is $785.  Ms. Kocková will make arrangements for anyone who wishes to extend their stay beyond the last day of the tour with a visit to Vienna, Austria.  For more information, contact Dr. Miller at miller-dem@earthlink.net or click here.

Commentary on the Recent Czech Elections    19 November 2013

Three scholars, Tim Haughton (University of Birmingham, UK), Tereza Novotná (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), and Kevin Deegan-Krause, (Wayne State University), have written an excellent assessment of the recent Czech elections for The Washington Post.   The authors explain the shift in voter loyalty and how the major parties faced defeats, including the Social Democrats, who are working to construct a multi-party coalition.  The article is available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2013/10/30/the-czech-paradox-did-the-winner-lose-and-the-losers-win/.  The posting for the election on this web site is here.

Komm Frau    19 November 2013

An art student, Jerzy Szumczyk, installed a sculpture he titled “Komm Frau” (Come Woman) without a permit in Gdańsk, Poland.  His placed his work, which depicted a Soviet soldier about to rape a German woman of the city, then known as Danzig, next to the T-34 tank that stands as a memorial to the Soviets who had liberated the city at the end of the Second World War.  The authorities removed the sculpture and questioned Szumczyk, but the Russians nonetheless protested.  Alexander J. Motyl considers the question of which memorials are appropriate for the war and which memorials never have been erected in an article at http://worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/alexander-j-motyl/questioning-war-monuments?utm_source=World%20Affairs%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=5977a39b01-Blog_Bachrach_Kara_Murza_Motyl_10_28_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f83b38c5c7-5977a39b01-230304977.

In the days following the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Czech sculptor, David Černý, painted the Soviet tank of Prague’s World War II monument pink.  The authorities restored its proper color, and Černý again painted it pink.  Eventually, to stop the Soviet protests, the authorities removed the tank and placed it in the military museum (this author saw the pink tank in the museum storage area shortly after it had been removed from its pedestal).  Černý’s action and Szumczyk’s have much in common.

UN Climate Summit and Coal    19 November 2013

As the United Nations climate summate takes place in Poland, amidst protests from those who want to push the negotiators to take meaningful steps to protect the environment, Warsaw also is hosting a meeting of the World Coal Association.  Furthermore, the Poles have announced that coal will be the major fuel for Poland until at least 2060.   See http://www.democracynow.org/2013/11/18/polish_govt_draws_heat_for_embracing.

Another issue involving coal faces the Lausitz region of Saxony and Brandenburg, Germany, which has a significant population of Lusatian Sorbs, a West Slavic people.  The Swedish firm Vattenfall, is strip mining brown coal in the area and wants to expand significantly its operations.  Despite the fact that many would lose their homes in preparation for the extraction process and the fact that brown coal is a notorious polluter, it appears that Vattenfall will succeed in their efforts because the firm is essential to the local economy.  See the Spiegel Online article at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/energy-giant-vattenfall-presses-on-with-coal-mine-expansion-plans-a-930828.html.

Albert Camus’s Support for Hungary    19 November 2013

The journalist Filip Mazurczak considers the support that the writer and philosopher, Albert Camus (1913-1960), gave to the Hungarians during and after the 1956 uprising in an article available at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1016.

The Slow Movement    19 November 2013

Americans, on the whole, work longer than Europeans, but Europeans, generally, are more productive.  The key, it seems, is that a relaxed worker is a productive worker, although other factors, such as universal health care that relieves Europeans of the burdens of medical bills and strong regulations regarding salaries and working conditions, contribute to increased worker contentment and translate to greater productivity.  An article by Cristina Maza in PolicyMic outlines the Slow Movement that originated in Italy and has spread throughout Europe.  Read it at http://www.policymic.com/articles/73081/what-overworked-millennials-can-learn-from-europe-s-laid-back-lifestyle.

EU-Ukraine Uncertainty    19 November 2013

As of 13 November, it appears that the European Union may not sign an association and free trade treaty with Ukraine.  Not only has Ukraine not released the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, for medical treatment in Germany, but it now has charged her lawyer with what may be a trumped-up charge of domestic violence that carries a three-year prison sentence.  In another example of the concerns about Ukraine, 14 reporters left their position at the Ukrainian edition of Forbes because management attempted to put an end to their investigation of an ally of the country’s president.  Nevertheless, the negotiators from the EU Parliament, Patrick Cox and Aleksander Kwasniewski, have agreed to continue their efforts until 19 November.  Furthermore, the EU negotiators are attempting to supply Ukraine with natural gas to offset any interruption in Russian gas that is designed to pressure Ukraine to align its policies with Moscow.  Some of that gas may originate in Russia and arrive in Western Europe through other channels, and Moscow is warning against such a “reverse flow” to Ukraine (Europe receives approximately a quarter of its natural gas from Russia).  Diplomats and EU negotiators assume that any decision about concluding agreements on Ukraine will take place at the last minute before or even during the 27 November Vilnius, Lithuania, summit between EU and East European states.  Finally, in an announcement on 19 November, the Ukrainian parliament has decided to delay until 21 November a vote about releasing Tymoshenko.


An assessment of the situation as of the beginning of November from the CEO of the Kyiv Post, Jakub Parusinski, is available at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1010.  Although not specifically on the topic of Ukraine, an article by Tom Yeager, a senior fellow at the Casimir Pulaski Foundation, considers the options the United States has regarding NATO and EU expansion in the direction of Russia in the light of the fears of the Kremlin in http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1018.

Bust of Horthy Causes Controversy    19 November 2013

A Reformed Church in Hungary unveiled a bust of Admiral Miklós Horthy, the regent of Hungary between the two world wars and for much of the Second World War.  The Church is conducting an investigation into the matter because Horthy was responsible for anti-Semitic laws and has received praise from the radical-right Jobbik party.  See http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2013/11/05/hungarian-bishop-alarmed-by-nazi-allys-monument/?KEYWORDS=history.

Artwork the Nazis Looted    19 November 2013

Much information is available about the 1,406 pieces by famous artists that the Nazis looted and that were discovered recently in a Munich apartment.  The latest information is that the German authorities knew about the collection for nearly two years but were conducting an investigation.  They only revealed details about the paintings when the press obtained some information about them.  An article about the case and selective images of the art work are available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/16/german-government-art_n_4287739.html.  Also see http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/11/12/the-uses-of-nazi-degenerate-art/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.

The Bosphorus Tunnel    19 November 2013

On 29 October, the ninetieth anniversary of the republic, Turkey opened an 8.5-mile long tunnel under the Bosphorus linking Asia and Europe.  The tunnel was the brainchild of Sultan Abdul-Medjid (1823-1861, reigned 1839-1861), who ushered in the Tanzimat reforms.  See http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/Oct-29/236167-turkey-fulfils-sultans-dream-with-opening-of-bosphorus-tunnel.ashx#axzz2kyI9LWg0.

Romanian Gold Mine Project Scrapped    19 November 2013

The Romanian government has decided not to grant permission for a gold mining operation that environmentalists and others protested.  See http://euobserver.com/tickers/122065.  For an earlier posting about this issue, click here.

Moldova-EU Visa Free Agreement    19 November 2013

The European Commission has agreed to grant Moldovans visa-free travel in the European Union.  Georgia and Ukraine are still in the process of arranging visa-free travel with the EU.  See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-1085_en.htm and http://euobserver.com/foreign/122095.

Lou Reed (1942-2013)    19 November 2013

Normally, a posting about the passing of a popular musician would not appear on this site, but Lou Reed played a small role in the collapse of communism in Central Europe.  The late Czech playwright, dissident, and president, Václav Havel, introduced Reed’s music to a Czech group known as the Plastic People of the Universe.  The arrest of the band members angered dissidents, including Havel.  Their Charter 77 demanded that the state respect human rights, propelled Havel’s reputation, and facilitated his election to the presidency of Czechoslovakia in late 1989.  See http://www.slate.com/blogs/business_insider/2013/10/27/how_lou_reed_helped_bring_down_communism_in_eastern_europe.html.

Kosovo Elections    7 November 2013

A number of incidents of violence marred last weekend’s local elections in Kosovo, which puts into jeopardy Kosovo’s ability to deepen its integration with the European Union.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/05/world/europe/violence-mars-election-in-kosovo.html.  An earlier article about the elections is at http://news.yahoo.com/kosovo-local-elections-test-relations-serbia-220918256.html.

Golden Dawn    7 November 2013

An analysis of the rise and repression of the Greek extremist party, Golden Dawn, is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-elizabeth-h-prodromou/crackdown-or-breakdown-gr_b_4096624.html.  The authors are Elizabeth H. Prodromou, with the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, and Alexandros K. Kyrou, at Salem State University.

Georg Friedrich Haas    7 November 2013

The Austrian composer, Georg Friedrich Haas, has joined the faculty at Columbia University.  Haas is noted for his spectral music, a sample of which is his “Violin Concerto” that is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqneV9s245s.  For more information about Haas, see http://chronicle.com/article/Austrian-Composer-Follows-His/142639/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.

Mass Grave in Bosnia    7 November 2013

Authorities are unearthing a mass grave near Prijedor in Bosnia that has more than 380 bodies.  It is from the 1992-1995 civil war and contains the remains of Bosniak and Croat men, women, and children.  See http://news.yahoo.com/bosnia-digging-could-biggest-mass-grave-183152020.html.

Obituaries    7 November 2013

Jovanka Broz (1924-2013) --  The fourth wife of Yugoslavia’s president, Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) died on 20 October.  She was highly visible internationally, but in 1977, the couple was estranged.  After Tito’s death, Jovanka Broz lived much of her life in what had amounted to house arrest, perhaps because she was under suspicion of conspiring with the military to control the state after Tito’s death.  See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/world/europe/jovanka-broz-titos-widow-is-dead-at-88.html?hpw&_r=0.
Anca Petrescu (1949-2013) -- Anca Petrescu, the architect of Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania, died on 30 October from injuries received during an automobile accident.  The communist dictator,  Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918-1989), commissioned the building, which is in the Stalinist style of architecture and is the second largest administrative complex in the world after the Pentagon.  See http://news.yahoo.com/romanian-architect-dictators-giant-palace-dies-214059655.html.

New Georgian President    6 November 2013

Giorgi Margvelashvili, the candidate for the Georgian Dream party, also the party of the prime minister, won the presidential election of 27 October with 64 percent of the vote.  See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24696261.  Meanwhile, Georgian Dream is talking about trying its opponent and the outgoing president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and the European Union has urged Georgia not to use the courts to conduct its political battles.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/121943.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki (1927-2013)    1 November 2013

Poland’s first non-communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, died on 28 October.  Originally a Catholic deputy in the Polish Sejm who cooperated with the Polish communists, Mazowiecki became an opponent of the regime in 1976.  In 1981, when Poland came under martial law, he was arrested and spent a year in prison.  He was heavily involved in the round table discussions of 1989 that helped remove the communists from power.  His government lasted from 1989 to 1991.  See http://news.yahoo.com/polands-first-post-communist-pm-mazowiecki-dies-083333660.html and http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1003.

The Oscar that Will Not Be    27 October 2013

In a recent article, the Polish sociologist, Sławomir Sierakowski, explains the background of Burning Bush, the film about Jan Palach (1948-1969), the university student who committed suicide through self-immolation on Prague’s Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) as a protest against the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  The Czech Film Academy nominated it for an Oscar, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disqualified it without explanation.  It is remarkable that the film was not a Czech production but the product of the one-time dissident Agnieszka Holland, who directed the 1990 film Europa, Europa, which won the Golden Globe award in 1991 for the best foreign-language film.  Holland, whose father may have lost his life at the hands of the secret police in Poland, went to Prague to study because the Czechoslovak “new wave” film making intrigued her.  As a result, she was in Prague in 1968 and knew a number of dissidents after the invasion, although she did not know Palach (incidentally, they both were born in the same year).  Holland also spent more than a month in prison for her political activities.  Sierakowski’s article is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/opinion/sierakowski-the-conscience-of-a-director.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&emc=eta1&pagewanted=all&.

Czech Parliamentary Elections    26 October 2013

The Czech parliamentary elections have brought some surprises.  The results to the Chamber of Deputies are as follows:

Social Democrats: 20.4% (50 seats)
ANO 2011: 18.6% (47 seats)
Communists: 14.9% (33 seats)
TOP 09: 11.9% (26 seats)
Civic Democrats (ODS): 7.6% (16 seats)
Dawn: 6.9% (14 seats)
Christian Democrats: 6.77% (14 seats)

The Social Democrats were expected to win the elections, but they hoped for a stronger victory.   Their leader, Bohuslav Sobotka, will negotiate to form a coalition government as head of the largest party, although he claims that he will not cooperate with the parties from the last cabinet, ODS and TOP 09.  ANO 2011 is a new party that the wealthy businessman Andrej Babiš established to ferret out corruption.  The Communists’ gain was a result of the disgust the voters have with the politics, poor leadership, and corruption with the main parties.  TOP 09 is the party of the politician Karel Schwarzenberg, who unsuccessfully ran in the last presidential election.  Given the scandals surrounding ODS, it is not surprising that they did not do well in the election, but the extent of their loss was shocking.  ODS had been one of the country’s strongest parties after the fall of communism and was the party of the former president, Václav Klaus, who recently recommended that people do not vote for the party.  The Christian Democrats did not get into the parliament in the last election and have returned with as many seats as Dawn, the party of the Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura.

Several parties did not get into the parliament, including the Greens, although they won enough votes to compete in local elections.  Another group that did not make it into the legislature, which has a 5 percent threshold, is the Citizens’ Rights–Zemanites, which the president, Miloš Zeman, had established before becoming president.

See http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/politika/_zprava/volby-vyhrala-cssd-tesne-pred-ano-zacinaji-uvahy-o-koalicich--1273319 (in Czech) and other reports from Radio Prague.

Elections in Georgia and the Czech Republic    24 October 2013

Czech Parliamentary Elections    24 October 2013

This weekend’s early parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic come after corruption scandals this past summer brought down the conservative government with ODS in the lead.  Disgust with the behavior and mismanagement of the conservatives and their allies placed the Social Democrats in a favorable position.  Since party loyalty, based on ideological beliefs and other factors, is strong in the Czech Republic, which is a consociational democracy, it is highly unlikely that any party will win a majority.  Coalition governments are a standard feature of Czech politics, and the Social Democrats, the frontrunners in the polls, recently stated that they would consider creating a government that with the backing of the Communist party in the parliament.  That has angered many and may even cost the Social Democrats votes.  The Czech Communist party receives a respectable number of votes in each election and has the apparent support of about 17 percent of the voters in the upcoming elections.  The party refused to change its name after it fell from power in 1989, unlike all the other communist parties in the region.  Furthermore, many of its adherents are unrepentive about the past.  News of the potential parliamentary coalition met with a nod of approval from the president, Miloš Zeman, a former Social Democrat, but condemnation from the noted artist David Černý, whose dissatisfaction with the country’s politicians prompted him to place a sculpture of a giant purple hand with an extended middle finger on a barge in the Vltava River facing the Prague Castle and other government buildings (more on Černý’s sculpture here).  For information about the Czech elections, see http://news.yahoo.com/czech-communists-eye-share-power-next-vote-135151782.html and http://www.rferl.org/content/czech-elections-communists/25145714.html.

Sunday’s Georgian Presidential Elections   24 October 2013

Presidential elections will take place this Sunday in Georgia, and the incumbent,  Mikheil Saakashvili, cannot by law have another term.  There are three candidates. Giorgi Margvelashvili represents Georgian Dream, a coalition of parties with a range of positions that currently controls the government since it won the parliamentary elections a year ago.  David Bakradze is the candidate of the United National Movement of Saakashvili, a somewhat conservative party that favors ties with the EU and NATO.  Finally, Nino Burjanadze represents Democratic Movement-United Georgia that seeks better relations with the EU and Russia as well as greater personal freedoms.

New Eastern Europe has posted an interview with two of the candidates: Burjanadze and Bakradze that is available at http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/992.

Polish Archbishop Poor Choice of Words    24 October 2013

Archbishop Jozef Michalik in Poland stated that a child in a dysfunctional family "seeks closeness with others and may get lost and may get the other person involved, too."  Condemnation came from all quarters, and Michalik as well as church staff attempted to explain that he never intended to blame children for the abuse they endured.  Michalik also stated, on another occasion, that pedophilia was the result of pornography and divorce.  The Catholic Church in Poland has its share of child abuse cases, but priests generally receive suspended sentences.  See http://news.yahoo.com/poland-archbishop-slammed-over-sex-abuse-comments-061800772.html.

Czech Archaeological Discovery in Egypt    23 October 2013

Near Cairo, Czech archaeologists working with Miroslav Bárta have discovered the tomb of Shepseskafanch, the noted chief doctor of Egypt, that dates to the twenty-fourth or the middle of the twenty-third century BC.  The Czechs have been working in this area for several years and have uncovered a number of important sites.  They surmise that the tombs around that of Shepseskafanch are those of his extended family.  Not far from that tomb is that of the Princess Sheretnebty from the fifth dynasty, which the Czechs uncovered last year.  Pictures of the site and a news clip are available at http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/svet/247209-dalsi-uspech-cechu-objevili-hrob-doktora-sepseskafancha/ (the text is in Czech).  See also http://news.yahoo.com/dig-unearths-4-000-old-tomb-doctor-pharaohs-171253242.html. Recently, Czech archaeologists made an important discovery in Iraq, information about which is here.

Amazon to Open Distribution Center in the Czech Republic    23 October 2013

Amazon has announced that it will open two distribution centers next year in the Czech Republic, one near Prague and another near Brno, that will employ 4,000 individuals permanently and another 6,000 seasonally.  More information (in Czech) is at http://www.rozhlas.cz/zpravy/domaciekonomika/_zprava/amazon-otevre-logisticka-centra-v-praze-a-v-brne-praci-v-nich-najdou-4000-lidi--1271808.

Fire at Mata Hari's Home    23 October 2013

Fire in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, north of Amsterdam, has destroyed the birthplace of the famous German spy, Mata Hari (1876-1917).  The French executed the exotic dancer and spy, but there was suspicion that the charges were false until German documents released in the 1970s proved that she had cooperated with the Germans.  Read more about the fire at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24602474.

Czech Politics Is Smokin’!    23 October 2013

On 16 October, the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, a notorious smoker, visited a Phillip Morris cigarette factory in the Czech city of Kutná Hora, which employs about 800 in the region.  He remarked that “I myself began to smoke at 27, when my body was fully developed, and smoking did not harm me.  I recommend to your children a similar approach: that they wait until they are 27 years old and then smoke completely without risk.”  He added that there were good and bad reasons for smoking.  On the positive side, Zeman noted the belief that smoking may prevent Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases, but on the negative side, cancer may kill an individual before they can develop the other two diseases.

The minister of health, unhappy with the message the president sent to the citizens, including the children, noted in jest that the president’s drinking also is not extreme: six glasses of wine a day and two shots of hard alcohol.  In fact, Zeman is to limit his intake of alcohol and food as well as his smoking because he has type 2 diabetes, news that recently came to light.

One cannot know, of course, if Zeman was serious because he has a reputation for unusual jokes.  His story about lighting up in the White House in front of George Bush, for example, is here.  Nevertheless, Czechs are beginning to ask what Zeman will recommend to children when he visits a distillery.

See http://www.novinky.cz/domaci/316400-at-deti-pockaji-s-kourenim-do-27-let-pak-to-bude-bez-rizika-doporucil-zeman.html; and http://zpravy.ihned.cz/c1-60363900-holcat-o-zemanovi-sest-sklenicek-vina-a-tri-panaky-neni-extremni-piti (both in Czech).

Art in Prague as Political Commentary    23 October 2013

Photo Credit: Tomáš Krist, Lidové noviny
The sculptor David Černý has constructed a giant purple hand with an extended middle finger rising ten meters high that he set afloat on a barge and anchored in the middle of the Vltava River in Prague.  It is facing the government buildings and the Prague Castle.  It is Černý’s translation of the disgust Czechs have with their politicians, and Černý is particularly disgusted with the recent discussion that the Communist party would support a Social Democratic government after the 25-26 October elections, a plan that has President Zeman’s support.  Černý also sculpted “Metalmorphosis” that is in Charlotte, NC.  For more information about Černý on this website, click here and here.

Photo credit: Photo Credit: Tomáš Krist, Lidové noviny

See http://www.themercury.com.au/news/world/david-cerny-artwork-makes-obscene-gesture-to-czech-president-days-before-elections/story-fnj3ty5y-1226744119447; http://www.lidovky.cz/vzkaz-komunistum-a-zemanovi-opilemu-moci-pisi-o-cernem-za-hranicemi-11q-/zpravy-svet.aspx?c=A131022_134547_ln_zahranici_msl; and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24607870.

Anti-Gay Violence in Montenegro    20 October 2013

On 20 October, police had to keep anti-gay protesters away from a small gay pride march in Podgorica, Montenegro.  See http://news.yahoo.com/violence-during-gay-pride-march-montenegro-111521994.html.

German Sentenced for World War II Executions    20 October 2013

On 18 October, an Italian court sentenced a German national, Alfred Stork, to life in prison for his role in the execution of 120 Italian officers on the Greek island of Kefalonia after Italy’s surrender in 1943.  See http://news.yahoo.com/italian-military-court-convicts-ex-nazi-153900070.html.

Albanian EU Membership Negotiations    17 October 2013

The European Commission has decided to support granting Albania candidate status, a decision the governments of all the EU member states must make.  Final membership, however, will require that the Albanians not only adopt the acquis communautaire but also make progress in the areas of fighting corruption and organized crime, implementing judiciary and administrative reform, and guaranteeing human rights.  See http://euobserver.com/news/121805.  As of 17 October, the "Annual Enlargement Report" mentioned in the EUObserver article is not on the European Commission's website.

German Coalition Talks    17 October 2013

Angela Merkel's CDU-CSU has concluded unsuccessful talks about forming a coalition government with the Greens because of the latter party's demands regarding higher taxes, immigration, arms exports, and energy.  Now, negotiations are beginning with the Social Democrats, who desire a federal minimum wage.  The CDU-CSU is resisting higher taxes and increased debt, but a compromise with the SPD could result in a left-right grand coalition.  See http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ifRAreV1WKV82Xex20r7Qc6PtfLg?docId=8fd0073d-d0f2-45aa-84c6-852176c73d80&hl=en.

Protests against Fracking in Romania    16 October 2013

Citizens of Pungesti, northeast of Bucharest, were protesting against Chevron’s plans to begin fracking in their area until the police broke up the demonstration.  Like many who oppose fracking elsewhere in the world, the crowds in Pungesti are concerned that the process will contaminate the ground water.  See http://news.yahoo.com/police-stop-anti-fracking-protest-romania-155003683--finance.html.

Another environmental concern in Romania is over a Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, that will begin gold and silver mining operations northwest of Bucharest in the Carpathian Mountains.  The process will use cyanide to extract the ore.  Those opposing the operation fear that it could lead to another disaster like the one in 2000 at a mine near Baia Mare that resulted in cyanide flowing into the Someş, Tisza, and Danube River, creating an ecological disaster not only in Romania but also in Hungary and what then was Yugoslavia.  See http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/canadian-gold-mine-project-in-romania-could-go-to-referendum-1.1384332.

Navalny's Prison Sentence Suspended    16 October 2013

Alexei Navalny, who was convicted for theft and sentenced to five years in prison, will remain free.  A Russian court suspended the sentence, but since Navalny still is guilty, he is banned for life from running for political office.  That might change, however, because the highest court has informed lawmakers that the ban in general is unconstitutional and must change.  Navalny has been an opponent of Vladimir Putin and claims that his arrest and conviction were politically motivated.  The court enabled him to stand in the Moscow mayoral election, and he gained 27 percent of the vote, which is a significant challenge to the incumbent, an associate of Putin.  Navalny intends to remain active in political affairs.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russia-court-decides-not-imprison-navalny-085124381.html.

Tymoshenko’s Fate    16 October 2013

Imprisoned former Ukrainian prime minister,  Yulia Tymoshenko, should be released in the near future as part of an EU requirement for Ukraine to sign the political association and free trade pact with the EU in November in Vilnius.  The information comes from one of the members of the European Parliament who is on the monitoring mission in Ukraine.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/121802.

Czech Archaeologists Find Ancient City in Iraq    15 October 2013

Archaeologists from the University of Western Bohemia in Plzeň, Czech Republic, have found an unknown ancient city in Iraq.  Located in the Kurdish portion of Iraq about 290 km from Baghdad, the city was more than a hundred hectares (247 acres) and existed between the third and twelfth centuries AD.  There appears to be no historical record of the city, but the archival investigations are only beginning.  An article in Czech about the discovery is at http://www.denik.cz/plzensky-kraj/archeologove-z-plzne-objevili-dosud-nezname-zanikle-mesto-v-iraku-20131015.html.

Death of an Unrepentant Nazi    15 October 2013

Erich Priebke (1913-2013), a former SS officer, died in Italy on 11 October.  He spent his last years under house arrest after an Italian court in 1998 sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment for his involvement in the executions 335 Italians, mostly in retaliation for the deaths of 33 German soldiers.  Priebke proudly admitted his involvement in the executions.  He also denied that the Holocaust existed.  His family is searching for a burial site because no cemetery thus far is willing to accept his remains.  See http://gma.yahoo.com/notorious-nazi-erich-priebke-causes-uproar-even-death-150530022--abc-news-topstories.html.

Snowden Received Sam Adams Award    11 October 2013

On 10 October, whistle blowers from the United States traveled to Moscow to present Edward Snowden with the Sam Adams Award from the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, which is a group of former American intelligence officers.  Samuel A. Adams (1934-1988), who is a descendent of the Adams family that includes presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, was a whistle blower in the CIA during the Vietnam War who determined that US officials intentionally underestimated North Vietnamese and Vietcong troop strength.  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/snowdens-father-arrives-in-moscow/2013/10/10/ec4f6c32-3182-11e3-ad00-ec4c6b31cbed_story.html.

Budvar Gains an Italian Victory    10 October 2013

An Italian court has decided that Anheuser-Busch InBev cannot use their Budweiser name in Italy and allowed the Czech beer maker, Budejovicky Budvar NP, to market its Budvar in the country.  The beer from České Budějovice, Czech Republic, is known as Czechvar in the United States.  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/czech-brewer-budvar-claims-victory-in-budweiser-trademark-battle-over-anheuser-busch-in-italy/2013/10/08/8599b6e6-2ffc-11e3-9ddd-bdd3022f66ee_story.html.

Spat between Serbia and Kosovo    10 October 2013

In the first week of October, Kosovo denied the prime minister of Serbia a permit to visit Serbian areas in Kosovo because the Kosovars feared that the Serbian prime minister’s presence would influence voters.  Serbia has protested the action.  See http://euobserver.com/foreign/121701.

Finding Suleiman the Magnificent in Hungary    10 October 2013

Researchers hoping to find the location of the heart and internal organs of the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who reigned from 1520 to 1566 and who was in power when Hungary lost its independence to the Turks at the Battle of Mohács, have unearthed the remains of an Ottoman town near Szigetvar.  The town likely grew around the grave for a portion of Suleiman’s remains, but it was razed in the 1680s after the Habsburgs took control of the area.  See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24196493.

Lights Out for Golden Dawn?    10 October 2013

In late September, police arrested several members of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which officials have accused of being a criminal organization.  The arrests came after a member of the party had killed a Greek hip-hop singer and after the party had threatened to withdraw from Parliament and force new elections.  See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24314319http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/07/business/greeces-golden-dawn-firebrand-right-wingers/index.html?hpt=hp_c1, and http://euobserver.com/justice/121586.  The posting on this site about the murder is at http://www.centraleuropeanobserver.com/-what-s-new-how-is-the-world-treating-you-3q2013#TOC-Greeks-Investigate-Golden-Dawn-25-September-2013-UPDATE---26-September-2013.

Austrian Coalition Holds    10 October 2013

Elections at the end of September have confirmed the continuation of the grand coalition in Austria that includes the Social Democratic and Christian Socialist party.  There is little surprise in this news, since a grand coalition  of the left and right parties is the norm in consociationalist Austria.  What has politicians from these parties concerned is not only the strength of the Green party, which won nearly 12 percent of the vote, but also the presence in the legislature of parties that are to the far right and are against the European Union.  See http://euobserver.com/political/121601.

Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II    10 October 2013

Pope Francis has approved the canonization of his predecessor, John Paul II, and the pope who called Vatican II to begin work on reforming the Roman Catholic Church, John XXIII.  For a perspective of the work of both in confronting communism in Eastern Europe, see http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/962.

The Last of Hitler’s Autobahn    10 October 2013

The last existing original portion of Hitler’s Autobahn to the northeast of Berlin will be repaved.  In 2015, work will begin on the portion of A11 in question.  See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/10349867/Last-stretch-of-Hitlers-motorway-to-disappear.html.

University Dress Code Protest in Hungary    9 October 2013

Students at Kaposvár University protested their institution’s new dress code that bans flip flops and short skirts by defiantly stripping partially or perhaps fully, in some cases.  Youtube footage of the protest posted on 4 October is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBzmR7QZ2k0.  See the Youtube caption for additional information.

Weimar America?    9 October 2013

In an article in The New Republic titled “The Shutdown Standoff Is One of the Worst Crises in American History Welcome to Weimar America,” John B. Judis, considered the Tea Party-inspired shutdown of the United States’ federal government as voiding the American social contract that threatens to divide America, making it a Greece or Italy of today or a Weimar Germany of the years between the two world wars.  The solution he suggests, although he states it more gently, is that the Tea Party, being an anti-system party, needs to break from the mainstream Republican party and become marginalized before it hopelessly divides America.  The analogy with the Weimar Republic is not entirely accurate, but there is a parallel in the sense that the American party system is paralyzed, a state of affairs which is empowering a small extreme faction that otherwise would be a noisy opposition at best. The article is available at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114962/government-shutdown-solution-how-reform-gop.