"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 Fourth Quarter of 2017


  1. 1 Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Day Concert 1 January 2018    31 December 2017
  2. 2 Poland’s New Prime Minister    31 December 2017
  3. 3 Poland’s Continued Conflict with the EU    30 December 2017
  4. 4 Russian Hacker's Fingerprints on the DNC Files    29 December 2017
  5. 5 Croatian-Slovenian Border Dispute    29 December 2017
  6. 6 John Drew Interview    28 December 2017
  7. 7 International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia    27 December 2017
  8. 8 Polish-UK Defense Treaty    22 December 2017
  9. 9 Czech Coalition-building Woes    21 December 2017
  10. 10 Wałęsa Critical of PiS    20 December 2017
  11. 11 Nationalism and South Tyrol    20 December 2017
  12. 12 Austria's Cabinet    18 December 2017
  13. 13 Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in the US    17 December 2017
  14. 14 Publications by D. E. Miller in 2017    27 November 2017
  15. 15 Continued Protests in Romania    27 November 2017
  16. 16 Far Right Protests on Polish Independence Day    25 November 2017
  17. 17 Cyprus Faces Criticism for Cooperation with Russians    30 October 2017
  18. 18 Update on the Czech Political Scene    30 October 2017
  19. 19 The Czech Parliamentary Elections    25 October 2017
  20. 20 The German behind Hungary’s Russian Connection    25 October 2017
  21. 21 EIP and the Serbian Presidential Elections    25 October 2017
  22. 22 Ukraine's New Education Law    21 October 2017
  23. 23 War Damages for Poland    20 October 2017
  24. 24 The Labor Shortage in the Czech Republic    20 October 2017
  25. 25 US Leaving UNESCO    20 October 2017
  26. 26 From Humanities Major to Meaningful Employment    20 October 2017
  27. 27 Norway and Poland Strike Deal    20 October 2017
  28. 28 FPÖ Demands Interior Ministry    20 October 2017
  29. 29 Mata Hari Centenial    20 October 2017
  30. 30 Student Loan Debt Traps    20 October 2017
  31. 31 Austria's People's Party Victory    16 October 2017
  32. 32 Upcoming Czech Election    14 October 2017
  33. 33 Central European University    14 October 2017
  34. 34 Polish Presidential Advisor on Technology    14 October 2017
  35. 35 J. P. Morgan in Poland    12 October 2017
  36. 36 Buried Auschwitz Note Deciphered    11 October 2017
  37. 37 Poland's "Rosary to the Borders"    9 October 2017
  38. 38 Airbus to Launch Urban Taxi in 2018    5 October 2017
  39. 39 Hungary's Opposition in Disarray    5 October 2017
  40. 40 The Controversy around Hungary's Paks II Power Plant    5 October 2017

Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Day Concert 1 January 2018    31 December 2017

Join the Vienna Philharmonic in ringing in 2018 through PBS, witHugh Bonneville as the host.  Information is available at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/vienna-new-years-celebration-2018-concert/7695/.  The televised broadcast of the concert will take place in the United States on 1 January at 2.30 pm and 9.00 pm EDT, but check local listings for specifics (the broadcast in Pensacola, FL, on WSRE, for example, is at 8.00 pm).  The concert will be on the Internet at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/ on 2 January.  Below is the official trailer for the performance.

Poland’s New Prime Minister    31 December 2017

On 11 December, Poland abruptly changed prime ministers.  Beata Szydło was suddenly out of a job, and Mateusz Morawiecki took her place.  Morawiecki, who had been the CEO of a major bank for eight years before entering politics, held the portfolios of finance and development in Szydło’s cabinet. It is apparent that the person pulling the strings is the head of the Law and Justice party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński.  As such, the replacement has nothing to do with any sort of democratic process but much to do with Kaczyński’s political calculations.  Perhaps Szydło was becoming too recognized and powerful, but Morawiecki also might be useful in the coming showdown with Donald Tusk because Morawiecki once was among his advisors.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42272808.

Poland’s Continued Conflict with the EU    30 December 2017

On 20 December, after two years of negotiation, the European Union Commission voted to sanction Poland for more than a dozen pieces of legislation that will place the country’s judiciary under the political control of the Sejm, which is the domain of the Law and Justice party (PiS).  Hungary, where the government of Viktor Orbán has short circuited the democratic system, and the Czech Republic, which claims that a misunderstanding exists between the EU and Poland that can harm the East-Central European region, have vowed to block any sanctions against Poland.  A vote will occur on 29 January and requires a four-fifths majority to pass.  This is the first time that an EU member state has faced sanctions through an officially recognized procedure.  Austria experienced a period of sanctions in 2000 because of the far-right Freedom party’s involvement in the government.

The efforts of PiS to change Poland's court system, in order to remove one of the major checks on its power, has been brewing for some time.  At one point, on 16 July, 10,000 people, many of them rather young, protested in Warsaw and more in other Polish cities against proposed laws that let the government pick 15 out of 22 justices on the National Council for the Judiciary, all district and appeals courts justices, and all Supreme Court justices.  The PiS-controlled media criticized the protesters.  The protests did little, and on 20 July, the Polish Sejm approved the bill to change the means of appointing the Supreme Court judges.

See https://euobserver.com/justice/140385; and https://www.reuters.com/article/us-poland-politics-judiciary-eu/poland-tells-eu-its-overhaul-of-judiciary-in-line-with-eu-standards-idUSKCN1B81GY.  On the new law that gives the Polish justice minister the power to appoint and remove judges, see https://euobserver.com/political/139775.  On the Polish president’s role in dismantling the freedom of the judiciary, see https://euobserver.com/justice/139148.  On the beginning of EU infringement proceedings on 29 July 2017 that could trigger Article 7 sanctions against Poland, see https://euobserver.com/justice/138646.  On PiS's control of the Polish media, see http://visegradinsight.eu/the-shadow-over-media/.  On the involvement of youth in the protests, see https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/138581.

Russian Hacker's Fingerprints on the DNC Files    29 December 2017

Konstantin Kozlovsky, a cyber-attacker awaiting trial in the United States, claims that he left his passport and visa numbers in the files of the Democratic National Committee to prove that the Kremlin had ordered the hack, with the intention of hurting the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton.  The DNC has not confirmed the claim, but the evidence, if true, would be crucial for the prosecution.  See http://www.newsweek.com/russian-hacker-claims-theres-proof-he-hacked-dnc-761727?utm_source=yahoo&utm_medium=yahoo_news&utm_campaign=rss&utm_content=/rss/yahoous/news.

Croatian-Slovenian Border Dispute    29 December 2017

The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague set today for the implementation of its decision on the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute, but the fate of the border remains in question.  The Slovenian government stated it will implement the decision unilaterally, while the Croats demand new negotiations because the court was partial to Slovenia.  See https://euobserver.com/justice/140432.

John Drew Interview    28 December 2017

Fifty years ago, enemy antiaircraft fire seriously wounded John A. Drew, then a pilot for the US Marines in Vietnam.  He managed to return the crippled plane to his base at Da Nang, saving not only his life but also that of his radar operator.  Mr. Drew participated in Dr. Miller's 2017 summer tour to Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic, and while in Prague, Alex Švamberk, an author, critic, and musician, as well as a journalist with Novinka.cz, conducted interviews with Mr. Drew about his experiences in Vietnam.  Novinka.cz released the article about Mr. Drew on 23 December, the fiftieth anniversary of the incident.

To read the translation of Mr. Švamberk's article on this website, click here.  His article, which is in Czech, appears at

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia    27 December 2017

On 21 December, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which the United Nations established in The Hague, ended its proceedings that began 24 years ago in 1993.  During its existence, it indicted 161 individuals.  The most famous to receive long prison sentences are the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadžić, the former president of the Republika Srpska, and Ratko Mladić, the Republika Srpska's former chief of staff.  The trials revealed the gruesome actions of individuals from each ethnic group involved in the conflicts associated with the collapse of Yugoslavia.  They provided a modern version of the genocide that historians apply anachronistically to the killing of Armenians during and immediately after the First World War and more famously to Nazi Germany's mass murder of Jews during the Second World War.  The ICTY also revealed modern instances of mass rape, which is a phenomenon known to have occurred during the Red Army's progress through the eastern part of Germany during the Second World War.  The ICTY also has had its controversy.  Slobodan Milošević (1941-2006), the former president of Serbia, died of a heart attack in the midst of his trial, and many claimed that the court had mistreated him (in fact, he had refused to take his medications).  Most recently, Slobodan Praljak (1945-2017), a former Croat general, drank potassium cyanide in the courtroom, on 29 November 2017, when he heard that the court upheld his sentence of 20 years in prison for crimes against Bosnian Muslims.  Other issues involve court decisions and judges' qualifications.  Although the ICTY has concluded its work, courts in the countries that once were a part of Yugoslavia continue to prosecute a number of cases.

Polish-UK Defense Treaty    22 December 2017

On 21 December, the United Kingdom and Poland initialed a defense treaty, and they agreed to further economic cooperation.  See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-poland-intergovernmental-consultations-21-december-2017-joint-communique.

Czech Coalition-building Woes    21 December 2017

Andrej Babiš, whose ANO party won a plurality of votes in the Czech Republic's October elections, could not find enough allies to build a coalition, so he constructed a minority coalition from members of his party along with experts, some of whom came from the previous government.  Babiš has until the middle of January to secure enough votes in the parliament to support his cabinet, but after the revelation today that the far-right SPD movement of Tomio Okamura would not back the minority cabinet, Babiš only is likely to get the votes of the Communist party, which is not enough to win the confidence of the parliament.  If Babiš fails in his efforts to form a cabinet, he will have another opportunity to do so, and the traditional parties indicated that they would consider cooperating with Babiš , assuming that he meets their demands.

Babiš still is under investigation for having improperly acquired more than 2 million EUR for his Stork Nest farm, one of his many agricultural firms (he also owns media outlets and other businesses).  OLAF, the European Union investigative body for corruption, just completed its report and turned it over to the Czech authorities, who refuse to make it public while their investigation continues.  The next step in the process will occur on 9 January, when the parliament will decide whether to lift the immunity of Babiš and one of his colleagues.  The determination is necessary because the earlier decision to lift his immunity expired with the October elections.

Wałęsa Critical of PiS    20 December 2017

Lech Wałęsa, the former dissident, head of Solidarity, and Polish president, criticized the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland as undemocratic and called on Poles to remove it from power.  On the issue of the Parliament of the European Union voting to sanction Poland, Wałęsa said that "if I were an MEP, I'd be the first one to vote in favour!"  He supported Donald Tusk but said that, were he to return to Poland, "it would be hard [for him] to come back to the cesspool that the Kaczyński brothers [who founded PiS--DEM] and others have created."  Wałęsa called for a short set of guidelines to define what Europeans believe and to give voters a clearer choices as means to combat demagogy and populism.  Russia, in Wałęsa's opinion, never was democratic and always needs a scapegoat, a tactic that PiS is attempting to use in Poland.   He is convinced that people are searching for answers to problems in voting for people like Donald Trump, the Kaczyńskis in Poland, and Emmanuel Macron in France, but "if we give power to random people from the street, it will go badly for Europe and for the world."  Wałęsa noted that he, too, was inexperienced, but he explained that his actions in 1980 were necessary because challenging the communists had to begin with the workers.  In summary, Wałęsa said, "For me the question is simple: how many more times do we need to bang our heads?  How much blood do we need to shed, until we start following the smart path, solving problems and serving our nations--that's the question."  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/140357.

Nationalism and South Tyrol    20 December 2017

The 1919 Treaty of St. Germain forced Austria to cede South Tyrol, where the vast majority of inhabitants were Austrian, to Italy.  To this day, Austrian nationalism is strong in the region and is apparent in the red-and-white shutters on homes and the unwillingness of Austrians to speak Italian.  Austrian television weather forecasts include a cloudy or sunny icon over the South Tyrol region, but the announcer never mentions the region.  The cabinet that just took power in Austria, with its dynamic young Christian Socialist chancellor and far-right Freedom party members, plans to offer dual citizenship to Austrians in South Tyrol, but it has promised to consult Rome on the matter.  An official at the Italian foreign ministry said that the "proposal has the mark of an ethno-nationalist iron fist."  If enacted, it could raise similar moves throughout Europe that may have a destabilizing effect.  Several years ago, the Hungarians enacted a similar law, which targeted ethnic Hungarians just across its borders, and Slovakia responded with legislation that prohibited dual citizenship.  See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/18/

Austria's Cabinet    18 December 2017

Sebestian Kurz, Austria's thirty-one-year-old chancellor from the Christian Socialist party, struck a deal with the far-right Freedom party, which will have three ministries and a vice-chancellor.  The foreign minister, a Middle East specialist, was a nominee of the Freedom party, although he is not a party member.  The Freedom party also will control the interior ministry, which handles the police, as well as the defense ministry (Austria is a neutral state).  Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom party leader, will serve as the vice-chancellor.  In October's parliamentary elections, the Christian Socialists won 32 percent of the votes, and the Freedom party, which came in third, behind the Social Democrats, received 26 percent of the vote.

The Freedom party, which loyal Nazi officers established after the Second World War, feigns a moderate image, especially under the leadership of Strache, but it has taken a strong stance against migrants from the Mediterranean.  When the party entered a coalition in 2000, the European Union placed sanctions on Austria, which had joined the EU five years earlier.  Given the popularity of the far right throughout Europe today, such a move is inconceivable.  In Austria, however, protesters, with anti-Nazi slogans on their banners, took to the streets to voice their objection to the new government.

Under its new cabinet, Austria likely will continue to reject new migrants from the Mediterranean, a policy it adopted earlier this year.  It probably will continue to cut benefits to migrants already in the state and step up efforts to deport those already in Austria.  The coalition agreement includes a measure to confiscate any currency migrants have if they enter the country, in order to offset the expenses the state will incur while caring for them.  It also promised improved relations with Russia.

Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in the US    17 December 2017

Although not related to Central and Eastern Europe, the United Nations' "Statement on Visit to the USA, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights," dated 15 December, is a frightening analysis of the interaction between poverty and human rights in the US.  Most Americans may hear one or two isolated statistics that are disturbing, but Alston combines information about poverty and political rights that most Americans, regardless of their political persuasion, will find shocking.  Alston, a professor at the New York University School of Law, provides no recommendation for solving America's social dilemma, but he offers the following observation:

There is no magic recipe for eliminating extreme poverty, and each level of government must make its own good faith decisions.  But at the end of the day, particularly in a rich country like the USA, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power.  With political will, it could readily be eliminated.

In a week's time, it will be Christmas, and a single stanza of a modern Christmas carol, "The Rebel Jesus," by Jackson Browne, is haunting:

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if anyone of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Browne's recording of the song, with the Chieftains, appears on the 1991 Chieftains'  album The Bells of Dublin and is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD-lZJnApl4.

Alston's seventy-one-paragraph report is available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22533&LangID=E.

Publications by D. E. Miller in 2017    27 November 2017

Recently, I published The Influence of Václav Klaus on Czech Public Opinion Regarding the European Union, which appeared in the Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 2503 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, Center for Russian and East European Studies, University Center for International Studies, 2017).  The electronic publication is available, at no charge, at http://carlbeckpapers.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/cbp/issue/view/186.

While president of the Czech Republic between 2003 and 2013, Václav Klaus, an outspoken critic of the European Union, employed speeches, interviews, and writings in his efforts to discredit the EU in the eyes of Czech citizens.  I employed opinion polls from Eurobarometer and the Public Opinion Research Center (CVVM), of the Czech Academy of Sciences, to establish the correlation between Klaus’s popularity and Euroskepticism.  In the early years of Klaus’s presidency, skepticism about the EU among Czechs grew, and between 2006 and 2010, there was a strong correlation between Klaus’s popularity and Czech Euroskepticism.  As Klaus’s popularity waned, during his last years in office, Czech confidence in the EU began to rise.  This fifty-two-page short monograph not only helps to explain some bases of Czech Euroskepticism, but it also addresses the influence Czech presidents have in shaping public opinion in their country.

Earlier in the year, I published an article in the German journal Bohemia: Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kultur der bömischen Länder / A Journal of History and Civilisation in East Central Europe, 56/2 (2016): 362-380, with Philip J. Howe (Adrian College in Adrian, MI) and Thomas A. Lorman (School of Slavonic Studies, University College London) titled “The Creation of the Conditions for Consociational Democracy and Its Development in Interwar Czechoslovakia.”

Howe, Lorman, and I examined Austria (1867-1914) as well as the Czechoslovak First Republic (1918-1938) and interwar Slovakia through the lens of the consociational theory of democracy, which contends that certain deeply divided societies have devised methods to protect the interests of minorities while guaranteeing them representation in all branches of the government and the administration of the state.  Our article shows that Imperial Austria developed in the direction of consociationalism, while interwar Czechoslovakia was fully consociational.  The study is important for understanding the evolution of democracy and current politics in Central Europe.

An article alert at HNN is available at https://networks.h-net.org/node/19384/discussions/174901/article-alert-howelormanmiller-creation-conditions-consociational.  The table of contents for the issue of Bohemia dedicated to "The State of the Art and Perspectives of the Historiography on the First Czechoslovak Republic" is available at https://www.bohemia-online.de/index.php/bohemia/issue/view/103.  Summaries appear in several languages for each of the contributions.

Finally, I published “Slovak Ambassadors Viewed International Relations after the American Presidential Election” in the winter 2016-2017 issue of the Slovak Studies Association Newsletter (pp. 19-23).  The article summarizes the comments of Slovak Ambassadors Pavol Demeš, Rastislav Káčer, and Peter Kmec during a roundtable discussion at the Slovak Embassy, in Washington, DC, on 17 November 2016.  The cosposnors of the event were the Friends of Slovakia, the Slovak American Society of Washington, DC, the Slovak Embassy, and the Slovak Studies Association.  The newsletter is not available on the Internet, but I will provide anyone with a copy upon request. 

Continued Protests in Romania    27 November 2017

Earlier this year, Romanians protested because of the government's effort to decriminalize corruption under a certain amount, and the government had to abandon the proposal.  Now the coalition government, in which the Social Democrats are the senior partner, is attempting to reform judicial oversight, the appointment of chief prosecutors, and the president's ability to veto candidates (the current president opposed the corruption reform legislation earlier in the year and is resisting the current proposed changes).  The public sees these measures as mechanisms for extending the Social Democrats' control over the judiciary and weakening the fight against corruption.  Weekend protests have become a regular feature of Romanian political life, and more than 25,000 took to the streets in Bucharest this past Sunday.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-romania-protests/thousands-of-romanians-rally-against-ruling-partys-judicial-overhaul-idUSKBN1DQ0T3?il=0; and http://www.business-review.eu/news/anti-judiciary-laws-protests-in-romania-tens-of-thousands-call-for-resignation-of-government-153178.

Far Right Protests on Polish Independence Day    25 November 2017

On 11 November, when Poland celebrated its national independence day, approximately 60,000 supporters of far-right groups demanded an all-white Europe as they protested against immigrants and Jews.  Some of the participants were members of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that has been undermining Polish democracy.  In fact, the interior minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, commented that the celebration was a "beautiful sight."  During the demonstration, a group of far-right protesters confronted counterprotesters and attacked women who held a banner reading "Stop Fascism."  That prompted Jan T. Gross, a noted Polish historian whose book, Neighbors (Princeton University Press, 2001), examined the Polish massacre of Jews in Jedwabne during the Second World War, to comment: "Were these women exaggerating in calling the march fascist? Or are we in fact witnessing a resurgence of fascism in Poland? To steal a phrase: I believe the women."

Cyprus Faces Criticism for Cooperation with Russians    30 October 2017

A group of European Parliament deputies openly criticized Cyprus for tolerating Russian money laundering and not prosecuting several cases of fraud and money laundering that have Russian links.  Cyprus also backs Russian attempts to extradite Bill Browder, who established Hermitage Capital, who is an advocate for Sergei Magnitsky, who died in the custody of Russian police after he had revealed massive corruption in Russia.  See http://cyprus-mail.com/2017/10/29/17-meps-slam-cyprus-aiding-putin-browder-laundering/.

Update on the Czech Political Scene    30 October 2017

Andrej Babiš, whose ANO party won a plurality in the parliamentary elections that began ten days ago, has not formed a government.  He opened negotiations with the eight other parties that won election to the parliament, but none were willing to work with him.  Apparently, not even Tomio Okamura's far-right SPD, which expressed an interest in forming a cabinet with ANO, could come to terms with Babiš.  There has been talk that Babiš will form a minority government with a mixed cabinet, that is, one with ANO politicians and experts.  That still would require support in the parliament to pass a government program and subsequent legislation, but getting such backing may be possible from a party or group of parties that are unwilling to cooperate with ANO on a permanent basis but may believe there are benefits for working with Babiš's party on specific issues.  A more cynical angle is that a political party even may benefit from such limited collaboration, while hoping that a minority ANO government will expose the shortcomings of Babiš to voters.

One commentator, Jakub Janda, believes that a decisive factor for the future of the republic will be the January presidential elections.  If the current president, Miloš Zeman, wins reelection, Czech foreign politics may take a decidedly pro-Russian turn, in part, because Babiš has limited interest in foreign politics, as opposed to Zeman (the link to his article in Eurobserver appears below).  On the one hand, the chances are good that Zeman, despite the controversies that surround him involving alcohol and his pro-Russian stance, will win reelection because the same sort of voters who support him also back ANO and SPD, both populist parties.  Both Zeman and Babiš who have a good working relationship, are populists and appeal to those voters who want candidates who act and appear to think like them, who challenge the established parties, and who promise to protect the interest of the average citizen.  On the other hand, much can happen in the next two months, and one must remember that 59 percent of the voters did not support the parties of Babiš and Okamura and that the presidential election is a winner-take-all affair, with a run-off election taking place in the absence of a majority.  Currently, there are seven candidates, including the head of the Academy of Sciences, Jiří Drahoš, and the noted entertainer Michal Horáček, whose slogan is "we can do better."

A glimpse into the Czech citizens' views about political parties appears in a poll that the CVVM, of the Czech Academy of Sciences, conducted in September, about a month before the parliamentary elections.  Most Czechs believe their political parties are not interested in them, aside from when elections take place, and that they are corrupt, divisive, concerned only about their own interests, and critical of each other but are essentially the same.  Still, they accept that the parties are necessary to represent various groups and social classes.  Nevertheless, only 53 percent of those polled believe that political parties are necessary for maintaining a democracy.  Furthermore, 52 percent of the respondents believe that the parties reflect "the interests and opinions of the citizens."  Less than half of those polled believe that political parties facilitate the average citizens' participation in politics or enable voters to change or even influence public affairs.

The first round of negotiations Babiš undertook with the parties were sniffing out sessions, preludes to the serious behind-the-scene talks about the Czech Republic's political future.  Babiš may have to resort to a minority government (there has been one such cabinet in the Czech Republic since 1993), and it is quite possible that he will make a set of promises that attract the support of a number of parties to give him the backing he needs.  The question then would be whether Babiš or anyone else in his party has the finesse to maintain and shift the alliances in order to stay in power.

The Czech Parliamentary Elections    25 October 2017

The Czech parliamentary elections on 20 and 21 October were a victory for parties that presented themselves as challengers to the political system.  Nine political parties will enter the two-hundred-seat Czech Parliament: 

ANO (Andrej Babiš), 29.64 percent–78 mandates (gain)
ODS (conservative), 11.32 percent–25 mandates (gain)
Pirate party, 10.79 percent–22 mandates (gain)
SPD (Tomio Okamura), 10.64 percent–22 mandates (new, but a gain over Okamura’s earlier party)
Communists, 7.76 percent–15 mandates (loss)
Social Democrats, 7.27 percent–15 mandates (loss)
Catholics (KDU-ČSL), 5.80 percent–10 mandates (loss)
TOP 09 (liberal-conservative), 5.31 percent–7 mandates (loss)
STAN (advocates stronger local rule), 5.18 percent–6 mandates (new party)

ANO, the movement of the second richest individual in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš, who compares himself to Donald Trump, won 29.64 percent of the votes.  Babiš is slated to become the next prime minister, despite the fact that there is an ongoing investigation into his firm’s misuse of funds from the European Union, a scandal that forced him from the previous government, and an investigation in Slovakia about his cooperation with the secret police during the communist era.

While Babiš said he was open to working with all the parties of the parliament and has conducted meetings with them.  ANO even stated that a coalition with ODS would be logical (the two would command 103 votes in the legislature), but ODS as well as TOP 09 and STAN stated that they would not consider a coalition with Babiš.  Another possibility is that Babiš will recast the current constellation of parties in the cabinet: ANO, the Social Democrats, and the Catholics.  Babiš also could turn to the SPD, which is close to Marine Le Pen’s Front National.  SPD is the party of Tomio Okamura, a Euroskeptic who advocates direct democracy and a hard line against immigration, particularly when it comes to Muslims.  It appears that Okamura, too, is standing under the black cloud of scandal for not having revealing income from a real estate transaction, as required of all members of parliament.  If ANO and SPD attempted to build a coalition, they would be one vote from a majority in the legislature and would need the cooperation of one other party.

Those Czech voters who cast their ballots for ANO and SPD, for the most part, voted for those parties’ leaders, Babiš and Okamura, both of whom rely on populist messages and criticize the mainstream parties.  Both are Euroskeptics, although Okamura is far more extreme in his criticism of the EU.  Furthermore, Babiš had been finance minister, and many credit him with the strong Czech economy.

Babiš’s election comes despite the possibilities of wrongdoing.  A large number of the citizens joke about his involvement in a financial scandal.  A popular image among Czechs is a picture of Babiš with a stork’s nest on his head because his firm’s Stork Nest farm allegedly benefitted from ill-gotten EU funds worth 2 million EUR.  The Social Democratic prime minister eventually fired Babiš, but only after the investigation was well under way and close enough to the election for Babiš to claim that the entire affair was a political stunt.  Another joke often occurs when someone makes a minor purchase, such as a snack, and the salesperson provides a computer-generated receipt.  “Babiš,” the clerk may call out if the person attempts to leave without the receipt.  The requirement to provide the receipt, which comes from a small machine that facilitates reporting to the Ministry of Finance, was the result of Babiš’s campaign to force small businesses to pay the taxes they owe.  Small business owners, however, claim that it is a means that Babiš is using to put them out of business, which would benefit the larger firms.  Another concern is his alleged cooperation with the secret police during the communist era, when Babiš lived in what is now Slovakia (he is ethnically Slovak).  Shortly before the election, the Slovak Supreme Court refused to clear Babiš of wrongdoing and returned the case to the lower courts for further consideration.  Without a firm decision either way, the information did not have much of an effect on the elections.  Czechs and Slovaks realize that appearing on a list of secret police collaborators is insufficient proof that someone was an informant.

The outcome of the negotiations to form a new government will emerge within the next few days.  One cannot rule out the possibility that the ODS, TOP 09, and STAN statements about not cooperating with ANO were bargaining tactics, so any coalition may be a surprise.  The composition of the new government may suggest its longevity.  The current parties in the cabinet have worked together successfully, despite their differences, but putting together the two strong personalities of Babiš and Okamura may be poisonous.

The German behind Hungary’s Russian Connection    25 October 2017

Investigative journalism has resulted in information about the connections the Hungarians used to arrange for a Russian firm to undertake an expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant.  The link is Klaus Mangold, the person the German media refers to as Mister Russland.  Mangold began his business involvement in Russia immediately after the collapse of communism, and he is a long-time friend of Vladimir Putin.  Viktor Orbán’s government awarded the contract to work at Paks without going through a normal bidding process, and Mangold may help to soften criticism of Orbán’s government by brokering deals with Western firms to serve as subcontractors.  See http://www.direkt36.hu/en/longform/a-rejtelyes-nemet-aki-orban-orosz-manovereit-egyengeti/.

EIP and the Serbian Presidential Elections    25 October 2017

The Electronic Integrity Project’s has released its first review of elections in 2017.  In it is an analysis of the Serbian presidential election, and the EIP concluded that, in addition to various irregularities, a major problem was the effort to curb the media.  The website of the Electronic Integrity Project is https://www.electoralintegrityproject.com/.  The first 2017 report is at https://www.electoralintegrityproject.com/the-year-in-elections-2016-2017/.

Ukraine's New Education Law    21 October 2017

In response to rumors in Europe about Ukraine's new education law, largely coming from Hungary, Ukraine's minister of education and science, Liliya Hrynevych, published an article in Eurobserver to explain the intent and impact of the law.  According to the information Hrynevych provided, there are 400,000 students in Ukraine in non-Ukrainian schools, and they have only two hours of Ukrainian each week.  As a result, they have difficulties entering universities and finding state employment.  The new law increases the amount of Ukrainian instruction, beginning in the fifth year, and establishes a ratio of six hours of Ukrainian instruction for every four hours of non-Ukrainian instruction.  Hrynevych sees the law as benefiting studentsand strengthening Ukrainian bonds and claims that it is not at all prohibiting non-Ukrainian instruction in the schools.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/139550.

War Damages for Poland    20 October 2017

In the past few weeks, Poland has claimed that Germany owes nearly a trillion dollars in damages from the Second World War, and the Germans retorted that the Poles settled all claims in 1953.  The debate likely will continue, but it also is probable that the Law and Justice (PiS) party will not actually take any action on the matter and is using the issue to bolster its position at home.  See http://www.dw.com/en/berlin-dismisses-polish-demands-for-world-war-ii-reparations/a-40420548.

The Labor Shortage in the Czech Republic    20 October 2017

It is somewhat ironic that the Czech finance minister, who is a member of ANO, the party expected to win this weekend's Czech parliamentary elections, called for the admission of 200,000 foreign employees to fill jobs.  The low Czech unemployment figures and the shortages in labor that businesses are facing promoted the move.  ANO, however, opposes migration and does not want to let any migrants into the country, regardless of their qualifications.  It seems that the only logical conclusion is that ANO is open to migrants from certain countries but not from the Middle East and North Africa.  See http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/czech-ministry-mulls-massive-recruitment-of-foreign-workers-to-fill-jobs.

US Leaving UNESCO    20 October 2017

The United States announced that it will leave UNESCO because of the organization's anti-Israel bias.  Examples include designating Hebron a Palestinian world heritage site and resolutions that named the Dome of the Rock (the Jews call it Temple Mount) a Muslim holy site.  The US owes back dues to the organization because it suspended payments after UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member.  UNESCO offers compelling alternative interpretations for these and other decisions to show a pattern of balance, but they do not satisfy those who see these decisions as targeting Israel.  See http://time.com/4979481/unesco-us-leaving/https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/10/united-states-us-withdraw-unesco-world-heritage-spd/; and https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/statement-irina-bokova-director-general-unesco-occasion-withdrawal-united-states-america-unesco.html.

From Humanities Major to Meaningful Employment    20 October 2017

Randall Stross completed a doctorate in Chinese history and now teaches business at San Jose State University.  His career path led him to examine others who study the humanities and break into nontraditional careers.  His recent book, A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees (Redwood Press of Stanford University Press, 2017) not only explores liberal arts majors who are successful in unusual fields but makes the case that employers benefit from their broad perspectives.  See https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/10/13/author-discusses-his-new-book-why-liberal-arts-majors-make-great-employees.

Norway and Poland Strike Deal    20 October 2017

In order to get access to the European Union's single market, Norway contributes heavily to economic and social projects, including those that help build an open society.  Poland is one of its main recipients, but the Law and Justice (PiS) party of Poland wanted to control those funds.  The Norwegians and PiS party opponents balked at the proposal, but the Norwegians and Poles have reached a compromise.  Norway will release 809 million EUR of funding, which an independent agency will administer, but another fight may emerge over which agency that might be.  Furthermore, the funds will be earmarked for regional and national projects, which was one of the demands that a PiS-backed agency had proposed.  The details of the agreement still are unknown, but the Norwegians hope that they will be models for resolving a similar stalemate they have over funding in Hungary.  See https://euobserver.com/nordic/139490.

FPÖ Demands Interior Ministry    20 October 2017

The third strongest party in the recent Austrian elections, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), has demanded control of the Interior Ministry as a condition of entering into a coalition with the Christian Socialists, the victors in the election.  The party chairman, Heinz-Christian Strache, said that the party wants to put its principles into practice, and they include taking a hard line on immigration.  Occasionally, the party's Nazi roots and anti-Semitism resurface, which leads to criticism and expulsion of the offenders, but the underlying sentiment of intolerance still is a hallmark of the FPÖ.  Putting the party in charge of a powerful ministry that controls the police is a dangerous step and chips away at the foundation of democratic thinking.  See https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-10-18/austrias-far-right-sets-interior-ministry-as-price-for-joining-next-coalition.

Mata Hari Centenial    20 October 2017

It has been a hundred years since the execution of Mata Hari as a spy for the Germans.  Documents from her trial that the French recently released indicate that, while she took money from the Germans, she did not provide them with any sensitive information.  It appears that the Dutch exotic dancer was a victim of an overenthusiastic policeman and the hypersensitive wartime atmosphere.  A new exhibition at the Museum of Friesland in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, has a new exhibition of Mata Hari's life and death.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/arts/mata-hari-netherlands.html.

Student Loan Debt Traps    20 October 2017

Postings here rarely involve anything other than information about Europe east of the Rhine River and the European Union, but this one may be of interest to students in higher education, many of whom visit this website.  Laura Perna, of University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, has been doing research on student loans.  Recently, Knowledge@Wharton, an online publication of the Wharton School of Business, interviewed Perna about her findings.  The article, also available as a podcast, reveals much about the options for student loans and paying off the debt students incur.  See http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/pushing-back-against-crushing-student-loan-debt/?utm_source=kw_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2017-10-19.

Austria's People's Party Victory    16 October 2017

In this weekend's parliamentary elections, the Austrian People's party emerged with a plurality of 31.4 percent of the votes.  The far-right Freedom party received 27.4 percent of the votes, while the Social Democrats got 26.7 percent of the votes.  The thirty-one-year-old leader of the People's party, Sebastian Kurz, who is a popular conservative figure, will have to form a coalition government with one of the other parties, presumably the Freedom party.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/the-latest-polls-close-in-pivotal-austrian-election/2017/10/15/6ad0639c-b1bb-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html; and http://www.dw.com/en/austrian-elections-sebastian-kurz-becomes-youngest-leader/a-40959587.

Upcoming Czech Election    14 October 2017

Parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic are scheduled for 20-21 October.  The leading party is ANO, whose founder, Andrej Babiš, is certain to win another seat in parliament and may become the next prime minister.  Babiš, the second richest person in the Czech Republic, is a controversial figure.  He has faced accusations that he has used his media empire to his political advantage.  Babiš also is the founder of Agrofert, a holding company that owns his media outlets but has its basis in various agricultural concerns.  One of them is the Stork Nest Farm, and Babiš is the subject of a police investigation about whether he misused European Union subsidies in connection with the farm.  Finally, the courts in Slovakia, where Babiš was born, are examining whether he had cooperated with the secret police during the Communist era.  Babiš claims these legal difficulties all are politically motivated.

Babiš is opposed to the Czech Republic adopting the euro, and he opposes admitting migrants into the Czech Republic.  While he gives hope to many in the Czechs who believe that the European Union is too intrusive and at the same time not beneficial for the Czech Republic, Babiš claims not to be a Euroskeptic.  

ANO is a populist party that built its reputation on challenging the traditional political power bases in the country, charging them with being ineffective, but many view his stance and his party as simply a clever mechanism for Babiš to win public support to become prime minister and eventually president.  Even if ANO wins the election, it likely will not have a majority but only a plurality of votes, requiring it to form a coalition government.  It may even look very much like the current government, which is a coalition of the Social Democratic party, ANO, and the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's party.

The fear is that Babiš is more capable than many other populist politicians, including Donald Trump, and that he will strain Czech democracy to the breaking point, allowing it to follow the path of Poland and Hungary.

Central European University    14 October 2017

According to Hungary's justice minister, László Trócsányi, the government will give Central European University one additional year to comply with new requirements for operating in Hungary.  The university has been negotiating with the government, along with Bard College and the State of New York, as part of its effort to remain in Budapest and comply with a new law that targets CEU as a foreign-based university.  In reality, the government's intent is to close the university, force it out of Hungary, or harm its reputation because its major funder, George Soros, is an opponent of the so-called illiberal government in Budapest.  The government claims that it simply wants CEU to comply with existing Hungarian law.  See https://www.ceu.edu/article/2017-10-11/october-11-statement; and http://www.kormany.hu/en/ministry-of-justice/news/the-government-has-submitted-its-amendment-to-the-act-on-higher-education.

Polish Presidential Advisor on Technology    14 October 2017

Many fears about modern society help account for the rise of undemocratic forces in Europe and the United States, and suspicions about technology is among them.  Evidence to support this contention appear every once in a while, and Andrzej Zybertowicz, an advisor to Poland's conservative president from the Law and Justice Party (PiS), recently provided some.  Zybertowicz contends that some technologies are addictive and should be regulated.  At the Cybersec conference in Kraków, he stated, "When I talk to other parents, they have serious problems with their children. It seems as if a thief would invade our families and take our children away."  He added that "we should first learn and then teach cyber abstinence" and "free societies have to regulate the Internet."  A professor of sociology, Zybertowicz also is the coauthor of Samóbójstwo Oświecenia? Jak neuronauka i nowe technologie pustoszą ludzki świat (Suicide of Enlightenment?: How Neuroscience and New Technologies Devastate Human World).  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/139423; and https://cybersecforum.eu/en/speaker/andrzej-zybertowicz/.

J. P. Morgan in Poland    12 October 2017

In the middle of 2018, J. P. Morgan will open its new global operations center in Warsaw, Poland.  The facility will employ approximately 3,000 people and will be the twentieth such facility to service J. P. Morgan clients.  See http://wbj.pl/jp-morgan-to-hire-3k-people-in-its-warsaw-center/.

Buried Auschwitz Note Deciphered    11 October 2017

As a Sonderkommando, Marcel Nadjari (1917-1954), a Greek Jew at Auschwitz, had the gruesome task of dealing with the bodies of murdered Jews.  In 1944, he buried a note, which he wrote in Greek, in a thermos that a student discovered in 1980.  It was illegible, but two Russians, Pavel Polian, a historian, and Aleksandr Nikitjaev, an IT specialist, used multispectral analysis to read the text.  Nadjari wrote about wanting revenge for the deaths of his family members and other Jews, and he told of the gruesome tasks he faced each day:

Our work was to receive them first, most of them did not know the reason . . . the people I saw when their destiny was sealed, I told the truth, and after they were all naked, they went further into the death chamber, where the Germans had laid pipes on the ceiling to make them think they were preparing the bath, with whips in their hands, the Germans forced them to move closer and closer together, so that as many as possible could fit in, a true Sardinian death, then the doors were hermetically sealed. After half an hour, we opened the doors, and our work began. We carried the corpses of these innocent women and children to the elevator, which brought them into the room with the ovens, and they put them in there the furnaces, where they were burnt without the use of fuel, because of the fat they have.

Nadjari survived Auschwitz, returned to Greece, then resettled in the United States.

Poland's "Rosary to the Borders"    9 October 2017

On 7 October, thousands of Poles traveled to 4,000 locations along Poland's 3,500 km border to pray the rosary in an initiative of the Catholic Church to demonstrate the country's determination to halt the perceived spread of Islam into Poland and Europe.  A map with the locations and the number of people who registered to visit them is available at the event's website: http://rozaniecdogranic.pl/start.  See specifically http://rozaniecdogranic.pl/mapa.  For a news report about "Rosary to the Borders," see http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/poles-hold-national-prayer-peace-borders-sea-50342297.  The date for the action was not arbitrary.  Organizers cited the approaching hundredth anniversary of the miracle at Fátima and the 7 October 1517 Battle of Lepanto, a naval engagement in which the Venetian, Spanish and allied navies defeated the Ottoman fleet.

Airbus to Launch Urban Taxi in 2018    5 October 2017

Airbus, the European Union's aircraft-manufacturing consortium, has announced that it is on track to launch, by the end of 2018, the first urban intermodal air taxi.  The flight from a train station to an airport, for example, will carry up to four people and cost the same as a regular taxi.  Even more exciting is that the new CityAirbus is a fully electrically-powered craft with eight fixed-pitch propellers, enabling it to lift off and land vertically and fly at speeds of 80 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour).  It will have a pilot, at the moment, but it eventually will operate without one, once the technology is sufficiently advanced and the public accepts the notion of fully-automated flight.  Airbus claims that it not only will be ecological to fly but also will reduce urban congestion.

As a babyboomer, this writer's first thought was: "Move over, George Jetson!"  If you are unfamiliar with George, just look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTq6Tofmo7E.  Sorry readers!  I could not resist!

Hungary's Opposition in Disarray    5 October 2017

The leading politician of the opposition Social Democratic party, Laszlo Botka, resigned his position on 2 October because he claimed that the ruling Fidesz party has infiltrated not only the Social Democratic party but other parties on the left.  Botka made his announcement after he was unable to construct an electoral block to challenge Viktor Orban's Fidesz party in the April 2018 elections.  The Social Democrats likely will not be strong enough to unseat Fidesz, although an electoral coalition under the leadership of the the Socialists may have received enough votes to prevent Fidesz from winning a majority and governing alone or even gaining a plurality of votes, which would enable Fidesz form a coalition.  The far-right Jobbik party is positioning itself to pick up the disaffected voters from the left who are disappointed with Botka's resignation.  To do so, Jobbik has softened some of its rhetoric.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-politics-opposition-setback/hungarys-opposition-socialists-lose-pm-candidate-ahead-of-2018-vote-idUSKCN1C712X.

The Controversy around Hungary's Paks II Power Plant    5 October 2017

This past spring, the European Commission gave its approval to a contract that enables a Russian firm to update Hungary's Paks II nuclear power plant, even though it initially had criticized Hungary for having awarded the contract without following proper bidding procedures.  Environmentalists also complain that the designs may lack certain safety features, largely because the Hungarian government has not released them for public scrutiny.  See https://euobserver.com/energy/139183.