"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

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.