"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 2018

Contents

  1. 1 EU Single-use Plastic Ban    3 December 2018
  2. 2 Bulgaria to Join the TurkStream Pipeline    2 December 2018
  3. 3 Russians Arrest another Historian    28 November 2018
  4. 4 Bosnia’s Potential Destabilization    28 November 2018
  5. 5 The Spanish Civil War Eighty Years Ago    28 November 2018
  6. 6 Russia’s Seizure of Ukrainian Ships    28 November 2018
  7. 7 Populism in Europe and Steve Bannon    22 November 2018
  8. 8 Facebook, Hungary, and Scapegoats    21 November 2018
  9. 9 Another Controversy Surrounding Babiš    14 November 2018
  10. 10 Trump Insults European Allies    14 November 2018
  11. 11 Muller Asks about Farage    13 November 2018
  12. 12 Poland, Hungary and EU Sanctions    13 November 2018
  13. 13 Polish Government and Nationalists March Together    12 November 2018
  14. 14 Elections in Eastern Ukraine    12 November 2018
  15. 15 Hungarian and Russian Interference in Western Ukraine    12 November 2018
  16. 16 Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month: The End of the First World War    11 November 2018
  17. 17 Kristallnacht at 80 and the Beer Hall Putsch at 95    9 November 2018
  18. 18 Far-right March Planned in Warsaw    9 November 2018
  19. 19 Corruption Investigation in Hungary Closed    8 November 2018
  20. 20 Serbia-Kosovo Land Swap    7 November 2018
  21. 21 Election Results in Georgia    7 November 2018
  22. 22 Nazi Camp Guard on Trial    6 November 2018
  23. 23 Georgia’s Presidential Election    5 November 2018
  24. 24 Same-sex Marriage and Corruption    5 November 2018
  25. 25 Gender and the Novichok Suspects    4 November 2018
  26. 26 Austria’s OMV and Gazprom Strike a Deal    4 November 2018
  27. 27 Piťha’s Diatribe against the Istanbul Convention    4 November 2018
  28. 28 The Czechoslovak Secret Police Files on Donald Trump    3 November 2018
  29. 29 The Council of Economic Advisers Opposes Socialism    31 October 2018
  30. 30 Serbia’s Progress toward EU Integration   3 November 2018
  31. 31 The Centennial of the Czechoslovak Republic    28 October 2018
  32. 32 Babiš: Return Illegal Immigrants to Africa    27 October 2018
  33. 33 Gorbachev on the US Withdrawing from the INF Treaty    26 October 2018
  34. 34 Russian Military Buildup in the Baltic    26 October 2018
  35. 35 The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Gained its Independence    26 October 2018
  36. 36 CEU Is Moving to Vienna    26 October 2018
  37. 37 Local Elections in Poland    26 October 2018
  38. 38 Poland Vetoed EU Civil Rights Report    26 October 2018
  39. 39 Graduates of MGIMO Unwelcome in the Polish Foreign Ministry    25 October 2018
  40. 40 Russian Cyber Intelligence    24 October 2018
  41. 41 Approaching Centennial of the Czechoslovak Republic    24 October 2018
  42. 42 Trump Wants to Scrap the INF Treaty with Russia    24 October 2018
  43. 43 Macedonia’s Name Change    24 October 2018
  44. 44 America’s Illiberal Democracy    10 October 2018    UPDATE!
  45. 45 Bad Chemistry    4 October 2018
  46. 46 Munich at 80    3 October 2018


EU Single-use Plastic Ban    3 December 2018

In late October, the European Parliament passed a ban on single-use plastic, such as straws and utensils, that will take effect by 2021.  The legislation passed with overwhelming support and had the backing of a population that is ever more conscious of the environment.  See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45965605.

Bulgaria to Join the TurkStream Pipeline    2 December 2018

The Bulgarian government announced that it will link with the TurkStream pipeline that will bring Russian natural gas to Europe.  The purpose the Russians are constructing the pipeline is to bypass the pipeline that traverses Ukraine, which will hurt the Ukrainian economy.  Most likely, member states of the European Union will resist Bulgaria’s participation in the venture, based on the Russians’ desire to weaken Ukraine, and because the EU hopes to diversify its energy sources.  The EU imports 69 percent of its natural gas, and Russia provides 37 percent of that amount.

Russians Arrest another Historian    28 November 2018

Authorities in Russia have arrested Sergei Koltyrin on a charge of pedophilia.  It is the same charge leveled against the historian Yuri Dmitriev, who cooperated with Koltyrin to investigate the abuses of Joseph Stalin.  See http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1538514229.

Bosnia’s Potential Destabilization    28 November 2018

In October, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina went to the polls.  The leader of the Bosniaks and Croats, Zeljko Komsic, opposes the current consociational power-sharing system and favors a majoritarian rule that would allow the Bosniaks, the Slavic Muslim majority in the country, to rule.  Milorad Dodik, a Serb nationalist who hopes to see Serbs secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina, won the presidency for the Serbians in the country.  Changing the internal governance of the country would alienate the Serbian inhabitants, many of whom would welcome the ability to challenge the status quo.  Given the complicated ethnic map of the country, which intersperses Croats, Serbs, and Slavic Muslim Bosniaks, despite the existence of some areas with a majority of one group, maintaining the current power-sharing agreement is crucial.  Change could lead to conflict, the intervention of Serbia, and the destabilization of the Balkans.  

The Spanish Civil War Eighty Years Ago    28 November 2018

Eighty years ago, Spain was in the throes of the civil war that had begun in 1936 and concluded with a fascist victory in 1939.  This year, Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz, a historian, reenacted the crime of painting graffiti on a wall 70 years ago that resulted in his incarceration in a concentration camp for six years.  The words Sanchez-Albornoz scrawled that day were “Long Live Free University!”  Meanwhile, supporters of Francisco Franco raised their arms to salute the dictator, and Spain still struggles with the issue of removing Franco's body from the Valley of the Fallen, a shrine memorializing Franco and those who fought to make Spain a fascist state.  Sanchez-Albornoz was among those who labored to construct what became Franco’s mausoleum.

In support of the republic and the struggle against fascism, volunteers from around the world, including many from East-Central Europe, converged on Spain.  Tainted with exposure to capitalist and alternative Marxist thinking, many of those who had fought in the Spanish Civil War ended up in Stalinist prisons in Eastern Europe after the Second World War.

History remains relevant today, when neo-fascist groups have found new strength with the tacit support of democracies that are turning into dictatorships and leaders who again are experimenting with building a cult of personality.


Russia’s Seizure of Ukrainian Ships    28 November 2018

On 25 November, Russia seized three Ukrainian ships (two military boats and a tug), along with 23 sailors, as they passed through the Kerch Strait between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.  The Russians claim that the Ukrainians attempted to ram a Russian vessel, and they extracted confessions from three Ukrainian sailors.  Ukraine claims that the Russians manufactured the incident.  In response, Ukraine called for the release of the sailors and enacted marshal law, in anticipation of a Russian invasion.

Although a 2003 treaty identifies the body of water as international, the Russians are claiming it because they built a bridge over it to connect the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, which they took by force from Ukraine in 2014.  Without passage through the Kerch Strait, Ukraine has no access to Mariupol and Berdyansk, ports for exporting grain and steel.  Since the incident on 25 October, the Russians have blocked the passage under the bridge with a large freighter.

Donald Trump did not take sides in his comment about the incident: “We do not like what’s happening either way. We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out.  I know Europe is not . . . thrilled.  They’re working on it, too.  We’re all working on it together.”

This is the first time that the Russian military has confronted Ukraine directly.  During the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the eastern part of Ukraine, Russian troops were active without insignia and became known as “little green men.”

Populism in Europe and Steve Bannon    22 November 2018

The American right-wing activist, Steve Bannon, is attempting to influence the May 2019 European Parliament elections by supporting far-right movements in 13 countries.  Some are hesitant to associate with him, and most of the countries he is targeting have laws against foreign campaign donations.  Italy may pass such a law, which would leave Netherlands the only vulnerable country to his brand of populism.


With these articles, the Guardian has started a six-month series on populism, which it defines for readers:

Populists tend to frame politics as a battle between the virtuous “ordinary” masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite–and insist that the general will of the people must always triumph. The Guardian is adopting the classic definition of populism proposed by political scientist Cas Mudde. Populism, he says, is often combined with a "host" ideology, which can either be on the left or right.
Populism is as old as democracy itself, but the last 10 years have proven particularly fertile: populist leaders now govern countries with a combined population of almost two billion people, while populist parties are gaining ground in more than a dozen other democracies, many of them in Europe.

Facebook, Hungary, and Scapegoats    21 November 2018

On 14 November, The New York Times released its well-known article titled “Delay, Deny, and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought through Crisis.”   It revealed Facebook’s efforts to ward off political scrutiny, public criticism, and federal regulation, in light of data breeches the discovery that Russian hackers and trolls influenced the 2016 presidential election through Facebook.  One of their solutions was to hire Definers Public Affairs, a consultant firm that Republican party strategists founded to apply the Republican party’s formula for political success to businesses: relay positive public images about the client while promoting negative information about the client’s opponent.  That is the core message of a comment in the New York Times article by Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush who is with the definers, “have positive content pushed out about your company and negative content that’s being pushed out about your competitor.”

For Facebook, Definers began attacking George Soros, claiming that he was supporting the campaign against Facebook.  
On 15 November, the Open Society Foundation issued the following statement:

The Open Society Foundations and a wide range of civil society organizations for the past three years have been targeted by disinformation campaigns across the world. These have often taken the form of large-scale attacks on the internet, carried out by players hostile to free expression, human rights, and democracy.
The latest revelations that Facebook hired a PR firm to discredit digital rights activists, George Soros, and the Open Society Foundations goes a step further: a major digital platform is not only hosting disinformation campaigns, but it is orchestrating and promoting them.
We urge Facebook to stop engaging in practices inspired by the enemies of democracy across the globe. Facebook should launch an independent investigation of what took place and to publish a full report disclosing the techniques that were used in their effort to compromise activists and George Soros.

The next day, 16 November, Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Open Society Foundations, stated, during an interview on National Public Radio, “We are demanding, insisting on a public apology from Facebook, not just to George Soros and the Open Society Foundations, but to all of those who are practicing their First Amendment rights and asking these important questions. We're also insisting that Facebook have a transparent, independent review of these black ops and the material that Definers provided to them and disseminated to the public.”

Facebook’s deceitful campaign, however, has another twist.  They also enticed a Jewish lobbying group to identify certain Facebook opponents as anti-Semites (Facebook’s founder and its CEO both are Jewish).

Connecting the dots is frightening.  The implications for democracy are chilling.

Definers, connected with the Republican party in the United States, used precisely the same tactics as the dictatorial regime of Viktor Orbán in Hungary: ensure the population’s support by demonizing an opponent.  In both cases, the scapegoat happened to be George Soros and the Open Society Foundations that the financier George Soros established and funds.  Soros happens to be Jewish.

Another Controversy Surrounding Babiš    14 November 2018

Andrej Babiš, the Czech prime minister, again is in the news because of Čapí hnízdo, a recreation and conference center south of Prague.  His son claims that he was lured to Crimea and held there against his will so that he would provide evidence against his father to the police investigating funds that Čapí hnízdo received illegally from the European Union.  Agrofert, Babiš’s firm, transferred the complex out of its ownership to get an EU subsidy and then assumed ownership of it again, using Babiš’s son to arrange the deal.  Prime Minister Babiš, in an emotional statement, claimed that his son is mentally ill and that his daughter suffers from depression.  Czech politicians are considering a vote of no confidence against Babiš and his government, which is a minority coalition and counts on the support of the Communist party in the legislature.  See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/13/czech-pm-andrej-babis-future-hangs-in-balance-after-sons-kidnap-claims; and https://zpravy.idnes.cz/vlada-tiskova-konference-ano-andrej-babis-cssd-jan-hamacek-kauza-capi-hnizdo-166-/domaci.aspx?c=A181113_152546_domaci_mpl (in Czech).

Trump Insults European Allies    14 November 2018

On 13 November, Donald Trump tweeted the following: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two - How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”  

Macron mentioned Russia as the main reason to construct a European Union military but not the United States.  He did once mention fears of hacking from the US, which might have confused Trump.  Nevertheless, Trump’s tweet about the relations between Germany and France and the French needing to learn German was provocative, and one only can construe it as part of a misguided desire to harm the French-German friendship that, since the conclusion of the Second World War, has been at the core of European cooperation and ultimately the European Union.

For his part, Macron warned against nationalism, after Trump had claimed to be a nationalist during a recent speech in the US, but Macron praised patriotism.  The French military also joined the fray by tweeting a picture of a soldier training in the rain, with the caption “it’s raining, but it’s not a big deal.”  It was in response to Trump’s using inclement weather as an excuse not to attend a commemoration of the end of the First World War.  Others in both Europe and the US have berated Trump for not attending the ceremony because of the rain.

Trump also tweeted that the French have high tariffs on American wine, while French wine easily enters the United States.  In fact, the French do not set tariff policy, which is something that the European Union does for all member states.

Trump’s insensitivity about German-French relations and his lack of understanding about EU tariffs are common sorts of problems.  Recently, when Theresa May, the British prime minister, called Trump to congratulate him after the Republican party won enough seats to control the Senate, Trump chastised her for not doing more to support his policy regarding Iran, for difficulties over Brexit, and for trade policies.  In the spring, when hosting leaders from the Baltic states, he chided their countries for their involvement in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.  He confused Baltic and Balkan, despite the fact that his current wife is from a country that once was a part of Yugoslavia.

Muller Asks about Farage    13 November 2018

In seeking details about Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election, Robert Muller recently questioned Jerome Corsi, who may face indictments.  Muller, according to Corsi, also grilled Corsi about Ted Malloch, an American academic, and Corsi’s connections with the British politician Nigel Farage.  Recent news about the possibility of Russian money pouring into the pro-Brexit campaign suggests a web of Russian interference in elections in the United States and the United Kingdom that may tie the campaign of Donald Trump to Farage, a possibility Muller has pursued in the past.  Steve Bannon is another link between Trump and Farage.  Muller’s other queries involve Roger Stone, who, with Corsi, engineered a number of fake news campaigns and conspiracy theories (Corsi was a promoter of the theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States) and Arron Banks, a large financier of the pro-Brexit campaign (the British are investigating where Banks acquired the money he spent on promoting Brexit before the 2016 referendum).  See https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/mueller-seeking-more-details-on-nigel-farage-key-russia-inquiry-target-says/ar-BBPFCP9.

Poland, Hungary and EU Sanctions    13 November 2018

The European Union still intends to proceed with possible sanctions against Poland and Hungary for violating the rule of law, even though each country vows to veto any action against the other.  The difficulty at the moment is getting past various procedural matters, in order to bring the issues to a vote.  See https://euobserver.com/political/143359.

Polish Government and Nationalists March Together    12 November 2018

On 11 November, to commemorate the centennial of the Polish Second Republic, Polish government leaders from the Law and Justice party marched in a parade with nationalists, perhaps with the goal of containing the nationalists and preventing violence.  There were no major incidents, and the government dignitaries kept their distance from the nationalists, one of whose slogans was that Poland should not be red (communist) or rainbow (gay) but red and white (the Polish colors).  The mayor of Warsaw, who is a member of the opposition Civic Platform party, attempted to ban the march, but a local court permitted the march as a display of free speech.  See https://www.euronews.com/2018/11/11/polish-leaders-hold-joint-march-with-nationalists-on-100th-anniversary-of-independence-day.

Elections in Eastern Ukraine    12 November 2018

Donetsk and Lugansk, the brakeaway regions of Ukraine, held elections on 12 November, and in both cases, the results maintained in power the pro-Russian separatist leaders.  Ukraine, European Union member states, and the United States have condemned the elections as illegal.  For the EU's declaration, see https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2018/11/10/declaration-of-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-elections-planned-in-the-so-called-luhansk-people-s-republic-and-donetsk-people-s-republic-for-11-november-2018/?utm_source=dsms-auto&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Declaration+by+the+High+Representative+on+behalf+of+the+EU+on+the+%22elections%22+planned+in+the+so-called+%22Luhansk+People%27s+Republic%22+and+%22Donetsk+People%27s+Republic%22+for+11+November+2018.  An AFP news service report on the election is at https://www.yahoo.com/news/eastern-ukraine-elects-separatist-leaders-west-rejects-polls-081155268.html.

Hungarian and Russian Interference in Western Ukraine    12 November 2018

Moscow is backing Budapest in fostering discontent among the minority Hungarian population in the Zakarpattia Oblast (district) of Ukraine, also known as Ruthenia.  The region was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until the end of the First World War, when it went to Czechoslovakia.  Shortly before the Second World War, Nazi Germany awarded it to Hungary through two separate treaties.  After the Second World War, Joseph Stalin demanded it from Czechoslovakia, which acquiesced, in order to maintain goodwill with the Soviet Union.  Approximately 81 percent of the population is Ukrainian, including about 1.0 percent who identify as Rusyn.  Hungarians make up approximately 12 percent of the population, and they are in the municipalities that border Hungary.  There are small numbers (in declining order) of Romanians, Russians, Slovaks, Roma, and Germans.  For a perspective on the Hungarian question that describes the efforts to increase right-wing populism among the Hungarians, see https://euobserver.com/opinion/143330.

Eleventh Hour, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Month: The End of the First World War    11 November 2018

Ceremonies around the world have marked the armistice that began at 11.00 am on 11 November 1918 that ended the First World War.  While it is fitting to commemorate the dead, lament about the errors of the peace treaties, and celebrate the emergence of the League of Nations and new states, it also is important to understand why such a destructive war took place.

Before the guns of August 1914 sounded, every European society had adherents of extreme, chauvinistic varieties of nationalism who believed that their country must not be dishonored, that their leaders always were right, and that God was on their side.  Politicians made used intensely nationalistic rhetoric that put their country first, in order to guarantee their own popularity.  Journalists, authors, propagandists, and artists contributed to the bravado for their own fame and fortune.  Anyone resisting such grandiosity would have appeared unpatriotic and would have been unpopular, stifling those who would have called for reason and negotiation.  When the war began, even those on whom nationalism had a minimal effect, like the purportedly internationally minded socialists, rallied to support their countries against its enemies.  Nationalist bravado is dangerous.

Second, there was a popular belief that modern advancements in warfare quickly would end any war.  Statesmen and politicians advanced this view because it helped ensure the confidence the people had in them, but the top strategists and the heads of governments knew that no state possessed a technological advantage and that a general war would be protracted.  Governments, even democratic ones, like the United Kingdom and the French Third Republic, can and do deceive their subjects and citizens.

Third, arms and naval races gave people as well as many political and military leaders a false sense of overconfidence, making them willing to risk war.  Once the Great War began, however, it became apparent that no amount of military technology gave any country a decisive edge.  The admonition of Otto von Bismarck about war being undesirable because of unpredictable events that can impact negatively even the most powerful states is something that Europe’s leaders in 1914 ignored.

Fourth, a series of international crises, including the Moroccan Crises, caused international relations to deteriorate and increased the risk of a broad conflict.  Among these crises were those in the Balkans.  There, the great powers strained relations by backing the various states on the peninsula, empowering them to advance their nationalist agendas and to serve as surrogates for great-power politics.  The controversies surrounding Bosnia and Herzegovina and the two Balkan wars were not only local concerns but had their origins, in part, to the machinations of the great powers, giving the repercussions of events in the Balkans global significance.  Furthermore, old disagreements festered elsewhere in Europe, like the French loss of Alsace-Lorraine and the struggle between Italy and Austria-Hungary over the Adriatic.  Tensions also existed elsewhere among the great powers, including the United States and Japan, such as in Africa and Asia, where expansionist states competed for colonial power.

Fifth, the unfulfilled aspirations and the lack of fair treatment of ethnic groups turned out to be Achilles’s heels for the great powers.  The Poles of Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary longed for the recreation of their country, even though they could not agree on its future form.  Germany had not only discontented Poles but also French and Danish populations.  Russia had a series of unhappy ethnic groups, the Poles being the most vocal.  Austria-Hungary supposedly was a prison of nationalities, but that was a more appropriate moniker for the Hungarian than the Austrian portion of the monarchy.  The United Kingdom found no solution to the Irish problem that was on the verge of exploding before the Great War.  In some places more than others, Jews were subjected to anti-Semitism, and discrimination against Roma was commonplace.  Where democratic reforms had begun to take hold, their application did not apply to certain ruling nationalities.  When the war arrived, these ethnic groups began to seek solutions to their grievances that involved alternative associations or even independent states.

Finally, Europe’s diplomats lacked the flexible thinking, creativity, and determination conducive to a negotiated solution to international problems.  In 1914, Europe lacked such a figure as Bismarck, who had turned to limited wars as a diplomatic tool but who had expended much more effort on constructing international agreements to prevent conflicts that could destabilize Europe and the newly unified Germany that was the fruit of his labors.

The assassin’s bullets that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand d’Este, his wife, and their unborn child were not symbolic of the problems of the Balkans but of those in Europe and the international order.  It took an even more destructive war to engender successful institutions to further peace, such as the United Nations and the European Union.  Despite many accomplishments in the past century, the world’s leaders still resolve issues with the same weapons their predecessors wielded before the assassinations of 28 June 1914.  The ceremonies of remembrance are comforting, but they are not substitutes for greater understanding and sincerity among the world’s leaders.
 
For AP’s report on the commemorations in Paris, see https://www.apnews.com/5d0ab53b6d6e4feeae232ff45db83a97.  More AP reports on the war are at https://www.apnews.com/WorldWarI.

Kristallnacht at 80 and the Beer Hall Putsch at 95    9 November 2018

The Beer Hall Putsch, the failed attempt of Adolf Hitler to take power illegally in Weimar Germany, took place in Munich on 8-9 November 1923.  Kristallnacht, when Nazi supporters vandalized Jewish businesses, synagogues, and institutions, occurred on 9-10 November 1938.  The dates are no coincidence.  News that a Jew had assassinated a German diplomat in Paris reached Hitler when he and other Nazis were celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, and the top Nazis urged other party leaders to carry out a pogrom against the Jews.

It has been 80 years since Kristallnacht and 95 years since the Beer Hall Putsch.  Unfortunately, anti-Semitism recently has reemerged as a blight on societies in both Europe as well as in the United States, as the recent murders at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, synagogue demonstrate.  Hopefully, more individuals, including political leaders, will stand resolutely against bigotry of all types.  If not, hatred will intensify against not only Jews but also African-Americans and Spanish-speaking immigrants in America as well as immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East in Europe.  Moreover, it soon will rear its ugly head against other groups, and societies will degenerate into a vicious cycle of violence.

Various articles on the Internet discuss the memorials of Kristallnacht, and the reader may wish to begin with the following: http://www.post-gazette.com/news/faith-religion/2018/11/09/Pittsburgh-Rabbi-James-Gibson-attends-Kristallnacht-commemoration-Berlin-Tree-of-Life/stories/201811090114; https://www.dw.com/en/november-9-kristallnacht-and-fall-of-the-berlin-wall/a-18836400; https://www.dw.com/en/kristallnacht-pogrom-the-world-was-watching/a-46215163; and https://www.dw.com/en/german-politicians-remember-nazi-kristallnacht-pogrom/a-46220692.  To read about the fear of the far right in Germany that Albert Einstein expressed in a letter a year before the Beer Hall Putsch, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/letter-shows-a-fearful-einstein-long-before-nazis-rise/2018/11/09/e5368984-e3e9-11e8-ba30-a7ded04d8fac_story.html?ref=hvper.com&utm_source=hvper.com&utm_medium=website.

Far-right March Planned in Warsaw    9 November 2018

The mayor of Warsaw, a member of the Civic Platform party, banned the far-right march scheduled for 11 November to commemorate the establishment of Poland in 1918.  A local court, however, overturned his decision, citing the need to protect free speech.  It is unclear whether the official government march will take place (it purposely was to take the route of the far-right march) or whether Warsaw city officials will appeal the decision.  Far-right commemorations of the anniversary of Poland’s rebirth have taken place in the past and have been controversial.  This year, the march corresponds with the centennial of the Polish Second Republic.  See https://www.euronews.com/2018/11/09/poland-court-overturns-warsaw-ban-on-far-right-independence-march.

Corruption Investigation in Hungary Closed    8 November 2018

In February, the European Union’s OLAF anti-fraud office provided information to the Hungarian authorities about the misuse of funds.  At issue were contracts, between 2011 and 2015, awarded to a company modernizing street lighting, one of whose owners at the time was the husband of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s oldest daughter.  The other owner had advised municipalities about public tenders.  The Hungarian police now have closed the investigation, claiming to have found no irregularities.  One Hungarian official claimed that the OLAF report was an attempt to interfere in Hungary’s election, while EU officials and opposition leaders in Hungary are treating the police report as further proof of widespread corruption in Hungary.  See https://www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/news/hungarian-police-drops-orban-linked-corruption-probe/.

Serbia-Kosovo Land Swap    7 November 2018

Serbia and Kosovo have been discussing a land swap that would give Serbia the territory in Kosovo that Serbs inhabit, while Kosovo would acquire Serbian territory with an Albanian majority.  As talks progress, under the auspices of the European Union, supporters and detractors of the arrangement make their cases.  In Serbia and Kosovo, the deal is controversial.  Serbia could lose buildings of cultural importance, and the prime minister of Kosovo does not like the idea, even though the country’s president does.  In September, crowds in Kosovo protested against the idea.  The US State Department favors the plan, as does the prime minister of Austria, whose country currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  Some voices warn that the territory exchange might put other cases on the table, including Bosnia.  The negative repercussions of such deals is why the EU historically has maintained the sanctity of borders.




Election Results in Georgia    7 November 2018

A questionable election occurred not in the Georgia whose capital is Tbilisi but Atlanta, where Brian Kemp, a white Republican, faced Stacey Abrams, a black woman and a Democrat, in the 2018 gubernatorial race.  Writing in The Atlantic the morning after the election, with the ballot count continuing, Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies at Emory University, exploited the confusion to draw attention to the voter suppression efforts of Kemp, who, as Georgia’s secretary of state, oversaw his own election and used an array of mechanisms to stifle voter registration, purge voter registration lists, and create roadblocks for minorities attempting to vote:

In the end, it looks like Kemp won.  It’s impossible to know if his attempts to restrict the franchise are what pushed him over the line.  But if the Georgia race had taken place in another country–say, the Republic of Georgia–U.S. media and the U.S. State Department would not have hesitated to question its legitimacy, if for no other reason than Kemp’s dual roles as candidate and election overseer. Of course, there were other reasons.  As of this morning, he led by about 75,000 votes; more than 85,000 registrations were canceled through August 1 of this year alone.

With such a record of election rigging, would not the media and politicians both at home and abroad demand the  rectification of abuses and a new election?

Nazi Camp Guard on Trial    6 November 2018

Johann Rehbogen, who is 94 years old, is on trial in a German court for his work as a former guard at the Stutthof concentration camp, which now is in Poland.  His trial is in juvenile court because he was under the age of 21 when he was a guard.  He claims that he was not aware of any killings at the camp.

Georgia’s Presidential Election    5 November 2018

On 28 October, voters in Georgia went to the polls to elect a new president, but a runoff will be necessary since no candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes.  Salome Zurabishvili, whom many claim is closely allied with the wealthy Bidzina Ivanishvili, received 43.2 percent of the vote.  Her opponent, Grigol Vashadze, who has the support of opposition parties, won 34.7 percent.  The runoff election will take place by 1 December.  Because of constitutional changes, an electoral college will elect Georgia’s president in the future, and the president will lose certain powers.  See http://georgiatoday.ge/news/11351/UNM%E2%80%99s-Grigol-Vashadze-Presented-as-Opposition; and  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-election/georgia-presidential-election-poised-for-runoff-idUSKCN1N10TL.

Same-sex Marriage and Corruption    5 November 2018

Both Bulgaria and Romania are struggling with corruption, and the European Union is pressuring both countries to do something about it.  Their citizens realize the importance of solving the problem, but to distract them from the issue, leaders in both countries have turned the public discussion to same-sex marriage.  In Bulgaria, the Supreme Court ruled against same-sex marriage this past summer.  In Romania, a referendum, which took place in October, on the issue failed because of a poor turnout.  See http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/10/31/sex-marriage-corruption-bulgaria-romania/; and https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/08/europe/romania-marriage-referendum-fails-intl/index.html.

Gender and the Novichok Suspects    4 November 2018

When RT interviewed the two suspects in the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury with novicok, there was an implication that the two men were gay, certainly an attempt to dismiss any suspicion about their involvement in the attempted murder.

Semyon Slepakov, a Russian comedian and television producer, released “A Song About Salisbury Spire” that implied that the two men accused of committing the crime are gay.  One line, for example, stated “We didn’t try to poison anyone with novichok, all our thoughts were about the spire.”  The Russian authorities had Youtube remove the song, claiming that its posting violated copyright laws.

Pete Aves and the Manuals, a local band in Salisbury, wrote and performed “The Ballad of Salisbury Town,” which is an effort to attract visitors back to the city.  It is available at https://vimeo.com/281793185.

Austria’s OMV and Gazprom Strike a Deal    4 November 2018

Instead of an asset swap between Austria’s OMV and Russia’s Gazprom that would give the latter a role in developing gas supplies in Norway, OMV decided to purchase a 24.98 percent stake in Russia’s Achimov 4A and 5A phases in the Urengoy gas field, which Gazprom controls (Wintershall from Germany also owns 25.01 percent).  There were objections to Gazprom’s presence in Norway, since Russia is the major supplier of natural gas in Europe.  See https://www.spglobal.com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/natural-gas/100418-russias-gazprom-abandons-norwegian-asset-swap-deal-with-austrias-omv.

Piťha’s Diatribe against the Istanbul Convention    4 November 2018

On 28 September 2018, the feast of St. Václav, the patron saint of the Czechs, there was a solemn mass in Prague’s Cathedral of St. Vitus (formally the Cathedral of St. Vít, Václav, and Vojtěch, that is, of Vitus, Wenceslaus, and Adalbert).  With Cardinal Dominik Duka in attendance, Msgr. Petr Piťha delivered the sermon.

Piťha condemned the İstanbul Convention, formally the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, which began the ratification process in 2011.  The convention considers not only violence against women but gender, which it defines as “the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men” (Article 3c).  The goal is to end not only violence, trafficking, forced sterilization, and genital mutilation but such social ills as sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender.

While many states have signed the convention, only 33 European states have ratified it.  The signatories that have not ratified it are Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova,  Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine.  This past July, the Bulgarian Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional because it “relativizes the borderline between the two sexes.”  There is a great deal of controversy in other states over the convention.  In many cases, politicians have used it to rally conservative elements in society with arguments that the convention will undermine traditional principles through hidden meanings in the text.  Apparently, Piťha and Cardinal Duka are in that camp.  Unfortunately, other politicians in the Czech Republic also believe that gender ideology is at the basis of the document.

Piťha’s sermon not only opposed the İstanbul Convention but was, for many Czechs and observers abroad, a shocking apocryphal interpretation of the treaty’s text.  He explained that the agreement seems innocent enough but that one must read all of the materials associated with it and consider it “in the context of further proclamations and statements of its protagonists.”  He further maintained that

The proposed laws and their protagonists assumed the ideologies of Marxism and Nazism.  They are the neo-Marxists, about whom one can speak, and neo-Nazis, about whom one must be quiet.  The proposed laws are, by their very bases, undemocratic. They are dictatorial.  Dictatorships have always needed to eliminate the family that, despite any measure of domestic authority, is a democratic unit, the bearer and source of democracy and, at the same time, a true bond of society.  We all know that bad families existed and exist.  That does not change anything in principle.

Piťha then proposed a list of consequences of the İstanbul Convention:

Your families will be torn apart and scattered. [For that to take place] it will be enough to tell the children that man and woman are not the same.
They will take your children and conceal where they are, where they sold them, where they imprisoned them.  A false accusation is enough.
Determining the sex of your newborn by looking into their laps will be eliminated.
The child will decide on its own sex, so you will have to raise them asexually, so you even will not be able to give the child a name.
For every disagreement, you will be deported to a corrective educational work camps that are of the extermination type.
Homosexuals will be declared the superior ruling class, and you will belong to the inferior assisting class and work under the direction of powerful elites who will determine what can and what cannot be said.
You will be placed under all the animals that reproduce sexually because those laws do not apply to cats, frogs, or insects.

Piťha then invoked the famous “Hymn to St. Václav,” the protector of the Czech nation:

What to say at the end.  From experience, the defense of vulnerable free people is easier and more effective than the rebellion of slaves and prisoners.  What St. Wenceslas would do, I do not have to say, but I must say that our hope is that we will stand with him and we will sing a more true and honest chorus of [the “Hymn to St. Václav”] “Do Not Let Us or Our Future Perish.”  Amen

The full text of Piťha’s sermon (in Czech) is at http://kapitulavsv.cz/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Mons.-Petr-Pi%C5%A5ha-K%C3%A1z%C3%A1n%C3%AD-o-sv%C3%A1tku-sv.-V%C3%A1clava-L.P.-2018.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3aY6ilGndLLoTeDExkjp1Co0PQEassHjaXOSFCs9kSPTyjV4OJjhnZoOQ.  A news report in Czech about the sermon is at https://zpravy.idnes.cz/kardinal-duka-podporil-kneze-pithu-dtx-/domaci.aspx?c=A181013_131536_domaci_jumi.  When reading the last point on Piťha’s, it seems that he is unaware of bisexual behavior in the animal kingdom.  An excellent article from the BBC about this topic is available at http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150206-are-there-any-homosexual-animals.  Information about the ratification battle for the Istanbul Convention in the Czech Republic is available from the Czech Women’s Lobby (in English) at https://czlobby.cz/en/news/istanbul-convention-and-development-situation-czech-republic.  Unfortunately, the Czech Women’s Lobby website did not update its information to include Piťha’s sermon.  On the Bulgarian Supreme Court’s decision, see http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/bulgaria-s-constitutional-court-says-istanbul-convention-not-in-line-with-basic-law-07-27-2018.

The Czechoslovak Secret Police Files on Donald Trump    3 November 2018

The Guardian and the Czech periodical Respekt cooperated in a review of the material the Czechoslovak secret police gathered in the 1970s and 1980s on Donald Trump and his former wife, Ivana Trump, who was born in Czechoslovakia.  The result was a long article in Respekt and two articles in The Guardian.

The secret police of Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, the State Security (Czech: Státní bezpečnost; Slovak: Štátna bezpečnosť; abbreviated StB in Czech and ŠtB in Slovak) operated internally and abroad.  Targeting the Trumps was not unusual because Trump was a foreigner married to someone who had been a Czechoslovak citizen.  The only thing unusual about it was the level of attention the StB paid to Trump as a result of his status in American society.

An archivist examines the Communist-era State Security (StB) files on Ivana Trump in Prague's Security Services Archive (ABS).  The photo is reproduced from The Guardian, 29 October 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/29/czechoslovakia-spied-on-trump-to-exploit-ties-to-highest-echelons-of-us-power.

The files also are not secret.  After the Communist party lost power, the Czech government placed the records of the StB in the newly established Security Services Archive (Archiv bezpečnostních složek, ABS), assisting researchers who wished to study the Communists’ abuse of power and enabling individuals to defend themselves against false accusation of collaboration with the former regime and to learn who might have been informing on them.  So that citizens and foreigners can get all the information the StB had about them, every individual has the right to see the files of others.  All one needs is a person’s name and date of birth.  

The files on the Trumps do not reveal anything unusual–nothing treasonous or salacious.  There is no evidence in their files of kompromat, that is, “compromising material” that the Soviet KGB sought to obtain in order to blackmail individuals.  There also is no indication that Donald or Ivana Trump cooperated directly with the StB.

The material on the Trumps that is available in the ABS in Prague may not be complete.  Most of it came from the city of Zlín, then called Gottwaldov, after the first Communist president of Czechoslovakia, because that is where Ivana Trump was born and raised.  The central offices of the StB in Prague also took an interest in the Trumps, and they may have destroyed documents as the regime collapsed.  Furthermore, the StB routinely forwarded information to the KGB (at times, documentation of the transfer is in an individual’s file).  Because Donald Trump visited the Soviet Union, with the expectation of building a luxury hotel on Red Square in Moscow, it is certain that the KGB files in Moscow contain additional information about the Trumps.  The details, however, are unknown since the Russian authorities never made them accessible to the public.  

One might be surprised that one of the principal informers on the Trumps was Ivana Trump’s father, Miloš Zelníček, who lived in Zlín.  Neither the files nor the articles reveal why Zelníček reported to the police, but his decision to do so may not have been entirely voluntary.  The StB could have threatened him or his family in some way, causing him to believe that he had no alternative but to cooperate.  In that case, he might have withheld information from the StB, provided disinformation, or informed the Trumps not to reveal to him anything that would be of particular interest to the StB.

The articles in The Guardian and Respekt include details about a visit to Trump Tower, in New York City, of three individuals from the Slušovice Collective Farm, located near Zlín.  This particular collective farm had a great deal of leeway to experiment with profit-making ventures, something that otherwise was anathema to the communist system.  The purpose of the visit was to explore business possibilities, but the fall of the Berlin Wall put an end to such discussions.  The chairman of Slušovice still is alive but would not meet with reporters.  Trump’s other two visitors from Slušovice are deceased–one died in a car bomb (the perpetrator is unknown), and the other died in a car accident.  Information about the meeting came to the StB not through Ivana Trump’s father but another source, a informer within the Slušovice collective farm.  This, too, is not surprising since that particular collective farm had many dealings with foreigners.

Those who follow Donald Trump’s political career will not find it surprising that the StB files reveal a bit about his opportunism.  Before becoming a Republican, Trump was not affiliated solidly with any political party.  The StB was aware that Trump supported the presidential campaigns of Democrats, including that of Jimmy Carter, and he simultaneously supported the presidential campaigns of George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.  The StB also knew, well in advance, of Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions.

Czech historians have known about the StB files on Donald and Ivana Trump, and it is surprising that it took journalists so long to examine at the files.  The reports in The Guardian and Respekt are not conclusive, and historians in the future will have to tackle the material with greater attention to detail.  In private conversations long before The Guardian and Respekt released their articles, Czech historians wondered why Donald Trump was not more careful about what he revealed.  The StB routinely gathered information on any individual from the West visiting Czechoslovakia, and someone like Donald Trump, with so many financial and political connections in the United States, would be of special interest.  Surely, Donald Trump had to be aware of the police mechanisms of a totalitarian regime.

The original article in Respekt 44 (29 October-4 November): 14-23, is at https://www.respekt.cz/tydenik/2018/44/donald-trump-v-hledacku-stb.  The two separate articles in The Guardian, which appeared on 29 October 2018, are at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/29/trump-czechoslovakia-communism-spying; and

The Council of Economic Advisers Opposes Socialism    31 October 2018

Recently, the Council of Economic Advisers authored “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism,” a highly partisan document which the White House released just before the midterm elections.  From the executive summary, it is clear that the effort of the White House is to instill fear into the hearts of American voters who may be prompted to vote for some party other than the Republican party: “in assessing the effects of socialist policies, it is important to recognize that they provide little material incentive for production and innovation and, by distributing goods and services for ‘free,’ prevent prices from revealing economically important information about costs and consumer needs and wants” (1).  In reality, within the states that the CEA considers socialist (states which do not define themselves in such a way), capitalist incentives exist, goods and services are not free (no more than Social Security in the United States is a handout), and both costs and consumer demands are well known.

The report contains subtle and not-so-subtle biases that it presents in what only can be described as blatant cold-war rhetoric.  The first paragraph of the introduction notes the two-hundredth anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, implying that those in America advancing social change are Marxists and ultimately communists.  In reality, those who define themselves as socialists, social democrats, and democratic socialists today do not adhere to Marx’s predictions, including those of class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and a utopian communist society.  Classical Marxists and communists are only fringes on the far left.  Few will read the seventy-page report, but those who might at least venture into its first pages will encounter a scathing assessment of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, China, and other surviving communist regimes.  This assessment covers more than 10 percent of the report (pages 14 to 21).  The authors compare the beliefs of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with that of Mao Zedong (8).  The report implies that, like in communist societies, socialists in America wish to restrict the ownership and profits of individuals and to curb civil liberties, as did “historical socialists such as Lenin, Mao, and Castro” (9).  Typical of the rhetoric of the CEA is the paragraph below from p. 11:

In a socialist system, the state decides the amount to be spent, how it is spent, and when and where the services are received by the consumer.  A consumer who is unhappy with the state’s choices has little recourse, especially if private businesses are prohibited from competing with the state (as they are under “Medicare for All”).  It may be argued that “giant” private corporations also limit consumer choice, but this comparison ignores how corporations are subject to competition.  For example, a consumer can purchase goods from Walmart rather than Amazon, not to mention a whole host of other retailers.  Amazon is legally permitted to entice Walmart customers, and vice versa, with low prices, better products, free shipping, and so on.  Whereas retail customers are not forced to open their wallets, giant state enterprises are guaranteed revenue through taxation and are often legally protected from competition.  Those who maintain that Amazon and Walmart are too large might note that the single-payer revenues proposed in “Medicare for All” will be about eight times the revenue for either of these corporations.

The implication is that Democrats, like communists, will abuse the consumer and eliminate competition.  The text then proceeds to criticize collective farming, providing an accurate assessment of its disasters but again incorrectly implying that socialists are comfortable with this form of agriculture.  Venezuela provides a modern-day case of socialist policies run amuck (21-23).

A major portion of the CEA report examines the difficulties, real and manufactured, of the Nordic countries, once again couched in terms that serve to warn Americans of the dangers of socialism.  It cites information from the Fraiser Institute of Vancouver, Canada, which is a highly conservative think tank (24-26).  It also cites the Heritage Foundation (32), while ignoring information from moderate or liberal think tanks.

The study relies on GDP to determine the economic progress of countries.  Using such a measure, Norway, which the CEA targets for criticism, ranks below the United States (24 and 33-34).  Other measures, however, provide a more genuine assessment of the health of an economy.  For example, using the 2017 Human Development Index, an alternative to GDP that weighs GDP, health and education spending, and life expectancy, Norway ranks highest in the world, with an index of 0.953.  Following Norway, in descending order, are Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Iceland, Hong Kong, Sweden, Singapore, Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada.  The United States ranks thirteenth, with an index of 0.924.  From this standpoint, solid evidence points to the exact opposite conclusion of the CEA’s report.  As part of this discussion, the authors provide an example of operating a pickup truck in the United States as opposed to the Nordic countries.  Unlike America, pickup trucks are a rarity in Europe, and the report states nothing about the widespread availability of public transportation in Europe, including extensive rail and bus transportation networks in rural areas.  Other warnings in the report are that socialism leads to higher taxes, poor education, and inadequate healthcare that includes difficulties seeing physicians and poor overall care.

The report’s conclusions are predictable.  For example, it states that “an open question for socialists is whether they recommend reducing living standards for poor and middle-income families if it serves the purpose of making the top 1 percent–or the bourgeoisie, or the kulaks, or the landlords, or the giant corporations–worse off too.  Centralized state controls and high tax rates historically delivered such results” (54).  The authors then explained that “the Nordic countries abandoned this approach,” but in reality, they never had adopted it.

This posting cannot recount all the difficulties with the report, nor can it attempt to present all of the opposing statistics and viewpoints.  As political fodder, the report has value for both conservatives, who will cite it as scientific, and liberals, who aggressively will point out its flaws.  As a serious economic study, undertaken with taxpayer support, the report is a failure.

Serbia’s Progress toward EU Integration   3 November 2018

The European Commission released its yearly report about the progress Serbia has made toward integration into the European Union.  In many cases, the report noted some or good progress, such as with public administration reform, judiciary matters, the struggle against corruption, the areas of justice, freedom, and security, the fight against organized crime, building a market economy, coping with competitive pressures from EU states, movement of goods, labor, and capital, financial services, agriculture and rural development, food safety and related items, fisheries, transport, energy, taxation, economic and monetary policy, statistics, social policy and employment, enterprise and industrial policy, trans-European networks, regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, science and research, education and culture, environment and climate change, consumer and health protection, customs union, foreign policy as well as security and defense policies, financial control, as well as financial and budgetary provisions, 

Nevertheless, there still are crucial areas where the EC found no progress or none within the past year: building a civil society, fundamental rights (this includes gender matters), freedom of expression, public procurement, corporate law, intellectual property rights, competition policy (specifically the legislative alignment and enforcement of state aid rules), information society and media, and external relations (specifically trade policy issues).

When the EC released the report, Matteo Trevisan, a freelance journalist who examines human rights and ethnic conflict in East-Central Europe and the Balkans, noted the difficulties Serbia has with respect to the freedom of the media, including the unsolved deaths of several journalists and threats to the media.

The Centennial of the Czechoslovak Republic    28 October 2018

On 28 October 2018, in coordination with Tomáš G. Masaryk and his associates abroad who strove to create an independent Czechoslovak state, five politicians–four Czechs and one Slovak–proclaimed Czechoslovakia’s independence from Austria-Hungary.  In December, Masaryk returned home as president of the republic, and he remained in office until his resignation in 1935.  His former student and associate in exile, Edvard Beneš, assumed the presidency after Masaryk and remained in office until he resigned in the wake of the Munich Agreement of 29 September 1938 that awarded the Sudetenland and its predominantly German inhabitants to the Third Reich.

The Men of 28 October (Muži 28. října) who proclaimed the Czechoslovak Republic.  On the top row, from left to right, are František Soukup (1871-1940, from the Social Democratic party), Jiří Stříibrný (1880-1955, of the Czechoslovak Socialist party, later renamed the Czechoslovak National Socialist party, but there is no relationship with the Nazis of Germany), and Vavro Šrobár (1867-1950, representing Slovaks).  On the bottom row, left to right, are Alois Rašín (1867-1923, from the Czech State Rights Democratic party, later renamed the National Democratic party) and Antonín Švehla (1873-1933, of the Czech Agrarian party, later the Republican party).

Despite its many faults, Czechoslovakia remained a democracy throughout its existence, and for most of the interwar years, it was the only democratic state in East-Central Europe and the Balkans.  Many at the time criticized the republic for not doing more to advance the autonomy of the Germans, Slovaks, and Hungarians and to bring a greater number of individuals from these ethnic groups into the state administration.  These and other difficulties cause many historians to maintain that Czechoslovakia failed as a democratic state.  However, one must not base judgement about a political system of the 1920s and 1930s on the characteristics of present-day democracies.

In commemoration of Czechoslovak independence day, I published a short article in the History News Network that the editors released today.  It is available at https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170307.  The article also appears on this website here.

Babiš: Return Illegal Immigrants to Africa    27 October 2018

In an interview with The Guardian, Andrej Babiš, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, stated that the European Union should deport illegal immigrants from Africa.  He resists a new border force to deal with immigrants, claiming that the EU should use the money to fund an economic program to aid African states, on the order of the Marshall Plan.  Echoing Donald Trump, Babiš claims that terrorists are among the migrants and that the media “print lies about me every day, but I cannot stop it.”  Babiš also noted that the European Commission should not interfere with Poland and Hungary and let the voters in those countries decide whether their politicians are governing correctly.  He also reiterated his view that he favors another referendum on Brexit in the United Kingdom but doubted it would take place.

Many accuse Babiš, the second richest individual in the Czech Republic, of corruption, and one of his firms appeared to have taken a subsidy illegally from the European Union.  He has defended leaders in Poland and Hungary, but his domestic policies of dismantling democracy have not mimicked those of his Polish and Hungarian counterparts.  ANO, his populist political party that promises to end political corruption, has strong support in the countryside but not in the major urban areas.

Gorbachev on the US Withdrawing from the INF Treaty    26 October 2018

On 25 October 2018, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who brought about the end of the Communist party’s grip on power in Russia, published an article in the New York Times that criticizes Donald Trump for considering the withdrawal of the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed.

Gorbachev noted that the INF treaty was the first step in further reductions of nuclear weapons that, by 2015, resulted in the decommissioning or destruction of 85 percent of the two countries’ nuclear stockpiles.  He regrets that the United States abandoned the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the Iran nuclear deal and that the military spending of the United States has escalated dramatically.  Both sides claim the other violated the INF, and according to Gorbachev, the United States has avoided discussing the issues with Russia.  He believes this was a way Trump could justify withdrawing from the treaty to continue his “initiative in destroying the entire system of international treaties and accords that served as the underlying foundation for peace and security following World War II.”  Gorbachev then issued a warning:

Yet I am convinced that those who hope to benefit from a global free-for-all are deeply mistaken.  There will be no winner in a “war of all against all”—particularly if it ends in a nuclear war.  And that is a possibility that cannot be ruled out.  An unrelenting arms race, international tensions, hostility and universal mistrust will only increase the risk.

The United States may reconsider, but if not, Gorbachev hopes that America’s allies will refuse to accept new missiles on their soil, that “Russia will take a firm and balanced stand,” and that the United Nations “will take responsible action.”  Gorbachev concluded that, “faced with this dire threat to peace, we are not helpless.  We must not resign, we must not surrender.”

Russian Military Buildup in the Baltic    26 October 2018

CNN released satellite images that suggest Russians are strengthening their military presence in four bases in Kaliningrad, along the Baltic Sea.  Some of the improvements are for nuclear warheads.  See https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/17/europe/russia-kaliningrad-military-buildup-intl/index.html.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Gained its Independence    26 October 2018

The patriarch in İstanbul recognized the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Filaret as independent from the Russian Orthodox Church.  Filaret noted that there is no requirement for Orthodox believers who have not broken with Moscow or those who had started a separate church in the 1920s to avoid Moscow’s control to join the newly independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  The Russian Orthodox Church had excommunicated Filaret, a move that the patriarch in İstanbul nullified, and the Russian Orthodox Church criticized the decision.  See https://www.rferl.org/a/we-don’t-want-confrontation-with-russia-church/29539901.html (interview with Filaret); and https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-church-wins-independence-battle-against-moscow-patriarchate/a-45854480.

CEU Is Moving to Vienna    26 October 2018

Despite its efforts to find common ground with the Hungarian government, Central European University, a world-renowned academic institution, announced that it will move to Vienna, with the opening of the 2019-2020 academic year.  Funding for the university comes from George Soros, whom Victor Orbán and his political party Fides has accused of supporting immigration to Europe and undermining traditional values.  Recently, Donald Trump has echoed similar claims about Soros, who, along with noted Democratic politicians, was one of the intended recipients of a mail bomb this week.  Originally headquartered in Prague, CEU centered its operations at its Budapest branch because of disagreements with Václav Klaus, then the Czech prime minister, who is a noted Euroskeptic.  The Hungarian government not only has attacked CEU but also organizations that receive foreign funding and that offer any assistance to immigrants.  This month, the Hungarian government also ended accreditation for all gender studies programs.  As an aide to Prime Minister Orbán stated, “the Hungarian government is of the clear view that people are born either men or women.”  CEU has a gender studies program.

Local Elections in Poland    26 October 2018

The ruling antidemocratic Law and Justice (PiS) party is claiming a victory in Polish local elections.  Out of 16 regional assemblies, it won a majority in six and a plurality in three, taking a total of 254 seats, while the opposition Civic Platform received 194 seats, and the Polish People’s party won 70 seats.  PiS lost to Civic Platform in Warsaw, Poznań, Lublin, Łódź, and Bydgoszcz.  The results of the Polish local elections verify a trend of for populists not only in Poland but elsewhere in Europe and even the United States: populism succeeds in rural areas but has difficulties in major urban areas.  See https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-pis-law-and-justice-local-elections-lead/; and https://www.ft.com/content/0f4b5112-d839-11e8-ab8e-6be0dcf18713.

Poland Vetoed EU Civil Rights Report    26 October 2018

Poland vetoed an annual civil report for the European Union because it omitted mention of Christians and Jews, although it called for the protection of LGBT as well as immigrant women and children.  See https://www.apnews.com/4de2d99d8cb8465cb209f550e881747c.

Graduates of MGIMO Unwelcome in the Polish Foreign Ministry    25 October 2018

The Foreign Ministry of Poland has been removing Soviet-era graduates of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations as though they were Russian agents.  One former MGIMO student, who graduated long after the fall of the Soviet Union, maintains that such a policy results in Poland losing the “brightest and best” minds from the former Soviet bloc.  The Polish Foreign Ministry also risks losing knowledge and continuity as well as expertise about Russia.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/143134.

Russian Cyber Intelligence    24 October 2018

The journalist Tomasz Kasprowicz wrote an excellent summary of how Russians influence events in other countries through cyber intelligence.  He contends that Russia needs to destabilize other powers, in order to remain powerful.  That is why, for example, its trolls and bots support both sides of the vaccination debate.  It simply is an effort to undermine consensus and destabilize society.  See https://visegradinsight.eu/playing-on-our-emotions/.

Approaching Centennial of the Czechoslovak Republic    24 October 2018

The Czech Republic is preparing for the hundredth anniversary f the establishment of Czechoslovakia on 28 October 1918, just before the end of the First World War.  For a sample of the events in Prague, see https://prague.tv/en/s72/Directory/c217-Sightseeing-Attractions/n15730-Prague-plans-a-month-of-celebrations.  One celebration involved the restoration of the Orloj, the medieval astronomical clock in Prague’s Old Town Hall.  See https://www.euronews.com/video/2018/09/26/prague-s-famous-astronomical-clock-returns-after-major-repair-works.

Trump Wants to Scrap the INF Treaty with Russia    24 October 2018

Donald Trump is threatening to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Ronald Reagan signed with Mikhail S. Gorbachev in 1987, claiming that the Russians have violated it for years.  The Russians make similar statements against the United States.

Trump may be threatening to pull out of the treaty to improve his negotiating position with the Russians, but he also may be playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin, who would like to see the treaty end, without being the one to make the controversial move.  Trump also could be withdrawing from the treaty as one more step in his effort to upset international stability, banking on the mistaken belief that it gives him some sort of advantage.  Germany made similar moves in the 1930s, as it tore apart the Versailles Treaty one step at a time.  That made other countries uncertain about Germany’s intent, which was to expand eastward, through the use of force.  The parallel is useful only to some extent because, unlike Germany in the 1930s, the United States shows no signs of posturing for a military confrontation.  Should the United States pull out of the agreement, an arms race could result, something that the world experienced during the cold war, until reasonable leaders were able to trust each other and negotiate restrictions.

Macedonia’s Name Change    24 October 2018

On 1 October, Macedonians voted in a referendum about changing the country’s name from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Northern Macedonia, following through on an agreement between the governments of Greece and FYRM.  Although 90 percent of the voters favored the change, only 36 percent of eligible voters took part in the referendum.  A total of 50 percent of the voters had to go to the polls to make the referendum valid.

Despite the defeat, the Macedonian government pushed a name-change measure through the legislature, which, on 19 October, agreed to change the country’s name to Northern Macedonia.  The measure passed with the support of eight members of the VMRO DPMNE opposition club (seven members of VMRO DPMNE and one independent).  Afterward, VMRO DPMNE expelled the deputies who had broken ranks to side with the government.  Because of threats, the Macedonian police are protecting legislators who voted in favor of the name change.

Because the name change will put Macedonia on track to enter NATO and the European Union, there is suspicion that Russia has supported those who oppose the initiative, which it denies.  There also are those in Greece who oppose the deal.  The name change still requires voting on draft amendments to the constitution, a period of public debate, and a third legislative vote on the issue.

America’s Illiberal Democracy    10 October 2018    UPDATE!

Christopher Browning, the author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (HarperCollins, 1992), is one of America’s preeminent historians on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.  Before his retirement, his most recent position was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his prior position was at Pacific Lutheran University.  In the 25 October 2018 issue of The New York Review of Books, Browning published “The Suffocation of American Democracy,” which ranks among the most well-reasoned comparisons between America today and Weimar Germany.

The picture Browning paints of the current state of American affairs is anything but flattering.  The Republican party, according to Browning, has eroded democracy through a variety of methods, including gerrymandering, voter suppression, dark money for campaigns, and court appointments.  Like the conservatives of Germany, they sought to bolster their own dwindling position in society by allying themselves with a demagogue they expect to control.  Browning likens Donald Trump’s attacks on the international order that kept America at peace since 1945 to Adolf Hitler’s efforts to destroy the post-Versailles Order.  Consistent with authoritarian figures, Trump praises dictators around the world and improves America’s relations with them.

Browning sees Mitch McConnell as having a significant role in this process and draws parallels between him and Weimar’s aged President Paul von Hindenburg.  “As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more.  Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.”

Browning finds other similarities with the past.  When those on the right in France criticized the Popular Front government, under the socialist Léon Blum, a Jew, their slogan became “Better Hitler than Blum.”  Browning then surmises the following:

Faced with the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the US election and collusion with members of his campaign, Trump and his supporters’ first line of defense has been twofold—there was “no collusion” and the claim of Russian meddling is a “hoax.” The second line of defense is again twofold: “collusion is not a crime” and the now-proven Russian meddling had no effect. I suspect that if the Mueller report finds that the Trump campaign’s “collusion” with Russians does indeed meet the legal definition of “criminal conspiracy” and that the enormous extent of Russian meddling makes the claim that it had no effect totally implausible, many Republicans will retreat, either implicitly or explicitly, to the third line of defense: “Better Putin than Hillary.” There seems to be nothing for which the demonization of Hillary Clinton does not serve as sufficient justification, and the notion that a Trump presidency indebted to Putin is far preferable to the nightmare of a Clinton victory will signal the final Republican reorientation to illiberalism at home and subservience to an authoritarian abroad. 

Given America’s turn to an illiberal democracy, Browning concludes that “Trump is not Hitler and Trumpism is not Nazism, but regardless of how the Trump presidency concludes, this is a story unlikely to have a happy ending.”


UPDATE!
For an interview in Salon with Christopher Browning on the topic of America’s creeping authoritarianism, see https://www.salon.com/2018/10/18/historian-christopher-browning-on-the-trump-regime-were-close-to-the-point-of-no-return/.

Bad Chemistry    4 October 2018

The Dutch government reported that it expelled four Russian GRU spies for having tried, in April of this year, to crack the WiFi of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.  Shortly thereafter, British diplomats revealed that Russians tried to hack the British Foreign Office this past March.  It is no surprise that Russia has denied the charges.  See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45746837; and https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-45744822.

Munich at 80    3 October 2018

On 30 September 1938, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain, and Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement that gave Nazi Germany territories of Czechoslovakia, known collectively as the Sudetenland, where the population was 50 percent or more German.  Munich was a British and French betrayal of democratic Czechoslovakia, in an effort to satisfy Hitler’s demands and prevent another world war, which Germany started, just the same, 11 months later.

Edvard Beneš (left), Czechoslovakia’s president, with Milan Hodža (right), the prime minister, on 31 December 1937, nine months before the Munich Agreement.  Photo by ČKT.

There is much speculation about whether Czechoslovakia should have fought, even without the backing of France and Britain.  The French told the Czechoslovak government that Paris would not honor its mutual defense commitment to Prague if the latter did not accept the Munich Agreement.  The Soviet Union, also an ally of Czechoslovakia, hinged its military support of Czechoslovakia on French action, in accordance with the 1935 treaty that Moscow and Prague had arranged.  The Soviets also claimed that Poland and Romania would not let the Red Army cross through their territory to protect Czechoslovakia.  Many Czechs and Slovaks argue that Edvard Beneš, the Czechoslovak president, should have decided to fight Germany alone because Britain and France would have been embarrassed and would have entered the fight.  Others believe that it would have been better for the Czechoslovak psyche had the country struggled against German aggression.

Beneš viewed such possibilities as risky and hopeless.  The Czechoslovak spy network made him well aware of German military capability, including the fact that Prague may have been subject to intense aerial bombardment, in the event of a German-Czechoslovak conflict.  Beneš declined to fight, capitulated, resigned the presidency, and left the country.  In March 1939, Germany invaded the western portion of Czechoslovakia, annexing it as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  The Germans backed Slovaks independence and gave the Hungarians what remained of Ruthenia (Hungary already had received portions of Ruthenia and Slovakia, where there were large concentrations of Hungarians, in the November 1938 First Vienna Award, which Hitler had brokered).  On 11 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War.

Czechoslovakia’s decision not to fight in October 1938 supported the belief that the Czechs (not the Slovaks) were a nation of Švejks, a term originating from the unfinished novel The Fate of Good Soldier Švejk during the World War by Jaroslav Hašek.  Josef Švejk bungled his way through the First World War as a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, and it is up to the reader to decide whether Švejk was merely dimwitted or intentionally lazy.  The decision of the Czechoslovak Communist party and government not to mount a large-scale resistance to the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion further fueled the Švekian interpretation of Czech character, which persisted until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 overthrew Communist-party rule.

Debates will continue to rage about whether Beneš made the right decision in 1938.  The British historian A. J. P. Taylor, in The Origins of the Second World War, recounted that, after the war, Beneš looked out from the Prague Castle and said, “Is it not beautiful?  The only central European city not destroyed.  And all my doing.”  Beneš recognized that Hitler’s appetite for territory would be his undoing.  His decision not to fight in 1938 perhaps spared Czech lives and prevented the destruction of Prague–historians never can know for certain–even though it was at the expense of national pride.

Beneš quotation is from A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1961), 185.  For a perspective on Munich from Yoav J. Tenembaum at Tel Aviv University, see https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170122.