"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 First Quarter of 2019



LGBT Persecutions in Chechnya    16 January 2019

Activists in the LGBT movement in Chechnya claim that the government has arrested at least 40 gay people since December, two of whom have died under torture.  The government has denied the claims, but the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a report in December that there were “very serious human rights violations” in the region.  Chechnya has persecuted those who identify as LGBT in the past.  See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46871801.

EU in 2019    16 January 2019

“Knowledge @ Wharton,” a service of the Wharton School of Business, released a podcast and article titled “What Changes Will the EU See in 2019?”  Brexit leads the list, but the other important considerations are what the EU will do in terms of economic performance, an issue that feeds populism, and foreign policy.  See http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/eu-see-big-transitions-2019/?utm_source=kw_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2019-01-15.

New German Far-Right Party with Former Nazi Symbol    16 January 2019

André Poggenburg, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), broke with the party to establish a new group, Awakening of German Patriots (Aufbruch der Deutschen Patrioten, AdP).  For the party’s symbol, Poggenburg selected the cornflower (German: die Kornblume), which the Austrian Nazis used to represent their organization after the government had banned the party in 1933.  See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/11/new-far-right-german-party-adopts-former-secret-nazi-symbol?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Blogger.

The EU’s Most Successful Dictator: Hungary’s Orbán    12 January 2019

Writing in The New Yorker, Elisabeth Zerofsky, a Hungarian journalist living in Paris, explained how Vitkor Orbán came to power in Hungary and how his Fidesz Party controls not only the government, legislature, and judiciary but has managed to monopolize the media, local government, and an important network of businesses.  Orbán and Fidesz’s success are examples for right-wing parties that aspire to govern and to dismantle both democracy and the European Union.

The formula is simple.  Orbán and his associates latch onto issues that solicit a visceral response from the population, like immigrants from the Mediterranean, whom they claim will destroy Hungarian culture and Christian values.  They manufacture enemies opposed to protecting the interests of Hungarians, complete with a scapegoat–George Soros, a Hungarian and a Jew who funds all sorts of civic groups in Hungary and elsewhere, including Central European University, which is in the process of moving to Vienna from Budapest, in order to continue its existence.  The popular backing enables the party to secure power, to pass legislation to undermine democracy, and guarantee one-party rule.  One of their tricks that Zerofsky describes is to include outlandish legislation with substantive changes that undermine an open society only for the purpose of removing the most controversial provisions, so as to appear conciliatory.  As it climbs to and clings to power, the party finds allies among business leaders and media moguls and uses corruption to create even more allies.


With its control of the ballot box and a fragmented opposition, it is unlikely that Orbán and Fidesz will lose power as a result of an election in the near future.  As Hungary’s dictatorship deepens, its permanence seems more assured.  Meanwhile, it associates itself with like-minded governments, such as Poland and now Italy.  It associates with sympathetic parties and politicians in other countries seeking to emulate Fidesz’s success, such as National Rally and Marine Le Pen in France.  It also benefits from the efforts of those like Steve Bannon, who is attempting to spread his vision of politics and society in Europe.  Together, the far right and those who advocate what Orbán calls illiberalism hope to secure victories in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament and undo various democratic and integrationist aspects of the European Union.  As in the 1930s, the forces advancing an open civic society in Hungary and elsewhere are dumfounded.  Traditional appeals to the electorate cannot compete with the populist and far-right propaganda, and no charismatic leader of the left has emerged as a counterweight to the articulate demagogues of the right.

Hungary and other countries in Europe may be confronting a long winter of chauvinistic nationalist leaders who use corruption to secure their own wealth and power for the foreseeable future.  Elections will be meaningless for such regimes, as they were for totalitarian and post-totalitarian regimes of the type Václav Havel described in his “Letter to Dr. Gustáv Husák.”  They will undermine international cooperation and pave the way for countries from outside the EU to sow discord, in order to weaken the EU and boost their relative strength.  Undemocratic regimes, however, can become overconfident.  They can cross a line that angers the population, which either can inspire a popular uprising, peaceful or otherwise, or can serve as a catalyst for opposition groups to unite.

Such a situation may be emerging in Hungary.  Late last year, the regime passed a law that permitted firms to give employees 400 hours of overtime each year.  The reason is simple: Hungary’s economy has a labor shortage, and the anti-immigration policy of Fidesz excludes the possibility of foreigners and guest workers making up the difference.  Protests against “the slave law,” as the Hungarians now call it, began in December, but the government has not retreated.  The protests have continued, and a recent event brought approximately 10,000 demonstrators to Budapest’s Heros’ Square.  Many carried antiregime banners, but the media, which appears free but is under government control, did not broadcast images that included such messages.  The government may back down, and the protesters may return home, but it is possible that this issue is enough to overcome the momentum that keeps Hungarian society from rejecting Orbán and his party’s grip on power.

The Kinks and Clinks of Russia’s Hypersonic Missiles    7 January 2019

Vladimir Putin is touting Russia’s hypersonic missiles as invincible, but the Pentagon has deemed the technology unreliable.  Meanwhile, to protect secrets associated with the program, Putin has jailed some of the technology’s top developers as spies, despite the questionable evidence against them.  See https://www.thedailybeast.com/putin-claimed-his-hypersonic-missiles-were-invincible-then-he-jailed-the-developers

Russian Money for Le Pen’s Party    7 January 2019

In 2014, before her 2017 run for the French presidency, Marine Le Pen’s National Front arranged a loan of 94 million EUR with the First Czech-Russian Bank in Moscow, which had opened a branch in the Czech Republic.  News of the loan eventually became public and harmed Le Pen’s bid for the presidency.  The assets of the institution began to dissipate, and the Russian government closed it, along with many other banks that posed risks to the Russian economy.  Now, there is a court case in Russia about who owns the assets of the former bank: Aviazapchast, a Russian aviation firm that had purchased the bank’s assets from another owner, or the Russian Deposit Insurance Agency on behalf of the Russian government.  The public documents of the court case reveal that the Kremlin has no monolithic approach to using finances as a foreign policy tool and that military, political, business, and Russian maffia leaders are involved in such dealings.

Hungary Moved the Statue of Imre Nagy    2 January 2019

Hungary’s National Memorial Commission moved the statue of the Communist reformer Imre Nagy (1896-1958), which stood near the Parliament in Budapest, in order to replace it with a memorial to the victims of the Red Terror of 1919, when the short-lived Communist regime of Béla Kun (1886-1938) killed many of its opponents.  The regime of Admiral Miklós Horthy (1868-1957), which had succeeded the Kun regime and lasted almost until the end of the Second World War, first created a memorial to the Red Terror, and many see Orbán’s regime as trying to claim the history of the Horthy era.  Many Hungarians see the removal of the Communist reformer as another means of stifling any thoughts of resistance to Orbán and his Fidesz party.  Nagy’s statue now is to reside some distance from the Parliament.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/28/world/europe/hungary-statue-nagy.html; and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46704111.

History Major 101 from a Historian at 101    1 January 2019

Vaughn Davis Bornet is 101 and going strong.  He majored in history and applied his knowledge in the military, academia, and elsewhere.  He presents readers with how a history major prepares an individual to tackle all sorts of problem-solving tasks and that make the history major useful to all sorts of employers.  Associated with Bornet’s success, however, is a smattering of knowledge from other fields and walks of life.  See https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170747.

Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert    1 January 2019

Can’t afford the airline ticket to Vienna, Austria, for this year’s new year’s concert?  Relax at home and watch it on PBS stations at 9.00 pm EST (check local listings for times).  Hugh Bonneville, the host, will introduce the music, which are popular pieces, including the famous Radetzky March that entices the audience to clap to the music.  See http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2019-about/9076/.