4/2011 "What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"

Table of Contents for the Fourth Quarter of 2011


  1. 1 Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day Concert    31 December 2011
  2. 2 Shell Game?: Medvedev Removes Close Aid    27 December 2011
  3. 3 Russia Announces Deployment of New Missile    27 December 2011
  4. 4 Planned Protests in Russia Draw Tens of Thousands    24 December 2011
  5. 5 Photos of Havel’s Funeral     24 December 2011
  6. 6 Medvedev Proposed Election Reforms    23 December 2011
  7. 7 France vs. Turkey Regarding Genocide    23 December 2011
  8. 8 Tymoshenko’s Verdict Upheld    23 December 2011
  9. 9 The Funeral of Václav Havel    23 December 2011
  10. 10 Communists Forged Documents Regarding Wałęsa    22 December 2011
  11. 11 Russia: A Pact with the Devil?    22 December 2011
  12. 12 Scandal Hits German President    22 December 2011
  13. 13 Preparations for Havel’s Funeral    22 December 2011
  14. 14 Russian Convoy Gets Through to Serbs    22 December 2011
  15. 15 Balkan War Criminals    22 December 2011
  16. 16 Ukraine-EU Relations Hinging on Tymoshenko    22 December 2011
  17. 17 Václav Havel (5 October 1936-18 December 2011)    18 December 2011
  18. 18 Beer with the Midas Touch    17 December 2011
  19. 19 US-Russian Tensions    14 December 2011
  20. 20 Is There a Clegg in the Works?    13 December 2011
  21. 21 The Consequences of Protecting Britain’s Banking    12 December 2011
  22. 22 Background to Cameron’s Decision Regarding the EU    11 December 2011
  23. 23 Medvedev to Order Probe into Election Fraud    11 December 2011
  24. 24 Demonstrations in Russia    10 December 2011
  25. 25 Elections in Slovenia and Croatia    10 December 2011
  26. 26 A New Government in Belgium    10 December 2011
  27. 27 Other News    10 December 2011
  28. 28 Macedonia and Greece–What’s in a Name?    10 December 2011
  29. 29 Leka Zogu (1939-2011) of Albania    10 December 2011
  30. 30 Agreement (Almost) on Saving the Euro    10 December 2011
  31. 31 Croatia to Join the EU on 1 July 2013    10 December 2011
  32. 32 Germany Considers Banning Far Right Party    10 December 2011
  33. 33 Democracy Now! Interview of Former Greek Premier    10 December 2011
  34. 34 Elections in Russia    9 December 2011
  35. 35 Sixteen Historic Photographs of Pearl Harbor    6 November 2011
  36. 36 Stalin’s Daughter, Lana Peters, Has Died    30 November 2011
  37. 37 Carrot or Stick?: The Russian Radar at Kaliningrad    29 November 2011
  38. 38 The Last Prime Minister of Yugoslavia Has Died    29 November 2011
  39. 39 A Thanksgiving Bird for President Obama    26 November 2011
  40. 40 Human Traffickers Arrested in Serbia    23 November 2011
  41. 41 Bond, German Bond    23 November 2011
  42. 42 Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich    23 November 2011
  43. 43 Angry with the Top 1%?  Look at the Top 0.1%.    21 November 2011
  44. 44 Belgium–527 Days and Counting    21 November 2011
  45. 45 Nazi-Era Remains Found in Austria    21 November 2011
  46. 46 The Robust German Economy    15 November 2011
  47. 47 The New Greek Government    12 November 2011
  48. 48 Picture-Perfect Paris    12 November 2011
  49. 49 Balkan Countries Cooperate to End Refugee Crisis    7 November 2011
  50. 50 Commemoration of World War II Soviet Parade    7 November 2011
  51. 51 Papandreou Won Vote of Confidence    4 November 2011
  52. 52 Nationalists March in Moscow    4 November 2011
  53. 53 Livingstone’s 1871 Diary    4 November 2011
  54. 54 Fiftieth Commemoration of the Berlin Wall    4 November 2011
  55. 55 The Greek Crisis    3 November 2011
  56. 56 President-Elect in Kygyz Promises to Close US Base   2 November 2011
  57. 57 Fly Like an Eagle; Land Like a Crow    2 November 2011
  58. 58 King Sobieski Returned to Poland    1 November 2011
  59. 59 Bosnia Key to Palestine Vote in UN Security Council   31 October 2011
  60. 60 Obama-Nečas Meeting Concluded   28 October 2011
  61. 61 28 October 1918    28 October 2011
  62. 62 Roman Encampment Found on the Banks of the Lippe    28 October 2011
  63. 63 Czech Premier Nečas Meeting with Obama    27 October 2011
  64. 64 Bolshoi Theatre to Reopen    26 October 2011
  65. 65 Hitler’s Blindness Was Psychosomatic    26 October 2011
  66. 66 Elections in Switzerland and Bulgaria    23 October 2011
  67. 67 Jerzy Bielecki (1921-2011)    22 October 2011
  68. 68 George Washington’s Whiskey    22 October 2011
  69. 69 Did Hitler Organize the 1934 Austrian Putsch?    21 October 2011
  70. 70 News Items from Bulgaria, Russia, Lithuania, and Poland    21 October 2011
  71. 71 Berlin’s Festival of Lights    18 October 2011
  72. 72 Russia Denies Facility in Serbia Is Intended for Spying    17 October 2011
  73. 73 Government Stalemate is Catchy: The Case of Poland    17 October 2011
  74. 74 Two Perspectives on OWS    17 October 2011
  75. 75 Libeskind’s Reconstruction of Dresden’s Military Museum    14 October 2011
  76. 76 Nazi-Era Diary Published    14 October 2011
  77. 77 Slovaks Pass Measure to Strengthen EFSF    13 October 2011
  78. 78 Slovak Government Falls over EU Question    11 October 2011 (8.43 PM EDST)
  79. 79 Tymoshenko Sentenced to Seven Years    11 October 2011
  80. 80 Poland’s National Elections    11 October 2011
  81. 81 Anthropologists (and Who Else?) Unwelcome in Florida    11 October 2011
  82. 82 SaS Holds out in Slovakia    11 October 2011
  83. 83 Jiří Paroubek Establishes Political Party    10 October 2011
  84. 84 Live Stream: “Democracy and the Rule of Law”    10 October 2011
  85. 85 The Bridge of Slovak and Hungarian Friendship    10 October 2011
  86. 86 Klaus, Barroso, and Deeper European Integration     10 October 2011
  87. 87 Juan Cole on Steve Jobs    10 October 2011
  88. 88 Germans Launch New War Crimes Probes    5 October 2011
  89. 89 Links between War and Climate Change    5 October 2011
  90. 90 Simon Wiesenthal Center Displays Hitler Letter from 1919    5 October 2011
  91. 91 Václav Havel Turns 75    4 October 2011
  92. 92 How Bad Is Double Dipping?    3 October 2011

Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Day Concert    31 December 2011

The New Year's Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic has been a tradition since 1939 and is one of the most famous concerts in the world.  Tickets for the event are in such demand that the sponsors have instituted a lottery system  with registration occurring a year in advance.  Waltzes and other compositions from the Strauss family appear in all of the programs, and for years the performance has ended with the Radetzky March by the elder Johann Strauss.  In a display of gaiety uncommon for stayed concert goers, everyone claps to the chorus of the piece.

PBS will broadcast the concert live on Sunday, 1 January 2012.  Check local listings to verify broadcast times for individual markets, but the concert will begin at 2.30 PM Eastern Standard Time with a repeat broadcast performance at 7.30 that evening.  THIRTEEN in New York will broadcast the concert at 9.00 PM.  For more information about the event, see http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/from-vienna-the-new-year%E2%80%99s-celebration-2012/about-the-program/1219/.

Have a wonderful 2012!

Shell Game?: Medvedev Removes Close Aid    27 December 2011

President Medvedev removed one of his top aids, Vladislav Surkov, the individual credited with forming the United Russia party, creating its youth organization, Nashi, and tightening control over state television.  He also has a reputation of being a spin doctor.  Surkov now will be deputy prime minister for economic modernization and innovation, a position that is far less powerful.

Although in removing Surkov Medvedev seems to be placating protestors opposed to Prime Minister Putin and the fraud that occurred during the 4 December elections, such is not the case.  Surkov’s replacement is Vyacheslav Volodin, who is not only a key leader of the official in the United Russia party but also Putin’s the former chief of staff.  In short, the change in staff is a means of facilitating Putin’s return to the Kremlin.

See http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/spin-doctor-surkov-leaves-kremlin/450596.html.

Russia Announces Deployment of New Missile    27 December 2011

President Medvedev announced today that Russia has completed tests on its new Bulava ICBM that it will deploy on its new generation of nuclear submarines (bulava in Russian meas mace, a club-like weapon).  The missile is unique in that it can perform maneuvers in flight to dodge intercepting missiles.

For more, see http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20111227/170517515.html, which includes a test history of the Bulava and a description of its launch and flight, which also can be viewed at http://en.rian.ru/infographics/20110829/166277727.html.  See also the AP feed at http://news.yahoo.com/medvedev-test-much-heralded-missile-done-151134597.html.

Planned Protests in Russia Draw Tens of Thousands    24 December 2011

Protests against fraud in the 4 December State Duma elections have occurred on 24 December throughout Russia.  In some cities, there were only tens of demonstrators, but in Moscow there were tens of thousands, and some reported well over 100,000.  Despite a few arrests, there was no widespread violence.

The demonstration in Moscow drew liberals, nationalists, and Communists.  The speakers were varied: Boris Nemtsov, a politician who ran afoul of Putin’s supporters and has served time in jail for his protests; Alexei Navalny, a blogger and activist who first called Putin’s United Russia party the “party of crooks and thieves,” a phrase popular among protesters; Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister whom President Medvedev removed but who still maintains ties to Putin; Yury Shevchuk, leader of the rock group DDT who addressed the crowd by video; Grigory Chkhartishvili (pseudonym: Boris Akunin), a specialist in Japanese literature who became a popular novelist; and Garry Kasparov, the former chess campion.

The protesters doubt the sincerity of Medvedev’s plans for political changes and promise to continue the protests.  One question is whether the organizers will be able to sustain the movement to influence the March presidential elections, and another issue is whether the various prominent protesters will be able to coalesce to back a viable alternative candidate to Putin.

Similar demonstrations are taking place in Belarus, where protesters claim that President Lukashenko’s recent reelection was based on fraud.

See http://en.ria.ru/russia/20111224/170460135.html; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16324644; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/world/europe/tens-of-thousands-of-protesters-gather-in-moscow-russia.html; and http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2011-12-24/russia-opposition-protests/52202792/1.  For the Belarus protests, see http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/20/us-belarus-protest-idUSTRE7BJ0LF20111220.

Photos of Havel’s Funeral     24 December 2011

There is an excellent collection of photographs of Havel’s funeral at http://news.yahoo.com/photos/vaclav-havel-dies-at-75-1324221575-slideshow/.  A 13-part video of Havel’s funeral from ČT 1 is on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=f8JBwrJmp-Q.

Medvedev Proposed Election Reforms    23 December 2011

In his fourth and final state-of-the-nation address, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed changes in the Russian electoral system.  He wishes to restore elections for regional governors that Vladimir Putin had abolished when he was president.  Mr. Medvedev also hopes to ease the process of registering political parties, to require fewer signatures for those wishing to run for president, and to introduce proportional representation for the State Duma.  Another item on Mr. Medvedev’s agenda is to have serious talks with the West regarding missile defense should the West be open to such a discussion.

Many are skeptical about whether Medvedev is serious about his proposals, while others believe that he lacks the strength to implement them.  Few suspect that Mr. Medvedev would have outlined them without Mr. Putin’s approval.  In that case, the promised reforms may be a way to help defuse the tension regarding allegations of fraud in the 4 December parliamentary elections.

See the report in the New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/23/world/europe/dmitri-medvedev-urges-reforms-for-russia-in-address.html.  The UPI report is at http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/12/22/Medvedev-promises-comprehensive-reform/UPI-83071324567215/.

France vs. Turkey Regarding Genocide    23 December 2011

Recently the French passed a law making it illegal to deny that the Turkish death of up to 1.5 million Armenians after the First World War was genocide.  The Turks now have responded by labeling as genocide the French killings of Algerians after the Second World War.  At the root of the spat between the two countries is not only the issue of the Armenian question but also the pending admission of Turkey into the European Union.  France and Turkey also are important trade partners and are both in NATO.

The AP feed is at http://news.yahoo.com/turkey-slams-france-over-genocide-debate-114251561.html.

Tymoshenko’s Verdict Upheld    23 December 2011

An appeals court in Kiev upheld the seven-year sentence of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine, on charges that she improperly negotiated an energy deal with Russia.  Tymoshenko is boycotting the Ukraine justice system, which she maintains is under the control of President Viktor Yanukovych, and has turned to the European Court of Human Rights.

Read the AP news feed at http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_UKRAINE_TYMOSHENKO?SITE=VTBRA&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT.

The Funeral of Václav Havel    23 December 2011

The historic focal point of demonstrations in Prague, Václvaské náměstí, or Wenceslas Square, was where the Czech people expressed their sorrow at the loss of the playwright, former dissident, and first president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, Václav Havel.  On the National Museum was a large portrait of Havel, while candles and pictures of Havel adorned the base of the statue of St. Václav. 

On 21 December, Havel’s remains were taken from the former St. Ann Church in the Old Town of Prague, where he had hosted Forum 2000, to the Castle in a solemn procession that drew thousands of participants (see the report on this web site here).  At the Castle, his remains were lying in state in Vladislav Hall, where thousands came to pay their respects and leave flowers.

This morning, on 23 December, Havel’s remains were transferred from Vladislav Hall to St. Vít Cathedral.  Gradually, visitors entered the cathedral, including official delegations from 41 countries.  Former President Clinton, current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright represented the United States.  President Sarkozy from France, Prime Minister David Cameron from Britain, and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso were in attendance.  The delegation from Slovakia included President Gašparovič, Prime Minister Radičová, and former President Rudolf Schuster.  Lech Wałęsa came from Poland, and the Russian representative was Human Rights Commissioner (Ombudsman) Vladimir Lukin.  The Dalai Lama, who had visited Havel shortly before Havel’s death, sent his special ambassador.  Unofficial visitors included the American singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega and the American opera singer Renée Fleming.

The funeral service began at 12.00 noon with a minute of silence, aside from the bells that rang at St. Vít Cathedral and throughout the republic.  Everything in the Czech Republic stopped.  Trams halted, and their passengers rose out of respect to Havel.  Slovakia also observed a minute of silence, and flags there few at half mast.  Czech Archbishop Dominik Duka presided over a Roman Catholic funeral mass.  The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Cathedral Choir performed Antonín Dvořák’s Requiem to accompany the mass.  A few individuals paid tribute to Havel during the ceremony, including Archbishop Duka, Czech President Václav Klaus, Madeleine Albright, and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, after whose remarks the crowd outside the cathedral and inside began to applaud.

As the body of Havel left the Cathedral, there was a salute of 21 canons that could be heard throughout the city of Prague.  Havel was taken to the Strašnice Crematorium for a private cremation ceremony, but officials opened one of the gates, and hundreds of people crowded around the building.  During the service there, the famous Czech rock group Plastic People of the Universe played Perfect Day by Lou Reed.  The service concluded at approximately 5.30 PM, Prague time.

This evening at Lucerna Palace, a building which Havel’s father helped to construct, there is a concert in Havel’s honor.  Until 5 January 2012, the post office at the Castle will cancel postage stamps with a special stamp in remembrance of Havel, a tradition that Czechoslovakia observed in the past, including after the death of Tomáš G. Masaryk.

From the Pen of Václav Havel
I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.
If a handful of friends and I were able to bang our heads against the wall for years by speaking the truth about Communist totalitarianism while surrounded by an ocean of apathy, there is no reason why I shouldn't go on banging my head against the wall by speaking ad nauseam, despite condescending smiles, about responsibility and morality in the face of our present social marasmus.

Information for this entry came from http://www.ceskatelevize.cz:8003/ct24/domaci/158022-online-statni-hymna-a-salvy-z-petrina-zakoncily-havluv-statni-pohreb/; http://zpravy.ihned.cz/cesko/c1-54277860-ostatky-vaclava-havla-prenesli-vojaci-do-katedraly-sv-vita; and contacts in Prague.  Click here for a report about Havel's death on this web site.  NPR report of Havel’s funeral is at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/12/23/144177849/vaclav-havel-hero-of-the-velvet-revolution-laid-to-rest?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111223.

Communists Forged Documents Regarding Wałęsa    22 December 2011

In order to thwart Lech Wałęsa’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, the Communist regime falsified documents proving that Wałęsa had cooperated with the Polish secret police.  The National Remembrance Institute in Poland has been conducting investigations not only regarding Wałęsa but also about other abuses by the Communist regime.

See the AP feed at http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2011/12/communists-fabricated-documents-against-walesa/2026516.

Russia: A Pact with the Devil?    22 December 2011

The 1997 film Wag the Dog may have been fiction, but politicians long had known the value of using crises to prop up sagging support.  The question for mature democracies as well as developing democracies remains how much time voters will need before they understand that they are being manipulated.

The Russian government has announced plans for the 2015 release of a 100-ton ballistic missile dubbed Satan.  It completed testing of a short-range interceptor missile.  Finally, it also announced the development of a new generation of jet fighters to be in service by 2025 that include stealth technology.

With a somewhat conflicting message, the Russian defense minister, Anatoly Serdiukov, stated that Russia will not upset the current strategic balance.

See http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/envoy/moscow-eyeing-u-missile-defense-plans-announces-100-194904097.html; http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/22/62704394.html; and http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/16/62322292.html.

Scandal Hits German President    22 December 2011

The German president, Christian Wulff, admitted that he received a personal loan from the wife of a German business man with whom he had claimed he had no business dealings.  He now is under fire for having been less than honest, but there is no intent to prosecute him.

Read more at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=144127230.

Preparations for Havel’s Funeral    22 December 2011

The former Czech president, Václav Havel, will be laid to rest this Friday, 23 December.  Six black Czech Kladruber horses pulled the coffin with his remains to the Hrad on the same caisson that carried the body of Tomáš G. Masaryk (1850-1937), the first president of the Czechoslovakia.  Havel will be laid to rest in the cemetery in Vinohrady section of Prague with his first wife and parents.

News about Havel’s death and funeral from Radio Prague are at http://www.radio.cz/en/news#2 and http://www.radio.cz/en/static/vaclav-havel-1936-2011/.  See also the AP release at http://news.yahoo.com/vaclav-havels-coffin-transported-prague-castle-074744881.html.  A slide show about Havel is at http://news.yahoo.com/photos/vaclav-havel-dies-at-75-1324221575-slideshow/;_ylt=AgkPzizPrNXcsffLZDcYZFDyWed_;_ylu=X3oDMTRra2l1MTV0BG1pdANBcnRpY2xlIFJlbGF0ZWQgQ2Fyb3VzZWwEcGtnAzQ4ZGEyZmY4LTgxNmQtM2U2My1hM2EzLTRhOTgwZTg2YWUwNQRwb3MDMQRzZWMDTWVkaWFBcnRpY2xlUmVsYXRlZENhcm91c2VsBHZlcgNmMTAxODAxMC0yYmMzLTExZTEtYjNlZi1lM2Y0MTcxNGQ2ZjI-;_ylg=X3oDMTM1anB1Mms5BGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDMjE0NzZiNTEtYzJmMy0zOWQ1LThlMjUtNzNkYzExNGZmNDBkBHBzdGNhdAN3b3JsZHxldXJvcGUEcHQDc3RvcnlwYWdlBHRlc3QD;_ylv=3.

Havel’s death has prompted observers of Central Europe to look back to the events of 1989 and the development of democracy in the region since the end of Communist rule.  An article by Vanessa Gera for AP considers the successes of the Czech Republic and Poland in light of the challenges to democracy in Latvia and Hungary.  See http://www.salon.com/2011/12/22/with_havels_death_his_legacy_faces_new_threats/.

Russian Convoy Gets Through to Serbs    22 December 2011

On 16 December, the Russian convoy carrying supplies to isolated Serbs in Kosovo managed to reach its destination after an agreement between EU peace keepers and the Russians.  News about the stalemate is on this web site here.

See more at http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/russian-aid-convoy-crosses-kosovo-15172738#.TvNvbFbYGhM.

Balkan War Criminals    22 December 2011

In the news are war criminals from two historic conflicts.  First, authorities in Bosnia have captured Monika Ilić, who is wanted for crimes against non-Serbs during the Bosnian War.  Her husband, Goran Jelisić, a former torturer at a concentration camp, is serving a 40-year sentence for war crimes.  The AP release on Ilić is at http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_BOSNIA_WAR_CRIMES?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-12-21-09-42-59.

The case of the second war criminal dates from the Second World War.  A US district judge in Ohio has denied John Demjanjuk American citizenship based on the fact that Demmjanjuk had lied about his activities during the Second World War.  A German court convicted Dejmanjuk, who is a 91-year-old retired auto worker from Ohio, of war crimes for his actions at the Sobibor Concentration Camp.  Dejmanjuk has been sentenced to five years in prison but has spent most of his time since his conviction in hospital.  See the article on this web site referring to Dejmanjuk as well as http://news.yahoo.com/ohio-judge-denies-nazi-war-convict-us-citizenship-235251265.html.

Ukraine-EU Relations Hinging on Tymoshenko    22 December 2011

The EU and Ukraine signed an Association Agreement, but its implementation is hinging on the release of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, whom the EU has maintained was tried and imprisoned for political reasons.  For Ukraine, much rests on the agreement.  Free trade is the most attractive component, but the EU is helping Ukraine in other ways, including visa-free short-term travel to the EU and modernization in the area of transportation.  The EU’s strategy to tackling the problem of Ms. Tymoshenko’s imprisonment is typical of its carrot-as-opposed-to-stick approach to international problems that has been more successful than threats and retaliations.  The question is whether it will influence President Yanukovych.

For an earlier post on Ms. Tymoshenko on this web site, click here.  For information on the Association Agreement, check the European Union web site at http://eeas.europa.eu/ukraine/index_en.htm.

Václav Havel (5 October 1936-18 December 2011)    18 December 2011

Former Czech president, playwright, and dissident, Václav Havel, died on 18 December 2011.  He supported the Prague Spring of 1968, remained in Czechoslovakia afterward as a playwright, essayist, and dissenter, and was one of the original signers of Charter 77 in 1977 that condemned the Communist regime.  He played a prominent role in the negotiations that ended Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and became that country’s president.  He opposed the breakup of Czechoslovakia and resigned the presidency in July 1992 because he refused to preside over the dissolution of the country.  Upon the creation of the Czech Republic, he again was elected president and from 1993 to 2003 served two terms in office.  In recent years, Havel devoted his energies to a number of issues, especially human rights, and hosted an annual conference titled Forum 2000.

Havel had suffered from cancer and a number of other ailments.  Recently, he had contracted a virus that weakened him.  Havel became frail and planned on spending the weeks before Christmas at his home outside of Prague.  Just days ago, the Dalai Lama came to the Czech Republic on Havel’s invitation and stated that Havel’s “condition is quite weak so . . . I recommended some Tibetan method.”  The Dalai Lama continued: “I told him now I'm acting like a Tibetan physician to my long-time friend.”  Havel at the time was in a wheel chair.  The Dalai Lama’s visit was not only a spiritual and physical healing but a farewell.  Havel died at his summer home in the presence of his second wife, Dagmar, and a nun who had been assisting him.

Havel leaves behind a legacy of activism and determination in the face of overwhelming odds.  Despite his success in helping to end totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia and his years as president, he remained humble.  When accepting the Sonning Prize in 1991, Havel said: “Jsa u moci, jsem si permanentně podezřelý”–“Being in power, I am permanently suspicious of myself.”

Links reporting Havel’s death are at:

Pictures of the Dalai Lama with Havel on 10 December 2011 are on the Dalai Lama's web site at http://www.dalailama.com/gallery/album/0/215.

Havel’s quotation is at http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0CFIQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Farchive.vaclavhavel-library.org%2Fkvh_search%2FviewCast.jsp%3Fid%3D397%26docid%3D940&ei=nPrtTu3pFrTr0QHTw4jECQ&usg=AFQjCNEIlDyqB-3Rjr6mBepm1EBX_3EXCA.

Quotations from European leaders about Havel's death are at http://news.yahoo.com/quotes-death-vaclav-havel-165606850.html.

At the time this entry was posted, Havel’s web site still contained no information about his death.  See the recent post about Havel on this web site here.

PHOTO: Havel on 22 March 2011 at http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/18/world/europe/czech-republic-vaclav-havel-obit/?hpt=hp_t3.

Beer with the Midas Touch    17 December 2011

By far the largest per capita beer-drinking nation in the world, the Czechs, have taken beer making to new heights.  A brewer in Ostrava, Marek Pietoň, has created a beer that contains 24 carat gold.  Casting aside the notion of flavoring beers, Pietoň took his brew to the pinnacle of decadence by adding 0.018 grams of gold to a 0.7 liter bottle of beer.  He places an extremely thin gold foil of 8cm2 in the bottle, and the filling process tears the gold into small flakes.  When poured, the shimmering metal gives the beer what Pietoň described as a “unique gold effect.”  He added: “It is said that beer is our liquid gold.  It also is said that hops are green gold.  That’s why it occurred to me to make a gold beer.”  Pietoň named the brew 24K Gold Faust, explaining that “the name evokes medieval alchemy, which revolved around gold a great deal.  Furthermore, the name contains the letters au, which is the chemical symbol for gold.”  He has produced only 60 bottles but expects to increase the number in the future to supply a niche market.  Pietoň has not revealed the price for a bottle of 24K Gold Faust, but it appears that one will have to sell one’s soul to purchase it.

See the beer at http://www.novinky.cz/ekonomika/253853-ostravsky-sladek-uz-nevi-co-by-reze-pivo-24karatovym-zlatem.html?ref=ostatni-clanky.

Photo: FOTO: Jaroslav Ožana, ČTK

US-Russian Tensions    14 December 2011

In a posting on 9 December 2011, I indicated that the United States must be cautious in its relations with Russia, especially given the contentious elections in Russia.  An excellent background report to US-Russian difficulties is at http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20111212-russias-plan-disrupt-us-european-relations.

There also is news that the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) that functions under the auspices of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) stopped a Russian convoy with humanitarian for Serbs in Kosovo.  The Russians are claiming that the EULEX has no reason to hold up its delivery.  EULEX has presented alternatives for the convoy, but the Russians have found none acceptable.  The details are at http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics-article.php?yyyy=2011&mm=12&dd=13&nav_id=77768.  The brief Voice of Russia news release on the incident is at http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/14/62212169.html.  Note that the AP report at http://news.yahoo.com/russian-aid-convoy-stuck-serbia-kosovo-border-114633965.html appears to have identified mistakenly the troops stopping the convoy as being from the United States.  All other reports indicate that they are from the European Union.

Is There a Clegg in the Works?    13 December 2011

Perhaps the leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, may have anticipated the tension between the ruling Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  He even may have excited it with his comments about his willingness to cooperate with the Liberal Democrats to avoid Britain’s isolation during a rewriting of the European Union treaty with respect to national debt.  The signs were quite obvious when, on Monday, 12 December 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron presented his rationale on for rejecting the proposal to have Britain join with the other 26 Member States of the EU to place stringent measures on national debt.  Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party’s coalition partner, was noticably absent during Mr. Cameron’s speech in Commons.  Furthermore, Consrevative backbenchers aimed their criticisms at the Liberal Democrats.  While none of this is appears to point to the immediate fall of the government, it certainly could be one strike on the chissel that could break the Conservative-Lib Dem monolith along the cleavage of EU involvement.

For details about Cameron’s speech, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/dec/12/liberal-democrats-goaded-tory-europe?newsfeed=true.  Also see the entries of 12 December 2011 and 11 December 2011 on this web page.

The Consequences of Protecting Britain’s Banking    12 December 2011

Cameron appeared willing to agree to stricter fiscal regulation in the EU, but he demanded that British financial institutions to be exempt from certain new EU regulations.  In reality, no EU state receives special treatment (some temporary concessions may occur when states enter the EU), so the Member States were unwilling to concede.  While Europeans expected the leaders of the 17 members of the Eurozone to reach an agreement regarding fiscal discipline, all the leaders surprisingly reached unanimity–except for Britain.  Cameron stood firm, even as French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to change the basic EU treaty to make fiscal restraint mandatory for all member states.  His preference was to have the limits apply only to the Eurozone.  In the end, Cameron was isolated during the remainder of the talks, and the chill between Cameron and Sarkozy was apparent.  As a result of Cameron, Britain is out of step with its most important economic partner.

Last week’s talks made it clear that the Conservatives in Britain desire to keep the EU at bay.  They were more important because 26 out of 27 EU leaders demonstrated their commitment not only to bolstering the Euro and preventing another debt crisis but also to strengthening Europe as a whole.  The leaders still must implement their agreement, and three–Czech Republic, Hungary, and Sweden–must have their legislatures approve the plan, but their display of support for European unity is another indicator that the idea of Europe is sound.  Certainly, the markets will agree.  The only losers are Britain, at least for now, and the Eurosceptics.

See the excellent Reuters report at http://news.yahoo.com/insight-day-europe-lost-patience-britain-002610685.html.  See the entry immediately below for more information on last week’s talks.

Background to Cameron’s Decision Regarding the EU    11 December 2011

Liberal Democratic leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is unhappy with David Cameron’s decision not to back a plan for more fiscal unity in the European Union that the 26 other approved on 10 December (see the report on this web site here).  Clegg indicated that not only were the Germans and French unwilling to compromise to meet Cameron’s position but that some in the Conservative party have an “outright antagonism to all things European.”  Labour party leader Ed Miliband remarked that “the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party has effectively taken over and that isn't good for the national interest.”  Perhaps detecting a means of prying loose the government coalition, Miliband added: “What I say to Liberal Democrats and others is that we will work with anybody who thinks this position can not stand. We must find a better way forward for Britain.”

Read more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16129004.

Medvedev to Order Probe into Election Fraud    11 December 2011

Responding to a wave of protests in Russia regarding reports of fraud in the 4 December elections, President Dmitry Medvedev stated on his Facebook page that he would have the allegations investigated.  His post brought about 2,000 comments within the hour, most of them negative, according to reports.  Most likely, any investigation Medvedev orders will be complete within the next two weeks in order to influence the next scheduled mass demonstration of 24 December.

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9990400 and http://www.salon.com/2011/12/11/medvedev_orders_probe_into_reported_election_fraud/.

Demonstrations in Russia    10 December 2011

The protests in Russia against the victory of United Russia in the 4 December elections to the State Duma.  With about 50 protests throughout Russia, there were only approximately 100 arrests, which is significantly less than the number over the past few days.  That is remarkable because the crowd in Moscow was to be only 30,000 strong, but estimates on attendance range from 40,000 to 100,000.  The police exhibited unusually remarkable constraint.  Grigory A. Yavlinsky, one of the founders of the liberal Yabloko party, which did not win a seat in the State Duma, remarked that “We will fight to the end, to the cancellation of this shameful, false election.  We are launching a campaign to drive Putin from power.”  The protestors vow to return, but two opposition leaders, Vladimir Milov, a former minister of energy, and Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, an organization which studies the abuses of totalitarianism and supports human rights, stated that the focus must be on the March presidential elections (see the 9 December 2011 entry on this web site).  The questions that remain are whether the opposition can unite and if will find a strong candidate to challenge Putin.

See http://www.npr.org/2011/12/10/143484423/russians-hold-day-of-protests-against-election-fraud?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111210 and http://www.salon.com/2011/12/10/russias_stunning_protests_end_with_hint_of_change/.

Elections in Slovenia and Croatia    10 December 2011

Although the elections in Russia have taken the spotlight, there also were elections on 4 December in Croatia and Slovenia.  In Croatia, the party in power, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) lost the election because of the poorly performing economy, with its high unemployment, and a legacy of corruption, especially because of the former HDZ prime minister, Ivo Sanader (born 1953, prime minister 2003-2009), who is on trial.  The victor is the Kukuriku Coalition–the Cock-a-doodle-doo Coalition–of four parties, the largest of which is the Social Democratic party.  The coalition won 81 seats in the 151-member Croatian Assembly, with the Social Democrats having 61 seats and the Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats, a left-liberal party, having 13 seats.  The three-party HDZ coalition, of which the largest party is the HDZ, won 47 seats.  Since no one party won 77 seats, the absolute majority, the party leaders now are a negotiating the details of a coalition government, but the prime minister is expected to be the leader of the Social Democrats, Zoran Milanović (born 1966).

While the difficulties of HDZ in Croatia were apparent, the victor of Slovenia’s election was unanticipated.  The Slovenian Democrats (SDS) were expected to win the election and unseat the Social Democrats party (SD) of Borut Pahor.  Instead, the victor was the center-left party Positive Slovenia (LZJ-PS) of Zoran Janković (born 1953).  From 1995 to 2005, Janković was the chairman of Slovenia’s largest retailer, Mercator, and was twice mayor of Ljubljana.  The victory was not decisive: Positive Slovenia won 28 seats in the 90-member National Assembly, while the Slovenian Democrats won 26 seats, and the Social Democrats 10 won seats.  Four other parties also entered the legislature.  Talks to create a coalition are underway, and the new government will have to tackle high debt and unemployment.

On Croatia, see http://news.yahoo.com/exit-poll-opposition-leads-croatian-vote-181037590.html and http://news.yahoo.com/opposition-wins-croatian-vote-over-incumbent-230853768.html.  On Slovenia, see http://news.yahoo.com/conservatives-expected-win-slovenia-vote-093822283.html, http://news.yahoo.com/slovene-center-left-party-surprise-election-victor-230503028.html, and http://www.rtvslo.si/strani/glasovi-po-listah-na-ravni-drzave/4046.

A New Government in Belgium    10 December 2011

After 541 days, the Belgians have a government.  As of 6 December 2011, Elio Di Rupo (born 1951), who heads the Socialist party, became prime minister after he was able to broker a deal with six other parties.  Part of the agreement is to split the BHV district, that is, Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, where both French and Dutch are spoken.  Di Rupo is a bit controversial with Dutch speakers, not because he is a homosexual but because his Dutch is quite poor.  The European financial crisis and the downgrading of Belgium’s credit rating may have helped Di Rupo’s efforts to solve the governmental crisis, which threatened to split the country.  Nevertheless, he was relentless in his efforts to arrive at a settlement since the summer of 2010, when the king appointed him Préformateur, that is, the individual who is to explore the possibilities of forming a new government, and then in the summer of 2011, when Di Rupo became Formateur, the person charged with forming a government.

Earlier reports about the government crisis in Belgium on this web site are dated 21 November 2011 and 10 April 2011.

For more information, see http://news.yahoo.com/belgiums-government-sworn-541-days-184355045.html and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16042750.  Biographical sketches of Di Rupo are at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15983739 and http://www.premier.be/en/biographie.

Other News    10 December 2011

Plenty of news items have come through over the past few days, but preparations for the semester’s end have prevented me from making entries gradually.  I have managed to catch up with most of them, but there are a few general interest stories for which no commentary is necessary:

Jonathan Zimmerman, a historian at New York University, has written a piece that assesses Newt Gingrich’s work as a historian at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-oped-1201-history-20111201,0,6031584.story.

A NPR reporter, David Greene, is traveling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  His reports are now tweets, but he will begin broadcasting traditional reports in January 2012 on NPR once he returns to Washington, DC.  The first installment is at http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2011/12/02/143016643/russia-by-rail-setting-off-from-moscow?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111202.

Macedonia and Greece–What’s in a Name?    10 December 2011

On 5 December 2011, the World Court ruled that Greece should not have blocked Macedonia’s entry into NATO in 2008 because of Macedonia’s name.  The Greek-Macedonian name dispute has been in the news since 1991, when the country broke with Yugoslavia.  The Greeks claim that the Macedonians are using a name from the Greek past when there are now few Greeks in the country and that the name could inspire some to claim Greek territory.  The issue seemed to be resolved in 1993 when Macedonia entered the United Nations with the cumbersome name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), but the dispute has continued.  Macedonia will not be entering NATO quickly, however, because the name remains a bone of contention between the two countries.

See http://news.yahoo.com/world-court-rules-against-greece-macedonia-case-101454369.html.

Leka Zogu (1939-2011) of Albania    10 December 2011

On 30 November, Leka Zogu, the crown prince of Albania, died in a Tirana hospital.  Two days after his birth on 5 April 1939, he fled with his family into exile as Italian troops took over the country.  Although Albania became a republic, Leka’s father, Zog I (1895-1961, reigned 1928-1939), continued to claim the throne, as did Leka after his father’s death.  He returned to Albania in 1993 and 1997, but he fled when a referendum on reinstating the monarchy failed and violence erupted.  In 2003 Leka again returned to Albania, after the government issued him a pardon for his sentence in absentia for sedition.  The current claimant of the Albanian throne is Leka’s son, also Leka (born 1982), who is employed in the Albanian Ministry of the Interior.

A BBC report is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16021010.

Agreement (Almost) on Saving the Euro    10 December 2011

Except for Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK, all the members of the EU signed on to a plan to bring more fiscal unity to the EU.  It would call for each country to amend its constitution to make balanced budgets a requirement, submit budgets for approval to the EU, and accept sanctions if a country has more than a 0.5 percent deficit, unless there is an economic downturn, when the plan would accept a 3 percent deficit.  Mr. Cameron is concerned that the requirements would interfere too much in the financial independence of the UK and could jeopardize his country’s financial industry.  Talks on the proposed changes will continue, and the representatives of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Sweden stated that their legislatures would have to approve the plan.

See http://www.npr.org/2011/12/08/143417692/official-new-euro-accord-wont-include-full-eu?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111209 and http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/12/09/143440035/europe-redux?ps=rs.  For reasons why European unity is important for America, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/04/why-america-should-care-about-the-collapse-of-european-unity.html.

Croatia to Join the EU on 1 July 2013    10 December 2011

On 9 December 2011, the EU and Croatia signed a treaty  of accession that enables Croatia to join the EU on 1 July 2013 as the 28th Member State.  Croatia first applied for EU membership in 2003 and in 2005 began the negotiation process to enter the EU.  The EU delayed the negotiations because Croatia was not energetic enough in capturing General Ante Gotovina (born 1955), who was wanted for war crimes in connection with the Yugoslav wars and in 2005 was captured.  In early 2012, Croatia will hold a referendum on admission to the EU.  Part of the delay in bringing Croatia into the EU were border difficulties with Italy, which were resolved in 2006, and an ongoing border dispute with Slovenia, which is in international arbitration.  See http://europa.eu/news/external-relations/2011/03/20110302_en.htm.

Germany Considers Banning Far Right Party    10 December 2011

The Ministry of the Interior in Germany is assembling evidence to present to the Constitutional Court to ban the National Democratic party (NPD).  At issue are the links between the NDP and terrorism, particularly the so-called Zwickau terrorist cell, which is responsible for robberies as well as killings of Turkish immigrants.  The NPD was established in 1964, but its pedigree goes back to the National Socialist party.  It is an ultranationalist movement that is anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-democratic.  It opposes the EU and openly claims that Germany’s borders should be extended, particularly to the east.  The English pages of the party’s web site open with clear statements from the party’s former leader, Udo Voigt, about the NPD’s beliefs:

the enemies of the world's peoples, these enemies including capitalism, globalism, and even Islam, operate on an international level. Isolated individual peoples have barely a chance against the power of the one-world strategists. It is high time that nationalist forces of free peoples around the world link up with one another and join forces. More than ever the peoples of the world recognize that they have a critical question before them which they must answer, whether they want to live in a “multi-cultural conglomerate” or in individual and culturally unique countries.

The Constitutional Court rejected an attempt in 2003 to ban the party, but prosecutors this time are hoping that the link to terrorism will seal the fate of the NPD.

See http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,802014,00.html and http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,801312,00.html.  For other articles related to the NPD, see http://www.spiegel.de/international/topic/national_democratic_party_of_germany/.  The NPD’s English web site is at http://www.enpd.de/.

Democracy Now! Interview of Former Greek Premier    10 December 2011

On 9 December Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed the former social democratic  prime minister of Greece, George Papandreou, whose government failed at the height of the Greek bailout crisis.  The interview occurred as he was attending the UN climate change summit in Durban, South Africa.  Papandreou spoke of his accomplishments as prime minister, his support of certain demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and his belief that global warming is a challenge not only to the environment and economy but also to every country’s security.  A transcript of the interview is at http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/9/exclusive_ex_greek_pm_george_papandreou.

Elections in Russia    9 December 2011

On 4 December 2011, Russia had parliamentary elections, and voters gave the party of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, United Russia, a tactical defeat.  The Central Election Commission declared that United Russia received approximately 49.3 percent of the vote (1).  United Russia will have 238 seats out of 450 in the State Duma, a loss of 77 seats that still gives United Russia a majority of 53 percent of the seats.  The Communist party will have 92 seats.  A Just Russia, which essentially is a socialist party that opposes Putin but favors some of the reforms of Medvedev, will have 64 seats.  Finally, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) will have 56 seats.  Those disenchanted with United Russia gave their votes to the parties on the extremes.  The Communist party jumped from 11.6 percent of the vote in 2007 to 19.2 percent.  LDPR moved from 8.1 percent to 11.7 percent of the vote.  The only party that is arguably close to the center, A Just Russia, went from 7.7 percent of the vote in 2007 to 13.2 percent.  Yabloko, the party that identifies most with the liberal Western democratic tradition, also gained, jumping from 1.6 to 3.4 percent of the vote, but the party did not bridge the 7 percent threshold necessary to gain a seat in the State Duma (2).  While having respectable showings in the elections in the 1990s, Yabloko lost its place in the Duma after Putin came to power and faced various forms of intimidation.  It is not surprising, therefore, that with no respectable opposition party at the center, voters who were discontent with United Russia looked to the far right and left.

There were indications that Putin and Medvedev’s party was losing popularity before the elections, and exit polls showed that United Russia was in trouble.  As the balloting took place, there were reports of election fraud designed to secure a majority for United Russia, including ballot box stuffing and the distribution of free food for votes.  The web site of Golos, an independent election monitor, was hacked before and during the election, but it was able to send out observers.  Golos is being accused of taking funds from the US Department of State based on leaked e-mails (3).

Putin has taken the election results in stride, commenting that “yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable. . . . They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country.”  He viewed his majority as stable (4).

Even in established Western democracies, there are voting irregularities and stolen elections, but the perception of widespread fraud in the case of Russia has led noted individuals to issue statements.  A spokesman of the former Soviet president, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, told the BBC that “Gorbachev is very concerned about how the situation in Russia is developing” and that the “people do not believe that the will of the people is reflected in the results” (5).  While visiting Vilnius, Lithuania, on 6 December, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stated that “Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation” (6).  This and similar statements from Clinton prompted Putin to observe: “We have information that sometimes opposition rallies in Russia are incited by certain political forces from abroad.  Recently, US State Secretary Hilary Clinton called the parliamentary elections in Russia ‘unfair and unjust.’  Some opposition leaders took it as a signal for rallies.  We have information that the US State Department actively supported them” (7).  Given the tense relations between the United States and Russia over the NATO radar shield in Europe and the new Russian radar shield in Kaliningrad, the statements of Clinton and Putin at first glance appear to be heightening the tension between the two countries.  Nevertheless, politics in the US demands that Washington not ignore election fraud anywhere, and Putin is savvy enough to understand that.  Still, he must respond.  This sort of critical exchange can occur in relations between states, but the US must be cautious about not giving the perception that it truly is interfering in Russian affairs.  The tenor of a Voice of America report of 10 December on the protests appears to approach that line (8).  In reality, while election fraud likely occurred, those opposed to United Russia may perceive it to be more extensive than it actually is.  The observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for example, claimed that the elections were fair, despite the number of complaints he had received, which he claimed were typical for a country as vast as Russia (9).

The day after the elections, between 5,000 and 10,000 protesters, depending on the source, took to the streets in Moscow to demonstrate against the results, and 300 faced arrest.  They represented various groups, including the Communists (10).  Nevertheless, the official approach of the Communist party is that it will not protest the election on the streets and instead will work in the courts and with the ultranationalist LDPR in the Duma (11).  As of 9 December, 600 protestors have been arrested in Moscow and 550 in St. Petersburg for not having the proper permits for demonstrating (12).  On Saturday, 10 December, a massive protest is scheduled to take place.  A total of 30,000 protestors are permitted to attend, but the organizers expect double that number.  The Ministry of Interior has at least 50,000 police ready to maintain order (13).

Much hinges on the 10 December protests.  Should they be relatively peaceful, most likely the next stage of the political struggle in Russia will take place on 4 March 2012, when Russians return to the polls to elect a president.  Putin is running to replace Medvedev.  Should the protests on Saturday turn violent, political tension throughout Russia most likely will mount to dangerous levels.  An embattled Putin could strengthen his position by turning to nationalism and play on the underlying suspicion of the West in many segments of the population.  Such a scenario would not only serve to cool US-Russian relations further but could increase the chances that the two countries would begin strengthening their militaries.

1. For the Central Election Commission statement, see http://en.rian.ru/society/20111209/169521668.html.

2. For a graphic presentation of the Duma seats, see http://en.rian.ru/infographics/20111206/169397626.html.  An interactive map displaying the elections results is at http://en.rian.ru/infographics/20111208/169491066.html.

3. See http://news.yahoo.com/russias-ruling-party-wary-nation-votes-000103984.html.  The English version of the Golos web site is at http://golos.org/news/4370.  The US Department of State press release regarding the harassment of Golos before the election is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/02/statement-nsc-spokesman-tommy-vietor-russian-government-harassment-golos.  On the leaked e-mails, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/09/61921669.html.

4. On Putin’s comments, see http://news.yahoo.com/russias-putin-less-party-support-inevitable-115230926.html.

5. On Gorbachev, see http://www.dailybbcnews.com/gorbachev-calls-for-new-russian-elections.html.

6. Clinton’s statement is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/hillary-clinton-russia-elections_n_1130992.html.

7. Putin’s comments are at http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/08/61869823.html.

8. The VOA article is at http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Moscow-Braces-for-Anti-Putin-Rally-135313948.html.

9. See http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/09/61935445.html.

10. Information on the protests on 5 December are at http://news.yahoo.com/protesters-accuse-putins-party-rigging-vote-202448688.html.

11. The position of the Communists is at http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/05/61399728.html.

12. On the protests, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/12/08/61869823.html.

13. On Saturday’s protest, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/8947103/Russia-protests-tens-of-thousands-expected-in-Moscow.html.

Sixteen Historic Photographs of Pearl Harbor    6 November 2011

In commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Reuters has prepared a number of historic photographs, some captured from the Japanese, of the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  They can be viewed at http://news.yahoo.com/photos/70th-anniversary-of-pearl-harbor-1323186385-slideshow/sailors-motor-launch-rush-rescue-survivor-water-alongside-photo-150105594.html.  For photographs from Life, see http://news.yahoo.com/photos/rare-unseen-photos-aftermath-of-pearl-harbor-1323195947-slideshow/.  An excellent article on the commemoration from NPR with additional links is at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/12/07/143258341/pearl-harbor-attacks-70th-anniversary-memories-moment-of-silence?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111207.

Stalin’s Daughter, Lana Peters, Has Died    30 November 2011

On 22 November 2011, Lana Peters, born Svetlana I. Alliluyeva in 1926, died of cancer in Wisconsin.  Her mother, Nadezhda S. Alliluyeva (1901-1932), committed suicide, and Peters had a close relationship with her father, Joseph V. Stalin (1878-1953) until the Soviet leader’s last years.  Stalin had her first love sent to Siberia, and she had two failed marriages, although she had one child with each husband.  In the 1960s, she met an Indian communist, whom the authorities prevented her from marrying.  After his death, Peter’s took his ashes to India, and from there in 1967 she defected to the United States.  She married an American architect, William Wesley Peters (1912-1991), with whom he had a daughter, but the couple divorced.  She left America for Britain in 1982 and then in 1984-1986 lived again in the Soviet Union before returning to the United States.  Peters loved languages, literature, and writing.  She wrote several books, but her most important was her memoir Twenty Letters to a Friend (1966).

See the BBC article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15931683.  For a report from the Voice of Russia, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/11/29/61215002.html.

Carrot or Stick?: The Russian Radar at Kaliningrad    29 November 2011

The Russians have put on line a new radar station in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to serve as an early warning system of an attack from NATO.  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is offering to integrate that system with NATO’s, providing there is a treaty that guarantees that the nuclear deterrent the US is constructing in the Balkans is not targeting Russia.  Mr. Medvedev claimed that “now we are ready to use the unique qualities of this station together with our partners as a counterforce to threats.”

For more information, including a picture of the radar system in Russia, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/11/29/61206889.html (note the related articles at the bottom of the page).  The more substantial ITAR-TASS report is at http://www.itar-tass.com/en/c39/283362.html.  The AP feed is available at http://news.yahoo.com/medvedev-radar-demonstrates-russias-might-112355870.html.

The Last Prime Minister of Yugoslavia Has Died    29 November 2011

Ante Marković (1924-2011), the last prime minister of Yugoslavia, has died at the age of 87.  He strove to preserve Yugoslav unity in the face of nationalist opposition in Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia before his December 1991 resignation.  Marković was a Croatian born in Bosnia.  He joined the Partisans during the Second World War and the Yugoslavia Communist party, later the League of Communists.  He was president of Croatia in 1986-1988 and prime minister of Yugoslavia in 1989-1991.

See http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/ante-markovic-former-yugoslavias-last-prime-minister-dies-at-87/2011/11/28/gIQAA0o45N_story.html and http://www.b92.net/eng/news/region-article.php?yyyy=2011&mm=11&dd=28&nav_id=77523.

A Thanksgiving Bird for President Obama    26 November 2011

A noted Russian news anchor, Tatiana Limanova of REN-TV in Moscow, raised her middle finger on 14 November when she read the name of President Obama during a newscast.  She was stating that "Dmitry Medvedev has become the chairman of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization today. This position was previously taken by US President Barack Obama."  Ms. Limanova claimed that her gesture had been intended for her crew, who had been joking with her, and that she thought she had been off camera.  Pravda reported that her response had been the result of a malfunctioning prompter, although she clearly was reading from a printed script.  YouTube removed postings of the video, claiming that they infringed on REN-TV copyrights, but thousands of viewers managed to see the clip.  As of 01.44 CST, the video was available through the online version of USAToday at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/11/russian-tv-anchor-fired-for-flipping-bird-after-obamas-name/1.  REN-TV immediately fired Ms. Limanova, who stated in the Russian press that "I am very sorry that I could offend anyone with that. I never would have done that intentionally because it is unprofessional."

Whether Limanova's action was intended as a joke or not, Americans will be outraged; however, Limanova's gesture was the indiscretion of one individual, not the official position of the Russian government.  Far more dangerous were the words of the American President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) on 11 August 1984 when testing a microphone: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes."  The conservative Soviet leader at the time, Konstantin U. Chernenko (1911-1985), put the Red Army on alert, and the United States quickly had to issue a formal apology.   A brief report on the Reagan's remark is at http://www.youtube.com./watch?v=b7VEAlitCUc.  Twenty-five years after the event, it is noteworthy that the news caster, Anya Fedorova, who moderates "Primetime Russia" on RT television in Moscow, recalled Mr. Reagan's words in a lighthearted way.  In time, Ms. Limanova's famous gesture no doubt will assume a similar place among the indiscreet bloopers of broadcasting.

Human Traffickers Arrested in Serbia    23 November 2011

Human trafficking is a major problem throughout the world, and Europe is no exception.  Parts of Central Europe and the Balkans are a particular problem because of the large number of individuals attempting to transit through that area in order to enter the EU.  Many are seeking work, but others enter unwillingly, frequently as prostitutes.  They originate from the Middle East, Africa, Commonwealth of Independent States, and elsewhere.  Serbia recently announced the arrest of 17 individuals involved in human trafficking of individuals seeking employment in the EU.

For the AP feed, see http://news.yahoo.com/serbia-arrests-17-alleged-human-traffickers-130705214.html.

Bond, German Bond    23 November 2011

The robust German economy (see the earlier post on this topic here) has hit a temporary snag.  Only two-thirds of the bond issues the German government offered this week sold.  Those watching the markets have reached various conclusions about the poor showing, citing skittishness about the buyout package for Greece, the debt crisis in Italy, the future of the euro, and even the fate of the European Union.  Most likely, buyers were hesitant about any sort of investment in light of the news that the American Congress could not reach an agreement over debt reduction in the US.  Given the volatility of current markets, good news, be it political or economic, will encourage investors, while reports of economic difficulties and dysfunctional governments cause investors to overreact, turning markets downwards.

For reports on the German bond sale, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/24/business/global/Euro-Fears-in-Markets-Spread-to-Germany.html and http://news.yahoo.com/strains-german-economy-trouble-europe-205528020.html.

Kershaw on the Last Days of the Third Reich    23 November 2011

The fascination with Germany’s Third Reich guarantees that historians will continue to sell plenty of books on the topic.  Place a swastika on the cover or include the words “Reich” or “Hitler” in the title, and a book will catch the attention of readers.  Of the many volumes that emerge each year on the topic of Germany during the Second World War, few come from the pen of professional historians, and only a small number are from exceptionally entertaining writers.  In that select group are the works of Ian Kershaw, professor of history at the University of Sheffield, England.  His new book is The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 (Penguin, 2011).  Der Spiegel recently interviewed him about the last days of the Third Reich at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,798377,00.html.

Angry with the Top 1%?  Look at the Top 0.1%.    21 November 2011

Robert Lenzner, writing in Forbes, has stated that:

Income and wealth disparities  become even more  absurd  if we look at the top 0.1% of the nation’s earners– rather than the more common 1%. The top 0.1%–about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million–are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.
It’s crystal clear that the Bush  tax reduction on capital gains and dividend income in 2003 was the cutting edge policy that has created the immense increase in  net worth of corporate executives, Wall St. professionals  and other entrepreneurs.

For the entire article, see http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2011/11/20/the-top-0-1-of-the-nation-earn-half-of-all-capital-gains/.

Belgium–527 Days and Counting    21 November 2011

The Belgians still have not managed to form a new government after 527 days, and the chief negotiator, Elio Di Rupo, the head of the Belgian socialist party, has offered to resign.  Di Rupo, whom the king had named Formateur, that is, the person charged with forming a new government, likely would have become the prime minister had he succeeded in reaching an agreement with the other parties.  The caretaker government is promising to reduce the country’s deficit, but another difficult problem in Belgium is ethnic.  It appeared that the inhabitants of Wallonia, where the language is French, and those in Flanders speaking Flemish, the Belgian variety of Dutch, were on track to get increased autonomy when Di Rupo concluded his negotiations, but now that arrangement is in jeopardy.  Many in Belgium, especially those in the wealthier Flanders area, argue that the only solution is a division of the state.

See the Huffington Post article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/21/belgium-government-formation_n_1105853.html and the AP feed at http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/QPeriod/20111121/belgium-government-talks-negotiations-stalemate-111121/.

Nazi-Era Remains Found in Austria    21 November 2011

In the psychiatric hospital in Hall in the Austrian province of Tyrol, scientists have exhumed more than 220 bodies from the Nazi era.  It appears that those who lost their lives had been executed because of their illnesses, which the Nazis after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and before a popular outcry caused them to cease the practice.  Officials still have not announced the cause of death for the victims, but they have identified the bodies.

See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15731604.

The Robust German Economy    15 November 2011

The drop in the value of the euro because of the debt crisis has made German exports more affordable than ever before, providing a boost to the German economy.  Read the entire story at NPR: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/14/142245129/german-economy-shines-as-euro-loses-luster?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111114.

The New Greek Government    12 November 2011

Greek politicians finally have agreed on the composition of a mixed cabinet of a political coalition and bureaucrats.  The prime minister is Lucas Papademos, formerly a vice president of the European Central Bank.  The Socialists hold a majority of 13 seats in the 18-member cabinet.  Among them is Evangelos Venizelos, who was finance minister in the previous government.  The ministries of foreign affairs and defense went to New Democracy, which had been vocal in its criticism of Papandreou and his Socialist cabinet regarding the debt crisis.  A member of the Popular Orthodox Rally holds the Ministry for Infrastructure, Transport, and Networks.  In addition to the prime minister, there is one more independent, Giorgos Stavropoulos, the minister of state, whose office handles the press and public relations.  Venizelos and Theodoros Pangalos, both Socialists, serve as deputy prime ministers.

Noticeably absent from the cabinet is the former prime minister, George Papandreou, as well as the leader of New Democracy, Antonis Samaras.  Given the controversy surrounding Papandreou and the demands of New Democracy that he step down as prime minister, it is not surprising that he is not in the government.  The lack of a cabinet post for Samaras may have been part of a compromise designed to reduce political tensions between the Socialists and New Democracy.

After the states which use the euro approved a bailout for Greece at the end of October, Papandreou surprised Europeans, Greeks, and even members of his own party when he called for a referendum on whether Greece should stay in the European Union.  Papandreou appeared to be prepared to go through with the referendum, confident that the Greeks would vote to continue EU membership because of its many benefits for Greek citizens.  The referendum also was a ploy to force the hand of New Democracy.  Its leader, Samaras, had been calling for new elections and had opposed the deal the government had reached with the EU.  Once Samaras agreed to back the bailout, Papandreou agreed to withdraw the referendum and open talks with the major parties about the future of his cabinet.  During the negotiations, Papandreou promised that he would not seek a post in the new government.

The new government will implement the terms of the bailout, which includes privatizations and the dismissal of 30,000 civil servants.  Once it has completed its task, Greece will hold elections, perhaps as early as February 2012.

For media articles on the new government and the talks leading up to its creation, see http://news.yahoo.com/official-greek-govt-announced-wednesday-000521931.html, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/state-tv-new-greek-cabinet-named-with-finance-minister-evangelos-venizelos-retaining-key-post/2011/11/11/gIQADxhzBN_story.html, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/11/10/142205267/greece-names-lucas-papademos-its-new-prime-minister?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111110, and http://news.yahoo.com/five-myths-greek-crisis-151500373.html.

Picture-Perfect Paris    12 November 2011

During the First World War, the French government invested a great deal of money and effort into creating a painted reproduction of Paris, complete with electric lights, north of the city.  The purpose was to deflect potential German bombs and artillery, but the Germans never advanced so far as to threaten Paris.  See the article at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/8879053/Second-Paris-built-towards-end-of-First-World-War-to-fool-Germans.html.

Balkan Countries Cooperate to End Refugee Crisis    7 November 2011

Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro today have announced efforts to end the refugee status of approximately 74,000 individuals in the western portion of the Balkan Peninsula.  The foreign ministers of all four countries intend to find private donors to support the project, which they estimate will cost more than €500 million (USD 688 million).  Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who attended the conference, stated that “we will be fully committed to supporting the governments, the success of the donor conference, and the implementation of joint regional projects.”  The conference included representatives from the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Enlargement Commissioner.  Also in attendance was David Robinson, the US Assistant Secretary of State, who told the four countries that “the US will support you and not only with words.”

Brief reports on the meeting are at http://news.yahoo.com/balkans-seeking-around-700-million-refugees-134150843.html and http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics-article.php?yyyy=2011&mm=11&dd=07&nav_id=77223.

Commemoration of World War II Soviet Parade    7 November 2011

Soviet soldiers dressed in World War II uniforms paraded in Red Square today to recreate a similar display in 1941, after which the Soviet troops departed for the front.  The occasion in 1941 was the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which Russia no longer recognizes.  Russians now celebrate National Unity Day on 4 November that recalls the 1612 victory over the Poles, who had occupied Moscow.  It was a holiday from 1613 until 1917, when the Communists came to power.  Unity Day also falls on the feast day for the significant Russian icon of Our Lady of Kazan.

Photos of today’s parade are here.  The earlier post regarding Unity Day is at http://www.centraleuropeanobserver.com/-what#TOC-Nationalists-March-in-Moscow-4-Nove.

Papandreou Won Vote of Confidence    4 November 2011

Shortly after midnight, Athens time, on 4 November 2011, the Greek Socialist prime minister, George Papandreou, won a confidence vote with153 deputies voting in favor out of the 298 present in the Parliament.  Papandreou meanwhile is negotiating with other parties to form a cabinet of national unity.  He claimed to have told is counterparts in other parties: “I have excluded nothing from the discussion, even my own position. And I am not tied to any particular post. I have already said that and I am proving it daily. . . . Even my re-election does not interest me. What interests me is saving the country.”

The distribution of seats in the 300-member Greek Parliament according to the most recent elections, which were held in October 2009, are: Socialists (PASOK), 153; New Democracy, 85 (a center-right party); Communists, 21; Popular Orthodox Rally, 16; Coalition of the Radical Left, 6 (a lose grouping of interests on the left); and independents, 16.  New Democracy is the most important party with which Papandreou is negotiating about forming a new government.  Its  leader, Antonis Samaras, has called for early elections.

Papandreou’s victory should stabilize European markets and bring the EU a step forward in completing the Greek bailout project.  A new national government that would demonstrate broad political consensus over the austerity measures and the terms of the EU bailout would do even more to strengthen the confidence of EU leaders and investors, and it may help calm some segments of the Greek population.  Given the nature and extent of the austerity measures the Greeks have had to accept, however, it is unlikely that a broad coalition uniting parties to the left and right would be enough to please the Greeks the new taxes and cuts have effected the most.

The Reuters news feed is available at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/greek-pm-wins-vote-of-confidence/story-e6frf7jo-1226186437308.  The electoral statistics are from http://www.hellenicparliament.gr/en/Vouleftes/Ana-Koinovouleftiki-Omada/.

Nationalists March in Moscow    4 November 2011

National Unity Day in Russia is 4 November, a holiday commemorating the victory in 1612 that expelled the occupying Poles from Moscow.  The Russians celebrated it before the era of Communism, which had its own holiday to recall the 7 November 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and in 2005 the government reinstituted 4 November as a holiday.  Among the positive festivities, however, are the less desirable.  Approximately 5,000 nationalists, for the most part young, neo-Nazis, marched in Moscow today and in other cities.  They chanted slogans against the presence in Slavic areas of migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia.  The AP report on the nationalist march is at http://news.yahoo.com/thousands-russian-nationalists-march-moscow-103619646.html.  On the holiday, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/11/04/59870280.html.

Livingstone’s 1871 Diary    4 November 2011

A team of scholars, including Adrian Wisnicki (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA), have been able to reproduce illegible portions of the 1871 diary of Stanley Livingstone.  Of particular importance are Livingstone’s comments about the massacre of 400 slaves he witnessed in what is now the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  Apparently, Livingstone might have suspected that some in his party were involved in the massacre, and he appeared to regret the fact that he did not actively attempt to stop it.  Livingstone’s revelations prompted the British to press for an end of slavery in Africa.

See an image of the diary at http://livingstone.library.ucla.edu/1871diary/.  A press release from UCLA is at http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/dr-livingstone-s-lost-1871-massacre-218211.aspx.

Fiftieth Commemoration of the Berlin Wall    4 November 2011

The CIA has released 375 documents from several agencies commemorating the construction of the Berlin Wall 50 years ago.  A press release on the documents and a 27 October 2011 conference on the Berlin Wall is at https://www.cia.gov/news-information/press-releases-statements/press-release-2011/cia-marks-50th-anniversary-of-the-berlin-crisis.html.  The documents are available at http://www.foia.cia.gov/BerlinWall.asp.  Links to other electronic documents from the CIA are at https://www.cia.gov/library/index.html.

The Greek Crisis    3 November 2011

Since the blog below was posted at 7.00 AM CDST, there have been some small developments in Greece, where three Socialist ministers not only reject Prime Minister Papandreou’s call for a referendum on the EU but also may not support him in a confidence vote.  See the Reuters report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15552524.  Furthermore, NPR reports that Papandreou has withdrawn plans for a referendum and is now meeting with opposition party leaders.  Perhaps his strategy all along has been to force the opposition and the citizens of Greece to unite behind the EU bailout plan.  See http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/11/03/141974666/greek-prime-minister-under-pressure-to-resign.

When the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, called for a referendum on whether Greece should remain in the EU after European leaders had agreed to provide additional finances for a Greek bailout, there seemed to be some logic to his decision.  Protests in Greece had been mounting, and Papandreou understood that they were not against the European Union or the bailout but the harsh austerity measures the government had to impose to deal with the economic crisis as well as the policies that had lead to Greece’s dire financial situation.  Since Greeks support the EU, they likely will vote in favor of a referendum to remain in the EU and take the steam out of the protests.

European leaders were shocked at Papandreou’s call for a referendum and announced that the bailout money for Greece would not be available until after the vote, which would occur in early December.  One difficulty is that Greece will default in the middle of November without the bailout money.  Now another problem has emerged with the referendum idea.  It appears that Papandreou’s announcement was a surprise not only for European leaders but also for Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), including Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister.

Venizelos and many Socialists disapprove of the referendum, and there are calls, even among Socialists, for a new national coalition government in Greece.  Such a scenario is possible because as some Socialists are distancing themselves from Papandreou over the referendum proposal, the chances are greater that his government would not survive a confidence vote in the Greek Parliament.

Perhaps Papandreou considered this alternative.  When he proposed the referendum, it is logical that he had confidence in the fact that the Greeks would vote for continuing their association with the EU.  The other possibility was that Papandreou used the proposal for a referendum to shock the members of his own party and the leadership of other parties into rallying around the EU, the bailout, and the austerity measures as a means of unifying the country and ending the protests.  Of course, the price Papandreou might pay for seeing the later scenario come to fruition might be his own position as prime minister.  He even may have been prepared for that possibility when he announced his referendum idea.

For a recent AP article on the situation, see http://news.yahoo.com/greek-government-teeters-over-bailout-referendum-093654136.html.  An earlier report is at http://www.npr.org/2011/11/02/141926272/greek-referendum-plan-sends-sarkozy-scrambling?ft=3&f=1001&sc=nl&cc=nh-20111102.

President-Elect in Kygyz Promises to Close US Base   2 November 2011

The newly-elected president of Kygryz and former foreign minister, Almazbek Atambayev, promised to close the US military base at the Manas airport. Atambayev claims that the base could bring retaliation against Kygryz because the US is using it to supply the war in Afghanistan. When questioned about the power vacuum that could leave Kygryz exposed should the Americans have to withdraw, Atambayev claimed that the country should rely on neighboring Russia for security. Kygryz is a part of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Russians also have a base in the country. When the previous administration in Kygryz threatened to close the base, the US increased its payment for the base and invested in the renovation of the Manas airport.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/world/asia/almazbek-atambayev-set-to-win-kyrgyzstan-election.html?_r=1 and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/world/asia/kyrgyzstan-says-united-states-manas-air-base-will-close.html.

Fly Like an Eagle; Land Like a Crow    2 November 2011

On 1 November, the landing gear on a Polish Airlines (LOT) plane from Newark, NJ, to Warsaw failed to function and forced the pilot, Cpt. Tadeusz Wrona, to land the plane on its fuselage.  Nobody was hurt in the incident, and experts are dismayed at the failure of the hydraulics system in the Boeing 767 which the problem.  Pilots immediately began to quip that they must fly like an eagle but land like a crow.  Wrona in Polish means crow.

The AP feed with raw footage of the landing is at http://news.yahoo.com/polish-pilot-felt-huge-relief-safe-landing-131505620.html.  An update on the flight dated 3 November 2011 is available at http://news.yahoo.com/polish-monk-threatened-flight-thanks-god-pilot-175803710.html.

King Sobieski Returned to Poland    1 November 2011

A painting of King Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696, reigned 1674-1696), whose Polish forces helped save Vienna from Turkish conquest in 1683, returned to Poland after it had appeared recently in a Hamburg, Germany, auction house.  The painting, whose author is unknown, was on display for years in Rapperswil Castle, Switzerland, where the Polish National Museum existed from 1870 until 1927, when the bulk of its holdings went to the resurrected Poland.  After returning to Poland, the painting was at the State Art Collection in Warsaw until the Second World War, when it likely was a victim of Nazi looting.

See http://www.thenews.pl/1/11/Artykul/57574,Lost-King-Sobieski-painting-returned-to-Poland.

Bosnia Key to Palestine Vote in UN Security Council   31 October 2011

The Bosnian presidency, which is a three-person council representing Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian interests, must decide on whether the country will recognize Palestine in the United Nations.  The Bosnian vote is crucial because Bosnia is one of ten non-permanent members of the 15-member the Security Council.  The Bosniak president, a Muslim, decided to support Palestine’s bid for UN membership, but the Serbian president did not, much to the dismay of the Orthodox Church, to which most of the Serbs belong.  The Croatian president still must decide and may abstain.  All three presidents must agree in order to support the Palestinian bid for UN membership, as a result, Bosnia may have to abstain in the vote, as it did over the question of Palestinian membership in UNESCO, even though that vote ended in Palestine’s favor.  The United States is prepared to veto Palestinian membership; nonetheless, the Palestinians were counting on a moral victory.

See the AP feed at http://www.suntimes.com/news/world/8522751-418/bosnias-abstention-in-un-security-council-jeopardizes-palestinian-hopes-for-statehood.html.

Obama-Nečas Meeting Concluded   28 October 2011

American President Barack Obama and Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas met on 27 October at the White House.  Mr. Nečas characterized their talks as friendly and said that “President Obama has the ability to converse very naturally.  When you speak to him, you certainly would not say that he speaks as the head of the most powerful country on this planet.  He has an immensely civil demeanor.” 

One topic of conversation was the establishment of a NATO training base in Pardubice, Czech Republic, for helicopter pilots.  The Czechs already train Afghan pilots at the location.  In some respects, locating the new NATO training center in the Czech Republic would be compensation for losing the radar intercept base that the George W. Bush administration had proposed to locate in the Czech Republic and Poland.  There was a great deal of opposition in the Czech Republic about having the base on Czech soil, and the Russians argued that, given its location, the system was aimed at them instead of the Middle East.  The Obama administration scrapped the plan.  Mr. Nečas stated that “we invested a lot from the standpoint of strategic cooperation between the Czech Republic and the United States [and] a lot politically in our involvement with the antimissile defense system.  Afterward, when that project actually was cancelled, it was to an extent our fault that we did not have prepared some range of other possible steps and strategic projects with which we could have supported the strategic partnership between the Czech Republic and the USA, and now we have to correct that.”

The two heads of state also spoke about the offers the Czech government is considering to repair the Temelín nuclear power plant located in Southern Bohemia.  The American-based but Japanese-owned Westinghouse Electric Corporation put in a bid as well as a French firm and a Russian-Czech consortium.  Mr. Nečas remarked to reporters that “I unequivocally assured President Obama that the Czech Republic will examine the bids fairly and transparently, that we expect three quality quotes, and that the best will win.”

Information for this news item came from the Czech report by Radio Prague at http://www.radio.cz/cz/zpravy#4.

28 October 1918    28 October 2011

The Czechoslovak First Republic was established on 28 October 1918, a day which the country celebrated until 1937 as an official holiday.  When that date arrived just months after the German invasion of 1938 and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, a large demonstration occurred, during which German forces shot a university student, Jan Opletal (1915-1939).  He died several days later, and his funeral on 17 November brought more demonstrations, prompting the Germans closed all institutions of higher learning.  Subsequently, 17 November has become the International Day of Students.  The Communists eventually disregarded the holiday as a celebration of the bourgeois republic, but some citizens did not forget it.  When I was in Prague in 1986, was thrilled to find that the Czech Philharmonic, with Václav Neuman (1920-1995) conducting, was to perform Má vlast [My Country] by Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) on that day in the concert hall of the Obecní dům [Municipal House], and I decided to go to the performance.  It was a gala event, and I knew there was more to it than a mere concert.  Má vlast is an intensely patriotic piece for Czechs, and the performance was in the very place where, on that same day in 1918, the First Republic was proclaimed.  Neuman would go on to lead his orchestra in November 1989 in protesting against the Communist regime.  After the fall of Communism, 28 October became a holiday and has remained the day Czechs celebrated their independence even after the 1 January 1993 creation of the Czech Republic.  The Slovaks do not celebrate the holiday.  For a perspective on the Czech holiday and why Slovaks ignore it, see the comments in 2006 of Martin M. Šimečka (born 1957), the writer, journalist, and former dissident of Czech descent but of Slovak birth, at http://incentraleurope.radio.cz/ice/issue/84691.

Roman Encampment Found on the Banks of the Lippe    28 October 2011

On the Lippe River in the Ruhr Region of Germany, archaeologists have discovered a Roman camp that once was part of a chain of fortresses designed to contain Germanic hordes.  The site is remarkably well preserved and has yielded coins and other artifacts.

Different photographs and reports are at: http://www.thelocal.de/society/20111027-38455.html, http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/10/roman-military-camp-found-in-west.html, and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/8853054/Lost-Roman-camp-that-protected-against-Germanic-hordes-found.html.

Czech Premier Nečas Meeting with Obama    27 October 2011

The Czech prime minister, Petr Nečas, will meet with President Obama today at the White House.  The major topic of discussion will be the bid by the American-based firm Westinghouse, which Toshiba owns, to renovate the Temelín nuclear power plant.  Nečas also had high-level meetings in France and Russia, two other countries with companies that have bid on the project.  There will be other topics of discussion between Nečas and Obama, including the role of Czech forces in Afghanistan.  Nečas also will meet with American businessmen before returning to Prague on Friday.

The ČTK press release on the meeting is reprinted at http://praguemonitor.com/2011/10/27/obama-meet-ne%C4%8D-focus-czech-nuke-plant-extension.

Bolshoi Theatre to Reopen    26 October 2011

After six years of restoration, the Bolshoi Theatre will reopen on 28 October with a grand performance.  Workers have meticulously restored the exterior and returned the interior to its original design.  The curtain from 1856 was lost in the 1930s, but it has been restored based on archival documents.  Other curtains include an acoustic curtain, which shields the audience from the noise that set changes generate, and a fire curtain.  The pattern for the curtain used from the 1930s until the current restoration had a hammer-and-sickle motif with “CCCP,” the abbreviation for the Soviet Union in Cyrillic.  The stage mechanics now are the most modern in the world.  The Russian architect Andrei A. Mikhailov (1770-1840) constructed the building in 1824, and Albert K. Kavos (1800-1863) reconstructed it between 1853 and 1856 after a fire.

An article about the opening as well as links to photographs and more stories about the Bolshoi are at http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/10/25/59315725.html.  Another series of photographs is available at http://news.yahoo.com/photos/russia-s-bolshoi-theatre-set-for-grand-reopening-1319556669-slideshow/visitors-walk-newly-refurbished-foyer-moscows-bolshoi-theatre-photo-143829526.html.

Hitler’s Blindness Was Psychosomatic    26 October 2011

Thomas Weber, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, has uncovered evidence that proves Hitler’s blindness during the First World War was not the result of a British gas attack but a psychosomatic illness known as hysterical amblyopia.  Weber has discovered letters between two American neurologists in 1943 that discuss the statements of the German neurosurgeon Otfried Foerster (1873-1941), who had seen Hitler’s medical file.  Hitler wanted to cover his medical history.  Those who knew something about the file lost their lives, and the file was destroyed after Hitler came to power.  Weber discusses the issue in his book Hitler's First War: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War (Oxford, 2011).

A report on Hitler’s temporary blindness is at http://zeenews.india.com/news/world/mental-illness-not-british-attack-blinded-hitler_737842.html.

Elections in Switzerland and Bulgaria    23 October 2011

Presidential elections in Bulgaria today have resulted in a stalemate that will lead to run-off elections between the ruling center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) candidate, Rosen Plevneliev, who received 40 percent of the votes, and the Bulgarian Socialist party candidate, Ivailo Kalfin, who won 30 percent of the votes.  The incumbent GERB mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova, has won another term.

In Switzerland, the conservative and nationalist People’s party (SVP) and the Greens on the left suffered slight losses in the elections to the National Council to two moderate parties, the Conservative Democratic party, which broke from the SVP in 2007, and the Green Liberal party, which broke in 2007 from the Greens.  Despite its loss, the People’s party, which sponsored referenda banning the construction of new minarets and approving the expulsion of immigrants who become convicted criminals, remains the largest party in the parliament.  Voters seem to have taken exception to the strong anti-foreign stance of the People’s party.  The Social Democrats are still the second strongest party in the National Council.  Now the party leaders are negotiating the distribution of cabinet seats.

For the elections in Bulgaria, see http://bnr.bg/sites/en/News/Pages/231011B22.aspx.  Information about the Swiss elections are at http://news.yahoo.com/moderates-stall-rise-swiss-nationalists-194234715.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/23/swiss-election-nationalist-party-result?newsfeed=true.

Jerzy Bielecki (1921-2011)    22 October 2011

The man who saved his girlfriend from Auschwitz and then did not see her again for 39 years, Jerzy Bielecki, died on 20 October 2011 in Nowy Targ, Poland.  For his brave escape from Auschwitz, where he was mistakenly interned as a resistance fighter, with his love he met in the camp, Cyla Zacharowitz née Cybulska (1920-2005), Bielecki was placed on the list of the Righteous among the Nations.  Note that some reports mistakenly have Cybulska's death as 2002.

The AP release announcing Bielecki’s death is at http://news.yahoo.com/pole-spirited-jewish-woman-auschwitz-dies-180734612.html.  An AP story from 2010 on the couple’s daring escape is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/20/auschwitz-survivor-recall_n_652521.html.

George Washington’s Whiskey    22 October 2011

NPR reports on the uncorking of the first bottle of whiskey made at Mt. Vernon’s rebuilt distillery.  The fires under Washington’s most profitable business undertaking now are rekindled, but it is unlikely that at USD 185 per bottle the average American will have a chance to experience the spirits of Mt. Vernon.  Read more at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/10/22/141589394/drinking-whiskey-in-the-spirit-of-george-washington?sc=nl&cc=nh-20111022.

Did Hitler Organize the 1934 Austrian Putsch?    21 October 2011

According to Kurt Bauer in “Hitler und der Juliputsch 1934 in Österreich,” which appeared in the journal Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte in April 2011, Adolf Hitler actually planned the 1934 Putsch that attempted to install a Nazi government in Austria and led to the death of the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss.  Bauer bases his conclusions on entries in the diary of Joseph Goebbels that in 2005 was published in German.  The traditional view is that Hitler knew of the plan and was informed of its progress but that it was the work of Theodor Habicht (1898-1944), who tried to use the Putsch not only to get power but also to secure his hold over the Austrian Nazi party.  For that view, see Bruce F. Pauley, Hitler and the Forgotten Nazis: A History of Austrian National Socialism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981), ch. 8.

A summary of Bauer’s article in German is at http://www.ifz-muenchen.de/vfz_2_2011.html#c2.  The AFP report in English on the research is at http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5g2meELSrE3aBko3kbqIiS30dd2nw?docId=CNG.339e36e1d75721f93c1ca8cb6b037173.381.

News Items from Bulgaria, Russia, Lithuania, and Poland    21 October 2011

Bulgarians go to the polls on Sunday, 23 October 2011, to elect a new president as well as new mayors.  On the close presidential election, see http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=133139.  For the mayors, see http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=133159.  The AP report on the elections is at http://news.yahoo.com/hard-pressed-bulgaria-vote-president-111435716.html.

Lithuanian prosecutors refuse to examine the issue of whether that country served as a destination for extraordinary renditions of prisoners the United States held at Guantanamo Bay.  The Lithuanian prosecutors claim that the government offered prison space to the United States, which it did not use and that the new evidence from Amnesty International and Reprieve claiming that at least one prisoner actually came to Lithuania is inconclusive.  See http://news.yahoo.com/lithuania-wont-reopen-cia-prison-probe-153751887.html.

Russia has adopted a waiting period of two to seven days before a woman can have an abortion, and it will not permit abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy or the twenty-second week in instances when the woman claims economic hardships.  The Orthodox Church supported the measure and had called for even stricter abortion limits.  Many state officials hope that the abortion restrictions will help reverse the country’s declining birth rate.  See http://news.yahoo.com/russia-parliament-adopts-law-restricting-abortions-151245645.html.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that his country prepared to declare the Polish officers the Soviets executed at Katyń in 1940 during the Second World War innocent of anti-state activities.  The families of the victims are only seeking rehabilitation, not compensation, and they have appealed to the European Court, which is considering their request.  See http://news.yahoo.com/moscow-declare-katyn-massacre-victims-innocent-163044610.html.
For Lavrov’s comments on Katyń and other matters, see http://english.ruvr.ru/2011/10/21/59131536.html.  Information on the story from Polskie Radio is at http://www.thenews.pl/1/10/Artykul/51252,European-tribunal-to-reopen-Katyn-cases.

Berlin’s Festival of Lights    18 October 2011

Pictures of Berlin’s Festival of Lights are available at http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/12/8292525-berlins-festival-of-lights courtesy of Reuters.  The event began on 12 October and will continue until 23 October 2011.  The official web site with amazing photographs is at http://festival-of-lights.de/en/.

Russia Denies Facility in Serbia Is Intended for Spying    17 October 2011

The head of Russia’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergencies stated that the EMERCOM, the Agency for Support and Coordination of Russian Participation in International Humanitarian Operations, which has opened a new Humanitarian Center in Niš, Serbia, will not be spying on Romania, where the United States is installing part of a missile shield that it originally had planned for the Czech Republic and Poland.  The Serbian interior minister has echoed the Russian claims that the center will not serve as a spying operation.  Caracal, Romania, the proposed location of the US installation, is 300 km (186 miles) from Niš, but there is no direct road between the two cities.

The purpose of the Niš Humanitarian Center is to serve as a base for responders to natural emergencies and other disasters.  EMERCOM has taken part in more than 70 international operations and cooperates with the United Nations and other NGOs.  It also has experience in land mine clearing, and one of the tasks of EMERCOM in Niš is to remove cluster bombs remaining from the 1999 NATO bombing.

Russia opposed the installation of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic on the grounds that it actually was designed as a threat to Russia, even though the US claimed that it was to intercept missiles from the Middle East.  The plan collapsed when the Czech Republic pulled out of the agreement, an act which the government claimed was because of the Czech Republic’s minor role in the project.  In reality, the Czech population was against the agreement, and there were constant protests to halt the project.  The Russians also object to the missile shield’s relocation to Romania and Turkey.

The EMERCOM web site is http://www.emercom.ru/main_e.html.  The 2009 announcement about the creation of the Humanitarian Center at Niš is at http://reliefweb.int/node/330056.  An AP report on the opening of the center in Niš is at http://news.yahoo.com/russia-denies-facility-serbia-spying-131155035.html.  A US Department of State press release on the final September 2011 agreement to place a missile base in Romania, which the two countries initially announced in early 2010, is at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/09/172258.htm.

Government Stalemate is Catchy: The Case of Poland    17 October 2011

Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform, the prime minister of Poland whose party again emerged victorious in the 9 October 2011 elections, wants to maintain the current coalition that he has with the Polish Peasant’s party.  His rationale is that Poland should keep a steady course in domestic politics while that country serves as the presidency of the Council of the EU.  He promised changes in the government in January, when the presidency rotates to Belgium.

One can extend Tusk’s logic.  If Belgium does not solve its political crisis and appoint a government before the end of the year, Belgium should continue with its caretaker government, which on 26 April 2010 began serving in that capacity.  After all, Belgium already holds the world’s record for the country which has gone the longest period of time without a government.

Several leading politicians are unhappy with Tusk’s proposal to delay recasting his cabinet.  One is the president of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, whose relationship with Tusk is cordial at best.  Another is Janusz Palikot, whose Palikot Movement, which placed third in the October elections, received more votes than the Polish Peasant’s party, which is in fourth place.  Palikot wants to join the cabinet, but he proposes that a government of experts guide Poland, allowing the country to preserve its image of stability in the eyes of the EU while the party leaders construct a political government.

It is possible that Tusk’s true motive is to avoid recasting his cabinet in the hopes that the status quo will remain.  Otherwise, if Tusk must consider giving the Palikot Movement some role in his cabinet, waiting also might enable the liberal and anticlerical Palikot to solve the controversy he has started by demanding that the Polish Sejm remove the Catholic cross from its chambers.  The Palikot Movement also has given Poland its first gay deputy, Robert Biedron, and its first transgendered deputy, Anna Grodzka.  Biedron, however, is to stand trial for assaulting a policeman during a demonstration, which puts the Palikot Movement at the center of another controversy.  Jarosław Kaczyński of the Law and Justice party, which came in second in the polling and has strong conservative and Catholic sentiments, opposes the Palikot Movement and wants the cross to remain.  With the Palikot Movement in the government, the Law and Justice party’s opposition likely will become noisier.

Tusk’s proposal to preserve the current governing coalition is at http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/56670,Election-2011-%E2%80%93-Tusk-No-change-in-government-till-New-Year.  Palikot’s comments on the government are at http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/56736,Election-2011-Palikot-wants-government-of-experts.  On the cross controversy, see http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/56815,Battle-over-cross-looms-in-parliament.  On the rainbow character of the Palikot Movement, see http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/56676,Poland-elects-first-openly-gay-MP.

Two Perspectives on OWS    17 October 2011

James Livingston, a professor of history at Rutgers University, wrote a blog for Politics and Letters about Occupy Wall Street that borrows on a concept from Václav Havel, the former Czech dissident who helped lead the Velvet Revolution in 1989 in Czechoslovakia and became his country’s president.  Read the entire blog at http://politicsandletters.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/occupy-wall-street-iii/.  The home page for Politics and Letters is http://politicsandletters.wordpress.com/.

For the intellectual roots of OWS, including the anthropological research in anarchistic decision making in Betafo, Madagascar, by David Graeber, one of OWS’s early organizers, see http://chronicle.com/article/Intellectual-Roots-of-Wall/129428/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.

Libeskind’s Reconstruction of Dresden’s Military Museum    14 October 2011

Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-born American architect, has reconstructed the Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany.  Considered an expert in museum design, Libeskind conceived a modern wedge that occupies the courtyard of the old Neoclassical museum, slices through the core of the structure, and terminates in the front.  The plan is reminiscent of Libeskind’s Jewish Museum (1992-1999) in Berlin, with its inclined zigzag display area that is at times confusing to visitors.  Many are criticizing his work on the Military History Museum from the standpoint of its antimilitaristic statement, while others are complaining solely about the aesthetics.  Unlike the Jewish Museum, where the Kollegienhaus (1734-1735) that houses part of the museum stands beside the new structure, Libeskind’s addition to the Military History Museum bifurcates the old.  Even if one dislikes Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, the architect left the original building in tact, while his addition to the Military History Museum intentionally violates the new structure.  When attempting to blend the old and the new, an architect can endeavor to complement or even celebrate what already exists, or he can strive to transform a structure with the overall goal of leaving his mark on the past.  It will be up to future generations to determine the character of Libeskind’s improvement to the Military History Museum.

An article in the Los Angeles Times summarizes the controversy about the building: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-dresden-military-museum-20111013,0,3134301.story.  Views of the museum are available at: http://www.archithings.com/military-history-museum-dresden-germany/2009/01/09/military-history-museum-dresden-germany-1 and http://www.archiscene.net/firms/studio-daniel-libeskind/military-museum-daniel-libeskind/.  Daniel Libeskind’s website is http://daniel-libeskind.com/projects.

Nazi-Era Diary Published    14 October 2011

Friedrich Kellner (1885-1970), a German Social Democrat and public official, kept a lengthy diary during the Nazi era which his has been published in German as “All Minds Blurred and Darkened”: Diaries 1939-1945.  Partly because of its length of approximately 1,000 pages, publishers had little interest in the work until the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library put it on display.  Not only is it now in print, but the publishers are planning an English translation of the work.

What makes the diary significant is that Kellner shows that at least some Germans knew of the horrors of mass murders of Jews and others, many were aware of the poor performance of the German military in the East, and not all Germans were supportive of the regime.  To historians, these revelations are not new, but the diary presents important evidence about those who took exception to Nazi rule in Germany.

The German title of the diaries is "Vernebelt, verdunkelt sind alle Hirne." Tagebücher 1939-1945 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2011).  The suggested price is €59.90.

Der Spiegel Online has published a review of the diary at http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,789900,00.html.  The Reuters news release about the diary is at http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/12/us-germany-nazi-diary-idUSTRE79B3PN20111012.

Slovaks Pass Measure to Strengthen EFSF    13 October 2011

The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) now can tackle the problem of debt in the EU and the Greek bail-out after the Slovak parliament gave its approval today.

Shortly after 5.00 PM Bratislava time (11.00 AM EDST), the Slovak National Council voted in favor of the bail-out program of the European Union, the last country to do so.  There was no surprise that the Freedom and Solidarity party voted against the measure since their negative vote on Tuesday had caused the collapse of the government.  Also voting against the bail-out, which the Slovaks refer to as Euroval, were the Slovak National party and Civic Conservative party.  Since the SaS deserted the coalition, its noted politician, Richard Sulík, who had authored Slovakia’s innovative flat tax, lost his position as chairman of the Slovak National Council to Pavol Hrušovský of the Christian Democratic Movement.  The prime minister, Iveta Radičová, is negotiating with Slovakia’s president, Ivan Gašparovič, regarding the details about replacing the SaS ministers in the coalition until early elections take place, tentatively slated for 10 March 2012.  Their replacements apparently will be from the remnants of Radičová’s coalition: the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS), Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and Most-Híd.

Information for this article came from the Slovak-language report of Radio Slovakia available at http://www.sme.sk/c/6095543/minuta-po-minute-poslanci-schvalili-posilnenie-eurovalu-a-odvolali-sulika.html and http://www.rozhlas.sk/radio-international-en.

Slovak Government Falls over EU Question    11 October 2011 (8.43 PM EDST)

After eight hours of negotiations, the government under the leadership of Iveta Radičová and her Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) fell today when its coalition partner, the Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), failed to support a measure to support the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).  Although the SaS is a liberal party, it also is in the Eurosceptic camp, and its leader, Richard Sulik, has called the bailout a “road to hell.”

Undaunted, Radičová is negotiating with SMER-Social Democracy, whose leader, the former prime minister Robert Fico, supports the measure to strengthen EFSF but demands early elections as a condition for his party’s support.  It is possible that the politicians will reach an agreement by Thursday, when the parliament will meet again.

The reaction to the no-vote in Asian markets has been muted, largely because traders are confident that the Slovaks ultimately will pass the measure that is crucial to secure the bailout for Greece.

Information for this article is from: http://www.rozhlas.sk/radio-international-en/news; http://news.yahoo.com/slovakian-politicians-toward-ok-bailout-214852140.html; and http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/11/markets-forex-idUSL3E7LB4DG20111011.

To see the article on the Slovak vote posted on this web site on the morning of 11 October, click here.

Tymoshenko Sentenced to Seven Years    11 October 2011

A court in Ukraine has sentenced that country’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, to seven years in prison for improperly signing a gas contract with Russia.  Observers believe the trial was an effort of President Viktor Yanukovych to eliminate a political opponent.  The decision has brought protests on the streets in Kyiv.  The European Union claimed that the trial was politically motivated and has warned that its association with Ukraine may be delayed should Tymoshenko not be able to appeal her conviction.  Russia also protested the decision.  The United States has termed the trial a “politically motivated prosecution” and has called for Tymoshenko’s release.

The AP release is at: http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-tymoshenko-sentenced-7-years-jail-100526378.html.  Russia’s response is at http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=132865 and http://www.euronews.net/2011/10/11/putin-calls-tymoshenko-jail-term-unfair/.  The American reaction is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/11/statement-press-secretary-ukraine.

Poland’s National Elections    11 October 2011

For the first time since the fall of Communism, a sitting prime minister in Poland has won a national election.  In Sunday’s balloting, Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform party (PO) won 206 out of 460 seats in the Polish Sejm (the official count still is not available).  The Polish People’s party (also known as the Polish Peasants’ party or PSL), which has been the coalition partner since the 2007 election, appears to have won 28 seats.  Were they to continue their coalition, the two parties would have a majority of 234 seats.  Tusk is negotiating with the PSL leadership as well as with other parties.

Part of Tusk’s success is due to the Polish economy, which has not suffered a recession as a result of the world economic crisis–the only EU country able to make that claim.  In fact, the Polish economy has grown 4.4 percent per year in the past three years.  The economic progress is partly a result of the USD 97 billion (67 billion euros) of structural aid the country received from the EU to improve its competitiveness with respect to the EU’s stronger economies.  The funding began in 2007 and will end in 2013.  Another aspect of the economic growth is a high deficit, which was 7.9 percent in 2010.  Tusk has promised to reduce the deficit to 3 percent, which the EU requires, and to prevent the debt from reaching 55 percent of GDP, a threshold that would bring automatic austerity measures.

The AP report is at http://news.yahoo.com/polish-prime-minister-holds-talks-coalition-092535588.html.  Financial information about Poland is available in the Bloomberg Businessweek report of http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-10-10/polish-premier-faces-budget-challenge-after-election-win.html.

Anthropologists (and Who Else?) Unwelcome in Florida    11 October 2011

Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott recently commented in interviews that Florida needs to graduate more students in math and sciences so that they can find jobs instead of anthropologists.  Scott’s remarks, reflecting the ideas he has for reforming Florida’s higher education system, have caught the attention not only of the social scientists and humanities professors at Florida’s state universities but also the media.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reported what Scott had to say at http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/florida-governor-favors-more-state-money-for-math-and-science-degrees/37144?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en, and Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones penned a seething response at http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/10/rick-scott-liberal-arts-majors-drop-dead-anthropology.  The Washington Examiner article is at http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2011/10/scott-state-doesnt-need-more-anthropologists.

SaS Holds out in Slovakia    11 October 2011

Slovakia is the last country that must approve the expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).  Its prime minister, Iveta Radičová, has raised the stakes for the only party in the four-party coalition opposing the measure, the Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS), which is moderately Eurosceptic, by tying the EFSF question to a vote of confidence in the government.  The other parties in the coalition, the prime minister’s Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS), Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and Hungarian Most–Híd party, all support the measure.  Should the SaS actually oppose the EFSF expansion, Radičová is planning to negotiate with opposition parties, the largest of which, Smer (Direction)-Social Democracy, would back the EFSF measure.  If SaS withholds its support from the government, Radičová likely will construct a new coalition without SaS support.  With 21 votes out of 150 in Slovakia’s National Council, SaS leaders may not fear losing their place in the cabinet because they may be counting on increasing their standing with voters by advancing their claim that small, fiscally responsible states in the European Union should not come to the aid of large, irresponsible states, such as Greece.  The gamble could backfire.  If SaS is out of the government, its prestige can drop because it is unlikely that SaS politicians will have the opportunity to exploit the issue.  Elections in Slovakia took place in 2010, and it is unlikely that even early elections will take place any time soon.

Were Slovakia facing economic difficulties, then SaS might benefit from not supporting Radičová’s coalition, but Slovakia’s economic outlook is positive.  The Statistical Office, for example, just released data showing that the country’s industrial production, buoyed by the manufacturing sector, increased 4.2 percent in August and 5.1 percent in July.  Slovak production slumped in 2009, in response to the world economic crisis, but it recovered last year and continues its positive trend.

Meanwhile, the euro is falling because of the hesitation of the SaS.  Markets are unnecessarily jittery because Slovakia will support the EFSF measure with or without SaS.

The cabinet meeting began at 7.00 AM EST (1.00 PM in Slovakia), and no news on the outcome of the vote was available at the time this article was posted (7.45 AM EST).

For additional information, see the AP release at http://news.yahoo.com/slovak-pm-puts-government-line-ahead-efsf-vote-091130770.html, and Radio Slovakia’s releases at http://www.rozhlas.sk/radio-international-en/news/Breaking-News:-PM-Iveta-Radicova-Links-Vote-on-EFSF-to-a-Confidence-Vote-in-Government?l=2&i=21119&p=1 and http://www.rozhlas.sk/radio-international-en/news/Industrial-Output-in-Slovakia-Increased-by-4.2-percent-y-on-y-in-August-?l=2&i=20950&p=1.  On the euro’s drop, see http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-10-11/euro-falls-versus-dollar-before-slovakia-vote-pound-declines.html.

Jiří Paroubek Establishes Political Party    10 October 2011

The former leader of the Czech Social Democratic party and prime minister between 2006 and 2010, Jiří Paroubek, has left his party and established a new party, the National Socialists–Left of the Twenty-first Century.  His goal is to join with the Czech National Socialist party, which does not at the moment have any deputies in the Czech Parliament.  Paroubek had been a member of the party from 1970 to 1986, and he became a Social Democrat after the Velvet Revolution.  The National Socialist party began considering a merger with Paroubek’s group after the National Socialist leadership removed the party’s chairman, Karel Janka.  A Czech-language report on the matter is at http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/domaci/138862-paroubek-zaklada-stranu-narodni-socialiste-levice-21-stoleti/.  The Czech National Socialist party was established in 1898 and has nothing in common with the National Socialist party of Adolf Hitler.

Live Stream: “Democracy and the Rule of Law”    10 October 2011

This year’s Forum 2000 with the theme of “Democracy and the Rule of Law” is live on line at http://www.forum2000.cz/en/web-tv/cat/2011-2/.  Participants include Václav Havel, former Czech President and organizer of Forum 2000; the Polish journalist Adam Michnik; Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces, an opposition party in Russia; Cem Özdemir of the Alliance '90/The Greens; Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia; and Philip Zimbardo,  professor emeritus of psychology from Stanford University.

The Bridge of Slovak and Hungarian Friendship    10 October 2011

In the 1990s, I traveled on the Danube River by hydrofoil in the vicinity of Esztergom, Hungary, and Štúrovo, Slovakia, and I gazed on the Danube from the Esztergom Basilica.  Dominating the view was the Bridge of Slovak-Hungarian Friendship.  This was what the Slovaks and Hungarians jokingly called the Mária Valéria Bridge that the Hungarians built in 1895 and named after the Habsburg Archduchess Mária Valéria (1868-1924).  The bridge was damaged in July 1919 during fighting between Czechoslovaks and retreating troops from Communist Hungary, but in the 1920s the bridge was repaired.  On 26 December 1944, when the Germans withdrew from Hungary, they detonated the center part of the bridge, leaving partial spans on the Hungarian and Slovak banks.  For some time, a ferry operated between the two cities, and the bridge remained a grim reminder not only of the war but of the tense relations between Slovaks and Hungarians.  On 11 October 2001, now a decade ago, the two countries celebrated the reopening of the bridge, which they had reconstructed with their own funds and financial assistance from the EU.  Now, pedestrian and vehicular traffic cross the bridge with no border checks because both countries are in the European Union and signatories of the Schengen Agreement.  Unimpeded traffic on the bridge today is much like it was during the latter years of the Habsburg Monarchy.

A brief note on the anniversary is at http://www.visegradgroup.eu/news/hungary-slovakia-mark.  A view of the damage after the First World War is at http://www.flickr.com/photos/31543309@N04/3139380586/.  Current photographs of the bridge are at http://www.espaces-transfrontaliers.org/en/conurbations/terri_doc_ag_esztergom_en.html and http://sturovo.com/fotoforum/displayimage.php?album=18&pid=751#top_display_media.

Klaus, Barroso, and Deeper European Integration     10 October 2011

In his state of the European Union address of 28 September 2011, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, called for deeper European integration to solve the current economic crisis in the EU and prevent future difficulties.  He challenged the EU to build “credible firepower and effective firewalls for the euro.” According to Barroso, “for the euro area to be credible–and this [is] not only the message of the federalists, this is the message of the markets–we need a truly Community approach.”  Barroso’s address is at http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/president/state-union-2011/index_en.htm, and a printed version is available at http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/president/pdf/speech_original.pdf.

Barroso’s comments elicited a response from the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, a well-known Eurosceptic.  Klaus challenged Barroso’s call for deepening integration as a solution to the EU’s problems on 8 October 2011 while talking to reporters in Visegrád, Hungary, where Klaus took part in a meeting of the presidents of the Visegrad Group, that is, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary.  Klaus said that he “absolutely disagrees” with Barroso and maintained that Europe’s problems resulted from the rapid process of “more and more Europe.” According to Klaus, Barroso can not see the error in believing that when “more and more of Europe has brought about the current economic problems, so we will attempt to go still further and even more.  I think that it is a fatal [and] faulty approach.”  Klaus’s remarks appeared in the Czech version of the news from Radio Prague, which is available at http://www.radio.cz/cz/rubrika/zpravy/zpravy-2011-10-09#1.  A slightly shorter English version is at http://www.radio.cz/en/section/news/news-2011-10-08#1.

The disagreement between Barroso and Klaus is deeper than the current economic crisis in the EU.  As the Czech Republic assumed the presidency of the European Union in January 2009, Klaus challenged Barroso to visit Prague more often so that he could convince Barroso about the negative consequences of the Lisbon Treaty, which the Czech Republic indeed ratified through the course of 2009 and in November 2009 Klaus signed as president.  Watch the end of the exchange between Klaus and Barroso at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7MP-G-e_pY.

Meanwhile, the EU has favored deeper integration as a means of solving the economic problems it faces and preventing them in the future as contained in the so-called six pack of reforms.  The reforms that passed the European Parliament 28 September and the European Commission on 4 October 2011 contains steps for more coordination, surveillance, and enforcement to prevent future crises.  On the European Union’s “Six Pack,” see http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/10/1199 and http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=MEMO/10/455&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en.  On the passage of the measure in the European Commission, see http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/articles/governance/20111004_economic_governance_package_en.htm.

Juan Cole on Steve Jobs    10 October 2011

There are many sentimental remembrances of Steve Jobs, but the brief one by Juan Cole puts a historian’s take on this amazing computing and business innovator.  Read it at http://www.juancole.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-arab-american-buddhist-psychedelic-drug-user-and-capitalist-world-changer.html.

Germans Launch New War Crimes Probes    5 October 2011

German justice officials are reopening hundreds of cases related to Nazi death camp guards.  The precedent for their action was the trial and conviction of the former guard at the Treblinka and Sobibor camps, John Demjanjuk (born 1920), who after the war had lived in the United States.  A German court sentenced Demjanjuk to five years in prison, but he is appealing the conviction.  German prosecutors as well as Nazi hunters associated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the United States are working to bring as many cases to trial as soon as possible, given the age of the defendants.

For an AP report, see http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2011-10-05/germany-nazi-investigations/50665364/1.

Links between War and Climate Change    5 October 2011

Historians long have known the link between the Little Ice Age (approximately 1500-1900) and the shortage of food and other difficulties, but Dr. David Zhang, in the Department of Geography at the University of Hong Kong and other collaborators have demonstrated that more is at stake.  Increased wars, decreased populations, and increased signs of poor nutrition appear when the climate cools.  Their study focuses not only on Europe but also on China, where similar problems appear during the same span of time, even though there were no links that would have drawn one section of Eurasia into the problems of the other.

Their article, “Casualty Analysis of Climate Change and Large-Scale Human Crisis” is available in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in print form or electronically at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/09/29/1104268108.full.pdf+html?sid=d235ccc1-f6bd-49df-a623-43b18c5369da.

Dr. Zhang has been researching the social impact of climate change for some time, and he was the lead author with Peter Brecke, Harry F. Lee, Yuan-Qing He, and Jane Zhang of  “Global Climate Change, War and Population Decline in Recent Human History” that appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104/49 (2007), 19214-19219.

An article describing the research is at http://www.livescience.com/16357-human-crisis-climate-change.html (it contains some errors in the publication dates for the articles).  A summary is also available at http://www.hku.hk/press/news_detail_5664.html.  A bibliography of Dr. Zhang’s research is at http://geog.hku.hk/staff_FT_Zhang.html.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Displays Hitler Letter from 1919    5 October 2011

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles is putting on display a letter Adolf Hitler wrote on 16 September 1919 to a German soldier, Adolf Gemlich.  In the letter, Hitler claimed that Jews will not assimilate and have a “lust for gold and domination.”  He believed the “ultimate objective” must be “the irrevocable removal of the Jews in general.”  The contents of the letter have been known for years, but the Wiesenthal Center’s acquisition of the letter makes it available for public viewing.

See http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishFeatures/Article.aspx?id=240350.  A translation of the letter is available at http://www.h-net.org/~german/gtext/kaiserreich/hitler2.html.  Information about the letter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center is at http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441467&ct=10863025.

Václav Havel Turns 75    4 October 2011

On 5 October, the Czech playwright, former dissident, and former president, Václav Havel (born 1936), will be 75 years old.  The Communist regime made it hard for him to pursue his interest in the theater because he came from a bourgeois family.  Nevertheless, he took evening classes to complete the gymnasium and studied drama through a correspondence program.  He had some formal technical training, preferring work as a stage hand in theaters.  His first plays appeared in the 1960s, when Czechoslovakia’s Stalinist regime began to thaw, but the regime banned his plays after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia that halted the liberalization efforts of the country under Alexander Dubček (1921-1992).  In the 1970s, Havel was outspoken against the regime and was one of the founders of the Charter 77 dissident organization.  His essays “An Open Letter to Dr. Husák, General Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party” (1975) and “Power of the Powerless” (1978) are biting indictments of so-called advanced socialism.  For his continued anti-regime activity, Havel was jailed on numerous occasions and once commented that he carried his tooth brush with him because it was difficult to obtain one in prison.  His work as a playwright and dissident became famous abroad.  The regime certainly would have been pleased had he left the country because he would have been all but ignored as an exile.  Havel chose the harder path of remaining an outspoken critic of the regime at home, and as a result, he understood that he could not attend performances of his plays or receive awards abroad because the regime would not have let him return to the country.

Havel was instrumental in the round table negotiations of November-December 1989 that brought an end to Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, after which the Federal Assembly elected him president of the republic.  When it was apparent that Czechoslovakia would disintegrate, Havel resigned in July 1992, stating that he would not preside over the break-up of the republic.  After the creation of independent Slovak and Czech states on 1 January 1993, the Parliament of the Czech Republic elected Havel president of the country.  In 2003, he completed his second term and could not run for a third.  During his time as president of Czechoslovakia, the country worked with other former Soviet bloc allies to disband the Warsaw Pact and underwent the first stages of privatization.  Havel was president in 1999 when the Czech Republic joined NATO.  He oversaw the efforts to bring the Czech Republic into the European Union, which occurred in 2003, just two months after Havel had left the presidency.

Despite struggles with cancer and respiratory illnesses, results of his one-time smoking habit, Havel has been active in retirement, writing, doing research on human rights, and taking on other activities.  He hosts the Forum 2000 conference, which from 9 to 11 October 2011 will consider “Democracy and the Rule of Law.”  He published his memoirs as president, Prosím, stručně (2006), which appeared in English as To the Castle and Back (2007), as well as a play, Leaving [Odcházení] (2007), and other works.

After the death of his first wife of 32 years, Olga Šplíchalová (1933-1996), Havel married the Czech actress Dagmar Veškrnová (born 1953).  Havel has no children of his own, but Dagmar Havlová has one daughter.

Havel’s web site in English is at http://vaclavhavel.cz/Index.php?&setln=2, and his essays and other writings are at http://vaclavhavel.cz/index.php?sec=2&id=5&kat=2&from=0.  A list of publications by and about Havel in English and other languages, aside from Czech and Slovak, is available at http://cr.middlebury.edu/pol_sci/havel/biblio.htm.  The English version of Havel’s library is at http://www.vaclavhavel-library.org/en/.  The web site for Forum 2000 is http://www.forum2000.cz/.

How Bad Is Double Dipping?    3 October 2011

Iwan Morgan, who is a professor at the United States Studies Institute for the Study of the Americas in the School of Advanced Study at the University of London in the UK, has written a blog for the History News Network titled “Lessons from History on the Double-Dip Recession.”  In the piece, he examines the history of recessions, including those policy makers induced.  He suggests the need for government initiatives, rather than austerity measures, to pull America out of its economic doldrums.

The blog is available at http://hnn.us/node/142060.