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

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In 1939 Johnny Burke (1908-1964) composed the music and Bob Haggard (1914-1998) wrote the lyrics for the hit song "What's New?" whose first line serves as the title of this blog.  To listen to Linda Ronstadt (born 1946) perform "What's New?" with Nelson Riddle (1921-1985) and his orchestra (Asylum, 1983), click here.  A new window will open, allowing the music to play in the background.

Check this web page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  To read the article of your choice, either click on the title that appears in the table of contents or scroll down the page.
   
For news and commentary from the most recent past quarter, click here.  For earlier quarters in the year or previous years, see the Introduction and Index for "What's New?"

Table of Contents for the Second Quarter of 2017

Contents

  1. 1 More Protests in Hungary    22 May 2017
  2. 2 Views on US Options in Eastern Europe in the 1950s    19 May 2017
  3. 3 Czech Cabinet Crisis Nears an End    19 May 2017
  4. 4 Changes in the EU’s Military Structure    19 May 2017
  5. 5 The End of the Macedonian Stalemate    18 May 2017
  6. 6 MEPs Vote to Sanction Hungary    18 May 2017
  7. 7 Poland, Hungary, and the EU    17 May 2017
  8. 8 Prevezon Case Settled    15 May 2017
  9. 9 As Summer Approaches, the Asylum Issue Gets Hotter    15 May 2017
  10. 10 Possible Elections in Austria This Autumn    15 May 2017
  11. 11 Shall We Liquidate Journalists?    14 May 2017
  12. 12 Changing the Constitution    12 May 2017
  13. 13 TED Talk of Deborah Lipstadt    12 May 2017
  14. 14 Visa-free Travel to EU for Ukrainians    12 May 2017
  15. 15 History Is the Top Major at Yale for the Class of 2019    11 May 2017
  16. 16 Interview with Nuremberg Prosecutor    10 May 2017
  17. 17 Attack on Navalny    10 May 2017
  18. 18 Wait!  Not Yet!    5 May 2017
  19. 19 Bulgaria’s New Government    5 May 2017
  20. 20 Resisting Fascism    4 May 2017
  21. 21 Funding at Risk for Hungary and Poland    3 May 2017
  22. 22 Czech Government Resignation    3 May 2017
  23. 23 Czech Government to Resign    2 May 2017
  24. 24 More Protests in Budapest    2 May 2017
  25. 25 Brawl in Macedonia’s Parliament    28 April 2017
  26. 26 26 April Debate about Hungary    27 April 2017
  27. 27 EU Puts Hungary on Notice    26 April 2017
  28. 28 Proof of Armenian Genocide    26 April 2017
  29. 29 Le Pen’s Russian Political and Financial Connections    22 April 2017
  30. 30 Russia’s Efforts to Influence the French Election    21 April 2017
  31. 31 Turkey’s “Yes” Vote    18 April 2017
  32. 32 Democracy at Stake in Turkey’s Referendum    15 April 2017
  33. 33 Lex CEU    13 April 2017
  34. 34 “History Is Not a Useless Major”    12 April 2017
  35. 35 Montenegro Closer to NATO Membership    12 April 2017
  36. 36 A Call for Greater EU Unity    11 April 2017
  37. 37 Make Europe Great Again--MEGA    11 April 2017
  38. 38 Armenian Elections    11 April 2017
  39. 39 The Plight of Gays in Chechnya    11 April 2017
  40. 40 Hungarian President Signed University Law    11 April 2017
  41. 41 Britain or United Kingdom?    11 April 2017
  42. 42 Slovenia-Croatia Border Delays    10 April 2017
  43. 43 Kosovo Postpones Army’s Creation    10 April 2017
  44. 44 Russia-Syria-US-Public Relations    10 April 2017
  45. 45 Protests in Budapest    10 April 2017
  46. 46 No Roaming Charges in the EU    7 April 2017
  47. 47 MEPs Approve Ukraine Visa-free Travel to EU    7 April 2017
  48. 48 Polish Government Takes over Museum    6 April 2017
  49. 49 Hungary Passed University Law    5 April 2017
  50. 50 Hungarian Government to Remove Lukács Statue    5 April 2017
  51. 51 Timothy Snyder and Bill Maher    5 April 2017
  52. 52 IMF Loan for Ukraine    4 April 2017
  53. 53 Belarus-Russia Petroleum Deal    4 April 2017
  54. 54 Update on Russian Involvement in US Politics    2 April 2017

More Protests in Hungary    22 May 2017

Demonstrations have continued in Hungary, and the latest, on 21 May, drew thousands in Budapest.  Their main demand was the elimination of the law that would force the closure of Central European University, but the protestors also aired other concerns, including restrictions on nongovernmental agencies and the government’s treatment of migrants.  The European Union is pressuring Hungary to reverse the law regarding private universities, and the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has vowed to take the matter to court.  See http://budapestbeacon.com/featured-articles/thousands-march-on-hungarian-parliament/46958.

Views on US Options in Eastern Europe in the 1950s    19 May 2017

Two recently declassified historical analyses, from the pen of Ronald D. Landa in 2012, examine what options the United States considered in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, including the time during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  See http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB581-Eisenhower-views-on-fighting-communism-in-Eastern-Europe-in-1950s/; and http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB591-DOD-Study-Weighs-Cautious-Eisenhower-Approach-to-Hungary-1956/.

Czech Cabinet Crisis Nears an End    19 May 2017

As the investigation into Andrej Babiš’s possible efforts at tax evasion continues, Babiš’s party, ANO, along with Bohuslav Sobotka, the Social Democratic prime minister, and the president of the republic, Miloš Zeman, have agreed on a replacement for Babiš, from the ANO party, as finance minister: Ivan Pilný.  Zeman indicated that he will make the change official next week.  This will end the uncertainty about the longevity of the current cabinet and increases the possibility that the cabinet will survive until the 2018 elections.  If so, it would be only the second government to do so since the 1993 creation of the Czech Republic.  See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-czech-government-pilny-idUSKCN18D1UW; and https://www.novinky.cz/domaci/438302-zeman-jmenuje-pilneho-ministrem-financi-pristi-tyden.html (in Czech).

Changes in the EU’s Military Structure    19 May 2017

Three changes are taking place in the European Union’s military structure that inch the EU closer to creating a unified military.  First, a new headquarters (generally referred to as HQ) will take command of so-called nonexecutive missions, that is, training missions, that are not combat oriented and do not function independently of the countries in which they operate.  Second, battle groups, which are engaged in conflicts, will receive funding from the EU instead of the individual member states.  Finally, member states will assemble a coalition of armies to function under the EU flag, a program referred to as permanent structured cooperation or Pesco.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/137965.

The End of the Macedonian Stalemate    18 May 2017

On 17 May, the president of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, gave the Social Democratic leader, Zoran Zaev, a mandate to form a government, after Zaev had pledged to preserve the territorial integrity of Macedonia.  The stalemate, which lasted several months, even broke into a violent conflict in the parliament, largely over fears, which the Russians fueled, that Macedonia’s Albanians, who were to join the new coalition, demanded official status for the Albanian language and intended to break up the country, in order to form a greater Albania.

In a recent conversation, the Russian ambassador in Macedonia, Oleg Shcherbak, reportedly told Nikola Gruevski, the former prime minister, that Macedonia needs Russia and that the country will face Russian bans on its agricultural products if it strengthens its ties with the West.  It appears that Russia will face another defeat in the Balkans, just as it did over the fate of Montenegro, which is slated to join NATO, within a matter of weeks, despite last year’s coup attempt, whose conspirators had links with Russia.

MEPs Vote to Sanction Hungary    18 May 2017

On 17 May, the European Parliament voted (393/221) to support the initiation of Article 7 sanctions against Hungary for refusing to settle its quota of migrants, targeting Central European University, and restricting nongovernmental agencies.  The MEPs of the European People’s party (EPP), of which Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party is a member, were divided over the measure: 93 opposed it, while 67 supported it, and 40 abstained.  More EPP members supported it and abstained from voting than voted against it.  See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170511IPR74350/fundamental-rights-in-hungary-meps-call-for-triggering-article-7; and http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-%2f%2fEP%2f%2fNONSGML%2bPV%2b20170517%2bRES-RCV%2bDOC%2bPDF%2bV0%2f%2fEN&language=EN (since press reports about the EPP vote were inconsistent, it was best to consult the actual European Parliament voting record).  For the results of all the votes for the plenary session of 15-18 May 2017, see http://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/votes.html?tab=votes#banner_session_live.

Poland, Hungary, and the EU    17 May 2017

At the European Commission’s urging, for the first time, the European Council discussed the problem of Poland’s sidestepping the rule of law, with Hungary coming to Poland’s defense.  The discussions skirted the issue of sanctioning Poland, but it was clear that some participants thought along these lines.  Meanwhile, in the European Parliament, some members of the European People’s party, of which Hungary’s ruling Fidesz is a member, are talking of supporting a resolution by the Socialists and Democrats, ALDE, Greens, and GUE to launch Article 7, of the Treaty on the European Union, to impose sanctions against Hungary for its violations of the rule of law.  The vote to initiate sanctions requires unanimity, and while Hungary and Poland would come to each other’s defense, the attempt would be historic.  The EU never resorted to sanctions, which include removing a country’s voting rights in the European Council.

Prevezon Case Settled    15 May 2017

The US Justice Department settled the Prevezon case for 6 million USD on 12 May, just before it was to go to court.  That means the details of the Russian money-laundering scheme that involved New York City real estate and ended in the controversial death of Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed the case, never will come to light.  It seems that political motives were behind the settlement, especially since the case was to go to court on 15 May and the prosecutor once was Preet Bharara, whom Donald Trump fired in March.  See http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/13/world/prevezon-settlement/index.html.

As Summer Approaches, the Asylum Issue Gets Hotter    15 May 2017

On 10 May, Slovakia and Hungary went to the Court of Justice of the European Union, claiming that the quota system for taking asylum seekers is illegal.  Poland backed their position.  At the same time, Austria wants to prolong an exemption from settling its quota of migrants, after it had accepted approximately 90,000 in 2015.  Hungary is sending migrants from all its camps to a collection of shipping containers on the Serbian border.  Meanwhile, Italy has managed to strike a deal with Libyan tribes to stop migration into the country, as a spike in migrants threatens to push the numbers of people knocking at the European Union’s door to record numbers.  This summer, it is likely that the migrant issue again will pit human suffering against what many see as Europeans’ desire to preserve their security and culture.

Possible Elections in Austria This Autumn    15 May 2017

After the resignation of the leader of the Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) because of constant disagreements in the government, Sebastian Kurz, the thirty-year-old foreign minister and ÖVP’s rising star, stated that the logical solution is early elections, likely to take place this autumn.  On 14 May, the ÖVP confirmed Kurz as its chairman.  Youthful and charismatic, Kurz has many worried that he will steer Austria to the far right because he has decried the “division into good and bad” that demonizes Viktor Orbán of Hungary, he likely will construct a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), and his power-grab in the ÖVP indicates what he may attempt to do in the Austrian government.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/137888; http://www.politico.eu/article/sebastian-kurz-pulls-plug-on-austrian-grand-coalition/; and http://www.reuters.com/article/us-austria-politics-kurz-idUSKCN18A0X9.

Shall We Liquidate Journalists?    14 May 2017

The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, visited China to attend a forum on developing trade through China’s Silk Road initiative.  Also in attendance was Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.  On 14 May, the two met, along with the Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov, for bilateral talks.  As he was entering the meeting, Zeman jokingly said, in Russian, “there are other journalists here?  There are too many journalists, and perhaps we should liquidate them.”  Putin responded that “it is not necessary to liquidate them but certainly to reduce their number.”  See http://www.tyden.cz/rubriky/domaci/zeman-s-putinem-se-behem-setkani-obesli-bez-tlumocnika_429884.html (in Czech).  A Youtube video with the two presidents entering the room is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNnX2Rjq5Zk.



Flippant disrespect for journalists, who ensure the transparency of democracy and guarantee free speech, is to be expected from a leader, like Putin, who has instituted a proto-totalitarian regime.  Such a statement coming from the president of the Czech Republic, which is a solid democracy, is shocking.  This is another of Zeman’s many faux pas, and the 2018 election will determine whether Czechs no longer wish to tolerate a person with such opinions in the Hrad or whether they value Zeman’s populist opinions.

Changing the Constitution    12 May 2017

Gregory Watson, who discovered an unratified amendment to the US Constitution that dated from 1789, managed to complete the ratification process between 1983 and 1992.  While researching for a college paper, Watson discovered that an insufficient number of states had ratified what was to become the Twenty-seventh Amendment, which states that a pay raise the members of Congress approve for themselves cannot take effect until after the subsequent election.  He received a C for the paper at the University of Texas, but it set him on a quest to get the remaining states to ratify the amendment.  In March 2017, the former professor who had assigned him the C officially changed his grade to an A.  See http://www.npr.org/2017/05/05/526900818/the-bad-grade-that-changed-the-u-s-constitution.

TED Talk of Deborah Lipstadt    12 May 2017

During a TED talk, Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of history at Emory University, in Atlanta, GA, explained how she won the famous court case, that lasted from 1996 to 2000, in the United Kingdom, against David Irving, who had sued her for libel.  Lipstadt had accused Irving of being a Holocaust denier, and she proved her position by demonstrating the errors and shortcomings in Irving’s footnotes.  Her story became the subject of the 2016 film Denial.  See https://www.ted.com/talks/deborah_lipstadt_behind_the_lies_of_holocaust_denial.

Visa-free Travel to EU for Ukrainians    12 May 2017

The Council of the European Union has approved the European Commission’s proposal for visa-free travel, for up to 90 days, for Ukrainians destined for the Schengen area.  While visiting the EU, however, Ukrainians cannot accept employment.  EU citizens have enjoyed visa-free travel to Ukraine for a decade.  Ukraine enacted a number of reforms to secure the visa-free travel privilege, including the adoption of biometric passports.  The new arrangement takes effect 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of the European Union, which means that it will begin some time in the middle of June.  See http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-1270_en.htm.

History Is the Top Major at Yale for the Class of 2019    11 May 2017

Yale University announced that history is the most popular major among students in the class of 2019.  Changes in course offerings, new faculty, the creation of focuses in regions and themes (what the Department of History refers to as pathways), and the elimination of required courses (a distribution of courses still is necessary) helped strengthen enrollment.  Alan Mikhail, the Department of History director of undergraduate studies, also believes that, while economics and politics failed to explain current crises, history offers a “deep sensitivity to the complexities and nuances of society, politics, law, and culture; a willingness to embrace the messiness of the past and hence also the present; a long-term perspective; critical reading habitats; an inherent skepticism of easy answers.”  See http://blog.historians.org/2017/05/yale-historys-major-comeback/.

Interview with Nuremberg Prosecutor    10 May 2017

Leslie Stahl, of the news magazine 60 Minutes, interviewed Ben Ferencz (born 1920), who successfully prosecuted 22 SS Einsatzgruppen leaders, at Nuremberg, for the execution of Jews and others on the Eastern Front.  In 1948, the court indicted 24 men, but only 22 stood trial (one committed suicide and another was too ill to be tried).  Four faced execution, ten others condemned to be executed had their sentences commuted, and all those imprisoned were released in 1958.  Ferencz, a Hungarian Jew from Transylvania, whose family had ended up in Romania, after the Treaty of Trianon, emigrated to America as a child.  He studied law, fought in the Second World War, and is the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.  See http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-the-last-nuremberg-prosecutor-alive-wants-the-world-to-know/.

Attack on Navalny    10 May 2017

After an attacker, in March, threw green dye on his face, Alexei Navalny, Russia’s opposition leader, underwent eye surgery in Spain.  It will take him several months to recover his eyesight.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39862598.

Wait!  Not Yet!    5 May 2017

The Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech prime minister, announced that his cabinet now will not resign.  The president, Miloš Zeman, refused to appoint a government of experts or to call for early elections.  Zeman, who is unable to cooperate with those who differ with him and who dislikes Sobotka, has indicated that his interpretation of events is that the government is not resigning, since there was no vote to do so, but only Sobotka, whom he could replace as prime minister.  As a result, Sobotka decided not to tender the resignation of the cabinet.  During a press briefing on 5 May, Zeman indicated his preference of a new government, with the same constellation of parties, but without Sobotka.  In fact, Zeman addressed those attending, including Sobotka, as though Sobotka had resigned, and Zeman wished him well in the future.  Sobotka then clarified that neither he hor his government is resigning immediately, given the position of the president, but the entire government will resign, as the coalition had decided during its latest negotiations, in the middle of May.  Zeman briefly repeated his stance, and when Sobotka attempted to add further clarification, Zeman embarrassingly walked out of the press briefing.  Were only Sobotka to resign, it is possible that Andrej Babiš, the wealthy and controversial finance minister, whose finances the police are investigating, might remain at his post.  After Zeman’s abrupt departure, Sobotka apologized for the confusion, indicating that it even was a surprise for him, and he stated that the entire crisis would end if Babiš would resign.  He stated that this is the only demand of the Social Democrats because Babiš’s continued presence in the cabinet, in light of the ongoing investigation, discredits the entire government.  The controversy surrounding Babiš deepened when news broke that he supposedly influenced the news coverage of one of the media outlets he owns.



The current cabinet crisis is a minor affair that has personality differences as well as a financial scandal at its root.  At this point, there are no high stakes involved, as there are with the French election, but it would not be surprising if the Czech Republic were to experience an increase in disinformation and cyber interference from Russia.  Zeman is a friend of the Kremlin, which would find it convenient to side with Zeman, especially since Sobotka has differed with Zeman over certain policies with respect to Russia.  Furthermore, Babiš, whose ANO party takes a populist stance, has sided with Zeman on certain issues regarding Russia. 


Bulgaria’s New Government    5 May 2017

With a one-seat majority in the parliament, Bulgaria’s new government is a coalition of the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), which was the largest party in the recent elections, and the nationalist United Patriots (UP) grouping of three parties.  GERB’s Boiko Borisov will return as prime minister.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bulgaria-government-idUSKBN17Z0XO.

Resisting Fascism    4 May 2017

An amateur Czech photographer caught a sixteen-year-old Girl Scout in a debate with a skinhead, in Brno, during a May Day parade. The woman, Lucie Mysliková, stated,

I went to the counter-demonstration as someone who was determined to change things. To me it makes sense to try and change the world around me.  I think young people should get involved in such things. They should be aware of what's going on.  You ask me if standing up to skinheads should be left to older people–well us, younger people, are going to be living here a lot longer than the older generation.

Photo Credit: Vladimír Čičmanec, as reprinted in Rob Cameron, "Photo of Czech Girl Scout Standing up to Skinhead Goes Viral," BBC, 4 May 2017, at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39804471.

The exchange related to migrants and refugees, and the skinhead told Mysliková that the people whom she wants to help will rape her. More information about the incident and the photograph, which has gone viral, is at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39804471.

Funding at Risk for Hungary and Poland    3 May 2017

To gain access to European Union markets, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway fund social programs in underdeveloped EU states.  Norway is negotiating with Poland and Hungary over the disposition of 1 billion EUR in aid, but talks have stalled.  Poland and Hungary want to channel the 10 percent of the funds for civil-society projects through the government, and the Norwegians insist on providing the money directly to independent agencies.  Poland and Hungary, like Russia, have attempted to emasculate certain nongovernmental agencies that challenge the growing authoritarian trends in these states.  See https://euobserver.com/nordic/137726.

Czech Government Resignation    3 May 2017

The Czech government will deliver its resignation to the president on Thursday, which leaves six options.  The first four–the creation of a new coalition government, a reshuffling of the cabinet, a continuation of the current government in a caretaker capacity, or a rejection of the resignation–all are unlikely, given the animosity between the largest parties, the Social Democrats and ANO.  Furthermore, reshuffling the cabinet to exclude Andrej Babiš, who is the subject of a police investigation, would mean that his party, ANO, ditched him or that he did not seek a cabinet post.  Both are improbable because Babiš created ANO, which is popular with the voters, and he is aggressively defending his credibility.  The most predictable outcome is either a cabinet of experts, which the president would appoint, or early elections.  President Miloš Zeman would find it appealing to appoint a cabinet, even one that governed quietly, without any major initiatives, because it would make him appear strong, considering that he again is a candidate in the 2018 presidential race.  An early election is another realistic alternative because the regularly scheduled election is for 20-21 October 2017, and the parties are prepared for the brief official campaign, which lasts just a little more than two weeks.

Czech financial markets dipped slightly, with the news of the government’s resignation, but they immediately rebounded.  Because of its consociational heritage, the Czech Republic commonly has coalition cabinets and frequently experiences changes in government.  The last time a Czech cabinet survived for its entire term was the 1998-2002 government of Zeman.  The current government, under the leadership of Bohumil Sobotka, will fall shy of that goal by five months.

Czech Government to Resign    2 May 2017

The Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, announced that his government will resign this week because of the controversy involving the finance minister, Andrej Babiš.  The police recently announced that they had opened an investigation into Babiš’s finances, including the purchase of undated bonds in his company, Agrofert.  They specifically are focusing on the possibility that Babiš is guilty of tax evasion.  Sobotka decided on the cabinet’s resignation to reduce Babiš’s ability to claim that he is a martyr.  The crisis may lead to early elections.  See https://www.novinky.cz/domaci/436645-konci-cela-vlada-oznamil-sobotka.html (in Czech).

More Protests in Budapest    2 May 2017

Throughout Europe, 1 May is a holiday to honor labor, but Budapest celebrated with a protest against Viktor Orbán that drew several thousand.  Andras Fekete-Gyor, the chairman of Movement, a new political party that resists Orbán and his Fidesz party, remarked that “instead of the rich, modern and free Europe, [Orbán] sets the poor, oppressed and underdeveloped Russia as the example for our country.”  See http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/hungary-protesters-reject-governments-closer-russia-links-47135160.

Brawl in Macedonia’s Parliament    28 April 2017

Backers of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), Macedonia’s former ruling party that won the recent elections but does not have enough support to form a government, forced their way into the parliament and started a brawl, on 27 April, because they objected to an Albanian, Talat Xhaferi, being elected as the speaker. The country’s president, whose candidacy the VMRO-DPMNE had supported, still refuses to appoint the coalition government of Social Democrats and Albanians.  Many are convinced that the Albanians want to break up Macedonia and merge part of it into a greater Albania, a belief that Russian media, particularly RT and Sputnik, advance, claiming it is a goal of NATO and the European Union.  The Russians claim that the West’s interference in Macedonia’s affairs fueled the protests.  The Albanians, who make up a quarter of the population, demand official status for their language.

26 April Debate about Hungary    27 April 2017

On 26 April, a debate about Hungary’s new education law and other issues related to Hungary’s challenges to democracy took place in the European Parliament.  The debate is available on the European Parliament’s website at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170424IPR72035/meps-discuss-situation-in-hungary-with-prime-minister-orb%C3%A1n.  Simply click on the name of the individual, and a new page will open with a video of that individual’s comments. Particularly significant are those of Frans Timmermans, the vice president of the European Commission.  See http://audiovisual.europarl.europa.eu/Assetdetail.aspx?id=f4e7853d-3e49-4add-8788-a76000596215 and http://audiovisual.europarl.europa.eu/Assetdetail.aspx?id=3a0641be-4c8d-4b38-b163-a760005950ef.  An English translation of the remarks of Viktor Orbán also are available, in printed form, at http://www.miniszterelnok.hu/prime-minister-viktor-orbans-speech-in-the-european-parliament/.  His speech also is on the website of the European Parliament, but he spoke in Hungarian, and the interpreter is somewhat difficult to hear.

EU Puts Hungary on Notice    26 April 2017

On 26 April, after the European Commission had sent a formal letter to Hungary that its new education law violates European Union internal market freedoms, Viktor Orbán addressed the European Parliament.  He claimed that the intent of the law was not to attack Central European University, but he also condemned George Soros, who funds CEU and other non-governmental agencies in Hungary.  The EU also takes exception to the Hungarian government’s “Let’s Stop Brussels!” questionnaire that it mailed to households.  Families have until 20 May to return the questionnaires.  Hungary has one month to formally respond to the EU’s letter.  See https://www.rferl.org/a/hungary-ceu-president-ignatieff-urges-eu-support-vs-orban/28451316.html; http://www.dw.com/en/hungarys-orban-defends-education-law-in-brussels-calling-eu-outrage-absurd/a-38599683; http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEX-17-1116_en.htm; http://www.politico.eu/article/hungarys-lets-stop-brussels-survey/.

Proof of Armenian Genocide    26 April 2017

A historian at Clark University (Worcester, MA), Taner Akcam, discovered a document, in the archive of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, that proves there was a concerted effort to kill Armenians in Turkey during the First World War.  In 1915, Turkish officials requested information about the progress of the campaign in a coded telegram.  The document implicates Behaeddin Shakir (1874-1922), one of the individuals who had planned the genocide.  Although arrested twice, he never was convicted, but in 1922, Armenian assassins killed him, in Berlin.  References to the telegram appeared in an official Ottoman periodical, but historians presumed that the original document was lost, and Turkish deniers questioned its existence.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/22/world/europe/armenian-genocide-turkey.html?_r=0.

Le Pen’s Russian Political and Financial Connections    22 April 2017

Two French reporters have uncovered that Marine Le Pen has met Vladimir Putin not just once, as she has claimed publicly, but three times.  Furthermore, her party, the National Front (Front national, FN) has benefitted from Russian funding, including the First Czech Russian Bank, which is now defunct and whose former deputy director is charged with embezzlement.  See https://euobserver.com/elections/137629.

Russia’s Efforts to Influence the French Election    21 April 2017

Two media studies focus on the efforts of Russia to influence the French elections through fake news and social media.  See http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/04/What-Are-French-Voters-Sharing-Over-Twitter-v9.pdf; and https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58495e3329687f8bfbb3f25c/t/58f5b4cd2994ca075dfa803c/1492497618893/Role+and+Impact+of+Non-Traditional+Publishers+in+the+French+Presidential+Election+-+Report+1+-+Bakamo.pdf.  Furthermore, an article by Andrew Rettman examined several reports of Russian funds making their way into the coffers of parties that seek to undermine the European Union and otherwise advance Russia’s interests.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/137631.

Turkey’s “Yes” Vote    18 April 2017

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long been on a path to hijack Turkey’s democratic institutions and concentrate power in his hands, and the narrow and suspicious 51.4 percent majority in the 16 April constitutional referendum is a major step in that direction.  Erdoğan, as president, now controls the most important levers of Turkish administration and justice, but he does so without the support of the country’s major cities and the eastern part of the state.

There were problems with the campaign and voting procedures that OSCE observers noted, including the inability of those opposing the referendum to present their message and instances of voter intimidation.  In his victory speech, Erdoğan warned the staff of OSCE that “first of all, you should know your limits. Know your limits. We would neither see nor hear nor know the politically-oriented reports you prepare. We will just march ahead. This country has just undertaken the most democratic elections never seen in any Western country.”  Opposition parties vow to challenge the vote, but the outcome will not be in their favor.

Erdoğan also praised capital punishment in his speech, much to the distress of various politicians in the European Union who see the Turkey as distancing itself from democratic values.  Donald Trump, however, telephoned Erdoğan to congratulate him, and critics deride Trump for his decision to do so.



Erdoğan has solidified his reputation as a usurper of democracy, like Vladimir Putin.  Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński are not far behind.  The question is whether the departure from democracy these leaders represent is the sign of a growing trend.  If the attrition of democratic principles is limited, there is hope that the time of dictators who pay lip service to democracy will be brief.  If not, the effects will be chilling.

Democracy at Stake in Turkey’s Referendum    15 April 2017

Turkey’s constitutional referendum to strengthen the presidency takes place tomorrow.  Should it pass, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as president, will have extensive powers over the judiciary and the legislature, and he will remain in power until 2029 or even 2034, depending on the election cycle.  A perspective on the referendum, originally published in February, from the Middle East expert Juan Coal is available at https://www.juancole.com/2017/02/danger-presidential-emergency.html.  The Economist offers an update at http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/04/economist-explains-15.

Lex CEU    13 April 2017


Edit Zgut, a foreign policy analyst at Political Capital, and Wojciech Przybylski, the editor-in chief of Visegrad Insight and chairman of the Res Publica Foundation, have written an article that puts the law against CEU into perspective.  Hungary, like Poland, is rapidly abandoning democracy, and both countries are using the tactics of Vladimir Putin to advance and justify their own form of authoritarianism.  In the case of Hungary, there is no coincidence that the law against CEU comes after the Russian government revoked the license of St. Petersburg’s European University, that both the Hungary and Russia established a registry of non-governmental agencies that receive foreign funding, and that both governments attack the media.  

“History Is Not a Useless Major”    12 April 2017

Paul B. Sturtevant, an analyst at the Smithsonian Institution and editor of The Public Medievalist, published an article, titled "History Is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data," that tackles three myths about majoring in history: history majors are unemployed, the major does not prepare one for gainful employment, and history majors are underpaid.  See https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2017/history-is-not-a-useless-major-fighting-myths-with-data.

Montenegro Closer to NATO Membership    12 April 2017

On 11 April, Donald Trump ratified Montenegro’s membership in NATO.  Almost all the other countries of the alliance have approved Montenegro’s entry, and once Spain, the last country on the list, makes its decision, Montenegro will be a NATO ally.  Russia is unhappy with Montenegro’s choice to join NATO, and an attempted coup last year involved Russian nationals, who fled through Serbia.  Popular support in Montenegro for NATO entry has increased, over the years, but the percentage of those supporting the decision and those opposing it still is close, with a significant percentage of undecided.  The Russian media outlet RT stated that “more than half of Montenegro’s 620,000 inhabitants are opposed to NATO membership, according to recent polls.  The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists has recently cracked down on the opposition and accused it of plotting a coup with Russian assistance.”  Trump ratified the measure while his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was visiting Moscow.  See http://www.newsweek.com/trump-nato-montenegro-putin-membership-582454; and https://www.rt.com/usa/384360-trump-montenegro-nato-ratification/.

A Call for Greater EU Unity    11 April 2017

In 1967, Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber (1924-2006), a French journalist and politician, published The American Challenge that called on Europeans to unite economically and politically, in part to better compete with America, which had become powerful as a result of the Second World War.  Now, 50 years later, EU Digest has published a blog with a similar message.  It is brief enough to cite in its entirety:

EU–when will the EU sit up and smell the roses when it comes to its relations with the US    by RM

When President Trump sits around the table with his policy advisors you can be sure that the EU is not on top of the agenda.

Just compare last weekends state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Trump Estate in Palm Beach Florida to the "sober, cold shoulder" reception by Trump given to European Heads of State, Angela Merkel and Theresa May in Washington, DC.

That probably says it all as to how President Trump ranks Europe in his thought process.

Trump has also said that he trusts German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin equally. Does that imply that the United States will pursue a policy of equidistance between the EU and the Kremlin?

Everything is possible

It is not an idle question. Trump has made it obvious that established partnerships, alliances, rules, and protocols mean little to him. In his tweets, he rants about the media, attacks independent judges, targets individuals and companies, and belittles international organizations.

But even though the US under Trump is now a very unattractive ally for Europe, writing off the US as a European partner–which some in Europe would like to do sooner rather than later–would probably be a major mistake.

In the meantime, maybe Mr. Trump and his advisors should start to read-up on how important the EU and the US are to  each other’s economic well being.

Total US investment in the EU is three times higher than in all of Asia.

EU investment in the US is around eight times the amount of EU investment in India and China together.

EU and US investments are the real driver of this EU-US  transatlantic relationship, contributing to growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. It is estimated that a third of the trade across the Atlantic actually consists of intra-company transfers.

The transatlantic relationship also defines the shape of the global economy as a whole. Either the EU or the US is the largest trade and investment partner for almost all other countries in the global economy.

The EU and the US economies account together for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly a third of world trade flows.

Nevertheless, it is also very important for the EU to realize, if they haven't already, that they can't continue to be a "lackey" of the US, having to say "how high," whenever  the US says "jump."

But first,  before issuing an avalanche of "directives", the EU Commission, which has been running a pretty colorless "operation," should set itself a primary goal, which is to get all the member countries of the EU running in the same direction. This is not the case at present.

They can do this by initiating some basic changes as to how the EU operates, in order to make it more homogeneous and people friendly including:

Having the President of the EU Commission, who is presently appointed,  instead elected by popular vote in all EU member states.

Develop an independent foreign policy for the EU, which is not aligned with any other country's foreign policy.

Develop an independent EU Military defense force, which includes a central EU command and is not aligned with any other foreign military force.  

It is  no secret that NATO (which includes many EU member states)  and which was initially intended, after WW2, to protect Europe from Soviet aggression during the cold that followed, was gradually expanded by the US into a US government policy controlled global strike force.

Its purpose being to support US foreign policy in military operations around the world.

For the past  16 years, however, [it has been] mainly focusing on Afghanistan and the Middle East.

So far the results of these NATO military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Libya) have been a complete disaster.

In the meantime, NATO and US military campaigns in the Middle East over these past 16 years have also resulted in hundreds of thousands of people killed, created millions of displaced persons, flooding the EU and Turkey with refugees, and created major economic and social hardship.

Last but not least, the turmoil surrounding these wars  in the Middle East also resulted in the birth of the so-called Islamic State, which in reality is an assortment of former Iraqi soldiers, disturbed Islamic radicals and young indoctrinated Islamic fanatics from Europe and other parts of the world who have made terrorism their trade mark around the globe.   

Unfortunately, there is very little time left for the EU to change course in this turbulent world.

The EU  must be warned, however, that if they fall apart into smaller states again, these individual states will become "chopped meat" in serving US, Russian and Chinese interests and ambitions to obtain global dominance.

If BREXIT wasn't a wake-up call, Mr. Trumps foreign policy "tap-dance" with Russia and China certainly is a signal for the EU Commission to sit up straight and smell the roses.

Make Europe Great Again--MEGA    11 April 2017

One of the campaign slogans of the Social Democrat Martin Shulz is "Make Europe Great Again" or MEGA.  Although catchy, it does not apply to his sense of what Germany should spend on defense.  At a recent NATO meeting, member countries decided to reach the 2 percent target for defense spending, but Shultz, in a recent press conference, stated that he would not attempt that for Germany were he to become chancellor.  He believes that efforts should focus on finding ways to end conflicts and misunderstandings, not stockpile weapons.  Another big issue for Europe, according to Schultz, however, is that spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense would make Germany one of the strongest militaries in the world.  It is likely that such  "force armed to the teeth in the middle of Europe" as Schulz described it, might give pause to Germany's neighbors.  See http://www.dw.com/en/germany-wont-spend-2-percent-on-defense-says-spd-candidate/a-38368346.

Armenian Elections    11 April 2017

On 2 April, elections took place in Armenia, and the ruling Republican party won 49.1 percent of the votes.  The election, however, was not simply an example of the basic principle of non-democratic elections: the party in power stays in power.  The European Union helped finance the election and determined that it was fair, despite a few irregularities.  Also significant is that this election is part of the transformation of Armenia from a presidential to a parliamentary system, which will be complete when the current Armenian president's term expires.  Finally, it is a sign of Armenia's amazing ability to steer a course between the EU and Russia.  A few years ago, as it was about to enter into a partnership with the EU, it suddenly shifted course and entered the Russian-let Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).  Since that time, however, it has managed to trade with both the EU and Russia and has not instituted a Russian-like or Belarussian-like dictatorship.  Part of the reason may well be that Armenia is 98 percent Armenian, and Russians account for less than 0.5 percent of the population.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/137555.

The Plight of Gays in Chechnya    11 April 2017

The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has described the mistreatment of homosexual men in the Chechnya Republic of Russia.  There are claims of police abuse, a concentration camp, and honor killings that the authorities never investigate.  The Cechnyan authorities deny the charges.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gay-crisis-in-chechnya_us_58eba074e4b081da6ad0060e; and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chechnya-gay-concentration-camps_us_58ece3d2e4b0ca64d9194e28.

Hungarian President Signed University Law    11 April 2017

The Hungarian president, János Ader, signed legislation into law that places new requirements on foreign universities operating in Hungary and that may result in Central European University to close or move.  About 70,000 protested the bill on Sunday, and a spontaneous protest took place on Monday.  Another demonstration is scheduled for Wednesday.  Áder stated that “it is the interest of all of us that the value created at foreign universities in Hungary in the past years should continue and accumulate further and academic work should continue undisturbed.”  CEU released a statement that it will negotiate with the government but will not compromise academic freedom.  It also “will immediately seek all available legal remedies.”  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-president-idUSKBN17C23M.  The CEU statement is at https://www.ceu.edu/article/2017-04-10/ceu-disagrees-decision-sign-legislation-plans-immediate-legal-action.

Britain or United Kingdom?    11 April 2017

In a letter to media outlets, the Slovak government agency Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre Authority, has threatened to impose fines for referring to Britain instead of the United Kingdom.  Slovakia’s leading newspaper, Sme, said the demand is absurd and will not change its common practice.  The British Embassy Bratislava–note the name–stated that it does not mind the term Britain.  See http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-slovakia-idUKKBN17C1KW.

Slovenia-Croatia Border Delays    10 April 2017

The European Union decreed more thorough border checks between Schengen and non-Schengen countries, even of EU citizens, in an effort to stop the entry of those who may have been fighting in Syria and Iraq.  As a result, the lines on the border between Slovenia, which is in Schengen, and Croatia, which is not, were unbearable on Friday, 7 April, so Slovenia suspended implementation of the order. The EU initiated the change just as vacationers from the EU began commuting to the beaches of Croatia.  See https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/slovenia-says-tougher-eu-border-checks-unacceptable/.

Kosovo Postpones Army’s Creation    10 April 2017

Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, has withdrawn plans to transform Kosovo’s security force into an army, an idea that the Serbian minority in the country opposes.  Claims of the United States and NATO that the creation of an army in Kosovo would destabilize the peacekeeping efforts between Serbia and Kosovo influenced the decision.  See https://www.voanews.com/a/kosovo-bows-to-us-nato-pressure-puts-off-plan-to-create-army/3801503.html.

Russia-Syria-US-Public Relations    10 April 2017

The United States sent missiles to destroy part of a small military base after having informed the Russians so that they were able to alert Syria to remove its aircraft.   That was the scenario of America’s 6 April attack, according to the historian Juan Cole.  The White House billed the strike as a stern warning against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, after it had reportedly used chemical weapons in Idlib Province.  Cole believed the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons was likely, but he warned that “plausibility is not the same as certainty.”  According to Cole, the US retaliation not only was symbolic but “could be a desperate attempt [of President Donald Trump] to dig out of his public-approval basement.”  See https://www.thenation.com/article/what-is-it-with-us-presidents-and-tomahawk-cruise-missile-strikes/

Protests in Budapest    10 April 2017

Approximately 70,000 protested in Budapest, on Sunday, 9 April, against the bill that would force Central European University out of Hungary.  János Áder, Hungary’s president, must decide, on Monday, 10 April, whether he will sign the bill.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-protest-idUSKBN17B0RM.

No Roaming Charges in the EU    7 April 2017

The European Parliament has passed legislation to eliminate roaming charges in the European Union.  The new rules will take effect on 15 June 2017.  See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170329IPR69066/end-of-roaming-final-hurdle-cleared.

MEPs Approve Ukraine Visa-free Travel to EU    7 April 2017

The European Parliament approved visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the European Union for 90 days within a 180-day period, provided they have a biometric passport.  Member states must approve the change, so it likely will not take effect until June.  See http://www.dw.com/en/european-parliament-approves-visa-free-travel-for-ukrainians/a-38324354.

Polish Government Takes over Museum    6 April 2017

One of the characteristics of a totalitarian regime is when it suppresses and then controls expression.  Poland is not totalitarian, but it certainly is losing more of its democratic characteristics rapidly.  On 5 April, the Supreme Administrative Court gave its approval to the government’s plan to take over the Second World War Museum in Gdańsk, giving the Law and Justice party (PiS) control of its content and exhibitions.  The museum, which just opened last month, focuses on the war in general, and PiS contends that it should concentrate on the Polish experience.  Part of the reason the museum irritates PiS likely is the fact that Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister and current president of the European Council, was responsible for its creation and the appointment of its administration.  See https://www.voanews.com/a/nationalistic-poland-government-changes-world-war-two-museum/3797932.html; http://www.npr.org/2017/03/25/521474699/nationalist-polish-government-wants-changes-to-world-war-ii-museum; and http://www.dw.com/en/polish-government-wins-gdansk-world-war-ii-museum-case/a-37261074.

Hungary Passed University Law    5 April 2017

On 4 April, thousands protested in Budapest, after the government passed new legislation regulating foreign universities.  Although there are more than two dozen foreign universities that operate in Hungary, the measure is designed to attack Central European University, whose founder, George Soros, is an opponent of the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán.  The university is calling on the president to veto the legislation.    See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-parliament-idUSKBN17619Q.

Information about the threat to CEU is available on the website of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, the professional association for specialists in the field, at http://www.aseees.org/advocacy/aseees-expresses-support-central-european-university.  Those wishing to sign a petition in support of CEU may do so at https://www.change.org/p/hungarian-national-assembly-save-the-central-european-university.

Hungarian Government to Remove Lukács Statue    5 April 2017

The Hungarian government announced that it will remove a statue of György Lukács (1885-1971) and replace it with one of St. Stephen, the first Hungarian king.  Lukács was a Hungarian-Jewish Marxist philosopher and literary critic.  He was actively involved in Hungarian Communist politics but always as an independent thinker.  Lukács was the commissar of education and culture, during the 1919 Hungarian communist government, and he was in the government of Imre Nagy (1896-1958) during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.  Nevertheless, Lukács did not hesitate to criticize government policies and the Soviet Union.  The government of Viktor Orbán likely finds Lukács an inconvenient figure because of his courage and outspoken opposition to authority.  See http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/228736/statue-of-gyorgy-lukacs-in-budapest-to-be-removed.

Timothy Snyder and Bill Maher    5 April 2017

In March, Bill Maher interviewed Yale historian Timothy Snyder, about the transformation from a democratic to an authoritarian regime, during an informal panel discussion that included Chris Hayes and Louise Mensch.  See the exchange at https://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/watch-a-yale-historian-explains-to-maher-how-trump-resembles-1930s-fascists-and-makes-the-russia-connection/.

IMF Loan for Ukraine    4 April 2017

The IMF released USD 1 billion to Ukraine, and the country anticipates the same amount from the United States and an additional EUR 600 million from the European Union.  The IMF expects Ukraine to further reform pensions, change the tax structure to avoid higher deficits, and restructure state-owned companies.  See http://fortune.com/2016/09/15/imf-ukraine-bailout-aid/

Belarus-Russia Petroleum Deal    4 April 2017

On 3 April, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, during a meeting in St. Petersburg, sketched out the major aspects of a deal in which Belarus will begin paying its USD 726 million debt to Russia, which, in turn, will resume shipping oil and gas to Belarus.  See https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-belarus-say-energy-dispute-settled/28408509.html.

Update on Russian Involvement in US Politics    2 April 2017

There are three investigations dealing with Russian involvement in American politics, and Clint Watts, once an FBI special agent, told a Senate committee that, if they wish to get to the bottom of Russian involvement in the US, “follow the trail of dead Russians.”  See http://www.cbsnews.com/news/russian-meddling-investigation-misinformation-tactics-senate-intelligence-committee/?ftag=YHF4eb9d17&yptr=yahoo.

A new attempt of the Russians to curry favor with the White House recently surfaced.  In February, based on National Security Agency advice, the White House cancelled a meeting with Alexander Torshin, known as the conservatives’ “favorite Russian.”  Torshin, a well-known member of the National Rifle Association, was to meet Donald Trump in connection with this February’s Prayer Breakfast, but on NSA advice, the White House cancelled the meeting.  Torshin is the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and a close associate of Vladimir Putin.  He evaded arrest in 2013 in Spain, where the authorities identified him as the godfather of a money-laundering scheme.  The exclusive story is available at https://www.yahoo.com/news/white-house-pulled-out-of-meet-and-greet-with-conservatives-favorite-russian-a-suspected-mobster-060026495.html.

Also in the news is Marine Le Pen’s visit to Russia to meet with Putin last month.  The French, however, can rest assured that the Russians will not interfere in their election, she learned at the time, because Putin denied any intent to do so.  See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/24/vladimir-putin-hosts-marine-le-pen-in-moscow.

It should be disturbing not only to Americans and French but anyone in a democracy that a major political party or a serious candidate for high public office seeks the friendship of those who are a apparent enemies of democratic methods, including the political leader of a kleptocracy.