The World Today for January 04, 2018
NEED TO KNOW
Clear and Present Danger
On Nov. 11, 60,000 people marched through Warsaw to celebrate Poland’s independence day. The official slogan of the event, organized by nationalist groups, was “We want God.” But marchers carried banners reading “Death to the enemies of the homeland,” “Clean blood,” and “White Europe.”
Coming just before the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) selected a new prime minister, the xenophobic demonstrations served as a wake-up call for Western Europe. To the distress of many, top PiS leaders first hailed the march as patriotic, calling it “a beautiful sight” and promising legal support for participants who had been “defamed” as fascists, wrote Volha Charnysh for Foreign Affairs.
PiS founder Jaroslaw Kaczynski orchestrated the installation of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Dec. 11 to give the party a more moderate face. But the far right is becoming more and more mainstream, Charnysh argues. Moreover, Morawiecki has hardly sought to make peace with the EU — suggesting that Poland may instead complicate tense Brexit negotiations and further threaten the shaky European bloc.
In his first televised interview as prime minister-designate, noted the Economist, Morawiecki called for the “rechristianization” of Europe. Then on Dec. 20, President Andrzej Duda signed into effect new laws that critics say undermine the independence of the country’s judiciary. The new laws came in defiance of an EU threat to begin proceedings to revoke Poland’s voting rights. Brussels responded by launching disciplinary measures under Article 7 of the EU treaty.
Watered down slightly since they were first proposed, Poland’s new laws give the parliament more control over the council that appoints judges and set a new retirement age that will compel about 40 percent of some 80-odd Supreme Court judges to step down, unless the president decides to retain them. Notably, the Supreme Court rules on the validity of elections.
Nevertheless, PiS has defended the overhaul. “This view that it’s an abuse of democratic standards is unfounded,” the New York Times quoted Duda as saying.
Revoking Poland’s voting rights in the EU would require a unanimous vote by all 27 other members, and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed to veto it, Reuters reported. Instead, the EU’s gamble could backfire by allowing PiS to present itself as the only party that can preserve Polish sovereignty, the Economist wrote. A government spokesman has already said Poland is being punished for its unwillingness to accept relocated refugees as mandated by the EU, and this week Morawiecki and Orban emphasized their anti-immigration stance during Morawiecki’s first visit to Hungary.
It’s a thorny problem for Brussels. Amid the tussle, Poland will likely pressure British Prime Minister Theresa May for her backing in exchange for supporting her case in the Brexit negotiations, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported. That would further deepen the divide between May and the EU’s western European leaders — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have both expressed support for invoking Article 7.
However, ignoring Poland’s changes to the judiciary would undermine areas as diverse as investment protection, child custody, and administration of the European Arrest Warrant, as national courts serve as the tributaries for EU law, according to the Economist.
Meanwhile, PiS is more popular than ever in Poland and few seem embarrassed by its extremist views: An official website already celebrates the independence-day march decried for its xenophobic banners and slogans.
WANT TO KNOW
Guilty As Charged
A US court found a Turkish banker guilty of helping Iran avoid US sanctions as part of a billion-dollar scheme that a witness testified involved the highest levels of the Turkish government – including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s Halkbank, was convicted of bank fraud and conspiracy to violate US sanctions law in Manhattan federal court, Reuters reported. He was found not guilty of money laundering.
Though not indicted, Erdogan “seemed to loom over” the trial, the New York Times reported. The Turkish president had bitterly denounced the case, urged US officials to drop the matter and taken up the issue personally with President Donald Trump.
Atilla was the only defendant to be tried. A co-defendant, gold trader Reza Zarrab, pleaded guilty before the trial began and became the prosecution’s star witness – describing a scheme that relied on false documents and front companies and involved top officials from Turkey, Iran and Halkbank.
Free At Last?
Ethiopia announced plans to close a notorious detention center and release some inmates in what rights workers hailed as an amnesty for at least some of the country’s thousands of political prisoners.
Hailemariam Desalegn, the prime minister, did not explicitly mention political prisoners in his address, however, and some cautioned that it might be too early to celebrate, the New York Times reported.
“He was very equivocal,” the paper quoted Addis Ababa lawyer Yacob Hailemariam as saying.
Ethiopia has never acknowledged that it holds political prisoners. But activists and other critics are often imprisoned under the country’s antiterrorism law or on charges of seeking to overthrow the Constitution, Hailemariam said.
Still, closing Maekelawi prison, a detention center in Addis Ababa, as the prime minister promised, would be symbolic, said Soleyana Gebremichael, the director of the Ethiopia Human Rights Project in Washington.
“Whenever you think of torture, you think of Maekelawi,” Gebremichael said.
No Rollback Here
The European Union’s top diplomat visited Cuba, reaffirming the bloc’s commitment to its rapprochement with the island nation as President Donald Trump’s administration pulls back from the détente negotiated by his predecessor.
Federica Mogherini’s visit “reconfirms the strong EU-Cuban relationship,” and she will press for an “ambitious and swift joint implementation” of the accord the bloc negotiated as former President Barack Obama normalized relations with Cuba in 2015-2016, Reuters quoted an EU statement as saying.
The deal was intended to win European firms access to the Cuban market and allow the bloc to press for political freedoms on the island.
Trump announced in June that he was “canceling” the Obama administration’s deals and re-imposed business and travel restrictions for Cuba in November. In what might be read as a rejoinder, a report in the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper noted that the EU is Cuba’s second-largest trading partner and most important donor of cooperation and foreign investment.
Out of This World
Adding more mysticism to ancient Egyptian lore, the majority of the iron daggers, axes and jewelry worn by pharaohs during the Bronze Age were literally out of this world.
Scientists discovered that the iron used during that period came from meteorites that had landed on Earth billions of years ago, Scientific American reported.
“Iron from the Bronze Age is meteoritic, invalidating speculations about precocious (early) smelting during the Bronze Age,” Albert Jambon, a French archaeo-metallurgist, wrote in his study.
Using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, Jambon determined that Tutankhamun’s dagger was made of iron that contained nearly 11 percent nickel and traces of cobalt, typical of iron found in meteorites.
Terrestrial iron has less than 1 percent nickel or cobalt.
During the Bronze Age, iron was valued 10 times more than gold, with pharaohs sending expeditions for its search. By the early Iron Age, when smelting of terrestrial iron ores began, it became cheaper than copper.
Click here to see the dagger under the spectrometer.