The World Today for June 20, 2018

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Liberals and Illiberals

The right-wing, anti-immigrant Slovenian Democratic Party, led by two-time former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, won a 25-percent share of the vote in the nation’s parliamentary elections last month, securing the first priority in trying to form a government.

But that won’t be an easy task. The tiny country of Slovenia, a break-off of the former Yugoslavia and a member of the European Union since 2004, has an incredibly fractured political landscape.

Nine parties entered parliament in June’s elections, most of which have said they won’t participate in a coalition with Jansa, who was previously jailed on corruption charges. Instead, six opposition parties are mulling joining forces, threatening to prolong coalition-building until as late as September, Bloomberg reported.

Jansa has kept a cordial tone throughout the post-election furor, calling on parties across the political spectrum “to face internal and external challenges together,” the New York Times reported.

He’s even offered to step aside and let another politician within his party take the post of prime minister if that would make forming a coalition easier, and he welcomed the opposition parties’ attempt to form a massive coalition of their own if they can manage to muster a majority.

But Slovenia isn’t the only European country facing such political uncertainty.

Across Europe, nationalist, populist parties have come to power by riding a wave of anti-EU sentiment that erupted as a backlash against mass migration to the continent in recent years, John Lloyd, a co-founder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, wrote in a telling op-ed for Reuters.

The Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom is the most prominent example of populism at work.

But in the European Union’s easternmost states, the divide is more palpable.

In Poland and Hungary, governments have advocated for “illiberal democracies” and stifled opposition groups and a critical press. Right-wing governments in both countries are waging a battle with EU leaders over asylum quotas within the bloc, and foment support among their bases with anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Jansa is particularly close with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who like Jansa is considered by some to be an independence-era hero, and who now has become a magnet for nationalist regimes sprouting up east of the former Iron Curtain.

Traditional states within the EU are not immune to the trend, either.

Italy’s populist Five-Star Movement and the staunchly anti-immigrant League formed a government last month, and one of their first orders of business has been to stop illegal immigration to the country.

Already last week, the new government refused to allow a ship with over 600 African migrants to dock in Italy, forcing the vessel to move on toward friendlier shores in Spain, Agence France-Presse reported.

Even the EU’s most ardently liberal members – France and Germany – have been weakened by populist, right-wing movements.

Without a doubt, liberal, progressive governments are still the norm within the bloc.

But with Slovenia now going the way of Hungary, Poland and Italy, “the forward march of liberalism, and of the Union, has been halted,” Lloyd said.



A New Leaf

Canadian tourist T-shirts could well swap the traditional maple leaf for another icon following a Senate vote Tuesday making Canada the world’s first wealthy nation to fully legalize marijuana.

With it already approved by the House of Commons, the Senate approval means Bill C-45, otherwise known as the Cannabis Act, will soon become law. The measure legalizes marijuana possession, home growing, and sales for adults, with some remaining criminal penalties for things like selling to minors.

The move could also have dramatic implications for US drug policy, Vox reported.

While nine US states have also legalized marijuana for recreational use and 29 have allowed medicinal use, Canada’s federal legalization of the drug could potentially undermine three major international drug policy treaties, long fudged on the side of the Americans by saying federal laws still outlaw the drug, Vox wrote. Uruguay fully legalized marijuana in 2013.

Meanwhile, the British government said it would review the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes but rejected suggestions by a former foreign secretary regarding legalizing recreational use, the BBC reported.


Cruel Intentions

Mexico’s foreign minister blasted US policy toward illegal migrants as “cruel and inhumane” amid a domestic furor over the separation of children from their families so that parents can be prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.

The criticism comes as the US formally withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council over its purported bias against Israel, NPR reported.

“I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments,” the United States’ ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told reporters. “We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

Separately, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray responded to photos of children behind chain-link fences in detention centers and leaked audio recordings of distressed separations by saying Mexico “cannot remain indifferent in the face of something that clearly represents a violation of human rights,” Politico reported.

UN high commissioner on human rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein called the US border policy “unconscionable” on Monday.


Truth and Reconciliation

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted that his country’s security institutions have tortured and committed “terrorist acts” against its own citizens in the past.

He also hinted he might seek to abolish an anti-terrorism law that has led to the detention and prosecution of thousands in the East African country, Al-Jazeera reported.

“Our constitution doesn’t allow it, but we have been torturing, causing bodily damages and even putting inmates in dark prison cells,” Ahmed said in an address to parliament on Monday. “These were terrorist acts committed by us, and using force just to stay in power is a terrorist act too.”

The admission comes after Ethiopia lifted a state of emergency earlier this month that was imposed to quell massive anti-government protests that forced his predecessor to resign. Since Ahmed took office in April this year, the government has freed more than 1,000 prisoners, including some prominent opposition leaders, as he has sought to win the faith of his people and the international community.


Shutting Off the Buzz

With innumerable distractions at their fingertips, university students today have a hard time focusing on their studies, especially during exams.

To drown out the distractions, students in Belgium have taken a drastic step – moving in with monks during finals, the BBC reported.

Interned in medieval-era rooms, students at the Maredsous monastery rise early, eat in silence with the monks and listen in on prayers.

“We wake up to the sound of the bells at 6:45 AM,” said Aubaine, a medical student. “Here there is nothing to do except study, unlike at home where you have computers and television,” she said.

WiFi and cellphones are allowed only for studying. Otherwise, guests have to abide by the monks’ humble lifestyle.

“They are in a monastery and not in their dorm rooms,” Brother Ignace, one of the monks, told the BBC.

The pious environment has proven beneficial for students like Aubaine.

“The few times I haven’t come here, I have failed more exams than usual,” she said. “It’s this calm atmosphere that stops us becoming distracted.”

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