The World Today for September 28, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

MACEDONIA

Pride and Prejudice

Numerous civilizations, religions and ideologies have dominated the Balkan Peninsula over the millennia.

Greeks, Slavs, Turks and others have jostled for supremacy over the centuries, securing and sloughing off fealty to one another at different points.

In the context of that deep and rich history, names mean a lot.

So it’s no surprise, as Quartz noted, that the upcoming name-change referendum in Macedonia is a big deal, even though the change itself would be tiny.

Currently, Macedonians refer to their country as the “Republic of Macedonia.” But the global community recognizes them as citizens of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” because Greece has long resisted other monikers that might suggest leaders in Skopje have claims on the northern Greek region of “Macedonia.”

As a member of the European Union and NATO, Greece has vetoed the Republic of Macedonia’s membership in those organizations unless it changes its name.

Accordingly, on Sept. 30, residents will vote in a referendum to determine if they will add a five-letter modifier to their country’s name, making it the “Republic of North Macedonia.”

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov on Thursday called on voters to boycott the vote, saying the country was being asked to commit “historical suicide,” Al Jazeera reported.

That might be hyperbole. But there’s plenty at stake.

For example, the referendum has become a proxy decision on Russian influence in the region. After all, if Macedonia changes its name, it will likely soon join the European Union and NATO, two institutions often at loggerheads with Moscow.

That situation led US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently to accuse Russia of meddling in the vote, Reuters reported. Mattis’s visit to Macedonia was part of the public relations battle that American and Russian officials are waging over the country, the New York Times reported.

Some Macedonians accept the utility of a name change “grudgingly,” wrote the Guardian. They see the change as a way to close the book on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, join Europe and get on with life. Others view the name change as an indignity. They filed lawsuits to stop the referendum but lost in court.

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy argues that the EU and NATO are not necessarily big prizes these days, given how skeptics abound in the West about whether they really provide significant benefits.

Greeks are also torn, wrote the English edition of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

Opposition parties oppose an agreement that leaders in Athens reached with the Republic of Macedonia because it recognizes a Macedonian identity that’s separate from that of the region in northern Greece. The majority of Macedonians are Slavic ethnically and linguistically, but many claim to descend from Alexander the Great – an assertion that irks many Greeks.

The saving grace here is that, typically, Macedonians and Greeks get along very well on a person-to-person basis. Just don’t bring up the name thing.

WANT TO KNOW

THE NETHERLANDS

Seven in One Blow

Authorities in the Netherlands arrested seven men on suspicion of planning a large-scale terrorist attack involving suicide vests and assault rifles.

The national prosecutor’s office said armed police arrested the men in the towns of Arnhem, about 62 miles south of Amsterdam, and Weert in the southern Netherlands close to the borders of Germany and Belgium, NBC News reported.

The alleged ringleader is a 34-year-old Iraqi national. The other suspects range in age from 21 to 34. Three of them, including the alleged Iraqi ringleader, were previously convicted of attempting to travel overseas to join extremist networks, the authorities said.

They also alleged that the men were attempting to obtain AK47 assault rifles, handguns, bomb vests, grenades and raw materials for bombs.

The news comes amid concerns about the dispersal of foreign jihadists following the victory over Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as well as rising anger over immigration policies in Germany following the alleged murder of a German man by two immigrants.

MYANMAR

The Investigation Begins

The UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution to form a body to prepare evidence of atrocities – including possible genocide – allegedly committed by Myanmar’s military during last year’s crackdown on the minority Rohingya in Rakhine state.

The 47-member council on Thursday approved the resolution – which was sponsored by the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – 35 votes to three, with seven abstentions, Al Jazeera reported.

China, the Philippines, and Burundi voted against the move, which will set up a body to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.”

It will work closely with the International Criminal Court, which claimed jurisdiction earlier this month even though Myanmar is not a signatory to the ICC, on any criminal proceedings that follow.

Myanmar Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun criticized the decision, saying, “The draft resolution is based on serious but unverified accusations and recommendations … that could even endanger the national unity of the country.”

INDIA

Other Arrangements

India’s Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law prohibiting adultery in what was hailed as a progressive judgment supporting the rights of women.

“It’s time to say that husband is not the master of wife,” said Chief Justice Dipak Misra, delivering the verdict, the Washington Post reported. “Legal sovereignty of one sex over the other sex is wrong.”

The law in question, Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, made it a criminal offense punishable with a prison term as long as five years to anyone who had sex with a married woman “without the consent or connivance” of her husband. The wives themselves were exempt from prosecution, as were the unmarried female partners of adulterous men.

The ruling comes in the wake of the court’s decision to strike down Section 377, which made gay sex between consenting adults a criminal offense, and also to outlaw the Muslim practice of “instant divorce” – once possible simply by saying “I divorce thee” three times.

Marital rape remains legal, however, and reluctant judges often tie up divorce proceedings in court for years.

DISCOVERIES

A Captain, a Ship and Two Centuries

Captain James Cook became the first European to visit the east coast of Australia in his ship, the HMS Endeavour, during a voyage of discovery in the Pacific Ocean that began in 1768.

A few years later, the British deliberately sunk the Endeavour – renamed HMS Lord Sandwich II – and 12 other ships as part of a blockade of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay during the American Revolution. It was a troop carrier at the time.

Now, as the 250th anniversary of Cook’s 1770 arrival in Australia approaches, archaeologists have finally made progress in determining the location of the ship, the BBC reported.

Recent findings report that the vessel lies on “one or two” sites of Revolutionary War-era shipwrecks in Newport Harbor. Explorers hope to find the Endeavour before 2020, the anniversary year.

Researchers released a “3-D photogrammetric image of a promising site” last week, but emphasized that they need more information before they can identify the ship.

After the site is excavated, “it will require sampling, testing of the type of wood and nails, and analysis which won’t give us a definitive answer for another 18 months,” Kathy Abbass, director of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, told Australia’s News.com.au.

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