The World Today for November 13, 2018

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Holy Politics

A battle for the soul of the Eastern Orthodox Church is underway.

The result might rival the Great Schism that sundered the ties between the Catholic and Eastern Churches in 1054, because it could split the Orthodox church itself.

As the Financial Times explained, the new fight started when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople – a “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs and based in Istanbul, the former capital of Christian Byzantium – gave the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the green light to become independent of the Orthodox patriarch in Moscow for the first time since 1686.

The move was a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who controls his national church and used that spiritual authority in efforts to undermine Ukraine, wrote Bloomberg. In response, the Russian church broke diplomatic relations, but not religious ties, with Bartholomew.

“Constantinople is now in schism,” Metropolitan Hilarion, the foreign affairs director for the Moscow Patriarchate, told the Religion News Service.

To say politics is at play here is an understatement. “This new crisis has deep historical roots, and could shape religious and secular ties among many countries for years to come,” Greek journalist Nikos Konstandaras wrote in the New York Times.

Now other Orthodox churches are lining up between the two sides in jockeying that evokes Balkan history through the ages, the scholar and labor activist Alex Moldovan wrote in Open Democracy. Churches under the Moscow patriarchate account for more than one-third of the world’s nearly 300 million Orthodox believers. But many church leaders in other countries are reluctant to make common cause with Putin.

Churches in Serbia and Syria have signaled their support for the Russians. Greek Church leaders appear to oppose Moscow, but hard-right Greek clergy might want to support the Russians. The Patriarch of Jerusalem has joined other church leaders in expressing concern about Bartholomew’s action, but reportedly has also sided with Constantinople. The Bulgarian, Romanian and other churches have been holding off making any big decisions, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network wrote.

Spiritual questions are only one factor in the decision-making.

Serbia, for example, is siding with Moscow in part because the Macedonian church is also seeking independence from the patriarch in Belgrade, Radio Free Europe reported. Stratfor, a think tank, noted that the Montenegrin church might also be interested in independence. Montenegro is another former Yugoslav republic that split off from Serbia.

Bartholomew might have the advantage in that he and his successor can wait – perhaps for centuries – while Putin and the Russians are more interested in the short-term.

A prolonged impasse won’t do Christendom any good, though.



On the Run Again

Dozens of Rohingya families fled refugee camps in Bangladesh to avoid being sent back to Myanmar later this week, as Amnesty International stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of the ambassador of conscience award it granted her in 2009.

“Most of the people on the list have fled to avoid being repatriated,” said Abdus Salam, a Rohingya leader at the Jamtoli camp, around 25 miles southeast of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, Reuters reported.

The United Nations’ refugee agency and aid groups remain doubtful about the conditions the returnees may face in Myanmar, following a deal to begin the first repatriations in late October. The first 2,000 are slated to return Nov. 15.

Bangladesh has said it would not force anyone to return and has asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to verify whether those on the list are willing, said Reuters.

Separately, the Daily Beast reported that Amnesty revoked Suu Kyi’s ambassador of conscience award – the rights group’s highest honor – due to “her apparent indifference to atrocities committed” against the Rohingya.


Unlucky Number Eight

A court in El Salvador postponed the trial of Imelda Cortez – a rape victim who has become a flashpoint in the country’s battle over abortion rights – for the eighth time on Monday, as protesters rallied in the streets to demand justice.

Cortez is charged with attempted aggravated homicide connected with the birth in a toilet of the baby fathered by her stepfather, who had raped her repeatedly, Al Jazeera reported. At the time, Cortez was 17 years old. She maintains that she was not aware she was pregnant.

On Monday, her trial was delayed because the public prosecutor did not show up for court. But Cortez faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Meanwhile, her stepfather faces only a maximum of 15 years if convicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a minor.

Activists see the case as illustrative of a perverse attitude toward women, related to the country’s strict ban on abortion. While at least five women were released from prison for abortion this year, dozens more remain behind bars. And another rape victim was sentenced to 30 years in prison last year after her baby was stillborn.


This Bank Has a Country

Japan’s central bank has become the first among the world’s largest economies to control assets worth more than the entire economy of the country it represents.

The Bank of Japan now owns 553.6 trillion yen ($4.87 trillion) in assets, Reuters reported, according to central bank data released Tuesday. That’s a tad more than the annualized GDP of 552.8 trillion yen Japan itself notched up in April-June, the agency said.

It’s also more than the combined GDPs of Turkey, Argentina, South Africa, India and Indonesia.

The massive stockpile is the result of a half-decade of spending to ease deflationary pressures and stimulate growth. But the bank has had only limited success achieving either goal, and now it owns nearly half of the 1 quadrillion yen Japanese government bond (JGB) market. “In case of emergencies, such as a natural disaster or a war, the BOJ won’t be able to finance government bonds any longer,” said Hidenori Suezawa, a fiscal analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.


No More Needles

Flu season is here and, while vaccinations help, they succeed in preventing only 40 to 60 percent of cases of the sickness, according to the Centers for Disease Control in the US.

But researchers have lately developed a bizarre concoction involving llama antibodies that could protect against all strains of influenza, Science Magazine reported.

Scientist Joost Kolkman and his team reported in their study that llamas – and their camel cousins – have unique small antibodies that can easily attach to the surface protein of the flu virus, the hemagglutinin (HA).

Popular Science explained that influenza viruses keep mutating this protein, thus thwarting the body’s defenses. Moreover, because human antibodies are larger, they have a hard time attaching to less accessible parts of the HA molecule.

Researchers created a synthetic antibody – a mix of four different llama antibodies – by injecting the animals with a vaccine containing three different viruses, along with HA from two different flu strains.

Scientists turned the new antibody into a spray and tested it on mice. They noticed that untreated rodents had a lower chance of surviving a lethal dose of flu than the treated ones. Further tests revealed that the antibody also prevented infections from 60 different influenza viruses.

This could mean an end to seasonal flu shots, but scientists cautioned that more research is needed to ensure that the concoction doesn’t jeopardize the human immune system in other ways.

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