The World Today for February 20, 2019

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What’s My Name?

“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks in Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.

In the Balkans, a heck of a lot.

Almost 30 years since declaring its independence from Yugoslavia, reported the Associated Press, the country formerly known as Macedonia assumed the name of North Macedonia. The change ends a dispute with Greece, whose leaders held up United Nations recognition of the country’s former name and other diplomatic perks out of fear that their northern neighbor might harbor designs on Greek territory that’s part of a wider region of the Balkans also known as Macedonia.

Some hailed the move as a success for the European Union’s soft power. Negotiations and promises of economic and political integration, not threats of military force or appeals to nationalism, helped the Greeks and North Macedonians see eye to eye, argued European Western Balkans, a blog run by the Belgrade-based Centre for Contemporary Politics.

Some, however, were against the deal. Thousands protested in mid-January in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, believing the new country should not use the word “Macedonia” at all, and that by doing so, the new country continues to usurp Greece’s ancient legacy.

At the same time, Macedonians feel humiliated by the compromise, saying it is a betrayal of their history and nationhood.

Skopje resident Marinna Stevcevska, 55, told the Associated Press she was “deeply disappointed and emotionally hurt” by the change.

“I will not change my passport as long as I can and I’m hoping that something will change to have the old name back,” she said. “I’ve promised to myself that if Macedonia changes its name, I’ll be leaving the country. I’m still thinking where to move.”

Still, some say regardless of the high emotions, Macedonians can now move on.

With Greek objections out of the way, NATO extended an invitation to the tiny country, an important step in the Western alliance confronting a resurgent Russia, the New York Times reported. Talks to join the EU aren’t far behind, noted CNN.

Changing their name was a catharsis for many Macedonians – oops, North Macedonians – who are grappling intellectually with “antikvizacija,” or antiquization, a policy of the previous nationalist government that drew a direct link between modern-day ethnic Macedonians, who are Slavs, and the ancient Macedonians, who were not, Euronews wrote.

Teachers are revamping curricula and ordering new textbooks to reflect the changes, an Al Jazeera video explained. Architects are discussing how to renovate downtown Skopje, Balkan Insight reported. Around a decade ago, officials erected statues of Alexander the Great and other heroes from the region’s history, garnering ridicule for their aesthetic choices and the expense they devoted to the project.

Those changes will entail growing pains.

The political party that supported the kitschy statues, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, opposed the deal with Greece, the Associated Press reported.

Writing in Time, Harvard University researcher Angelos Chryssogelos argued that more domestic turbulence was ahead. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev twisted a lot of arms in securing a vote in parliament for the deal. His methods, which Chryssogelos said “pushed the limits of legality,” could come back to haunt him.

Maybe so. But one must break some eggs to make an omelet, especially a good one.



Veering Right

Thousands of people rallied against recent incidents of anti-Semitism in France Tuesday, including hate speech directed at a prominent Jewish philosopher during a march by yellow vest protesters.

Vowing action against those who have vandalized a Jewish cemetery, defaced street portraits of a famous Holocaust survivor and painted “Juden” on the window of a Paris bagel shop, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “Every time a French person, because he or she is Jewish, is insulted, threatened — or worse, injured or killed — the whole Republic” is attacked, the Associated Press reported.

France is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States. But increasing anti-Semitism is causing more and more French Jews to abandon the country, according to sociologist Danny Trom.

The government, too, acknowledges a 74 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents last year, up to 541 registered incidents from 311 in 2017.

The verbal attacks on French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut by yellow vest protesters on Saturday, meanwhile, has raised concerns that the movement has inadvertently given a platform for such extremist views, the BBC reported.


Double Trouble

As the threat of an Indian retaliation for a deadly terrorist attack in Kashmir looms over Pakistan, a senior commander in Iran’s Republican Guard claimed Tuesday that the suicide bomber who killed 27 members of the elite force was Pakistani.

One other member of the militant cell that planned the attack was also a Pakistani citizen, the head of the Guards’ ground forces, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said, according to Reuters.

The attack occurred near Iran’s border with Pakistan, and Tehran has long accused Islamabad of providing safe haven for militants operating in the area. But Reuters said this appears to be the first time Iran has accused Pakistani citizens of direct involvement in an attack.

Three Iranians from Sistan and Baluchistan province in southeast Iran were also arrested on suspicion of being part of the same cell. The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it is fighting on behalf of ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack.


Tactical Admission

A senior North Korean official has said the country’s food supplies are dwindling and pleaded for help from international organizations. But the unusual admission could well be part of a negotiating strategy for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In a memo seen by NBC news, North Korean ambassador to the United Nations Kim Song writes that a combination of natural disasters and economic sanctions meant that the country produced 503,000 fewer tons of food last year than in 2017. As a result, he claims, North Korea cut “food rations per capita for a family of blue or white collar workers” from 550 grams to 300 grams in January.

Last year, Reuters also reported that humanitarian aid to North Korea had nearly ground to a halt due to sanctions.

The timing of Pyongyang’s admission that the US measures have bitten so hard, however, suggests to some analysts that Kim will be angling for them to be relaxed in his meeting with Trump.


Out of the Shadows

Black panthers – or black leopards – commonly roam the tropical areas of Southeast Asia.

But they have been hard to spot in the vast African continent – until now.

About a century since the big cats were sighted for the first time, scientists recently recorded the presence of African black panthers in Laikipia County, north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the New York Times reported.

From February to April 2018, biologist Nicolas Pilfold and his team set up cameras around the Laikipia Wilderness Camp and gathered footage of a young female black panther prowling around at night in search of food and water.

The Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy in Laikipia provided further proof through a high-quality video of another black panther in 2007.

“It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now,” Pilfold posted on Instagram.

Biologists pointed out that a recessive gene gives the big cat a dark brown coat – instead of black – with the same spot patterns as other leopards.

Leopards’ numbers and range are still dwindling, according to a 2016 study. Currently their status is “vulnerable,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Still, fans of the superhero movie “Black Panther” can rejoice. Even one of the film’s stars, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, has hailed the big cat’s sighting.


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