January 14, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

POLAND

History Today

Polish President Andrzej Duda might skip the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on January 23.

Duda’s pique stems from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent comments about Poles collaborating with Nazi Germany, the Jerusalem Post reported, specifically Putin’s description of Poland’s ambassador in Berlin in the 1930s. “A bastard, an anti-Semitic pig, you cannot put it any other way,” Putin said in a recent speech, according to Agence France-Presse. “He expressed full solidarity with Hitler.”

Putin is scheduled to speak at the forum. Duda is demanding that he also speak at the event to set the record straight, reported Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union, initially collaborated with the Nazis. Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler agreed to divide Poland, for example, in 1939. Two years later, the Soviet Union joined the fight against Germany and its allies.

The recent contretemps isn’t about the finer points of history. It’s about two increasingly authoritarian states using the past to bolster their legitimacy in the present.

Putin views himself as the latest in a long line of strong and righteous Russian leaders. Question that legacy, and you cross him. “The Kremlin sees any criticism of what is known in Russia as the Great Victory as an attack on itself,” wrote the BBC.

Similarly, the Atlantic magazine explained, Duda and his allies in Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party also cultivate a sense of Polish victimhood so they can then portray themselves as the defenders of their people. Law and Justice politicians similarly portray their critics – both domestic and foreign – as non-Polish enemies. That conveniently dovetails with the party’s policy of deeming non-Polish folks, including minorities and asylum seekers, as unwelcome in the country.

Putin has problems he might like his people to forget, like the international condemnation of his decision to annex Crimea and send troops to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Duda also has an incentive to divert his constituents’ attention. Law and Justice came to power in 2005 after campaigning against corruption. Party leaders quickly seized control of every institution in the country, garnering criticism for their suppression of political dissent and freedom of the press, and misuse of power. European Union officials recently criticized Polish judicial reforms, saying they would compromise the independence of the judiciary, for example, the New York Times reported.

But a string of scandals in recent years has exposed vice in the party’s ranks, wrote Balkan Insight. A top official took improper flights on a government jet. Another paid his aides exorbitant salaries. Another can’t explain where he obtained his wealth.

Sometimes it might be better to keep the past in the past.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

Buy Local

India’s antitrust watchdog has launched an investigation into whether two major US companies have violated competition laws, in a move aimed at restricting American tech companies that dominate the country’s budding internet economy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Competition Commission of India said on Monday that it will look into allegations that Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart have promoted “preferred sellers” of goods on their platforms, which may have hurt smaller rivals.

Both companies welcomed the announcement and agreed to comply with the investigations. Between them, Amazon and Flipkart account for more than 80 percent of all India’s online shopping sales, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.

The probe is part of Indian policy makers’ attempt to foster their own homegrown tech companies, similar to Alibaba in China. Founded by Indian entrepreneurs, Flipkart might have become such a firm. However, Walmart acquired a 77 percent stake in the Amazon rival in 2018.

In 2018, the Commission fined Google $19 million for what it said was an abuse of its role as the country’s top search engine to favor its own services.

ABKHAZIA

Back to the Polls

Lawmakers of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia on Monday accepted the resignation of the region’s president, who stepped down after days of protests in the regional capital, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

The president of the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia, Raul Khadzhimba, resigned following four days of protests last week over accusations that he won the September presidential elections fraudulently.

The region’s parliament demanded his resignation, while the Abkhaz Supreme Court declared the September results void, following a petition by opposition leader Alkhas Kvitsinia.

The head of the region’s electoral commission disagreed with the ruling but said that he would abide by it.

The new date for the election is set for Mar. 22.

Abkhazia initially broke away from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. After a five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, Moscow recognized Abkhazia and another Georgian region, South Ossetia, as independent states.

Both regions host Russian military forces and are considered as occupied territories by Georgia and many in the international community.

PAKISTAN

Nullifying Everything

A Pakistani court annulled the death sentence handed to former President Pervez Musharraf on Monday, ruling that the special court that found him guilty was unconstitutional, Agence France-Presse reported.

Musharraf was found guilty of treason last year over his decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency rule in 2007.

Currently exiled in Dubai, he refused to participate in the trial and called it a “vendetta” against him.

The prosecution now has the option of filing a new case against the former leader with the approval of the federal cabinet.

Musharraf first took power in a coup in 1999 and ruled the country until his resignation in August 2008 in the face of impeachment proceedings.

The treason ruling would have marked the first time a former military leader had faced such a sentence in Pakistan and would have set a precedent for the country’s powerful military, whose senior officers are often considered immune from prosecution.

DISCOVERIES

Eyes in the Sky

The galaxy is filled with all sorts of planets, such as super-Earths and hot Jupiters.

It turns out that there are even planets that look disturbingly like giant eyeballs staring into the galaxy, Science Alert reported.

Fortunately, scientists clarified that these celestial bodies are not real planet-sized eyeballs, but rather planets that are tidally locked to their stars.

Tidal locking occurs when an orbiting astronomical body rotates on its own axis at the same rate that it orbits. That means these bodies always have the same side facing the object they orbit, while the other side faces away.

A familiar example is the Earth’s moon: It is tidally locked to our planet, therefore people only see one side of it but can’t see its mysterious “dark side.”

Scientists explained that planets tidally locked to their stars develop peculiar surfaces that give them the particularly creepy look.

Depending how close the planet is to the star, astronomers suggest that those planets would have two completely different hemispheres.

“Any planet that is tidally locked to its star is likely to look very different on its day side and its night side,” said astronomer Sean Raymond.

Science has yet to confirm the existence of “staring planets,” but astronomers are still keeping an eye out.