The World Today for February 27, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

SLOVAKIA

Burden of Choice

Slovak right-wing political party leader Marian Kotleba is facing charges of hate crimes that could land him in jail for as long as eight years. He has called the Roma community “parasites,” marched in the street in Nazi uniform and exhibited other fascist tendencies, wrote the Guardian.

Yet he might become one of the most powerful men in the Central European country after voters elect a new parliament on February 29. His populist, nationalist, anti-globalization campaign is on track to help his People’s Party Our Slovakia garner the second-most votes in the country.

“Isn’t it time for us to straighten our crouched backs and say ‘enough,’ say that the government should first care for the needs of its citizens and not what Brussels, Washington or non-governmental organizations want?” Kotleba said at a rally covered by Reuters.

That message resonates with voters, especially those who have yet to see their local economies rebound from the collapse after the fall of communism and the 2008 financial crisis. Indeed, around 80 percent of respondents to a recent Slovak Academy of Sciences poll felt that the Roma exploit public programs, reported the Slovak Spectator, an English-language newspaper based in Bratislava.

Another, less radical nationalist party, We Are Family, is also expected to play an important role in forging a ruling coalition. It has pledged to build 50,000 affordable housing units and write off poor Slovaks’ debts, Bloomberg reported.

The right’s popularity is surging in part because the ruling center-left Direction – Social Democracy party, or Smer, is weak due to corruption scandals and its association with figures accused in the murder of a 27-year-old investigative journalist a year ago. The journalist, Jan Kuciak, was probing connections between officials in the government of former Prime Minister Robert Fico and the Italian mafia. Fico resigned in disgrace weeks after Kuciak’s death.

The scandal shocked the nation. Political neophyte Zuzana Caputova of the liberal party Progressive Slovakia won last year’s presidential election in part because voters were desperate for someone outside mainstream politics, reported EUobserver. But the party and other voices from the left have failed to capitalize on her momentum in the run-up to the parliamentary ballot. Still, many Slovaks don’t sympathize with the far-right or with Smer. How many of those people will vote for the left-leaning parties is unknown.

This election is shaping up to be one of the most important in Slovakian history, wrote Balkan Insight. Change is coming to Slovakia for sure. The question is what kind of change and whether the right or left will be able to cobble together a coalition with Smer, tilting its policies accordingly.

The burden of choice is upon the people.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Decisive Indecision

Parties to the 2015 nuclear deal ended the latest round of talks in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday having made little progress toward saving the agreement as Iran continually breaches key parts of the deal following the resumption of United States sanctions, Reuters reported.

The meeting came a month after Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran of violating the terms of the deal and initiated a dispute resolution mechanism that could reimpose international sanctions that were lifted under the agreement.

The parties agreed to indefinitely extend the time limits of the process, illustrating how torn European powers are between pressuring Iran and saving the deal.

Iran began breaching central tenets of the agreement following the withdrawal of the US and Washington’s re-imposing of sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that European leaders are still trying keep the deal alive by setting up INSTEX, a mechanism that will alleviate Tehran’s economic woes.

The parties noted that INSTEX is close to processing its first transaction soon, the National reported.

HONG KONG

Not a Big Deal

Hong Kong officials announced Wednesday they are giving citizens money in a bid to boost the territory’s slumping economy following last year’s anti-government protests and the current coronavirus outbreak, CNN reported.

As part of a $15.4 billion relief package, the city will provide nearly $1,300 to about seven million people. It also plans to slash income taxes for almost two million taxpayers, as well as to give low-income residents of public housing a month of free rent.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned that the city will record its first budget deficit in 15 years this fiscal year and by end of the next one in March 2021 the deficit is expected to reach a record high of around 4.8 percent of Hong Kong’s gross domestic product.

Despite the gloomy outlook, Chan offered assurances that the economy will be able to bounce back in the long term.

Analyst Terence Chong affirmed the high budget deficit next year but said that the city will be able to take the hit thanks to its $145 billion in fiscal reserves.

“This [deficit] actually is not that big a deal,” he said.

GERMANY

A Matter of Life and Death

Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that a ban on assisted suicide was unconstitutional as it violated citizens’ right to determine their own death, Euronews reported.

The verdict concerns a 2015 law that allowed assisted suicide for “altruistic motives,” but made anyone offering euthanasia services on a “business basis” liable to as much as three years in prison.

Euthanasia is a very sensitive topic in Germany, since the method was previously used by the Nazis to kill more than 200,000 people with physical and mental disabilities.

The law received cross-party support in 2015 and was meant to prevent assisted dying becoming socially acceptable, the BBC reported.

As a result of the ban, many terminally ill people resorted to traveling to neighboring Switzerland or the Netherlands – where it’s legal – to end their lives.

It is now up to the German government to find a measure that meets the court’s approval.

The issue of assisted suicide has been debated in other European nations, with Portugal currently considering plans to legalize euthanasia.

DISCOVERIES

Scoot Over

Sand dunes are one of nature’s fascinating wonders; though inanimate, they’re able to migrate in rivers, oceans and deserts.

In a new study, scientists at the University of Cambridge discovered that dunes can “communicate” with each other as they move, CNN reported.

This doesn’t mean the dunes talk, but rather move away from each other at different speeds – regardless of whether they are equal in height and volume.

Lead author Karol Bacik and his team observed this when they placed two identical piles of sand in a rotating tank 6.5 feet across. The tank would then create water flow to move the sand particles around.

Previously, scientists believed that similar piles would move at the same speed, but that wasn’t the case with the dunes: They started out close together but kept retreating away from each other until they were at opposite sides of the round tank.

“They would move away from each other, as though they didn’t like each other,” Bacik quipped.

This repelling occurs when the water flow creates turbulent swirls as it hits the first dune – similar to the wake of a boat. Consequently, the turbulence pushes against the second dune as it flows downstream.

The study could help scientists understand the long-term evolution of desert landscapes. By tracking clusters of dunes over time, the university explained in a news report, scientists hope to observe whether measures to divert the migration of dunes are effective or not.

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