October 07, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Dissonance and Dreadlocks

CZECH REPUBLIC

The dreadlock-sporting leader of the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic, former software engineer Ivan Bartos, was once a frontrunner in his Central European country’s parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 8 and 9.

“Given the Czech electorate’s deep cynicism toward the corrupt and nepotistic political class that emerged after communism collapsed, the unorthodox approach of the church-going accordionist is likely his greatest strength,” wrote Balkan Insight in a portrait.

The Pirates are calling for open government, more oversight over budgets and a crackdown on corruption.

Bartos, however, saw his lead disappear in late September as Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the ruling populist ANO movement labeled the Pirates as “green fanatics” who would allow an unimpeded flood of migrants to enter the country, reported Agence France-Presse.

But that was before this week’s revelations in the Pandora papers, the name of a new bombshell report which highlighted how the world’s richest individuals as well as world leaders have used offshore accounts to hide their wealth and assets, the Guardian reported.

Babis, who won the 2017 election on pledges to curb corruption, failed to disclose a series of shell companies used to buy a $22-million French chateau with a cinema and two swimming pools near Cannes, Politico noted.

“The optics are horrendous,” the Washington Post noted.

“For him, it is a big problem,” Milos Brunclik, a political analyst at the Czech Republic’s Charles University, told the Post. “After all, he repeatedly portrayed himself as a fighter against nontransparent offshore business.”

Babis denied wrongdoing and said the funds were sent from a Czech bank and appropriately taxed at the time. He is also accusing journalists and the opposition of having it out for him. But analysts specializing in money laundering noted how the transactions were complex to the point of obfuscation.

And political analysts also noted how the tycoon might have a better chance of surviving the allegations if he hadn’t already been facing accusations of conflict of interest and EU funds fraud, Politico reported. His government’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the Czechs hard, has also hurt his standing among voters.

As a result, the election outcome is anyone’s guess.

No one party was expected to win a majority of votes before the Pandora problem exploded on the scene, explained Bloomberg. Babis and ANO were expected to receive the most votes, garnering perhaps 27 percent of the total. The leftwing Pirates and a center-right coalition called Spolu were expected to receive, respectively, 24 percent and 17 percent.

If that does happen after the allegations of money laundering taint the election, that’s good for Babis. President Milos Zeman has already announced that he will likely reappoint Babis as prime minister because, if nobody can form a coalition, he will pick whoever leads the party that receives the most votes, noted Al Jazeera in a story that described the development as a “presidential coup.”

Meanwhile, Babis party’s current coalition partner is not expected to win enough votes to pass the 5-percent threshold necessary to win a seat in parliament. That means, ANO might have to partner with the anti-European and anti-NATO Freedom and Direct Democracy party, wrote Reuters. In exchange for its support in a coalition, that party has demanded that the government hold a referendum to leave the European Union in a move known as Czexit.

It’s important to note that such a referendum might be in the political interests of President Zeman, who has become known as a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese, supposedly anti-democratic European leader, as Euronews described. It might come as no surprise that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a Russophile who has espoused the benefits of illiberal democracy and centralized rule, has put his support behind Babis.

Still, polls and predictions have been wrong many times. And in light of the “hypocrisy and venality” exhibited by the billionaire prime minister, voters might just go for the outsider with dreadlocks.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Right to Sit

INDIA

India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu passed a new law that would give people working in shops the “right to sit” during working hours, a move labor advocates and retail workers say is long overdue, Reuters reported.

The legislation would order store owners to provide their employees with chairs or stools to rest whenever possible during the working day. Officials also said they would send inspectors to make sure that shops comply with the new regulation.

Tamil Nadu became the second Indian state to pass such a law. In 2018, the state of Kerala mandated similar measures following protests by sales staff in textile shops.

Labor unions and workers’ organizations welcomed the move but noted that many shopworkers face additional hardships that need to be addressed: Employees are often paid less than minimum wage and sometimes forced to work seven days a week, they said.

Many shops are also equipped with security cameras, which workers’ advocates say are being used to keep an eye on employees and punish them for talking to colleagues or leaving their posts.

“The right to sit was one of the demands met but there’s a long way to go,” said M. Dhanalakshmi of the Working Women’s Coordination Committee, a wing of the Center of Indian Trade Unions.

India’s fast-growing retail sector accounts for 10 percent of gross domestic product and eight percent of all jobs, according to Invest India, the country’s investment promotion arm.

Beyond War

LIBYA

United Nations investigators found evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Libya over the past few years, an announcement that comes as the war-torn nation prepares to hold parliamentary and presidential elections to end the violence, the Washington Post reported.

The UN fact-finding mission said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that war crimes were committed during the Libyan civil war, with the violence also being deployed against migrants trying to flee the country.

Mohamed Auajjar, chair of the fact-finding mission, said that “all parties to the conflicts, including third States, foreign fighters and mercenaries, have violated international humanitarian law.”

The investigation primarily focused on the actions of parties to the conflict since 2016. In their report, investigators detailed how the violence affected Libyans’ economic, social and cultural rights.

For example, airstrikes and anti-personnel mines have resulted in the deaths or maiming of members of dozens of families. Health-care facilities have also been caught in the middle of the conflict, leading to restricted access to medical treatment.

The mission also noted that children were recruited to participate in the hostilities. Meanwhile, numerous prominent women have disappeared or have been executed in extrajudicial killings.

Investigators also warned that there was evidence that the Russian Wagner Group – a mercenary group accused of human rights violations – remains in the country.

Torture in Libyan prisons by the state and also militants was found to be prevalent as were arbitrary detentions in secret prisons, the report said. There have also been reports of abuse toward internally displaced people, refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers.

The report comes as the country prepares to hold elections on Dec. 24 in the hopes of uniting the divided nation – it has two governments – and ending the violence. However, the country’s eastern-based parliament said this week that the elections will be postponed until January, according to Agence France-Presse.

Making Good

AUSTRALIA

The Australian government agreed to return some of its world-famous natural parks to its original Indigenous owners, an agreement considered an important step toward reconciliation with the country’s Aboriginal people, NPR reported.

Under the deal, the government will return four national parks in northern Australia to members of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji community. For a time, the land will be jointly managed by the government in Queensland State and the Kuku Yalanji before the Indigenous tribe takes full control.

One of the parks being returned is the Daintree National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests – estimated to be around 130 million years old.

The Kuku Yalanji are believed to have a history dating back 50,000 years in that region of Australia. Representatives of the community said the return of the land will pave the way for the tribe’s younger members to have the opportunity to care for their heritage.

The agreement comes after four years of negotiations between the government and Aboriginal tribes, and is the latest effort to right past wrongs against the native population, NPR said

Last month, the Queensland government renamed the tourist hotspot known as Fraser Island to K’gari – its original Indigenous name.

At the beginning of the year, Australia changed some of the lyrics of its national anthem in an effort to reflect the country’s long Indigenous history, the BBC reported.

DISCOVERIES

It’s Complicated

The origins of the ancient Etruscans who lived in modern-day Italy have puzzled historians and archeologists for years.

A new DNA study spanning nearly 2,000 years, however, has settled the debate about their origin – and unveiled new findings of genetic shifts in Italy, Science Alert reported.

Originally, Etruscans were believed to have emigrated from Anatolia – now modern-day Turkey – and their culture was to have derived from the Greeks. But modern scholars have suggested they possibly emerged from an indigenous population that had already existed in the region.

Recently, an international research team collected genetic samples from 12 sites across Italy with a timeframe spanning from 800 BCE to 1000 CE and compared them to the DNA of other ancient and modern populations.

Their results showed that the genetic profile of Etruscans – as well as other European populations – can be attributed to steppe populations that moved to the region during the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

It also showed that the mysterious population shared genetic heritage with neighboring peoples, such as the Latins that inhabited Rome. Still, it’s unclear how the differences arose between the Etruscans and their neighbors.

Eventually, Etruscan DNA experienced multiple genetic shifts beginning with the rise of the Roman Empire until about 1000 CE: Researchers found evidence of eastern Mediterranean and northern European ancestries that came from migration, conquests and invasions.

While more research is required, the findings offer a better picture of the background of the Etruscans, who were known as proficient craftspeople, metalworkers and sophisticated politicians.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 236,513,169

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,828,370

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,369,314,981

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 44,058,881 (+0.22%)
  2. India: 33,894,312 (+0.06%)
  3. Brazil: 21,516,967 (+0.10%)
  4. UK: 8,044,434 (+0.42%)
  5. Russia: 7,548,944 (+0.33%)
  6. Turkey: 7,327,317 (+0.41%)
  7. France: 7,310,355 (+0.08%)
  8. Iran: 5,662,458 (+0.23%)
  9. Argentina: 5,263,219 (+0.02%)
  10. Spain: 4,969,503 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours