The World Today for September 15, 2022

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The Tricky Dance


“Medieval,” a new movie celebrating the military exploits of Czech national hero Jan Zizka, depicts peasants angry over rising living costs and other indignities, Variety wrote. Like any historical film, it is, in a sense, a commentary on today. The Czech people right now, coincidentally, are very angry, these days over rising living costs and other perceived abuses.

That was on display when 70,000 protesters recently converged on Wenceslas Square in Prague, the very same place where crowds helped end communism in the late 1980s in the cosmopolitan Central European country, Deutsche Welle wrote. Marchers, interestingly, were from both the far-right and far-left portions of the country’s political spectrum.

Organizing under the banner of “Czech Republic First,” they wanted their country to be neutral in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and negotiate their own energy contracts to circumvent Western efforts to shun Russian energy imports.

The protests came as the center-right government of Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence based on the opposition’s claims that Fiala and his Civic Democratic Party haven’t dealt with rising energy costs well, the Guardian reported. Those increasing prices have fueled an inflation rate of 18 percent, one of the highest in the European Union.

Fiala said the demonstrators were pro-Russian and didn’t have the best interests of the Czech Republic at heart. He added that Russian propaganda might have stoked their fears and anger, Euractiv wrote.

“It is in our country’s broader interest to finally halt Russian imperialism,” said Fiala, a former politics professor, during a recent address to Czech diplomats covered by Radio Prague International, a state-owned broadcaster. “We must now ensure that Russia stops blackmailing its neighbors and that it is not the Kremlin that dictates the conditions for peace and the rules in international relations.”

He was planning on price caps and windfall taxes on energy companies who were making record profits from the spike in energy prices resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially in Europe where governments have sought to reduce their dependence on Russian energy, added Reuters.

Such protests are part of many activities now bubbling in the republic before voters go to the polls starting on Sept. 23 to vote for a new Senate and local officials, bne Intellinews wrote. Andrej Babis, former prime minister and leader of the populist ANO political party, for example, is using the upcoming election as a chance to campaign for the presidency in elections in the fall. Meanwhile, he’s currently on trial for fraud: He is accused of illegally using the subsidy to build a conference center near Prague before he formed his ANO party in 2011, Al Jazeera reported.

Fiala might lose power after the upcoming elections, though he won’t necessarily lose his job. That might be enough for him to keep his country out of Russia’s orbit while still retaining its democracy.


Inching Away


Kazakhstan’s capital of Nur-Sultan will revert to its former name, “Astana,” a move seen as another attempt by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to distance himself from his predecessor, Radio Free Europe reported.

In 2019, Tokayev renamed then-Astana to Nur-Sultan in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had been Kazakhstan’s president since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Nazarbayev resigned in 2019 and picked Tokayev as his successor. Still, he retained considerable power as the head of the Security Council and held the title of “Elbasy” (leader of the nation).

But Tokayev removed him from his posts after deadly protests erupted in January, which were partly influenced by perceived corruption under Nazarbayev and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich Central Asian nation’s wealth.

In June, a referendum removed Nazarbayev’s name from the constitution and stripped him of the “Elbasy” designation.

Meanwhile, Tokayev has called for snap presidential elections this year and proposed plans to cap the president’s term to a single seven-year limit, the Financial Times noted. The president said the changes aim to “significantly lower the risks of power monopolization.”

Still, critics say the president’s efforts are primarily cosmetic and do not alter the authoritarian nature of the government nor will they rid the country of corruption and cronyism.

Frenemies, No More


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi arrived in Qatar this week, a sign of rapprochement following the severing of relations in the wake of a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf in 2017, Al Jazeera reported.

El-Sissi met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in the capital, Doha, where they discussed establishing bilateral ties between the two nations, including investment opportunities.

On Wednesday, both countries signed three memoranda of understanding, including one concerning the two nations’ sovereign wealth funds, Reuters added.

The relationship between the two has been tense since 2013 when the Egyptian military ousted Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

Relations took a nosedive in 2017 when Egypt joined Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in cutting ties with Qatar, over allegations that it was supporting “terrorism.”

Qatar denied the accusations.

The dispute ended in 2021 when Qatar signed a declaration with the four countries to normalize relations. Since then, relations have improved between Doha and the other Arab states.

Egypt, meanwhile, is trying to woo gas-rich Qatar as it grapples with economic difficulties and a shortfall in food supplies in the aftermath of the Ukraine war.

In late March, Cairo announced that Qatar will invest $5 billion in Egypt, while hydrocarbon giant QatarEnergy signed a deal with US major ExxonMobil to purchase a 40 percent share in a gas exploration block off the Mediterranean coast of Egypt.

Follow the Money


European Union lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that would ban the sale of agricultural products linked to the destruction of forests, a move welcomed by many environmental groups, the Associated Press reported.

Under the proposed law, companies and producers will need to ensure that their products are “deforestation-free.” Businesses will also be required to verify that agricultural goods sold in the 27-nation bloc have not been produced on “deforested or degraded land anywhere in the world.”

EU legislators are also considering including banks and other financial institutions in the law in order to prevent them from investing in projects linked to deforestation.

The proposal was made by the European Commission – the EU’s executive branch – and would cover products such as soy, cattle, coffee and wood. European lawmakers are also considering adding pork, poultry, charcoal and printed-paper products.

Environmental advocates praised the planned legislation, saying that it “could be the beginning of the end of the money pipeline that is destroying forests around the world.”

Agricultural expansion is the primary cause of deforestation in South America, Africa and Asia.

Data from the United Nations shows that more than one billion acres of forest were lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020.

At the COP26 UN climate summit in 2021, more than 100 countries, covering over 85 percent of the world’s forests, vowed to reverse deforestation by 2030.


Skully’s People

The discovery of a human skeleton in Indonesia is rewriting the history of medicine and reframing long-held notions that prehistoric hunter-gatherers were primitive, USA Today reported.

That’s because the skeleton, named “Skully” and found at a Liang Tebo cave in Borneo, known to hold some of the world’s oldest rock art, underwent the world’s oldest surgery procedure, about 31,000 years ago, a new study said.

The archeologists reached this conclusion while collecting the remains: They found about three-quarters of the bones but noticed that Skully was missing a left foot. A closer inspection revealed that Skully’s foot was amputated with some surgical precision.

But the story of Skully – and their community – was quite intricate, the research team explained: The bones’ analysis showed that Skully received an amputation during their childhood but lived with a missing foot until the age of 19 or 20.

The amputated part showed that the bone did not experience any infection and the “doctor” who performed it had knowledge of the procedure. Moreover, Skully’s longevity underscores how the community had some form of medical know-how in taking care of its wounded and disabled – including the use of antiseptics.

The researchers stressed that the findings challenge the “prevailing view” of the evolution of medicine and human life at the time. It also adds to the body of evidence that contests previous assessments that hunter-gatherer groups were “simple societies.”

“This was a person who suffered something incredibly severe and managed to survive as a child,” said co-author Melandri Vlok. “And so it’s a story about them. And it’s the story about the community and people who loved and cared for this individual enough to help them survive.”

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