The World Today for September 30, 2022

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Splitting the Chimera

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

The leader of Republika Srpska, an enclave of ethnic Serbs seeking to break off from Bosnia and Herzegovina and become an independent state or unify with neighboring Serbia, recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. As the Associated Press wrote, Milorad Dodik is one of the three presidents of Bosnia – the other two are an ethnic Bosnian and an ethnic Croat – and is seeking reelection when his constituents vote in the Balkan country’s general election on Oct. 2.

Russia has long been sympathetic to the fate of Orthodox Christian Serbs in a country that includes Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats. Dodik has publicly endorsed Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Illustrating the fragmented nature of the country’s government and politics, his position stands in total contrast to that of Sefik Dzaferovic, the ethnic Bosnian chairman of the country’s three-person presidency, who recently decried Russia’s war in a speech at the United Nations.

Dzaferovic recalled how, 30 years ago, the world watched as the Yugoslav Army and Bosnian Serbs sought to ethnically cleanse much of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then a former Yugoslav republic. They killed more than 100,000 people in fighting that – until Ukraine – was the worst violence in Europe since World War II. The war ended in 1995 under the US-sponsored Dayton Accords that split the country into two territories, the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Pro-Putin Bosnian Serb politicians are not the only ones unhappy with the arrangement. Croats have also complained that the country’s electoral system shortchanges their community, Reuters wrote. They have threatened to trigger a crisis if the Oct. 2 vote proceeds without the electoral reform they have demanded.

Russia, meanwhile, is attempting to influence the process. Pro-Russian politicians and firms in Bosnia have received a portion of the more than $300 million that Putin has spent in over two dozen countries to influence their internal affairs, reported Bloomberg. Politicians in nearby Albania and Montenegro also received aid, underscoring the region’s importance to Russia.

As the European Council on Foreign Relations argued, Putin has been purposely trying to destabilize Bosnia to retain more influence there while preventing the country from accomplishing the political peace and reforms necessary to join the European Union. The US, meanwhile, has pledged to counter Russian influence, noted Radio Free Europe. And Turkey has sought to play a role there, given its historic ties to the region dating back to the Ottoman Empire, added the Daily Hurriyet News, a Turkish English-language newspaper.

One gets the feeling that fewer, not more, presidents and foreign dignitaries would be a better approach.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Reckoning

RWANDA

The trial of one of the masterminds and financiers of the 1994 Rwandan genocide began Thursday in the Netherlands, more than 28 years after the conflict that killed around 800,000 in the African nation, Radio France Internationale reported.

Félicien Kabuga, one of the last remaining fugitives from justice, faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including persecution, extermination and murder.

Kabuga had been on the run for years before he was arrested in France in May 2020.

The elderly, wheelchair-bound defendant refused to appear in person or via video link at the start of the proceedings at the United Nations tribunal in The Hague. He has also denied the allegations against him, calling them “lies.”

His lawyers previously argued that he was not fit to stand trial but the court ruled in June that the trial would take place: The court proceedings have been shortened to two hours per day, on the advice of Kabuga’s doctors.

Kabuga was one of Rwanda’s richest men and had close links with the ruling Hutu political elite and the country’s then-president, Juvénal Habyarimana. Kabuga’s daughter married Habyarimana’s son.

On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and the Tutsi minority was blamed for the killing. With the backing of the army, police and militias, groups of Hutu extremists began executing Tutsis and their perceived supporters, the Associated Press noted.

Prosecutors say that Kabuga and other businessmen contributed to the killing by allegedly buying machetes and uniforms for the army and Hutu militias.

Kabuga is also accused of inciting genocide through his Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). The station would broadcast calls to “kill Tutsi cockroaches” and in some cases provided the locations of Tutsis so they could be hunted down and killed.

Call to Battle

WORLD

A senior US official was elected with an overwhelming majority to head the United Nations body that establishes international standards for telecoms and tech infrastructure, Politico reported Thursday.

US candidate Doreen Bogdan-Martin became the first female secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union after nearly 140 countries voted for her during the agency’s election in Romania’s capital, Bucharest.

Bogdan-Martin was pitted against Russia’s Rashid Ismailov, who secured only 25 votes. Election organizers did not reveal which country voted for which candidate.

Bogdan-Martin will succeed China’s Houlin Zhao, who has led the agency since 2014, amid mounting concerns in the West over Beijing’s efforts to rewrite global norms for the Internet.

Thursday’s election drew international attention because it juxtaposed Western democracies’ vision of a more open Internet against the government-controlled approach of authoritarian countries.

It also comes amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has seen Moscow implementing cyber surveillance strategies in the occupied territories, including rerouting local populations’ data through its own network and restricting Internet access.

In her four-year term, Bogdan-Martin will set the course to address a number of significant telecom and technological concerns, including the lack of Internet connectivity around the world.

Only 40 percent of Africans have access to the Internet, compared with 89 percent of Europeans, the most connected region in the world.

Serious Polls

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Recent fighting in Papua New Guinea has forced about 90,000 people from the country’s highlands, with the violence linked to the national elections in July, the Guardian reported.

Since May, violence has gripped the provinces of Enga, Southern Highlands and Hela, affecting thousands of people. The United Nations estimated that more than 260,000 were then affected by the 2022 general election violence, in which around 50 people were killed and schools and other public buildings burnt down.

Themba Kalua, the UN’s resident coordinator and UN Women country representative, said that about 25,000 children have been unable to attend school, adding that there have been reports of rape and kidnappings.

While violence has been mainly tied to the election, Kalua said the conflict also had other causes including lingering tribal disputes.

Meanwhile, aid officials said that accessing the areas affected by the violence has been extremely difficult.

Local authorities added that they have established a team with 40 investigators to examine the election-related violence.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

This week, President Vladimir Putin said he would sign documents annexing the four Ukrainian regions on Friday, Reuters reported. Russia is racing to secure these territorial claims as the Ukrainian army has been recapturing territory held by Russia, a humiliating defeat for the bigger power. The annexation, which came after what Kyiv and Western countries claim were phony referendums orchestrated at gunpoint on Russian-held Ukrainian territory, has been condemned in the West as an illegitimate land-grab. Meanwhile, Serbia, Russia’s staunch ally in the Balkans, announced it would not recognize the results of the referendums, Radio Free Europe added.

In other news:

  • NATO said Thursday that attacks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines between Russia and Europe were the product of sabotage and that attacks on the military alliance’s members’ infrastructure will trigger a collective reaction, the Wall Street Journal wrote. Russia has denied involvement in the pipeline sabotage, calling it a “terrorist attack, possibly at the state level.”
  • At least 200,000 Russians fled the nation following Putin’s mobilization order, generating chaos at some border points and raising concerns in neighboring countries about potential instability, according to Bloomberg. Kazakh volunteers have been trying to aid the fleeing Russians by offering to house and register newcomers, Agence France-Presse wrote. In Finland, the government said Thursday it would significantly limit passenger traffic on its border with Russia, banning Russian citizens traveling with tourist visas from entering the Nordic country, the Associated Press added.
  • The European Commission is proposing a price cap on Russian oil as part of a new package of sanctions against Moscow. According to a draft of the sanctions proposal seen by Politico, the package also aims to punish Russia’s steel industry and deny the Russian military critical technologies. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signed a gas deal with the United Arab Emirates this week to secure alternative supplies for Germany’s energy-hungry economy, Politico reported. 
  • Japan demanded a formal apology from Russia and warned of reprisals after saying its diplomatic consul in Vladivostok, Russia was “blindfolded and restrained” while being interrogated by the federal security service over suspected espionage, the New York Post reported. Japan-Russia relations have plummeted since the invasion of Ukraine, when Japan slapped broad economic sanctions on Russia, according to the Washington Post.
  • Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close acquaintance of Putin, admitted on Monday that he founded the Wagner Group, a clandestine private military group that has fought on Russia’s side in Ukraine, the New York Times reported. The statement is Prigozhin’s first public acknowledgment of his affiliation with the group, whose fighters have been deployed in support of the Kremlin’s military goals in Africa and the Middle East, occasionally clashing with US forces.

DISCOVERIES

Liar, Liar

Children are not easily fooled, despite what adults tell them, according to a new study.

Scientists recently conducted two experiments on children between the ages of four and seven to determine how the little ones responded to dubious claims by adults, Cosmos magazine reported.

In their first experiment, 109 children were shown three objects – a sponge, a rock and a hacky sack. When asked if the rock was hard, they responded that it was.

But researchers would then either confirm the claim or contradict it – for example, say that the rock is soft. The little ones were then asked again if the rock was hard or soft.

When their assertion was refuted, the majority of the kids agreed that the rock was soft.

But once the researchers left the child alone, most of the kids who had been “deceived” tested the rock’s hardness and were surprised at the lie.

In the second experiment, the team showed eight different vignettes to 156 children via video calls. They then asked the kids what another child should do when presented with an adult making a suspicious claim – such as “the sponge is harder than the rock.”

Older children were more likely to propose methods that were more closely related to the assertion they heard, such as “they should touch the sponge and the rock.”

The findings show that as kids grow older, they become more conscientious about verifying assertions when they have doubts about what adults tell them.

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