The World Today for March 31, 2023

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Joyful Warriors


For the fifth time in a row, Finns are the happiest people in the world.

According to the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, citizens of Finland demonstrate high levels of “eudaimonia,” a term the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle coined to describe “overall life satisfaction,” reflecting a “pro-social, healthy, and prosperous” society.

Finns enjoyed the best financial incomes and health outcomes, felt both social cohesion as well as a sense of freedom, and experienced generosity and little corruption in their day-to-day lives. Close connections to nature were among the reasons why Finns were so happy, Smithsonian Magazine wrote.

The United States ranked 15th on the list. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France stood at 16th, 19th, and 21st places respectively. Afghanistan and Lebanon were at the bottom.

Still, political conflict is possible even in utopic Finland.

When Finnish voters go to the polls on April 2, they will choose between the ruling Social Democratic Party and its charismatic leader, 37-year-old Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and the right-wing opposition groups, the National Coalition Party and the Finns Party. The clash between these two sides will have implications beyond the capital of Helsinki.

Marin has been something of a darling for Western leaders who have sought to present a united front against Finland’s giant neighbor, Russia, in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s genocidal invasion of Ukraine last year.

Overturning Finland’s traditional neutrality, for instance, Marin convinced Turkish President Recep Erdogan to give the green light to Finnish membership in NATO, a major expansion of the alliance that brings Western forces along a huge section of Russia’s northern border, the Associated Press reported. She recently floated the possibility of giving American-made F/A-18 Hornet jets to Ukraine, too, Newsweek added. Ukrainian leaders have been begging for more warplanes.

Marin also frequently appeared in Western media to discuss issues of global significance. In an interview with 60 minutes, for example, she discussed the benefits of countries having a young leader – she assumed the premiership at age 34 – describing how she perhaps understood the urgency of addressing climate change more than earlier generations of leaders, for example.

Still, not all were happy when the young leader caused scandals over her late-night partying, the Guardian noted.

The Social Democrats are trailing in the polls, too. As Politico wrote, Marin might be more popular among conclaves of foreign leaders, diplomats, and non-government organizations than she is among her constituents. The prime minister has pledged to improve public services, especially the national health system. Her conservative rivals, blasting her spending plans as irresponsible, are calling for fiscal austerity and more restrained public spending, explained Reuters.

Some Finns, it seems, are not so happy.




Mexican authorities launched an investigation into the fire that killed at least 39 migrants inside an immigrant detention center near the US border Monday, an incident that has prompted criticism over the government’s immigration policies, the Guardian reported Thursday.

To date, Mexican officials said they had arrested five people out of six they want to interview, a list that includes three migration ministry officers and two private security agents for homicide and damage to property at the migrant center in Ciudad Juárez, according to Reuters.

Authorities also plan to arrest a migrant suspected of starting the fire as part of a protest.

The probe followed the release of a surveillance video that showed guards running away and leaving migrants behind bars as flames and smoke engulfed the facility. Among the victims were individuals from a number of Latin American nations, including Venezuela, Colombia, and Guatemala.

The footage sparked condemnation from human rights groups and countries in the region, including El Salvador which said some of its citizens were seriously injured.

The incident, believed to be the deadliest in a Mexican immigration facility in recent memory, has raised concerns about Mexico’s ability to handle the large number of migrants in cities along its northern border, the Los Angeles Times added.

These concerns come as US authorities prepare to implement new policies that are likely to keep migrants heading to the US in Mexico.

Although Mexican officials have tried to attribute the tragedy to the improper actions of low-level guards, human rights advocates counter that an interconnected network of anti-migrant policies on both sides of the border is also to blame.

Every month, around 200,000 people attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the US, the majority of them fleeing poverty and violence in Central and South America.

Since 2014, more than 7,600 migrants have died or disappeared in transit in the Americas, according to the International Organization for Migration. The United Nations agency estimates that around 4,400 individuals died or went missing on the US-Mexico border crossing route.

Unholy Doctrines


Under pressure from Indigenous groups, the Vatican formally repudiated the colonial-era “Doctrine of Discovery,” the edict backed by 15th-century papal decrees that justified the seizure of lands in Africa and the Americas by European colonialists, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The Holy See announced that the decrees – also known as “papal bulls” – have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith, adding that they “did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of Indigenous peoples.”

It noted that the colonial powers had “manipulated” the documents “to justify immoral acts against Indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesial authorities.”

The decrees in question are considered the foundation of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a legal notion coined in an 1823 US Supreme Court case that has come to be viewed as indicating that Europeans gained ownership and dominion over land because they “discovered” it.

The landmark announcement came in response to decades of Indigenous requests that the Vatican formally retract the papal bulls that gave the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms the religious justification to expand their territories in Africa and the Americas in the name of spreading Christianity.

During a 2022 visit to Canada, Pope Francis formally apologized for the Catholic church’s role in the controversial residential school system that forced Native children out of their homes and also to abandon their culture.

The Argentinian-born Francis – the Vatican’s first Latin American pontiff – previously apologized to Bolivia’s Indigenous peoples in 2015 for the crimes of the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.

Feeling the Heat


The small Pacific island of Vanuatu successfully convinced the United Nations to ask the world’s top international court to decide on countries’ obligations to address climate change, a move seen as a major milestone in advancing international climate law, the Washington Post reported.

The UN General Assembly approved a request for an advisory ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week, without any objections from China and the United States – the world’s biggest emitters.

The Netherlands-based court is expected to clarify countries’ legal obligations to combat climate change and lay the groundwork for them to be sued if they fail to comply.

The decision marks a significant victory for Vanuatu, an archipelago nation of 320,000 people that has been plagued with climate-change-driven natural disasters in recent years. For example, the Pacific nation has been hit by two Category 4 cyclones this year and its leaders blame global warming.

Vanuatu officials said its diplomatic efforts have been aimed at building consensus and that they did not seek to sue any country, but wanted to clarify how preexisting international deals apply to climate change.

The ICJ mainly handles disputes between nations but also issues advisory opinions that interpret how existing international agreements apply to new issues.

Legal analysts and UN officials noted that the opinions are not binding on national courts but they do carry some weight in pressuring governments and judges, as well as opening up avenues to future lawsuits.

Meanwhile, in another recent case on climate change, more than 2,000 Swiss women are taking the Swiss government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), saying that its policy on climate change is violating their right to life and health, the BBC added.

The suit marks the first time the ECHR will hear a case on the impact of climate change on human rights. The case comes amid a backdrop of rising temperatures and heatwaves in Switzerland.


This week, Russia announced it would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a move seen as retaliation for the United Kingdom announcing last week that it would supply Ukraine with armor-piercing shells constructed from depleted uranium, France 24 reported. Although the rounds contain tiny amounts of radioactivity, Moscow says the ammunition has “nuclear components” that justify its move into Belarus. Russian President Vladimir Putin added that the move does not violate any nonproliferation agreements and likened his plans to the United States stationing its weapons in Europe, NBC News added. NATO and Ukraine criticized the move as “dangerous and irresponsible,” adding that it risks making Belarus a “nuclear hostage.”

Also this week:

  • The delivery of depleted uranium shells comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that there would be no new counter-offensive against Russian troops until Western allies send more military support, according to the BBC. Even so, Russia launched another wave of Iranian-made drones on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and its surroundings this week. Ukraine’s air defenses shot down almost all of them and there were no reports of casualties. Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in and around Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk, Radio Free Europe noted.
  • The United Nations Security Council rejected a resolution by Russia this week that demanded an international investigation into what appears to have been sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year, Voice of America reported. The proposed resolution would have established an international independent commission that would probe the explosion, including identifying the “perpetrators, sponsors, organizers and accomplices.” Authorities in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany are conducting investigations into the attacks. According to preliminary reports, the damage was caused by “powerful explosions” and “gross sabotage.”
  • Hungary’s parliament approved Finland’s NATO membership on Monday, putting an end to months of delays and pushing the Nordic country one step closer to full membership in the Western military alliance, the Associated Press wrote.
  • Russian authorities arrested a reporter for the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, with officials accusing him of spying for the United States, according to CBS News. The arrest of US citizen Evan Gershkovich represents a significant increase in the Kremlin’s efforts to suppress dissent, a crackdown that gained traction following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
  • The UK and Poland will build two temporary villages in western and central Ukraine to provide housing for people forced from their homes by Russia’s invasion, with the British government pledging more than $12.3 million for the effort, Reuters added.
  • The French parliament decided this week to declare the starvation of millions of Ukrainians during Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s reign as genocide, Radio Free Europe reported. The resolution comes as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine revives memories of the famine known by Ukrainians as the Holodomor. The European Parliament did so in December and called on Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, to do the same and apologize.


The Fight Club

New archaeological evidence suggested that Roman Britain had its fair share of gladiatorial fights and spectacles, the Guardian reported.

A science team carefully studied a second-century CE vase first discovered in a Roman grave in Colchester, England in 1853. The vase was used as a funerary vessel holding the remains of an unknown individual.

But it also depicted scenes of gladiatorial combat, including two human figures wearing armor and weapons, as well as dogs chasing other animals.

Analysis of the artifact showed that the vase was made from local clay around 160-200 CE – instead of abroad as historians previously believed.

“It’s the only evidence of a Roman arena gladiator combat actually being staged in Britain,” said Frank Hargrave, director of Colchester and Ipswich Museums (CIMS), which owns the vase. “There are no written descriptions.”

Researchers also studied the human remains and found that the individual was a non-local man of “potentially European origin” over the age of 40. They speculate that the person owned the vase and was involved with the bloody sport in some way – either he was a die-hard fan or a gladiator trainer.

“It’s a commemorative piece, almost a trophy for the trophy cabinet,” said Glynn Davis, a senior curator at CIMS.

Despite its significance and implications, researchers noted that Colchester did not have any amphitheater where the gladiators could fight.

But it did have two Roman theaters that could have operated as arenas for the ancient crowds to stay entertained.

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