The World Today for May 09, 2023

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The Wheels of Fortune


Romania has emerged from its post-Cold War funk to become a more service-oriented economy that is competitive in acquiring slices of global markets, according to Harvard’s Growth Lab’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, declaring that the East European country has undergone a “structural transformation” in recent years.

Improving purchasing power parity in the country of almost 20 million people means that the average Romanian will catch up with the average European’s wealth by 2030. Such trends led Geopolitical Intelligence Services to conclude that, in a world where China has demonstrated how autocracies can deliver economic prosperity, chaotic democracies can transform economies for the better, too.

The country’s success has attracted migrant workers from far afield, much like Italy’s economic renaissance in the 1970s. “A generation ago Romanians queued for food,” explained the Economist. “Today in Bucharest the queues are back, but those standing in them are not Romanian. In one street Ukrainian refugees line up in front of an aid distribution center. In another, Nepalis, Bangladeshis, and others wait outside an immigration office to renew work and residence permits.”

The rest of the European Union has been less excited about Romania’s success, however. Austria recently blocked Romania and its smaller and poorer neighbor to the south, Bulgaria, from joining the Schengen Area – the territories where EU citizens can travel and work freely without a visa.

Austrian officials blocked Romania in protest against EU rules that have made it relatively easy for migrants from the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and South Asia to apply for asylum in the German-speaking country, reported Politico.

Saying Austria’s move was “unfair, disappointing, and unprincipled,” Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode hoped that his country’s application would be taken up and approved again this year, added Romania-Insider, an English-language news website that covers the country. Other Romanians protested in Brussels, the capital of the EU, saying Austria’s move made them feel like “second-class citizens in Europe,” wrote

Austria’s snub might have larger implications, argued Stratfor, an American think tank. First, it threatens to undermine the country’s growing economy. Second, it provides ammunition to nationalists within Romania who reject the EU’s goal of creating a more democratic, free market-oriented, socially liberal bloc.

Those concerns are important because Russia has been working hard to destabilize Eastern European countries like Romania which were formerly Russian vassals. The Robert Lansing Institute, for example, cited a Russian espionage plot to revive Romanian claims to Ukrainian territory. Russia is also destabilizing Moldova, Romania’s neighbor and close ally, added CNN.

So far, Romania, a NATO member, has officially sided with Ukraine. But Western European countries might want to think twice before giving Romania time to rethink that stance.

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Exit, Stage Right


Chilean conservative parties scored a major win Monday in an election to select members of the body that will draft Chile’s new constitution, a victory that marks a marked shift from the progressive majority that was originally charged with drawing up the first draft, the BBC reported.

Results showed the far-right Republican Party won 22 of 51 seats on the constitutional assembly, with other right-wing parties securing 11 seats. The left-wing Unidad para Chile, or “Unity for Chile” party, won 17, leaving it short of the 21 seats needed to grant it the power of veto.

Republican party leader José Antonio Kast welcomed the results as a sign that “the ideas of common sense have triumphed.” His party has opposed changing the current pro-business constitution drafted during the regime of autocrat Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Calls for a new constitution began following the 2019 mass protests over perceived inequality in the Latin American country, Al Jazeera wrote.

The constitutional assembly was set up to draft a new charter to replace the Pinochet-era document. Initially, progressive members dominated the assembly and unveiled a new constitution last year that many observers described as one of the world’s most progressive charters.

The new draft proposed a variety of changes, including improved social benefits and environmental rights. It would have also declared Chile a “plurinational state” and recognized the rights of the country’s Indigenous groups – which make up about 13 percent of the population – to their lands and resources.

In September, a referendum to approve the new constitution failed after more than 60 percent of Chileans rejected the draft for being too radical – which also prompted the polls for a new assembly.

The new constitutional body will start its work next month and will have five months to create a fresh draft. The final text will be presented to the public for a referendum in December.

The conservative victory, meanwhile, is a challenge for left-wing President Gabriel Boric, who backed the previous progressive draft.

It is also a challenge for the new body which will have to reconcile the conservative majority’s perspectives with the demands for change that initiated the process, according to analysts.

Welcome Back


The Arab League readmitted Syria after a nearly 12-year absence this week, a move many observers suggested could rehabilitate the international image of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, CNN reported.

The league suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 after Assad launched a brutal crackdown against anti-government protests that year.

But as the Syrian leader held onto power during the years-long civil war, a number of Arab nations have been seeking rapprochement with Damascus.

On Sunday, the Arab League members agreed to reinstate Syria’s membership following a meeting over the weekend. The organization’s Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit added that Assad can now participate in any meeting of the league, including next week’s summit in Saudi Arabia.

But the regional organization also noted that it will need to take “practical and effective steps” to resolve Syria’s ongoing crisis.

Western sanctions, including the US 2019 Caesar Act, have severely affected Syria’s economy, rendering it untouchable. The United Nations has warned that poverty and food insecurity in the country are at unprecedented levels, with over 12 million Syrians – or more than half the population – estimated to be food insecure, according to the World Food Program.

Analysts and officials explained that Syria’s re-admission, although symbolic, could boost Assad’s international standing and potentially allow the removal of sanctions against his regime.

Candles and Crackdowns


The Serbian government deployed police officers to schools across the country Monday following two mass shootings last week that stunned the Balkan country, leaving 17 dead and more than 20 wounded, Radio Free Europe reported.

Police officials announced Monday that they will deploy officers to primary and secondary schools, adding that the officers will be a “constant presence” during school hours.

Authorities said more than 120 student threats and indecent social media posts have been recorded in Serbia in the last few days.

Meanwhile, President Aleksandar Vucic added that police would increase patrols in streets and schools in the upcoming weeks to help the public regain a sense of security. He vowed that 1,200 officers will be deployed and the police presence “will reduce violence by 80 percent in less than a year.”

The new measures come days after Serbia experienced two mass shootings in the span of 48 hours.

On May 3, a 13-year-old suspect opened fire at his school in the capital Belgrade, killing eight students and a security guard. Police said the teenager had been planning the attack for months.

Two days later, a 21-year-old gunman in a moving car opened fire at pedestrians in villages near Mladenovac, south of Belgrade. At least eight people were killed and 14 wounded in the attack, carried out with an automatic weapon.

Mass shootings are rare in Serbia, which has one of the highest rates of gun ownership per capita in Europe. Gun control has been lax since the 1990s Yugoslav wars when many brought back weapons from battlefields, according to the Associated Press.

Vucic also announced an extensive weapons and ammunition control initiative that will involve an audit of all citizens who possess firearms, estimated to be around 400,000 people.

Meanwhile, opposition parties urged citizens to march in central Belgrade against violence on Monday, demanding the resignations of government ministers and changes to mainstream media that often host convicted war criminals and crime figures on their airwaves, the Washington Post reported, noting that the education minister had already resigned.

Thousands have lit candles in honor of the victims in recent days.


Frankenstein’s Birds

A research team is using a novel but odd method to understand how birds fly: They are creating drones out of taxidermy birds.

Lead researcher Mostafa Hassanalian and his team told LiveScience that their project seeks to better figure out the mechanics of avian flight and help monitor wildlife.

“We never hurt any birds while working on this project,” Hassanalian said. “We want to help nature, not hurt nature.”

Initially, the science team attempted to create these “bird drones” using artificial materials but the results weren’t the same. They explained that the artificial wings weren’t as efficient as real ones.

So they purchased real avian wings from online retailers, and whole birds from taxidermists.

The team then attached parts of the taxidermy birds to electric motors and tested their peculiar creations in a series of experiments.

Their findings offered some insights into bird flight and how they conserve energy, such as flying in V-shaped patterns. The researchers also found that when flying in flocks, birds in the middle section conserve their energy better than their counterparts in the front. As a result, the birds’ overall efficiency was enhanced by an impressive 44 percent.

Hassanalian suggested that the study results can be applied to the aviation industry and help with conserving energy and fuel.

But he also hopes that the Frankenstein-looking birds can also be used to monitor wildlife, because conventional non-bird drones tend to scare away the real thing.

“The biggest challenge we have now is that we don’t know how living birds will react,” he added.

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