The World Today for May 29, 2023

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Russian Reveille


Twenty-three years ago, respected Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen penned an op-ed in the New York Times describing the remilitarization of Russian life. She described rules and regulations to funnel boys into the service, the boosting of military spending by 50 percent, and military detachments “adopting” teen orphan boys and the sons of single-mother households.

In recent years, especially as his regime faces questions over the military’s relatively poor performance in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has explicitly injected patriotism and militarism into his country’s schools, the Economist reported. These efforts bolster the war effort in Ukraine today, prepare the next generation for war tomorrow, and foster a climate where questioning the war is forbidden.

“Schools have been ordered to conduct ‘patriotic’ classes parroting the Kremlin line on the war, and teachers who refuse have been fired,” wrote the Washington Post. “Textbooks are being purged of almost all references to Ukraine and its capital, Kyiv.”

Putin also recently reinstated military training and exercises in schools, Newsweek added. The city of St. Petersburg was compelled to buy “assault rifles and dummy grenades” for basic military training courses. A Moscow Times photo essay showed young students putting on gas masks, aiming pistols and rifles, climbing ropes, and caring for a colleague’s ankle.

Inculcating martial principles into generations of Russian youth has changed the country’s culture, argued Global Voices, describing the appearance of a “new archetype” of Russian citizen: “Homo militaris”. Told all their lives that Russia faces relentless enemies from the West and elsewhere, these Russians accept Putin’s propaganda and root for their heroes in their nation’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine.

But this segment of Russian society can’t convince skeptics that Putin’s plans are going swimmingly. The Russian army has been underperforming, and the Ukrainians have yet to even launch their expected spring counteroffensive. According to Reuters, Putin’s ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the private mercenary Wagner Group, recently warned of revolution if Russian elites didn’t start taking the war seriously. He recently pulled out the militia fighters from Bakhmut and no one is quite sure why.

Meanwhile, Homo militaris certainly doesn’t appear to be volunteering to join the fight. As Al Jazeera reported, the Russian army needs more soldiers and conscripts – but draft dodging is a major problem despite the harsh punishments meted out to those who refuse to serve. Russian recruiters have consistently failed to hit their targets since the war began in February 2022, noted Worldcrunch.

More peace seems easier in comparison.


Victory, Status Quo


Turkish voters gave incumbent leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan another five-year term Sunday, a victory that came despite a sinking economy and a united opposition, the Washington Post reported.

Erdogan won 52 percent of the vote, the election board’s chairman said, giving the president a four-point victory over his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Sunday’s election comes two weeks after both Erdogan and his main opponent Kilicdaroglu failed to secure at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round: The incumbent won 49.5 percent of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu secured 44.9 percent, USA Today reported.

That vote was initially seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s leadership: He has come under fire for eroding the country’s democratic institutions and consolidating his power during his two decades in power.

But his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies retained control of parliament, a victory that observers said would provide Erdogan momentum for the second round.

Erdogan remains popular among Turkey’s religious, conservative and nationalist voters, especially outside of Istanbul. During his tenure – which included stints as the country’s prime minister – he has survived a number of crises ranging from corruption allegations to an attempted military coup.

He is currently grappling with soaring inflation that passed the 80 percent mark last year and criticism stemming from the government’s handling of the earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in southern Turkey.

Ankara’s relations with its Western allies have also been strained under Erdogan, even as the president has raised the country’s diplomatic profile in recent years: Turkey has been involved in brokering a grain deal between warring Russia and Ukraine, for example.

Kilicdaroglu, meanwhile, had said he would mend relations with Western allies, tackle the country’s economic woes and return Turkey to a more secular and democratic path.

But analysts suggested that the results of the first election showed larger-than-expected support for nationalism – a powerful force in Turkish politics which has been hardened by years of hostilities with Kurdish militants and the influx of millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war, Reuters noted.

Cutting the Odds


Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled Friday to end the election campaign of top presidential contender Carlos Pineda, a verdict that came just a month before voting begins, Al Jazeera reported.

The top court upheld a ruling from a lower court that found Pineda failed to gather signatures from party delegates and file financial reports as required in the nomination process.

The conservative candidate criticized the verdict and accused the court of endorsing “election fraud.”

Pineda – who appeared as the frontrunner in one poll – is the third candidate to be disqualified from the June 25 presidential elections. The others included conservative Roberto Arzú and left-leaning Indigenous candidate Thelma Cabrera.

Cabrera’s case attracted international attention after a court ruled that she could not register for elections because her running mate, former human rights official Jordán Rodas, was deemed ineligible. Rodas had allegedly failed to produce a letter confirming he had no legal proceedings pending against him.

Human rights groups have decried the disqualifications as politically motivated, the latest accusations against the government of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei.

The government has also come under fire for stifling dissent, including harassing journalists.

Meanwhile, officials have launched investigations against officials and legal specialists with links to the now-shuttered International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, an independent, United Nations-backed organization aimed at rooting out corruption in the country.

Around 30 figures, including judges and prosecutors, have fled the country to avoid prosecution.

Dry Powder


Kosovo police and ethnic Serbs clashed in the northern town of Zvecan over the weekend, unrest that prompted condemnation from the West and Russia, and threatens to ignite ethnic tensions in the predominately Albanian country, Politico reported.

The clashes began after crowds of ethnic Serbs blocked a newly elected Albanian mayor from entering his office in Zvecan. Many of the protesters lamented the outcome of April’s elections in four municipalities that were largely boycotted by ethnic Serbs because their calls for more autonomy were ignored.

Only ethnic Albanian or other smaller minority representatives were elected in the mayoral posts and assemblies, according to the Associated Press.

Local Serbs have refused to work with the four ethnic Albanian mayors, prompting Saturday’s protests. Police later responded by launching tear gas against demonstrators.

The skirmishes triggered a backlash from neighboring Serbia, whose President Aleksandar Vucic ordered the army on full combat alert and told troops to move closer to the border with Kosovo.

The United States and major European countries urged both parties to de-escalate tensions, while condemning both for their actions.

Russia – Serbia’s ally in the region – accused the West and Kosovo of sparking the violence, to “directly threaten the security of the whole Balkans region.”

Relations between the two neighbors have been fraught since the Balkan war in the late 1990s that followed separatist ethnic Albanians rebelling against Serbia’s rule.

About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died in the conflict, which ended following a military intervention by NATO in 1999.

In 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent but many countries – including Serbia and Russia – have yet to recognize the move.


A Whale’s Tale

Killer whales have been attacking sailboats and yachts off the Iberian coast of Europe in recent years, prompting scientists to believe that the behavior is taught by some of the large cetaceans to each other, Live Science reported.

Earlier this month, researchers and authorities reported two separate instances of groups of whales attacking boats crossing the Strait of Gibraltar off the coast of Spain.

On both occasions, crew members said the whale species – also known as orcas – would target the boats’ rudders. They added that the younger orcas would copy what their elders did.

These incidents have become more frequent since 2020, according to biologist Alfredo López Fernandez.

Fernandez recently explained to Live Science that the encounters usually follow a clear pattern: Orcas approach from the stern to hit the rudder and then lose interest once they have successfully stopped the boat.

In a 2022 study, he and his team recorded more than 500 interactions between orcas and boats around the Iberian coast, with the majority of them harmless.

Only three ships sunk from those encounters, they added.

Still, Fernandez noted that these attacks are a recent phenomenon and possibly originated from an orca’s traumatic experiences that may have triggered a change in its behavior, and the rest of the population later imitated.

Past studies have found that the cetaceans are social creatures and capable of replicating the behaviors of other orcas.

Other marine researchers suggested that the orcas could also be acting playfully or following a “fad” – a behavior initiated by one or two individuals and temporarily picked up by others before it’s abandoned.

Even so, these incidents could jeopardize the conservation efforts of the Iberian orca subpopulation, which is considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

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