The World Today for July 03, 2023

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Western Outpost in the East


One of Lithuania’s first post-independence leaders after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Vytautas Landsbergis, recently had some choice words for officials in Moscow.

“Victory will come when there’s no Russian empire, or if it’s inseparable from Russia, when there’s no Russia. Russia has become a cancer of Europe and the world,” said Landsbergis at an event covered by national public broadcaster LRT. “If it is cured, the world may survive, but if not, it may lead to the destruction of the world.”

Under the direction of the monstrous Josef Stalin, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania in 1940 as per an agreement with Nazi Germany known as the notorious Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Today, memories of 50 years under Soviet control have made the Lithuanians one of the most stalwart defenders of Western values on the periphery of Europe.

Lithuanian leaders never believed the so-called “end of history” thesis that gripped American and other Western leaders in the late 1990s, explained the Wall Street Journal in an opinion column. The thesis contended that the West’s victory would inspire democracy, free markets, respect for human rights, and prosperity to spread organically across the globe. Lithuanians, in contrast, always believed Russia was prepared to trample on those values.

Undergirding the Lithuanians’ sense of themselves is their deep history, including a medieval period that might be described as a golden age for the country. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania once spanned not only its current territory on the Baltic Sea but also Belarus, as well as sections of Poland, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine, as Coda recalled.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has inspired an outpouring of anti-Russian sentiment in Lithuania, France 24 reported. Ukraine’s blue and yellow flags hang in buildings throughout the capital of Vilnius. Lithuanian leaders have led efforts to supply Ukraine with funds, weapons, and other assistance. The country has even moved to strip a Russian-born champion figure skater of her honorary Lithuanian citizenship due to her participation in Russian competitions, Radio Free Europe added.

Around 25,600 Ukrainians now work in Lithuania, according to the Ukrainian public news agency, Ukrinform. Many of those people are presumably among the 40,000 Ukrainian refugees who have received asylum in Lithuania as the war has raged back home.

Lithuania’s stance has earned rewards. The country is preparing to build a $110 million tech campus that will be among the largest in the world, for example, CNN reported.

The country has much to lose, so will fight to keep what it has got.


Not Leaving Soon


Brazil’s electoral court barred former conservative President Jair Bolsonaro from running for office until 2030, a ruling that could further increase political tensions in the Latin American nation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The court found Bolsonaro guilty of abuse of power over his attempts to undermine confidence in the country’s voting system.

The case centered on a meeting last year the conservative leader held with around 40 foreign diplomats before the country’s general election. During the meeting, Bolsonaro reiterated his claims that Brazil’s electoral system was vulnerable to tampering by online hackers.

Judges said that the claims were part of Bolsonaro’s campaign to cast doubt on the vote, as well as influence Brazilians and foreigners alike that the election against him was rigged.

Bolsonaro denied any wrongdoing, previously saying he was trying to encourage debate about Brazil’s electronic voting system. He accused the court of political bias and called the trial a “stab in the back.”

He plans to appeal the ruling within the electoral court itself and then at Brazil’s Supreme Court – a move that political and legal analysts believe is unlikely to be successful.

Bolsonaro’s allies in congress also denounced the ruling and are working on a bill that would grant him amnesty from any political ban.

Meanwhile, the populist leader is facing a separate criminal probe by Brazil’s Supreme Court over his involvement in the riots that saw his supporters storming the country’s main governmental institutions earlier this year.

On Jan. 8, Bolsonaro supporters raided Brasilia’s Praça dos Três Poderes – or the Three Powers Plaza – which houses the Presidential Palace, Brazil’s Congress, and the Supreme Court.

The storming came a few months after Bolsonaro lost the October presidential run-off to leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a vote that many of the conservative leader’s supporters said was fraudulent.

While the verdict will prevent the former army captain from running for office at any level of government for nearly a decade, political analysts noted it won’t end Bolsonaro’s political career.

They suggested that it could strengthen his appeal as a political outsider and solidify support among his conservative base.

Spark of Rage


Thousands of Iraqis protested near the Swedish embassy in Iraq’s capital Baghdad Friday, the latest display of anger from the Muslim world against Sweden following the burning of a Quran outside a Stockholm mosque, Agence France-Presse reported.

It was the second day of demonstrations against Sweden, with Thursday seeing a group of protesters storming the embassy and staying inside for around 15 minutes before leaving when security forces arrived.

The unrest came days after Swedish police authorized an Iraqi citizen living in Sweden, Salwan Momika, to proceed with the book burning. The individual stomped on the Quran – Islam’s holy book – and burned some of its pages in front of the capital’s largest mosque.

Swedish authorities had initially authorized the book burning in line with free speech protections. But they later arrested Momika and opened a probe over allegations of “agitation”.

The Quran burning coincided with the start of the Muslim Eid al-Adha and the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The incident prompted condemnation from a number of Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

To protest the burning, Iraqi demonstrators trampled on photos of Momika as well as the LGBTQ+ movement flag.

The book burning was particularly problematic with NATO member Turkey.

Analysts said the incident will likely give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even more reason to veto Sweden’s bid to join the defense alliance, according to Voice of America.

Meanwhile, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has tried to distance himself from Momika’s protest, noting that “there’s no need to insult other people.”

Even so, Momika announced plans to do another Quran burning later this month, Newsweek added.

Suits and Countersuits


A group of countries plans to bring Iran to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the 2020 downing of a Ukrainian International Airlines flight over Tehran that killed all 176 passengers on board, Al Jazeera reported.

Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom jointly announced that they will refer the case to the United Nations’ top court after failing to reach an agreement with Iran on arbitration over the matter.

In January 2020, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 bound for Kyiv went down shortly after takeoff from Iran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.

The incident came as Iran’s military was firing missiles at American forces in Iraq in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US strike on Baghdad airport.

The crash claimed the lives of all 176 people on board, including citizens and permanent residents of all four countries. Tehran said the accident was caused by “human error” in operating a surface-to-air defense system.

Following the downing, the four nations formed the “International Coordination and Response Group for the victims of Flight PS752” to seek accountability. Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly confirmed the decision to take Iran to court, emphasizing the pursuit of transparency, accountability, and justice for the families affected.

The announcement came shortly after Iran filed a complaint against Canada at the ICJ, alleging violations of “international obligations” by allowing people to seek civil damages against Tehran.

Iran has asserted a breach of sovereign immunity, which generally protects states from civil lawsuits in foreign jurisdictions.

Last year, a Canadian court awarded $84 million to the families of six victims of Flight PS752, saying the incident was an “act of terrorism,” a label Iran rejected.

Tehran has previously said it would provide $150,000 to each victim’s family, as well as expressed readiness to engage in discussions with the countries affected by the crash.


Spotty Mystery

The beautiful wings of monarch butterflies are dotted with white spots, markings that have puzzled scientists for years.

Now, a research team set out to learn the role these white spots play in the insect’s flight, New Scientist reported.

Monarch butterflies are known for their impressive long-distance migrations: Despite weighing a little more than a raindrop, the alluring bug can in the fall fly nearly 2,500 miles from north to south to settle for winter hibernation.

Their black-and-orange wings are framed with a number of white spots. Some closely related species also have them, but they are not migratory and the spots are not very large.

For their paper, researcher Andy Davis and his team studied images of more than 400 monarch wings in different stages of the insect’s fall migration. They also analyzed monarch specimens from museums and compared them with six other closely related butterflies.

The findings showed that migratory monarch butterflies have bigger spots than their cousins. The team also observed that monarchs with just three percent more white markings on their wings were more successful migrants.

“We were pretty shocked at that,” said Davis.

Researchers suggested that the presence of white spots on the wings limits the absorption of sunlight and radiation. This difference in temperature between the light and dark areas of their wings could alter the airflow, reducing drag and enhancing their aerodynamics.

Still, their exact role remains a mystery and further investigation is required to confirm this hypothesis.

The authors proposed that spots appeared as the insects evolved to migrate longer distances compared with their predecessors.

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