The World Today for August 14, 2023

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The War on Culture


As Ukrainian soldiers dig in to make advances on the battlefield in what many say is a stalled offensive, another front in the war has been more successful: the war on Russia’s cultural legacy.

It’s an offensive years in the making.

For most of its existence as a nation, Russian language and culture have co-existed with Ukrainian. Now, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on the pretext of saving Russian culture from annihilation is the very thing that has pushed Ukrainians to make a concerted effort to erase it.

That means toppling monuments to changing street names to eliminating the use of the Russian language.

For example, the Motherland Monument, which has towered over Kyiv since 1981 with its 335-foot statue of a woman holding a sword and shield, recently got a makeover. Its shield’s Soviet hammer and sickle motif was replaced with a Ukrainian trident, a symbol of the country dating back more than a millennium, reported CNBC.

That’s only the latest landmark to be targeted with hammers, chisels and paint brushes: This map with the header, “decolonize Ukraine,” shows the scale of the effort. Hundreds of green points on the map show landmarks that have already been “dismantled.” Yellow and red points, meanwhile, mark those to come.

A form urges fellow Ukrainians to inform the organization of landmarks they missed: “Let’s finish the process once and for all,” the organization writes.

That is no easy task because tens of thousands of physical symbols of Russia dot Ukraine’s urban landscapes including statues, mosaics embedded in buildings and bas-reliefs in facades.

Some worry that the effort will erase history or just interesting art: “War and works of art are not always linked,” Anton Glazkov, a 27-year-old teacher, told France24.

Still, physical landmarks are the easy part, others say.

Late last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law that moves the Christmas Day holiday from Jan. 7 – the day celebrated as Christmas by the Russian Orthodox Church – to Dec. 25, Politico reported.

The most difficult front is the Russian language itself. It has already been banned on local radio stations, with bands rereleasing their hits songs in Ukrainian. Russian books are being purged or replaced by Ukrainian editions and Russian courses are out from Ukraine’s national school curricula. And the government recently passed a law requiring Ukrainian skills for citizenship and all place names to be in Ukrainian, the New York Times reported.

The efforts to erase all-things-Russian are not new but date back to 2014 when the pro-democracy pro-West Maidan Revolution led to the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Then, demonstrators tore down statues of Lenin and other Soviet leaders as parliament enacted the law banning them, the Wall Street Journal noted.

From then on, following Putin’s annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and its proxy war in the east of Ukraine, efforts intensified. Still, Ukrainian leaders, including President Zelenskyy were mindful that almost one-third of the country’s pre-war population was Russian-speaking including himself, and that some of them felt like second-class citizens.

Now, even native Russian speakers want to purge themselves of Russian.

“For many people, it has become impossible to speak Russian because it is the language of the enemy,” Iryna Pobidash, an associate professor of linguistics at Igor Sikorsky Polytechnic Institute in Kyiv, told the Washington Post. “Russian is now a marker of everything that has happened: a marker of pain and tragedy.”

In the far eastern predominantly Russian-speaking Kharkiv, people take Ukrainian classes and slowly abandon their language.

“…when I speak Russian, inside myself I am embarrassed that I speak the language of the enemy in public…this is a very personal feeling,” Liubov Pavliuk, told the Post, adding that she stopped listening to Russian music or watching Russian TV.

But she said she struggles: “Sometimes I lack the words…”


Shedding the Past


The Indian government introduced three bills this week aimed at overhauling certain colonial-era criminal laws, including a sedition act that has been used by officials to crack down on dissent, Al Jazeera reported.

Interior Minister Amit Shah said the draft laws will replace provisions in the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act, implemented by the British before the country’s independence in 1947.

He added that these bills “will aim to give justice, not punishment,” and strengthen legislation to better protect women and minors.

One of the chief changes will be to replace the sedition law, which was enacted by India’s  British rulers in 1860 to repress Indian political leaders and freedom fighters seeking independence from Britain, the Associated Press noted.

Since independence, it has been frequently used as a tool by the government to suppress and intimidate those criticizing it.

Analysts said the new law doesn’t change anything.

Meanwhile, draft legislation intended to protect women would criminalize sexual exploitation by perpetrators using the pretext of marriage, employment or promotion, or through the use of a secret identity.

The proposed changes would set a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for those convicted of gang rape, while the rape of a child would result in the death penalty.

The move is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to scrap obscure laws and modernize India’s legal system.

Observers noted that the bills, if approved, would cause some complications as courts will have to figure out what to do about tens of thousands of existing trials based on the current laws.

The Art of Fear


The Polish government will call for a referendum on illegal migration, a vote that observers believe is part of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s efforts to stave off a challenge from the opposition in the October elections, Sky News reported.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the referendum in a video published on social media Sunday, where he asked voters if they supported accepting “thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa under the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”

The video also depicted scenes of burning cars and street violence in Western Europe, including a black man licking a large knife in apparent anticipation of committing a crime.

The announcement came two months after European Union ministers endorsed a relocation plan that would require bloc nations to share the responsibility for migrants entering Europe without authorization.

Since 2015, the EU’s asylum system faced scrutiny when more than a million migrants – many of them fleeing the Syrian conflict – entered the bloc, prompting disputes among the 27-nation union.

Poland initially was neither an entry point nor a destination country. But this changed two years ago when migrants started crossing into Poland from Belarus, seen by EU authorities as a move by Russia’s ally to create instability in Poland and other European nations.

The migration question and two others – one on privatizing state-owned enterprises and another on raising the retirement age – are set to take place alongside the Oct. 15 vote.

Observers said the referendum is aimed at discrediting the opposition party Civic Platform.

The pro-EU party, which governed from 2007 to 2015, increased the retirement age during its time in power and signaled a willingness to accept a few thousand refugees before it lost power to the PiS.

The Cyber Tightrope


Jordanian King Abdullah II approved a new bill Saturday that would impose strict penalties on online speech deemed harmful to national unity, a move that human rights groups warn will stifle free speech in a country where censorship is on the rise, the Associated Press reported.

The legislation will make certain online posts punishable with months of imprisonment and fines. These posts include comments “promoting, instigating, aiding, or inciting immorality,” showing “contempt for religion” or “undermining national unity.”

It also prohibits individuals from posting the names or pictures of police officers and bans the use of tools to maintain online anonymity, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN), according to the Middle East Eye.

Both houses of parliament voted in favor of the bill, with lawmakers stressing that the measures – which amend a 2015 cybercrime law – are necessary to prevent crimes by blackmailers and cybercriminals.

But some opposition lawmakers and human rights organizations cautioned that the changes will expand the government’s control over social media, while journalists’ groups feared it could infringe upon press freedom and freedom of speech.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 13 other groups called the legislation “draconian.”

The new bill is the latest in a series of crackdowns on free speech in Jordan, an important ally of the United States in the Middle East.

HRW released a report last year saying that Jordanian authorities have increasingly been targeting protesters and journalists in a “systematic campaign to quell peaceful opposition and silence critical voices.”


Soil Census

The soil is a very important habitat and not just for humans and other mammals, according to a new study.

Scientists have discovered that more than half of Earth’s species live underground and rely on soil for one or more stages of their life, Scientific American reported.

A research team compiled existing global estimates of overall species richness and soil biodiversity for the most populous groups of life, including bacteria, insects and mammals.

Co-author Mark Anthony and his team explained that this was a challenging task because there is still a lot scientists don’t know about these species.

In their findings, about 59 percent of species need soil to survive, more than double the amount originally thought.

Their findings showed that the highest proportion of soil reliance – almost 97 percent – was in potworms, a small relative of earthworms that spends most of its life cycle underground.

The species that relied the least were mammals of which about four percent rely on soil for one or more stages of their life.

Meanwhile, plants and other life groups lie along this spectrum. While numerous plant species thrive in the soil, species such as air plants flourish on trees and are removed from the ground.

Anthony believes that the percentage of livings things relying on soil will be higher as scientists learn more about the species living there.

“I’m thinking of this a lot like a census,” he said. “Hopefully we can use the results of this to allocate more energy toward conservation and restoration in soils because we’re really not doing that at the moment.”

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