The World Today for October 13, 2023

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Sovereign Hearts


Senior European Union officials are demanding an explanation from Poland over allegations that Polish diplomats sold temporary work visas to African and Asian migrants for thousands of dollars apiece.

Polish media outlets have alleged that officials allowed more than 130,000 migrants into Poland from majority-Muslim nations under the scheme. The Polish government, however, claimed that only a few hundred migrants were involved in the scheme and only 30,000 workers in total came to the Central European country last year from Muslim nations.

As the Associated Press noted, the kerfuffle was ironic. Polish voters are slated to go to the polls on Oct. 15 to elect a new parliament. Incumbent Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has been employing anti-migrant rhetoric in his political campaign to dominate Polish politics since at least 2015.

Under Morawiecki, for example, construction crews recently completed a new 115-mile-long, 18-foot-high wall on Poland’s border with Belarus to keep migrants out, Euronews wrote. During the wall’s construction, Morawiecki declared a state of emergency that prevented journalists and human rights observers from entering the border region, raising fears that migrants were suffering abuse. At least 20 died last year due to freezing conditions on the Polish-Belarussian border.

Morawiecki has also been adamant in his support for Ukraine, his resistance to EU officials’ complaints of his party’s tampering with the judicial system and civil rights – officials who he says want to undermine Polish sovereignty – and his promotion of traditional, Catholic family values that exclude LGBTQ people and others, added Politico.

Running against Morawiecki is Donald Tusk, who was the Polish prime minister from 2007 to 2014 and president of the European Council, the chamber of national leaders that sets EU policy, from 2014 to 2019. On the campaign trail, he and his Civic Coalition political party colleagues depict the PiS party leaders as hypocrites who promote xenophobic views while secretly profiting from corruption that admits more foreigners into the country, further stoking divisiveness.

Nearly one million of Tusk’s supporters recently took to the streets of the capital of Warsaw in the “March of a Million Hearts,” reported the Associated Press. Carrying the Polish and EU flags – Tusk has vowed to mend the frayed relations that have developed between Poland and Brussels under the PiS – these “cheerful” and inclusive demonstrations are aimed to appeal to Poles seeking to put kinder, gentler politicians in charge.

Polls forecast that the PiS party will win around 38 percent of the vote compared with 30 percent for the Civic Coalition, according to the New York Times.

The two sides might need to form a coalition that mixes the hard and soft. Many Poles think that it’s about time.


Unity By Proxy


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz agreed to form an emergency unity government amid preparations for a potential ground war in the Gaza Strip, Axios reported.

The new unity government will see the formation of a small “war cabinet” that will run the war effort until the end of the conflict in Gaza.

Gantz – an opposition lawmaker and former Israeli Defense Force chief of staff – and another member of his party will join the new cabinet. Gantz and the prime minister also agreed to not hold any parliamentary discussions over the judicial overhaul bill, controversial legislation that sparked months-long protests against Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid was also offered a place in the unity government, but has not yet responded to the offer. Lapid previously demanded that Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners be excluded from the war cabinet.

Analysts said that Gantz’s participation underscores the severity of the political crisis in Israel following Hamas’ surprise attack on Saturday. They added that his role will significantly strengthen the cabinet members’ draw on security experience around its decision-making.

The formation of the unity government comes days after Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack from Gaza, firing thousands of rockets and breaching the hi-tech security fence around the enclave to allow hundreds of militants to cross into Israel, the Guardian noted.

While Israel has reclaimed control of areas around the Gaza border, Israeli troops are massing in the south in preparation for a potential ground war.

Israel reported that the fighting has killed more than 1,300 people and injured more than 2,700 others. On the Palestinian side, Gaza officials said about 1,500 Palestinians have died and more than 5,300 have been wounded.

Hamas is also holding at least 150 hostages, who were abducted following Saturday’s attack. The Palestinian militant group – considered a terrorist organization in the United States, the European Union and Israel – has threatened to kill a hostage every time the Israeli military bombs civilian targets in Gaza without warning, the Associated Press added.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s sole power station ran out of fuel amid an ongoing siege, adding to the looming catastrophe in the enclave. The United Nations human rights agency said there was a “mass displacement” in Gaza, with more than 423,000 people fleeing their homes, CNN reported.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have accused Hamas of a number of atrocities, including killing children, raping women and immolation.

Even so, that Hamas so quickly and easily breached Israeli security has left security analysts and Israeli defense officials puzzled.

Complicating the matter are the recent comments by US and Egyptian officials that Cairo warned Israel of a potential Hamas attack three days before Saturday’s events, according to the New York Post.

The chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said the attack may have been planned as far back as a year ago. Observers noted that this information could have significant implications for Netanyahu, whose office dismissed Egypt’s reports as “totally fake news.”

The Middle Road


France’s highest administrative court rejected a class action lawsuit accusing the government of failing to stop police racial profiling, a ruling that could influence judicial advocacy actions in the country, Radio France Internationale reported Thursday.

The landmark case was brought by six human rights groups who alleged that the French state had failed to prevent police from conducting racial profiling, particularly during routine identity checks where young Arab and black men were disproportionately targeted.

But in its ruling, the Conseil d’ État (Council of State) dismissed the lawsuit because it was “not the role of an administrative judge to take the place of the public authorities in determining public policy.”

The court explained that the issue “cannot be considered ‘systemic’ or ‘widespread,’” but acknowledged that discrimination was a problem and “not confined to isolated cases.”

The council also ruled that police officers must clearly display their identification number badges and make them more readable. These measures aim to enhance transparency and accountability within law enforcement.

Human rights groups called the decision a “missed opportunity,” but welcomed the court’s recognition of police racial profiling as symbolically important.

The council’s verdict is the result of the first class action lawsuit against the government, a procedure that has only been possible since 2016. Legal observers suggested that this ruling could set a precedent and influence future legal actions in France.

At the same time, the ruling comes at a time when French authorities have faced increased scrutiny, particularly following the recent shooting death by a police officer of a teenager of North African descent.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution Tuesday that voiced concern about forms of police misconduct that “disproportionately affect” people with an immigrant background in France.

A Church, Dissolved


The Japanese government will ask a court to order the dissolution of the Unification Church over allegations that the fringe religious group’s activities led to the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Bloomberg reported.

The request comes more than a year after Abe’s assassination by Tetsuya Yamagami, who told police that he shot the former leader because of his connections to the religious organization, now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

He also accused the Church of bankrupting his family by taking excessive donations from his mother.

Abe’s assassination rocked Japan and prompted increased scrutiny over the South Korea-based religious group.

Last year, the government launched an investigation into the Church’s funding and recruitment tactics.

The Unification Church has longstanding links with Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has tried to distance himself from the group to repair his cabinet’s image and restore public support.

Currently, the organization faces a series of court judgments against it over fundraising methods, which include charging members millions of dollars for books and scriptures.

Officials and local media said a dissolution order came as a result of the Church failing to answer many of the questions posed by authorities during the probe. The Japanese Religious Corporations Act empowers the courts to dissolve religious groups found to substantially harm public welfare.

Meanwhile, the government is also considering a bill to allow the seizure of the group’s assets to ensure funds are available for compensating victims.

The Church countered that it has implemented reforms aimed at ensuring compliance and transparency, saying it should not be subject to dissolution.

If the order goes forward, it would mark the third dissolution of a religious organization in Japan since World War II, which would lead to the Church losing its religious status and associated tax benefits.

In the past, the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult was targeted for dissolution following its poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Another group, the Myokakuji Temple, was ordered to disband after it came under suspicion of defrauding followers.


This week, Russian forces launched a series of attacks on Ukrainian positions around the city of Avdiivka in the country’s east, Politico wrote. The Ukrainian side has lost some positions in the northern outskirts of Avdiivka, although Kyiv’s troops still control key parts of the city. The intensive fighting has been ongoing for two days even as Avdiivka has been under Russian attack for nearly a year. This offensive aims to protect the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk. The attack may also force Ukraine to shift resources from its southern front.

Also this week:

  • Russia’s lower house of parliament will vote next week on withdrawing Moscow’s ratification of the global treaty that bans nuclear tests, according to Reuters. The move comes after President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that Russia should consider withdrawing its ratification to mirror the United States, which has signed but never ratified the pact. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has been signed by 187 countries and ratified by 178, but cannot take effect until eight holdouts, including the US, have signed and ratified it. The US has observed a moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions since 1992 and has no plans to abandon the treaty, Radio Free Europe noted. Even so, Russia’s announcement has raised fears about the resumption of nuclear tests amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. However, Putin hasn’t confirmed whether Russia would actually resume nuclear tests, a practice it hasn’t engaged in since 1990.
  • Russia failed to rejoin the United Nations’ top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, this week, according to Reuters. Russia’s exclusion from the council 18 months ago was a result of a US-led effort after its invasion of Ukraine. Russia has been accused of war crimes in Ukraine, including willful killings and torture. While there were expectations of Russia’s possible return to the council due to signs of Ukraine war “fatigue,” it ultimately failed, which observers believe may be due to Western diplomats overstating the risk of Russia’s rejoining to maintain pressure. China and Cuba also won seats, despite objections from human rights advocates.
  • Recent satellite photos showed an increase in rail traffic along the North Korea-Russia border, sparking speculation that Pyongyang is supplying munitions to Moscow, the Associated Press reported. This comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s visit to Russia, where he discussed potential military exchanges and cooperation. Foreign officials suspect Kim is trading munitions for sophisticated Russian weapons technologies to bolster North Korea’s nuclear program. The increase in rail traffic at the Tumangang Rail Facility has been viewed as an indicator of this activity. The US and South Korea have warned of consequences if North Korea and Russia proceed with this reported weapons transfer in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
  • Finnish intelligence warned that Moscow now considers Finland a hostile country because of Helsinki’s decision to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the Associated Press wrote. Tensions between the neighbors have risen in recent months, leading to the closure of Finland’s consulate general in St. Petersburg. While Russia remains focused on the Ukraine conflict and efforts to ease its own international isolation, the threat of Russian intelligence operations and malevolent influence in Finland persists. Intelligence officials noted that the recent joining of NATO and ongoing geopolitical confrontations may lead to stronger Russian countermeasures.


The Story of Strappy Sandals

Scientists recently discovered Europe’s oldest footwear, nearly 170 years after they were initially found in a cave in southern Spain, NBC News reported.

In 1857, miners entered the Cueva de los Murciélagos (cave of the bats) near Granada and came across a burial site containing partially mummified corpses, and a trove of archaeological treasures, including plant-based tools, baskets and sandals.

Sadly, many of those artifacts and remains were burned or discarded. Still, a research team recently studied the surviving artifacts using radiocarbon dating and found they were older than previously believed.

In their paper, they estimated that most of the ancient objects could be around 9,500 years old, adding that the sandals could be up to 6,200 years old.

The team explained that sandals had no laces and were equipped with a single braid fixed to the middle which could be tied around the wearer’s ankle. Some of the sandals were worn, but others showed no signs of usage and were made for the dead, the authors noted.

They added that the ancient individuals made footwear from esparto, a kind of grass used in crafts across the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa for thousands of years.

Similar sandals found in Armenia are estimated to be 5,500 years old, while the shoes worn by “Ötzi the Iceman” – a prehistoric man found in Italy in 1991 – are dated to 5,300 years ago.

Researchers explained that the cave’s cool, dry conditions allowed the perishable plant-based artifacts to survive throughout millennia.

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