The World Today for November 29, 2023

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Germany Divided


The far-right, xenophobic Alternative for Germany political party has long concerned observers who fear a resurgence of the fascistic spirit in Europe’s largest, wealthiest country.

Now, not to be outdone, German politician Sahra Wagenknecht is launching a new political party that is far-left and xenophobic. She expects to run candidates on the “Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance – for Reason and Justice” line on ballots in European parliamentary elections in June, the Financial Times reported.

Wagenknecht grew up in East Germany, Reuters explained. She was a member of Die Linke, a party descended from the former East German Communist Party. Her mother is German, while her father is Iranian. Yet she exhibits intolerance for families like hers living in Germany today.

“There shouldn’t be any neighborhoods where natives are in the minority,” she said in a 2021 interview quoted in the Guardian.

Promising to restrict migration, boost wages, and make benefits more generous, Wagenknecht has expressed skepticism about measures to combat climate change, sanctions against Russia, and German military aid for Ukraine, the Associated Press wrote.

Wagenknecht’s move should worry Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the socialist whose center-left coalition government is deeply unpopular. According to Politico, the conservative Christian Democrats enjoy almost 30 percent support among voters, followed by the Alternative for Germany with more than 20 percent. Scholz’s Social Democrats are in third place with 16 percent.

As Lee Hockstader discussed in a Washington Post column, Scholz dithered before supplying Ukraine with financial and military aid. He opposes Ukrainian membership of NATO while Europe’s other major power, France, supports it. He has also failed to act to rebuild crumbling infrastructure, boost digital services, and other investments despite his campaign promises.

A German court’s recent ruling that the government could not transfer $65 billion from a fund appropriated for coronavirus relief to instead pay for anti-climate change measures, as Euractiv reported, has become a symbol of Scholz’s fecklessness. The ruling meant that Scholz needs to quickly find $65 billion to pay for previously approved spending that the government might no longer be able to finance.

Deutsche Welle called the court decision a “political bombshell” that is putting inordinate pressure on Scholz’s coalition. The chancellor is now considering easing debt restrictions to plug the budget hole, added Bloomberg, a move that will surely incense conservative Germans who aren’t so enthusiastic about the green transition.

In the meantime, the migrants keep coming, the Russians and Ukrainians keep fighting, and Germany grows more divided.


Back to the Drawing Board


Panama’s supreme court ruled Tuesday that the government’s contract with Canadian company First Quantum Minerals is unconstitutional, a ruling that followed mass protests against the lucrative deal as the Central American country prepares for elections next year, Reuters reported.

The verdict is centered over a new contract approved last month which would grant First Quantum the right to operate the Cobre Panama mine for a 20-year period. with an option to extend for another two decades. In return, Panama will receive $375 million in annual revenue.

The government and company said the contract would provide thousands of jobs, but many Panamanians have protested the deal over environmental concerns. Mass demonstrations have taken place since the contract was reached, with observers describing them as the largest in decades.

Public outrage over the agreement has become a major issue for the country’s presidential elections in May. Some candidates have proposed renegotiating the agreement, while others demand its complete scrapping.

In an effort to quell ongoing unrest, the government enacted a bill this month banning all new mining concessions and extensions. It also tried to pass a law that would have revoked the contract with the Canadian firm, but it backtracked in a debate in the National Assembly on Nov. 2, the Associated Press noted.

First Quantum has not commented on the ruling, but financial observers cautioned that the verdict will have consequences for the copper market and Panama’s economy.

The Cobre Panama mine accounts for about one percent of global copper production and contributes about five percent of Panama’s gross domestic product.

Let’s Parley


The Philippine government and the country’s communist rebels agreed Tuesday to restart peace talks in an effort to end the decades-long civil conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people in the Southeast Asian nation, Al Jazeera reported.

Authorities will re-engage with the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), for the first time in six years, according to a joint statement by both parties.

Norway, which has mediated the peace process for around 20 years, said that if the negotiations succeed, the rebels will lay down their weapons and transform into a political movement.

However, no ceasefire has been announced and the government added that will continue its operations against the NPA. Still, military leaders expressed hope that a future peace agreement would allow the Philippines’ armed forces to fully focus on “external or territorial defense,” rather than domestic conflict.

The government and the NPA have been fighting for more than 50 years, with the conflict killing more than 40,000 people.

At its height, the NPA had around 26,000 fighters, but their numbers have decreased over the years as many rebels surrendered in exchange for financial assistance and livelihood opportunities.

Since 1986, previous governments have held talks with the rebels in a bid to end the violence. But the last formal talks took place in 2017 when then-President Rodrigo Duterte terminated them.

The renewal of talks came less than a week after incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. issued an order granting amnesty to a number of rebel groups, including former members of the communist movement.

The amnesty order would absolve former members of the CPP, NPA, and National Democratic Front of the Philippines of crimes committed “in pursuit of political beliefs.”

A Toll of Preservation


Venice will impose an entrance fee on daytime visitors from next spring, a controversial first-of-its-kind effort to tackle overcrowding and make tourism more sustainable in the picturesque Italian city, Euronews reported.

Non-Venetians will have to pay $5.50 to receive a QR code granting access to the old town between 8:30 am and 4 pm, starting in April 2024. This means that tourists staying overnight, already paying a tourism tax as part of their accommodation reservation, are exempt from the fee.

Venice is the first city in the world to introduce such a measure.

The new tax, already long in the making, was postponed due to Covid-19. Its triggering came after UNESCO threatened to include Venice in its list of World Heritage Sites at risk because damage caused by over-tourism was not being addressed adequately. The idea of an entrance fee convinced the organization not to pursue its plan.

Of 30 million people visiting the 50,000-resident floating city yearly, 20 million only stay for the day. While they contribute the least to the local economy, they bring the most damage to infrastructure, the BBC explained.

Often in large groups going on guided tours, they crowd narrow streets and landmarks and put pressure on millennium-old bridges. By traveling by boat on the canals, they create waves that contribute to the erosion of ancient buildings.

The entrance fee plan caused controversy from the moment it was advertised. Locals feel that it fails to address the city’s problems. Venice is going through an exodus of its residents, who cannot afford to rent there anymore because “the city has turned into a huge bed and breakfast,” an ex-Venetian told the BBC.

Some Venetians suggested implementing a maximum daily number of tourists, a solution that sites such as Machu Pichu in Peru have already adopted. But the city council rejected the proposal, saying it would breach the right to free movement enshrined in the Italian constitution.


In Love and War

A new study on 18th-century French love letters showed some rare insights into the lives of ordinary families affected during times of war, NPR reported.

Historian Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge discovered a treasure trove of letters in the digital inventory of the United Kingdom’s National Archives. The 104 letters were sent to French sailors by wives, siblings and parents between 1757 and 1758 during the Seven Years War.

Morieux explained that the letters, mainly intended for the crew of the Galatée warship, were initially forwarded by the French postal administration from port to port. However, when the Galatée was captured by Britain’s Royal Navy in April 1758, the French authorities sent the letters to England.

Unfortunately, they remained unopened for centuries – until now.

The study showed that the letters were written by common people and detailed the difficulties that many families faced, as well as “how they managed to overcome distance and the fear of uncertainty,” according to Morieux.

In one letter, a wife longing for her husband professed her undying love to him. Another one, however, showed a mother chiding her son for writing to his fiancée and not to her.

Morieux noted that the complaint reveals “universal” family dynamics.

“And here you feel that there is some kind of … really long, ancient trope about tensions in the family between the mother and the daughter-in-law,” he quipped.

The author added that sending letters and long-distance communication was challenging during that period.

But despite the troubles, the artifacts also show how communities remained steadfast in times of crisis.

“It’s about the power of the collective,” said Morieux. “It’s about how these people can only survive by relying on others.”

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