The World Today for December 27, 2023

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Editor’s Note:

Dear Readers,

This holiday week we’re reprising some of our lead stories of the past year, ones that illustrate ongoing trends in their respective regions. DailyChatter reports on more than 150 countries every year in every region of the world, and we feel many of those stories deserve another look.

Today we take you to Europe, where elections over the past few years have ushered in far right leaders – in Italy, for example – or where the far right have made increasing gains (Germany, the Netherlands, to name a few) and led to handwringing among European Union officials, who believe the far right is becoming mainstream, the Washington Post noted.

In Poland, however, voters have shown their longtime populist, euro-skeptic leaders the door this year, to the dismay of populists and nationalists around the continent.

On behalf of the DailyChatter team, we wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season.


Operation Dismantlement


The results of the Oct. 15 parliamentary elections in Poland are still echoing throughout Europe.

Women and young voters helped swing the election to the Civic Coalition and other parties opposing the ruling Law and Justice party, a populist political group that espouses conservative Catholic values and skepticism about the European Union, wrote the BBC.

Law and Justice (or PiS) is still the largest party in parliament, with a 35 percent share, reported Reuters. Now the task of governing falls to Civic Coalition leader Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and ex-president of the European Council, a key EU institution.

Tusk recently notified Polish President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Law and Justice, that he had assembled a majority of lawmakers into a coalition that would appoint him as premier, Politico explained. And on Dec. 11, Tusk became the country’s leader after the newly elected parliament rejected Law and Justice’s longshot bid to retain power.

Now, the new government is expected to make choices that will reverberate throughout the continent, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Tusk will draw Poland closer to the EU, send a strong signal to Russia that it supports progressive Western values, and curb the spread of so-called “illiberal” policies.

Last week, Tusk shut down the Polish state TV channel TVP Info and replaced the leadership of TVP, Polish Radio and the Polish Press Agency in a move to restore freedom of the press, the BBC reported. All three had been considered propaganda tools for the Law and Justice party. Parliament also backed a resolution calling for independence, objectivity and pluralism in public TV and radio.

Law and Justice has been accused of using their years in the majority to weaken democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press, while consolidating their hold on state media and every other institution in government. For example, the Financial Times wrote that the state-run broadcaster spewed absurd pro-government propaganda before the vote, recalling a news ticker headline – “The opposition’s proposals for Poles: worms instead of meat.”

Meanwhile, the former government’s moves have brought it censure from the EU.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Anne Applebaum told Visegrad Insight that the election was basically unfair due to government manipulation, yet Tusk and his allies still won. Bulgarian geopolitical thinker Ivan Krastev wrote an op-ed in the Guardian similarly arguing that Law and Justice’s ploys to win enough support to keep its majority failed. Instead, a strong turnout – the highest in 30 years – helped propel the opposition to its strong showing.

Now, one of Tusk’s main jobs will be to dismantle this legislative framework, administrative machinery, and election apparatus, not an easy task. “A deeply entrenched populist system, a president loyal to the Law and Justice party, a puppet Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court – these are just a few of the problems a new government would face,” Polish journalist Jaroslaw Kuisz and historian Karolina Wigura wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.

In the meantime, this move from a populist to a more centrist government is potentially bad news for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted CNBC. Poland has resisted Russian influence since the end of the Cold War. Now, however, a key anti-Russian voice is also going to be far more accepting of pan-European efforts to counter Russian forces in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The bureaucrats in Brussels must be happy.



We’ll be back next week with the latest from around the world.


Rise and Shine

If you are a morning person, chances are that it is because of your pre-historic ancestors:  Scientists found that DNA inherited from Neanderthals could be linked to sleeping habits and rising early, the Guardian reported.

The Neanderthals were cousins of the Homo sapiens species that currently exist as modern humans, which went extinct around 40,000 years ago after coexisting with Sapiens for tens of thousands of years.

About 70,000 years ago, groups of Homo sapiens left Africa for Eurasia, where Neanderthals were already settled. Interbreeding between the two species provided modern-day humans with up to 4 percent Neanderthal DNA, predominantly impacting skin pigmentation, hair and immunity.

Most of the Neanderthal genes were eliminated as humans evolved throughout the centuries. What was retained helped them survive in new areas with different climates and, crucially, daylight periods.

In Africa, around the Equator, days last on average 12 hours, and variations are minimal. North, in Eurasia, however, days are shorter in winter. At the time of the Neanderthals, this meant they had to be awake for as long as they had daylight to find food.

Genetically, this led to modifications in body clocks, also known as circadian rhythms, making them more flexible. It prompted our ancestors’ cousins to sleep and wake up early.

By comparing the DNA of Neanderthals and modern humans, the researchers found variants impacting circadian rhythms and argued that humans may have received them from the Neanderthals their ancestors mated with. They also found that these variants were consistently linked with the habit of waking up early.

However, being an early bird does not necessarily mean having Neanderthal ancestry. The genes found in this study are part of a greater set of genes affecting body clocks. The environment and cultural practices also play a role.

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