The World Today for June 12, 2024

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Eye of the Beholder


Russian-American historian Yuri Felshtinsky recently told Times Radio that Russian elites are in a “state of panic” over Russia’s massive losses in the war against Ukraine. In order to maintain their control over the country, however, Felshtinsky said, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his domestic allies have worked hard to make sure residents of Moscow, the country’s capital and its most important city by far, have yet to suffer any privations due to the war.

Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants continue to operate like normal in the city, reported Agence France-Presse. And the losses here are minimal – soldiers conscripted to fight in the war tend to come from Russia’s poorer regions, or other countries. On May 9, when Russia held celebrations commemorating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, wounded soldiers did not march in the parade on Red Square.

YouTube channels like Window to Moscow appear to corroborate this state of affairs, though they are not news organizations whose accuracy can be verified. On the other hand, Bloomberg notes that the data belies this image, making it seem as if these YouTube channels doth protest too much, as they present idyllic images of a magnificent city so as to fool audiences into thinking nothing is wrong in Russia.

Russian officials have certainly launched other efforts – and laws – to make sure their interpretation of reality and history eclipses any critical views of their rule. “The situation now in Russia is similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four,” librarian Alexandra Karaseva said in an interview with the BBC, referring to George Orwell’s classic 1948 novel about a dystopian dictatorship. “Total control by the government, the state and the security structures.”

Putin, for instance, has purged the country’s universities of liberal-minded critics who might cast shade on his invasion of Ukraine, suppression of human rights and civil liberties, and corrupt government and economic system that benefits his friends while impoverishing his constituents. Instead, reported the Washington Post, he has mandated that higher education institutions promote patriotism, reject Western influences, and punish faculty and students who might speak out against his rule.

However, while life in Moscow and elsewhere away from the front is outwardly pleasant, an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty – as well as shuttered stores and compulsory optimism about Russia’s future – exists in the capital, contended Le Monde.

Maybe ordinary Russians understand how the war in Ukraine has resulted in devastating losses that will likely harm their country for generations to come, wrote World Politics Review, even if they manage to defeat, occupy, and annex Ukraine.

Or maybe they feel the panic that Felshtinsky described.

Still, as Russian data analyst Alexandra, 32, awaiting her dessert at a trendy restaurant in Moscow before going bar-hopping, said, “Even during the Second World War, women continued to put on makeup and buy lipstick,” adding, “This shows that we should continue living … We go out and have a good time.”


Balloons and Bullets


South Korean soldiers fired warning shots after a group of North Korean soldiers briefly crossed the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, an incident that comes amid escalating tensions between the neighbors, the BBC reported.

After the incident, Seoul’s military announced that around 20 to 30 North Korean soldiers carrying field tools, including pickaxes, had inadvertently crossed the border into South Korea on Sunday.

The South Korean military immediately responded with warning shots, prompting the North Korean troops to retreat. No further unusual activity was noted from Pyongyang’s troops, with officials suggesting that the brief intrusion was accidental because of overgrown vegetation obscuring border markers.

Observers added that the incident will not deteriorate into another source of animosity between the two Koreas. Even so, it comes as part of a series of provocations and countermeasures between the neighbors, the Associated Press added.

Pyongyang has been recently sending balloons filled with trash into South Korean territory. In retaliation, Seoul resumed anti-Pyongyang broadcasts using loudspeakers along the border. These broadcasts include propaganda and K-pop music, a tactic that has previously angered Pyongyang.

In response, North Korea has installed its own loudspeakers – but has yet to activate them.

Tensions have further escalated following threats from Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who warned South Korea of “new counteractions” if it continued with the loudspeaker broadcasts and did not prevent activists from sending propaganda balloons into the North.

Last December, North Korea ended all efforts towards peaceful unification, accusing Seoul of hostility, and subsequently demolished a unification monument and cut off communication with the South.

In recent months, South Korea said it observed North Korean soldiers planting landmines and disconnecting railways along the heavily fortified DMZ.

The DMZ, spanning around 160 miles in length and 2.5 miles in width, remains the world’s most heavily armed border, a remnant of the Korean War that ended in an armistice – instead of a peace treaty.

The zone is laden with an estimated two million mines, barbed wire fences, and combat troops from both sides, making it a flashpoint for potential conflict.

National Mourning


Malawian Vice President Saulos Chilima, a potential candidate for next year’s general elections, died in a plane crash this week, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Chilima and nine others were flying from the capital Lilongwe to the northern city of Mzuzu on Monday to participate in the funeral of a former minister.

Air traffic controllers instructed the plane to head back to the capital because of bad weather. Contact was then lost, prompting authorities to begin a search operation, the Guardian noted.

On Tuesday, President Lazarus Chakwera confirmed that “everyone in the plane perished” and expressed condolences to the victims’ families. He described Chilima as “a good man, a devoted father and husband,” as well as a “formidable vice president.”

Chilima had been serving as Malawi’s vice president since 2014 when then-President Peter Mutharika picked him as his running mate.

In 2018, Chilima left the ruling party due to dissatisfaction with its anti-corruption efforts, but kept his position as deputy president since he was directly elected. He founded the United Transformation Movement and ran in the 2019 presidential elections, coming third. After the courts annulled the election results, Chilima allied with Chakwera, forming the Tonse Alliance, which won the 2020 elections, and Chilima became vice president.

In June 2022, President Chakwera stopped delegating duties to Chilima following his implication in a corruption probe involving $150 million in state contracts.

Authorities detained Chilima five months later under numerous charges, including accepting a $280,000 bribe. He denied any wrongdoing. The case was dropped earlier this year.

The vice president was a popular figure among Malawi’s youth and was projected to become an important power broker in the 2025 elections, with neither the ruling Malawi Congress Party nor its rival, the Democratic Progressive Party, expected to secure a majority.

Observers suggested he would also run for the presidency, even as he never explicitly declared his intention to run.

Musical Chairs


Irish voters boosted the country’s centrist government during this week’s local and European Parliament elections, dealing a blow to the opposition Sinn Féin, while also electing a handful of far-right candidates, the Guardian reported.

The ruling coalition, made up of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, performed better than expected: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil each secured 23 percent of the local election first-preference votes, while the Greens garnered 3.6 percent. The outcome defied previous opinion polls that hinted at heavy losses for the coalition because of Ireland’s severe housing crisis.

Fine Gael credited its success partly to the fresh leadership of Prime Minister Simon Harris, who replaced Leo Varadkar in April. Harris has introduced stricter asylum policies, which may have resonated with voters amid growing concerns about immigration. Despite calls for an early election, Harris and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have agreed to focus on the upcoming autumn budget.

In the European elections, preliminary results suggested Ireland, like other European countries, has shored up pro-EU mainstream parties. While the final tallies are not expected until Wednesday, it remains unclear if any candidates running on an “Ireland for the Irish” platform will win a European Parliament seat.

The polls were overshadowed by rising public concern over immigration, with observers noting the country has experienced a surge in anti-migrant sentiment and protests.

However, only a few anti-migrant candidates won seats on county and city councils. Hermann Kelly, leader of the Eurosceptic Irish Freedom Party, celebrated the election of Glen Moore in west Dublin as the party’s first official.

Meanwhile, the polls were particularly disastrous for the main opposition party, Sinn Féin, which won around 12 percent of the first preference local election votes, a stark contrast from the opinion poll predictions of 30 percent, Politico wrote.

Sinn Féin’s failure came amid criticism that the party did not take a tougher stance on immigration. The left-wing group also was blamed for Ireland’s ongoing housing crisis – even though it was not in government – according to its leader, Mary Lou McDonald.

McDonald acknowledged voter frustration and emphasized that Sinn Féin remains a strong opposition force, but observers noted that the party’s lackluster performance has raised questions about its strategy and leadership ahead of the general election, which must occur by March 2025.


The Missing Sarcophagi

In 2009, archeologists Ayman Daramany and Kevin Cahail discovered a fragment of a granite sarcophagus beneath the floor of a Coptic monastery in Abydos, an ancient city in central Egypt. After intensive study, they realized that the sarcophagus bore the cartouche of the High Priest of Amun, Menkheperre, of the 21st dynasty – who existed around 1000 BC.

But they also found that it had belonged to someone else before, seeing that the stone had been carved on over and over again, masking previous inscriptions. They believed it must have belonged to a royal because the fragment was inscribed with the Book of Gates, an ancient funerary text only found on royal tombs.

Still, who it had belonged to remained a mystery.

A few years later, however, French Egyptologist Frédéric Payraudeau’s curiosity was piqued and he asked Daramany and Cahail for a picture of the fragment. Examining the carvings underneath, he found another cartouche with an inscription in hieroglyphics of a royal name, Ramesses II, a pharaoh of the 19th dynasty who ruled Egypt and beyond between ca. 1279 and 1213 BC.

His discovery not only solved the mystery of the sarcophagus fragment but an even older mystery, too: What happened to the multiple sarcophagi of Ramesses II?

“Such a discovery doesn’t occur every other day,” Payraudeau, who teaches at Paris’ Sorbonne University, told local outlet Le Maine Libre. “I was super happy, I’m still quivering a bit.”

Payraudeau’s findings proved that sarcophagi in the Valley of the Kings were often looted – explaining the broken state of the granite sarcophagus – and reused, according to a joint statement from Sorbonne University and France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

In 1881, Ramesses II’s mummy and coffin were found in a “secret” hiding place in Deir el-Bahari, a temple complex outside Luxor, according to the Egypt Museum. Initially, the pharaoh was buried in a now-lost gold coffin that was placed inside an alabaster sarcophagus – found destroyed in his tomb by looters – inside the granite sarcophagus. The latter was later appropriated by Menkheperre, La Brújula Verde wrote.

Ramesses II’s mummy is displayed in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Payraudeau said he wants the granite fragment to join its original owner.

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