Thursday, May 2, 2013
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Hungary, Where Europe’s Faultlines Meet
As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.
Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.
Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.
Monday, April 8, 2013
The beginning of the end of the Yugoslav Wars
Initialled on Friday afternoon and approved by both parliaments on Monday morning, the concord between Serbia and Kosovo seems to have so swiftly altered the status quo in the Balkans that it has been presumptuously labelled historic, well before the first condition of that deal has even been implemented.
Brokered by Baroness Ashton and the European External Action Service, the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is undoubtedly of tremendous significance, since it provides a pathway to the normalisation of relations between two states that have been in a state of antagonism since the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991. Under its terms, Kosovo’s sovereignty will for the first time extend to “every corner of its territory”, as their Prime Minister Hasham Thaçi termed it, with Serbia and Kosovo’s Serb minority recognising the authority of the government in Prishtina over the Serb-majority provinces.
As such, Serbia has agreed to dismantle the parallel institutions it has established in Kosovo which presently control local security, healthcare, education, and the judiciary in the places north of Mitrovica. In return, a new Association of Serb Municipalities will be established, afforded broad powers over local affairs. In particular, the Kosovan government has committed to changing the ethnic composition of the police force and the judiciary to better reflect the balance between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority.
It is not yet guaranteed that this pact will hold, of course, nor the terms implemented. The proposal to dismantle Serbian institutions and accept Prishtina’s sovereignty over Serb areas might still face staunch opposition on the ground in Serbian Kosovo itself, where nationalist sentiment is strong and the tricolour Serb flag flown. But, while it cannot be deemed historic now, this agreement between Kosovo and Serbia does have the potential to be historic. It has the potential to reshape the entire region, and finally bring to a conclusion the bloody ethnic and nationalistic Yugoslav Wars.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Europe’s Foundation of Ashes and Dust
Europe’s foundations are constructed upon ashes and dust. They are built where the walls of the ghettos were once erected around overcrowded quarters in Warsaw, Łódź, and Krakow. They are built upon the pits of Babi Yar and the mass graves made across Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine. They are built upon the ruins of the camps whose names are forever branded on our collective memory: Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor.
Europe exists because of the Holocaust – it is forever tied to that awful past. Through education, commemoration, and memorialisation, the peoples of Europe are constantly borne back to the horrific events which preceded our zero hour, in the knowledge that they were of our own making and that it is our responsibility as a continent to ensure such things never occur again. European institutions exist precisely in order to prevent another war to end all wars, another war of imperialism, slavery, and annihilation.
By extension, Europe also exists in order to protect those who were the victims of the last great war and Hitler’s campaign of racial and biological purification, including and perhaps above all the Jewish people. Ensuring the safety and allowing for the political, economic, and cultural flourishing of European Jewry is or should be one of postwar Europe’s founding principles. It is an obligation of national governments and the European community to uphold it at all costs.
The nations of Europe have indeed succeeded in preventing another war, another catastrophe, yet across the continent conditions for Jews are worsening. In 2012, recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes increased by 30 percent year-on-year, ranging from physical violence to the vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries. This was not, as it has been in the past, a phenomenon linked to events in the Middle East, a revulsion at times of conflagration and unrest in Gaza or Lebanon. Rather, there has been an overall deterioration in the economic and political state of Europe, with Jews suffering disproportionately as a consequence.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
by Vivienne Walt, Time, April 8, 2013
The disconnect between Europeans and their economic policymakers has never been sharper. Five member nations of the European Union have come close to bankruptcy since 2010, with the latest narrowly averted disaster shaking the tiny island of Cyprus, home to just 1.1 million people and an economy the size of Boise, Idaho’s. Because it is part of the E.U., the other members had to come up with a plan to bail out Cyprus’ failing banks or risk sending the European—and eventually global—economy into a tailspin. The result was not pretty: a disastrous first agreement sparked a week of protests and threats of a bank run. The eventual deal may stave off default for Cyprus and save the euro from free fall—for now. But the process of getting to the deal revealed just how deep Europe’s economic dysfunction runs.
The agreement ought to have been vindication for Lagarde, 57, who has been warning about the need for basic changes in the way the E.U. functions since before she took over the IMF post in 2011. The IMF was formed in 1944 to avert another Great Depression by lending money to troubled countries, but after decades of dealing mainly with the third world, the IMF now devotes 83% of the money in its general-resources account—extended loans, in plain speak—to three limping European nations: Portugal, Greece and Ireland. Lagarde says their immediate problems, mostly the products of profligate spending and borrowing, are distracting the E.U. from essential reforms, like creating a continent-wide banking system to impose strict regulations and safeguards against those very problems. “Crisis management has been the day-to-day life,” she says. “They need to spend energy and focus on the long-term backbone of Europe to make it a strong regional monetary, banking and fiscal institution.”
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
“The Republic of Kosovo is an irrefutable reality,” the nascent country’s President Atifete Jahjaga declared on Sunday, the fifth anniversary of the Balkan nation’s independence from Serbia. “We, the people of Kosovo, have begun a new chapter in our history, the chapter of peace, understanding, cooperation and mutual respect.”
As noteworthy as this universal and fraternal message is the person who delivered it. Atifete Jahjaga — the former Deputy General Director of the Police of Kosovo — is the country’s first female President, elected by the Parliament in April 2011 as a consensus candidate supported by the center-left Democratic Party, center-right Democratic League, and centrist New Kosovo Alliance. President Jahjaga is Western-educated, a speaker of three languages (including Serbian), and a Muslim with a secular appearance. Politically, she is very much pro-American and in favor of European Union membership.
President Jahjaga is wholly representative of the sort of nation the Kosovar resistance movement stood for and international involvement has helped to foster. NATO military intervention helped to secure Kosovo, and a continued international presence in the form of KFOR, UNMIK, and EULEX has aided the creation of a secular, pluralistic, democratic, and unabashedly pro-Western constitutional republic with a majority Muslim population.
This might not seem like much, but consider the situation in the months after the liberation of Kosovo from Serbian president Slobodan Milošević’s grasp. The rape and ethnic cleansing of Kosovo had meant the deaths of several thousand Kosovar Albanians, as well as the organized and systematic rape of women, the forced deportation or displacement of over 90 percent of Kosovars, and the physical destruction of property, including the flattening of entire villages. The sole of aim of Milošević’s campaign was to rid Kosovo entire of its Albanian identity, secure the territory as part of Greater Serbia, and, as a consequence, re-secure his bloody and absolute control of his country.
Read on: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/02/why-kosovo-still-matters/273341/
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Sites of the Velvet Revolution, Prague
(Taken February 1, 2013. All photographs were taken by the author.)
Jonathan Freedland was not foolish for wishing to shatter the prism through which Americans interpret the condition of Jews in Europe. “In this conception,” Freedland argued in these pages, “the calendar might say 2013 but the year is forever 1938, with the Jews of Europe on the verge of another catastrophe—and once again too blind to see it coming.” Indeed, as Joel Braunold wrote in a Ha’aretz op-ed on the subject, Americans are indeed prone to “declarations of doom and destruction” that are seen, in Europe at least, as “unwelcome and uneducated.”
It is rather unfortunate therefore that in seeking to illuminate, to draw distinctions, and to demonstrate that Europe is not a monolithic space where every Jew shares the same fated experience, Freedland either downplays or in some cases downright ignores the real and existing problems facing western European Jewry in particular.
On the one hand, Freedland highlights the disturbing example of Malmö. Here, the Swedish city’s 1,500 Jews residents have been subject to repeated anti-Semitic attacks perpetrated by extremists from within the community of Middle Eastern and North Africa migrants which makes up 10 percent of Malmö’s population. As Paulina Neuding highlights in Tablet, the Jewish population has halved over the past forty years, a diminution whose pace has accelerated of late. The city’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, denies there is a problem with anti-Semitism at all, and has said of the exodus, “There have been no attacks against Jews, and if Jews want to leave for Israel that is not a concern for Malmö.”
Yet Malmö is but one example of a larger, inescapable trend: it is becoming ever more difficult to be openly Jewish in some western European cities. The Israeli Embassy in Copenhagen, for instance, advised visitors in December not to wearkippot or jewelry with religious symbols, and not to speak Hebrew on the streets of the capital. Last May, a 25-year-old Jewish male was assaulted in Fælledparken Park by a gang of eight men who shouted “dirty Jew” and “death to Israel” as they left him with a concussion and black eye. A representative of Magen David Adom, who was wearing a kippah at the time, was attacked outside Copenhagen Central Station by three men. Verbal abuse near synagogues is not uncommon, either.
Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/29/anti-semitism-is-alive-and-well-in-western-europe.html
Thursday, January 3, 2013
The writing was on the wall when David Cameron opened his pitch for European Union reform by generously describing the United Kingdom as an “argumentative and rather strong-minded member of the family of European nations.” “We have the character of an island nation — independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty,” the Prime Minister continued. “We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.”
After essentially calling his country an awkward boor forever separated from the continent, there was only one direction his speech could go. Cameron demanded a full and complete E.U. treaty renegotiation, one which would create a “more flexible, more adaptable, more open” Europe, “fit for the challenges of the modern age.” British membership in the E.U. would then be put to the people in a referendum in 2017. If the outcome of these pan-European talks were favorable to the United Kingdom, Cameron would campaign for staying in. If not, he would have no choice but to “think very carefully” but whether to vote in favor of withdrawal.
Cameron’s threat to European solidarity and brotherhood could not have been more ill-timed, the speech coming one day after the 50th anniversary of the signing of the historic Élysée Treaty between France and Germany. The rude interruption to celebrations of European unity was a product of the pressure the prime minister has been put under by forces outside of his control: rebellious Euroskeptic backbenchers in his own party on the one hand; and the rise of the downright Europhobic (and, one might add, xenophobic) United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) on the other, which threatens to pick away at his party’s base of support during the upcoming elections.
Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/wait-the-sun-hasnt-set-yet-british-conservatives-great-power-delusion/272609/
Monday, December 3, 2012
Following the killing of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse and numerous other hate attacks in France this year, all eyes will be on how President François Hollande deals with Muslim extremism in 2013.
Malmo in Sweden remains a hotbed of antisemitic violence and, this month, Israeli tourists were advised not to wear kippot in Denmark after a string of attacks in the Copenhagen district of Nørrebro. In both cases, certain sections of the countries’ Muslim communities were to blame.
In Hungary, the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party continues to spout Jew-hate, and an Italian version of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is seeking political legitimacy in Italy. This year will be another challenging one for Europe’s Jews.
“We lost Europe,” was the way one Foreign Ministry official put Thursday morning when Germany announced it would abstain on Palestinian non-member observer state status, rather than vote against it. Indeed, twelve European Union member states elected to abstain altogether — including the United Kingdom, Poland, and the Netherlands — while fourteen voted in favor, amongst them France, Spain, and Italy.
The only nation — not only in the European Union but across the entire continent — to vote with Israel and the United States and against enhanced Palestinian status was the Czech Republic, even while the other nations of eastern Europe abstained.
The Czech Republic and Israel have maintained good relations since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Dr Seán Hanley, Senior Lecturer in East European Politics at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London, believes that this is the result of an Atlanticist foreign policy outlook where the interests of the United States are also the interests of the Czechs.
Across central and eastern Europe, there is an especial appreciation for the United States’ role in the Cold War and their championing of NATO expansion beyond the Iron Curtain. “This perception is especially strong on the right of Czech politics and among politicians in the centre with connections to the dissident movement,” Hanley explained, and can in part account for Václav Havel’s support for the liberation of Iraq in 2003 and more recent Czech lobbying to host part of the United States’ missile defence shield on their soil.
Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/167004/you-ve-got-a-friend-why-the-czech-republic-vote/#ixzz2DirEkTRq