Focal Points Blog

Growing up in Transylvania

Life under Ceausescu was not easy for Romanians in general, but it could be particularly harsh for Romanians of Hungarian ethnicity. (Photo: Ville Miettinen / Flickr)

Life under Ceausescu was not easy for Romanians in general, but it could be particularly harsh for Romanians of Hungarian ethnicity. (Photo: Ville Miettinen / Flickr)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Agnes Gagyi grew up in the city of Miercurea Ciuc in the Transylvanian region of Romania. More than 80 percent of the population of this city of 50,000 people is of Hungarian ethnicity. Most everyday interactions are conducted in Hungarian. In fact, Gagyi didn’t learn Romanian at home or on the streets, but rather through television and Romanian classes at school.

Life under Ceausescu was not easy for Romanians in general, but it could be particularly harsh for Romanians of Hungarian ethnicity. Ceausescu orchestrated a nationalist turn in the Romanian Community Party that repudiated the cosmopolitan origins of the movement and reinforced the independent position Romania was increasingly taking within the Warsaw Bloc. Instead of a fraternal socialist neighbor, Hungary was for Ceausescu a potential threat, both for its more liberal version of Communism and its putative desire to reclaim lost territory like Transylvania.
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Rick Perry and His Foreign Friend

Apparently, Rick Perry values an Islamophobe over Central American children. (Photo: Nicholas Roznovsky / Mays Communications / Flickr)

Apparently, Rick Perry values an Islamophobe over Central American children. (Photo: Nicholas Roznovsky / Mays Communications / Flickr)

Texas Governor Rick Perry may not want to let Central American children into Texas, but that doesn’t mean he hates all foreigners. Some of his best friends are foreigners!

Like the right-wing Australian author Nick Adams who Perry anointed an “honorary Texan” last year.

Meanwhile, 52,000 children have been apprehended crossing the United States’ southern border since October—most of them from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
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Malaysia Regains Its Footing Amid Intensifying Hostilities in Ukraine

Malaysia is applying the lessons it learned mismanaging MH370 to managing MH317. (Photo: Richard Deakin / Flickr)

Malaysia is applying the lessons it learned mismanaging MH370 to managing MH17. (Photo: Richard Deakin / Flickr)

The blame game has already begun over the Malaysian airliner that appears to have been downed by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

Both the West and Ukraine insist that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be held accountable for the tragedy. Some, like U.S. Senator John McCain, are calling for the United States to respond more forcefully against Russia by increasing sanctions and providing more arms to the Ukrainians.

Putin, on the other hand, said in a televised statement that Ukraine bears sole responsibility for the disaster because it “renewed hostilities” in the troubled region.
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Israel’s Operation in Gaza: Terrorism by Any Other Name

Damage to Gaza from Operation Cast Lead in 2009. (Photo: Zoriah / Flickr)

Damage to Gaza from Operation Cast Lead in 2009. (Photo: Zoriah / Flickr)

Cross-posted from Antiwar.com.

Terrorism is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as: “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” One could say Hamas fits this definition out of desperation and a lack of moral leadership.

But Israeli actions toward Palestinians are much worse: Israel is politically and strategically determined to subjugate the Gazans through fear. They do this through commando raids, mass arrests, and air strikes – all with the most sophisticated army Tel Aviv and its U.S. partners can buy. It has not gone unnoticed by all. On July 15, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the current Israeli air offensive in Gaza, “state terrorism” against the Palestinians.
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Scotland Deserves to Be Independent

David Cameron greets the Scottish military. What will the foreign policy of a free Scotland look like? (Photo: Crown Copyright / Flickr)

David Cameron greets the Scottish military. What will the foreign policy of a free Scotland look like? (Photo: Crown Copyright / Flickr)

Scotland is barely a few months away from the all-important date of September 18, when its citizens will vote to decide the future of their country. The stakes are high: on one hand, there are supporters of an independent Scotland, whereas on the other hand, there is UK Prime Minister David Cameron who will be left “heartbroken” if Scotland chooses to be independent.

To save his heart, and to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, David Cameron is even willing to offer 500m British Pounds (roughly $850m) to Glasgow. But nothing seems to quell the spirit for freedom in Scotland.
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Red Carpet Into Harm’s Way Rolled Out for Flight MH17

Flight MH17 memorial at Amsterdam Airport. (Photo: Roman Boed / Flickr)

Flight MH17 memorial at Amsterdam Airport. (Photo: Roman Boed / Flickr)

Yesterday I posted that Russian Premier Vladimir Putin may have been making some sense when he blamed Ukraine for the destruction of MH17. Putin had said that “certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.” Apparently he was referring to flawed decisions about flight path and air traffic by Ukraine aviation officials. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

Ukraine intelligence officials said they knew three days before the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that rebels in the east of the country possessed sophisticated air-defense systems capable of felling a jetliner at altitudes in excess of where the Boeing 777 was flying.

The disclosure deepens the mystery of why Ukrainian aviation officials failed to entirely close off the airspace in the Donetsk region, where the jet was flying went it was shot down, killing all 298 people on board.

… Ukraine imposed a partial flight ban in the region on flights below 26,000 feet on July 1, and raised the ceiling of the exclusion area to 32,000 feet on July 14. The Malaysia Airlines plane was flying at 33,000 feet.

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Suddenly Putin Blaming Ukraine for Flight 17 Makes a Shred of Sense

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sought to shift the blame back to Ukraine (Photo: Remy Steinegger / Flickr)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sought to shift the blame back to Ukraine. (Photo: Remy Steinegger / Flickr)

Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had said about the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17:

I want to note that this tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in south-east Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.

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Hungary’s U-Turn

Sociologist András Bozóki says that Hungary’s u-turn from a democracy to a half-democracy is unprecedented in the European Union. (Photo: John Feffer)

Sociologist András Bozóki says that Hungary’s u-turn from a democracy to a half-democracy is unprecedented in the European Union. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

It wasn’t long after Francis Fukuyama published his “end of history” thesis that the war in Yugoslavia definitively wrecked his argument. How could the world be heading inexorably in the direction of market democracy when even the country long considered next in line for membership in the European Community was collapsing into war, nationalist extremism, and ethnic cleansing? History had not ended at all. It had returned with a vengeance.

Yet Fukuyama’s theory about the eventual triumph of Europe’s rational-legal bureaucracy remained deeply buried in the psyche of the architects of European integration. Yugoslavia was simply a dispiriting detour. The countries of East-Central Europe would all eventually tailor their political and economic systems in such a way as to fit into the regional European order. To get into the club, aspiring candidates had to meet a long checklist of reforms that practically remade their countries. The road to Europe, which was such a powerful slogan in East-Central Europe, was assumed to be one-way. Eventually even the warring parties in former Yugoslavia would beat their swords into accession agreements.
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The Most Obvious Way for Iraq to Fend Off ISIS

The Iraqi army likely can’t reverse the gains ISIS has made. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Iraqi army likely can’t reverse the gains ISIS has made. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In the New York Times, Eric Schmitt and Eric Gordon report:

At a Pentagon news conference on July 3, General Dempsey noted the while Iraqi security forces had stiffened and were capable of defending Baghdad, they were not capable on their own of launching a counteroffensive and reversing the ISIS gains.

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Why Exactly Does Hamas Launch Rockets From Civilian Areas?

In the end Hamas rockets do more harm to Hamas than Israel. (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi / Flickr)

In the end Hamas rockets do more harm to Hamas than Israel. (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi / Flickr)

By nature I’m sympathetic to the Palestinians simply because they’re an occupied state. On the other hand, I’m leery of Hamas especially because they launch attacks from civilian areas. Of course, it’s a tactic long employed by guerilla groups. The logic is two-fold:

1. The presence of civilians, aka human shields, will give an enemy, especially one that claims to be reluctant to cause civilian casualties, pause before striking and thus act as a deterrent.

2. Even if it doesn’t deter, civilians killed will turn world sentiment against your enemy.
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