Focal Points Blog

Roma Youth Organize in Slovakia

Roma Youth

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

It wasn’t easy to find Kecerovce. I missed the turnoff on the road leading out of Kosice, the main city in eastern Slovakia. One of the clerks at the gas station where I stopped for directions had never heard of the place, and the other one didn’t know how to get there. I eventually retraced my steps, found the right exit, and drove deep into the Slovak countryside.

Kecerovce is a village of more than 3,000 people, but there isn’t much of a downtown. At the central crossroads, I parked my car in front of the municipal building. Across the road on one side was a pub. On the other side was a small grocery and general store. I did a little exploring and found another pub and a couple churches.

The Slovak government has had a plan on the books for a couple decades to build a nuclear power plant near Kecerovce. Otherwise, the prospects for economic development in the area are bleak. The village is more than 90 percent Roma.
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Maliki: One of the Wrongest Horses the U.S. Ever Backed

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Image Wikimedia Commons

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Image Wikimedia Commons

In yet another definitive piece for the New Yorker titled What We Left Behind, Dexter Filkins writes about Iraq today, especially Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who the United States helped install. Many Americans blame Iraqis for killing their fellow citizens simply because they’re of a different sect of Islam. But we need to remember: besides perpetrating a huge amount of the violence ourselves, by invading Iraq the United States effectively freed an evil genie ― excuse any cultural insensitivity the metaphor may conjure up ― out of its bottle. When it subsequently rampaged across the land wreaking death and destruction, the United States took little responsibility for catching it and stuffing it back in.

The best that can be said for the United States is that when it left Iraq, the murderous sectarian strife between the Sunnis and Shiites had lowered in intensity. But Shiites have been protesting against Maliki’s Shiite government and he has responded with a heavy hand that has sparked violence on a scale that harkens back to the worst of when the U.S. was still there.
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Five Ways the Myth That Iran Was Developing Nuclear Weapons Was Hyped

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

More and more men and women are either born with a talent for, or are developing skill in, technical matters, especially computer hardware and software. With those capabilities now widespread, it’s odd that more people don’t take the time to acquaint themselves with the technical issues surrounding Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program. While the issues may be somewhat daunting to non-technical types such as this author ― though certainly not beyond our capacity to understand with a little effort ― they’re easy for the technically gifted. True, they’re on the dry side, but it can’t be any more tedious than trying to figure out how to draw more clicks to an ad.
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From Grozny to Crimea: Russia Learns to Finesse Military Intervention

ukraine

“Western experts,” reports Michael Gordon in the New York Times on April 21, see Russia’s military, “disparaged for its decline since the fall of the Soviet Union,” now “skillfully employing 21st-century tactics” in East Ukraine “that combine cyberwarfare, an energetic information campaign and the use of highly trained special operation troops to seize the initiative from the West.”

Many were initially caught off-guard when “the Russians used a so-called snap military exercise to distract attention and hide their preparations. … specially trained troops, without identifying patches, moved quickly to secure key installations. 
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U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Loveless Marriage

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Obama

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Obama

Cross-posted from OtherWords.

Among the would-be therapists of the foreign policy world, the alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia is a textbook case of a “loveless marriage.”

Though the values of the two states are at odds, or so the thinking goes, the great democracy and the absolute monarchy are bound together by mutual interest in the stability of the Persian Gulf, home to almost half of the world’s proven oil and natural gas reserves.

Defenders of this coupling argue that Saudi transgressions—human rights violations, sectarian rhetoric, funding of radical Islamist groups — should be forgiven for the sake of long-term happiness. This strategy amounts to a “never go to bed angry” diplomacy theory.
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German Activism: Bridging the East-West Divide

Eva Quistorp

Eva Quistorp

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the West European peace and environmental movement reached out, tentatively at first and then more vigorously, to the dissident groups in Eastern Europe. Nowhere was this more evident than in West Germany. The Green Party, established in 1979, integrated the peace and environmental agendas and cultivated links with the emerging independent peace movement in East Germany. Much later, in 1993, the German Greens and the East German citizens movements created a political alliance that continues today. Alliance 90/The Greens currently occupy 10 percent of the seats in the Bundestag.

Eva Quistorp, a co-founder of the German Greens, was a driving force behind the east-west dialogue. She visited Prague in 1968 and later worked with members of Charter 77 and Solidarity. In 1980, she co-founded Women for Peace, which had chapters on both side of the east-west divide. She also co-founded European Nuclear Disarmament (END), which aspired to be pan-European and rid both sides of the continent of nuclear weapons.
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Scientists Support Seymour Hersh

Tom Stoddart Collection

On April 15, we wrote about the controversy sparked by Seymour Hersh’s latest article in the London Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line. As in his earlier LRB article, Whose Sarin?, he maintains that the Obama administration knew that the extremist Islamist rebel group, al-Nusra, possessed chemical weapons capabilities and mounted the attack on Damascus suburb Ghouta which spurred President Obama to take the United States to the brink of mounting a massive attack on Syria. Of course, at the last minute he elected to seek the approval of Congress first and then Russian Prime Minister Putin saw Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to refrain from attacking Syria if it liquidated its chemical weapons and raised it.

Compounding the controversy, Hersh also maintained that Turkey helped al-Nusra with the attack on Ghouta to implicate Syria in a false flag operation and lure the West into attacking Syria.
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Seymour Hersh Draws Even More Criticism at LRB Than at New Yorker

Free Syrian Army fighters

The London Review of Books has again published venerable journalist Seymour Hersh’s latest piece, The Red Line and the Rat Line. Before exploring the controversy swirling around it, let’s briefly address a question that may have occurred to you. Why doesn’t the New Yorker  publish Hersh anymore? After his first LRB piece in December of 2013 about the use of chemical gas in Syria titled Whose sarin?, Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post wrote:

Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.
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An Open Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi

Respected Ms Aung San Suu Kyi,

Thanks to the internet, I have the luxury of putting together this open letter for you (though of course, a busy Nobel Laureate such as yourself must be having better things to do than reading this letter).

Last month, at the third Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), you met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. Both of you discussed various issues, such as the importance of providing micro-loans to rural women and the need to restrict the trafficking of meth pills in the region. It was good to hear that steps were being taken for the betterment of the entire region.

However, something was missing. Yes, the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Did you forget about them? Of course you did! You are a busy lady, after all!
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Tripping on the Czech Jewish Fantastic: From the Golem to Kafka to Daniel Kumermann

Daniel Kumermann

Daniel Kumermann

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

We met in 1990 at the oldest active Jewish synagogue in Europe, the Old-New Synagogue in Prague. Daniel Kumermann gave me a brief tour of the 13th-century structure, along with the adjacent cemetery. The synagogue is one of the few remaining structures of the old Jewish quarter, a place rich in tales of the fantastic, from the golem of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel to the stories of Franz Kafka, who was born and raised in the area.

Kumermann fit right into this tradition of fantastic stories. He had been a teenager when he learned that his father was Jewish, and later he himself converted to Orthodox Judaism. He had written his master’s thesis on American comic books. As a signatory of Charter 77, he’d been forced to work as a window-washer, the same occupation as the protagonist in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He collected gum wrappers. He was about to be the subject of a New Yorker profile.
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