Focal Points Blog

Before Solidarity, There Was the Polish Church

The church of St. Bernardino of Siena in Kraków, Poland. (Photo: Magro / Flickr Commons)

The church of St. Bernardino of Siena in Kraków, Poland. (Photo: Magro / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Before the Solidarity trade union emerged in 1980, Poland’s primary non-state institution – and often anti-state institution — was the Church. Catholic intellectuals created discussion clubs and published periodicals. Churches were relatively safe places to voice dissent. John Paul II, originally Karol Wojtyla, became the first Polish Pope in 1978 and inspired many in his home country to take a public stand against the Communist regime.

One of the most prominent voices of Catholic opposition was Tygodnik Powszechny (Universal Weekly), which published some of Karol Wojtyla’s early writings as well as the poems of Czeslaw Milosz even when he was in exile. Established after World War II, Tygodnik declared its independence by refusing to publish Stalin’s obituary in 1953. Under the editorial direction of Jerzy Turowicz, the newspaper served as both a forum for discussions of reforming the system and, later, a place to push for more radical change. Poland’s first non-Communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, came out of the Tygodnik milieu as did a number of leading politicians.
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War in Syria Diverts Hezbollah From War on Israel

Its leader Hassan Nasrallah claims that Hezbollah still stands ready to fight Israel, despite concentrating on fighting Sunnis in Syria. (Photo: Sajed / Wikimedia Commons)

Its leader Hassan Nasrallah claims that Hezbollah still stands ready to fight Israel, despite concentrating on fighting Sunnis in Syria. (Photo: Sajed / Wikimedia Commons)

Hezbollah recently announced that it had acquired advanced missiles from Iran. At Politico Magazine, Matthew Levitt writes that move is intended, in part, to deter Israel from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. (While Levitt works for the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy, no obvious route exists for tuning the observations rendered in this article to political ends that favor Israel hawks.) Also, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced that Hezbollah still stands ready and willing to fight Israel. However, writes Levitt, what Nasrallah

… didn’t say, and is loath to publicly admit, is that Hezbollah desperately wants to avoid a full-blown military conflict with Israel right now and is therefore limiting its attacks on Israel to small and infrequent roadside bombs along the Lebanese border and attacks by local proxies on the Golan Heights.

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By Pushing for More Sanctions, U.S. Hardliners Play Into Hands of Iranian Hardliners

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

Republican lawmakers such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seek further sanctions against Iran. (Photo: Jeffrey Richardson / U.S. Navy / Flick Commons)

“Buoyed by the failure of the US and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program,” writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service, “pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.” But, he continues,

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

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Does Syria See the U.S. as an Ally?

Syria’s Assad regime benefits from U.S. attacks on the Islamic State. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

Syria’s Assad regime benefits from U.S. attacks on the Islamic State. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

In Foreign Policy magazine, Noah Bonsey writes:

U.S. officials publicly acknowledge that the Syrian regime’s behavior — indeed its very nature — is a primary factor fueling the jihadis’ rise and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces continue to kill far more civilians (and rebels) than the Islamic State does. They also recognize that the role of mainstream rebels will be essential in reversing jihadi gains.

The U.S.-led coalition’s strikes have enabled the regime to reallocate assets to face mainstream rebels, whose defeat remains the regime’s top priority. Since strikes against the Islamic State began, regime forces have gained ground against mainstream rebels on key fronts in Hama province and in Aleppo city; in the case of the latter, they have done so against the very same rebel groups that are confronting the Islamic State in the nearby northern countryside.

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The Unspoken Winner of Tunisia’s Elections: Washington

In the Tunisian election, Ennahda won the interior regions and the South, Nidaa Tounes, Tunis and the North. (Photo: Rob Prince)

In the Tunisian election, Ennahda won the interior regions and the South, Nidaa Tounes, Tunis and the North. (Photo: Rob Prince)

(Washington needs the support of both Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes to push through its structural adjustment policies pressed on Tunisia in exchange for IMF loans these past few yearsThe main goals, the legal basis for which was apparently achieved in the last days of the country’s constituent assembly, have been to open up Tunisia’s soon to be developed energy sector to foreign investment, as usual on terms unfavorable to Tunisia, and to lift the subsidies on gasoline and electricity. As long as the two parties, that will dominate Tunisian politics in the coming period, cooperate on this, it is not important to Washington which one wins the presidency or dominates the Tunisian political landscape.)
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What Kind of Democracy Seeks to Destroy Democracy in Other Countries?

Democracy

Democracy: assembly required. (Photo: Sara / Flickr Commons)

“Democracy is the worse form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
― Winston Churchill

Churchill’s above statement provides a sweeping, and possibly one-sided picture, of democracy as a mixed blessing — a system with its boons and banes that just somehow works. Such a generic observation outlines, on one hand, that democracy is better than any other non-democratic system, and at the same time points out that it still is not the God-given mandate to all problems that this world is currently facing. Unfortunately, a good number of Americans tend to agree with the first interpretation of Churchill’s statement, but overlook the second one.
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Turnover of Obama’s SecDefs Eclipsed by Revolving Door of Reagan’s National Security Advisors

The Reagan administration employed a sorry succession of national security advisors. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / WikiMedia Commons)

The Reagan administration employed a sorry succession of national security advisors. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration / WikiMedia Commons)

The departure of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense this week has provided Republicans with an opportunity to unload on President Barack Obama, a chance they’ve grabbed gleefully.

In a radio interview, hawkish Senator John McCain expressed sympathy with Hagel, blaming ‘that real tight circle inside the White House’ for ‘the incredible debacle that we’re in today throughout the world’.
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Why Exactly Was Chuck Hagel Forced Out as SecDef?

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Chuck Hagel may have been a victim, but, like his predecessors, he failed to demonstrate the requisite vision the military needs for the future. (Photo: DoD / Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo / Flickr Commons)

Was fired Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel simply a scapegoat for charges that the Obama presidency was slow to respond to the Islamic State and ebola? Perhaps an administration that hired him to wind down the Afghanistan War and cut Pentagon costs had reversed course and instead sought a secretary of defense to put the United States on war footing with the Islamic State.

Or as indicated by his confirmation hearings, was Hagel just too poor a spokesperson for the Pentagon?
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When Iran Nuclear Talks Resume, They Must Conclude Before New Congress

Former IAEA Director General Hans Blix fears a hawkish U.S. Congress. (Photo: Global Zero)

Former IAEA Director General Hans Blix fears a hawkish U.S. Congress. (Photo: Global Zero)

As you have no doubt heard, the United States has failed to reach a nuclear deal with Iran and talks are expected to resume next month. Reuters reports:

If the two sides reach a deal after a one-month adjournment, it would still be before the upcoming change in U.S. Congress, where hardline Republicans will dominate both houses in January. Hawkish U.S. lawmakers have threatened to push for new sanctions on Iran if there is no concrete progress in the talks.

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Loss of Manufacturing Jobs and Lack of Housing Policy Have Led to Homelessness in Hungary

“The structural roots of homelessness are very much similar in Hungary and in the United States,” says Hungarian activist Balint Misetics, pictured. (Photo: John Feffer)

“The structural roots of homelessness are very much similar in Hungary and in the United States,” says Hungarian activist Balint Misetics, pictured. (Photo: John Feffer)

During the Communist period in East-Central Europe, when people talked about “homelessness,” they were speaking of a spiritual or political condition – of being in exile from their country of origin or feeling homeless in their own country because of the presence of Soviet troops. At that time, there were few people living on the street. Everyone had to have an address. Homelessness did not officially exist.

Today it’s another matter. For many of the same reasons that homelessness increased in the United States in the 1980s, the phenomenon has intensified in East-Central Europe. In Hungary, for instance, there are around 30,000 homeless people, many of them in Budapest. People sleeping in the underground entrances to the subway or bundled under street arcades are a common sight.
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