Focal Points Blog

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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Remembering Srebrenica

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Citizens of the Bosnian Serb Republic, as well as all East-Central Europe, need to realize that ultra-nationalism serves no purpose. (Photo: cvrcak1 / Flickr)

Every year in July, the memories of the Srebrenica Massacre swell anew and bring tears to not just Bosniaks but anyone who has even an ounce of humanity left in him/her. Years go by, debates keep happening, and we keep telling ourselves that humanity is not yet dead.

Between 1992 and 1995, over 100,000 innocent civilians of Bosnia lost their lives. In the town of Srebrenica, nearly 8000 Muslims were massacred between July 11 and 13 in the year 1995.

Yes, Srebrenica was a protected UN Safe Area. There was a Dutch peacekeeping force stationed in the region and their job was to protect the refugees in and around Srebrenica. Needless to say, the peacekeepers failed.
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What Did the Flesh-and-Blood Christ Really Believe?

The Sea of Galilee: stomping ground of Christ and his disciples. (Photo: Daniel Weber / Flickr)

The Sea of Galilee: stomping ground of Christ and his disciples. (Photo: Daniel Weber / Flickr)

(Though this post may seem tangential, at best, to foreign affairs, at least its set in Palestine and Israel, areas crucial to U.S. foreign policy.)

Few are aware of the impact of Jesus’s brother James, often overshadowed by Peter and Paul, on Christianity. After the death of Jesus, he led the early Christian community for nearly three decades. In Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, 2013), about which I posted recently, Reza Aslan wrote that “one sure way of uncovering what Jesus may have believed is to determine what his brother James believed.” How “may” not just qualifies, but contradicts, “sure way” must have gotten by an editor. We can be sure of little about times and regions that were sparsely documented. That said, the “first thing to note about James’s epistle,” continues Azlan
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Rescuing Polish Liberalism

Karolina Wigura, head of the political section of Kultura Liberalna, believes the meaning of liberalism is “rather fuzzy” in Poland. (Photo: John Feffer)

Karolina Wigura, head of the political section of Kultura Liberalna, believes the meaning of liberalism is “rather fuzzy” in Poland. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Liberalism took a beating in Poland in the 20th century. It was overwhelmed by nationalism in the 1930s, by Nazi occupation in the 1940s, and by a succession of Communist governments during the Cold War period. Finally, when the full political spectrum was restored to the country after 1989, liberalism became almost exclusively associated with its neo-liberal variant. For most Poles, “liberal” meant economic austerity and its accompanying hardships. Not surprisingly, liberalism acquired a negative connotation in the era of democracy as well.

But today in Poland, a new generation of political actors has taken up the challenge of rescuing liberalism from the misconceptions of the past. Kultura Liberalna is a weekly magazine established in 2009. It has spawned a website as well as an intellectual circle that has attracted a younger set of academics and intellectuals who are committed to restoring liberalism to its fullest meaning.
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Sarkozy Plying a Judge for Info May Be Least of His Crimes

Sarkozy may have been even more morally bankrupt than the other two Transatlantic neocons: Bush and Blair. (Photo: Moritz Hager, World Economic Forum / Flickr)

Sarkozy may have been even more morally bankrupt than the other two Transatlantic neocons: Bush and Blair. (Photo: Moritz Hager, World Economic Forum / Flickr)

“Anticorruption authorities,” reports the New York Times, are investigating via phone tapping, among other things, whether former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his lawyer“sought information from a judge about the progress of an investigation of the financing for his 2007 election campaign.” To wit:

Mr. Sarkozy has been dogged by the accusation that the campaign received up to 50 million euros, or about $68 million, in illegal funds from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya.

Also, BBC reported recently that his interpreter Moftah Missouri said Qaddafi“himself told me personally, verbally, that Libya had transferred about $20m” to Sarkozy’s campaign.
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In Kyrgyzstan Ethnic Hostility Shows Few Signs of Abating

Scars from the 2010 violence are still fresh in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Johannes Zielcke / Flickr)

Scars from the 2010 violence are still fresh in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo: Johannes Zielcke / Flickr)

Recently, Kyrgyzstan commemorated the fourth anniversary of the violence that shook its southern part back in 2010. Back then, over 100,000 Uzbeks had to leave Kyrgyzstan and seek refuge in Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the riots.

It all started as a simple brawl between groups of Kyrgyz and Uzbek youngsters in a casino in the city of Osh. Shortly thereafter, it took the form of a full-fledged ethnic violence. Many issues were highlighted by the incidents of 2010: Kyrgyzstan’s ever-subtle struggle for power and resources between the elites of Bishkek and their southern counterparts from Osh and Jalalabad, and the acute economic inequality between different communities, especially in the southern region of the country.
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East Germany’s Stasi a Quarter Century After It Was Dissolved

The one-time headquarters of the Stasi. (Photo: John Out and About / Flickr)

The one-time headquarters of the Stasi. (Photo: John Out and About / Flickr)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The great riddle of German reunification involves the two dogs that didn’t bark. The first dog was the Stasi, the East German secret service, which did so little to prevent the demonstrations of 1989 from bringing down Party chief Erich Honecker, the Berlin Wall, and then the entire Communist regime. The second dog was the East German people, who exacted so little revenge against the Stasi after the once-powerful institution was unmasked. Of course, there may well be a relationship between these two dogs. After all, dogs often bark in response to one another.

The first dog didn’t bark, it seems, because the Stasi expected some kind of deal that would have prolonged the life of the East German state with West German cash. It was not an entirely unrealistic expectation. The West German government had paid for all sorts of things in the past, including the exit of East Germans and the dismantling of the automated tripwire at the Wall.
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