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Bavarian Parliamentary Elections

October 19, 2018
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green win

This week, Bavaria voted to elect members to the state parliament. It was a huge win for the Liberal Green party (Alliance 90/the Greens), which came in a surprising second in the elections with 17.5% of the vote. The Free Voter Party came in third with 11.6%. The notorious far-right/anti-immigration party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) came in fourth with 10%. While there were unexpected upswings for the right and left, the center parties suffered major political losses. The sister party of Angela Merkel’s CDU, the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU), lost its absolute majority in the state parliament, which it has controlled since the 1960s. The CSU still came in first with 37%, but this is down 10% from the 2013 elections. Not only did the center-right suffer, but the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) only took 9.7% of the parliament, also a 10% drop from 2013.

groups

Bavaria’s capital, Munich, is Germany’s third largest city and the region is historically Catholic and conservative, another reason Sunday’s results are surprising. One explanation, for this outcome is that, since AfD’s emergence, the CSU has assumed some of AfD’s more hardline policy stances, causing the CSU to lose their moderate support.

gains and losses

One of these hardline issues is immigration. The issue of immigration is the one that has most divided Germans since 2015, and “the migration policy is one reason for the upswing in the Greens,” according to a German political analysts. The Greens run on a platform of open borders, liberal values, and the fight against climate change. AfD focuses on anti-Islam and anti-immigration using harsh nationalistic rhetoric.

Voters are also showing that they prefer smaller, newer movements. While the media focuses on the rise of the far right (AfD)—and mainly on their recurrent protest across Germany—, the people are actually just moving away from bigger parties toward both the far-right and far-left. In response to AfD demonstrations people took to the streets for anti-hate rallies, denouncing CSU’s hardline migration policies.

This election motivated voters in Bavaria, as the turnout for the election was 73%, which is up from 64% from the last election five years ago. Now, Bavaria’s political landscape, once a CSU certainty, is polarizing and fragmenting. We will have to wait for the other state elections to see if this a national trend. The next state elections will take place in two weeks in Hesse, where the Greens are predicted to take 18%.

opinion

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45857699

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/14/world/europe/germany-bavaria-election-greens-merkel.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Feurope

https://www.gruene-bundestag.de/service-navigation/english.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_for_Germany

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45835795

https://www.thetrumpet.com/17797-consequences-of-the-bavarian-election

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landtag_of_Bavaria

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37274201

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45851665

https://www.dw.com/en/germany-thousands-gather-in-munich-to-protest-bavarian-ruling-party-csu/a-44779052

https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/interview/green-leader-bavaria-state-elections-were-another-step-towards-new-national-elections/

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Latvian Elections: A Shift in the Country’s Political Stance?

October 12, 2018
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Latvian elections

Ilmars Znotins/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last Saturday, during Latvia’s general elections, the Harmony party obtained the largest share of votes, for a total of 19.8 percent. What makes Harmony stand out among other Latvian political parties is its pro-Russian stance, which until this year included a cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia. This is indeed significant in a country where anti-Russian sentiment runs high after decades of Soviet occupation that left behind a sizable, and partly unassimilated, ethnic-Russian minority. It is precisely from this minority, which comprises roughly a quarter of the country’s population of two million, that Harmony draws the bulk of its support, and, in fact, what is remarkable about the latest elections is not necessarily the party’s electoral share, which actually went down compared to the prior contest. Rather, it is the demise of the mainstream parties that had until know kept Harmony excluded from government.

In the wake of corruption scandals surrounding nation’s financial system and its central bank, the parties forming the until-now governing coalition have suffered a heavy electoral setback, together winning only 27 percent of the vote. At the same time, two new anti-establishment parties, the populist KPV LV (led by Artuss Kaimins, a former actor whose approach to politics has been compared to Donald Trump’s) and the anti-corruption New Conservative Party, have obtained a combined 27.7 percent electoral share, and at least KPV LV’s candidate for Prime Minister, Aldis Gobzems, has refused to rule out the possibility of entering into conversations with Harmony in an effort to form a governing coalition.

This means that Harmony may for the first time have a chance at leading the national government, a possibility that would have significant geopolitical repercussions if it entails Latvia’s shift away from the EU and NATO, and towards Moscow. This outcome, although not assured, might be especially likely if the KPV LV, which shares the Euroskepticism of other populist parties, becomes a coalition partner. It is true that Harmony, in an effort to present itself as independent from Moscow, has clarified that it does not advocate leaving the EU or NATO. But it has on the other hand called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia, and it is not clear what their foreign policy would look like once in government. It is possible, however, that the need to walk a fine line in order to retain the support of other political groups and attract Latvian voters could drive the party towards a more pro-Western stance in its policymaking, as has occurred in Estonia with the Center Party.

In any case, it is by no means certain that Harmony will in fact end up at the helm of national politics, and coalition talks among the different forces will be the next step in the path towards forming a government. Only once some kind of agreement is finalized will we be able to analyze the impact of the new coalition resulting from it on Latvia and on its position within the European Union.

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/world/europe/latvia-election-russia.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45774578

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/07/pro-russian-harmony-tipped-to-be-latvias-largest-party-following-election

https://www.politico.eu/article/harmony-russia-populist-latvia-election-maris-kucinskis/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/world/europe/latvia-rimsevics-banking-bribery.html?module=inline

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-10-10/putin-shouldn-t-feel-too-good-about-pro-russian-triumph-in-latvia

25th Annual Lotus World and Music Arts Festival

October 4, 2018
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This year the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary. This festival brings musicians from different regions and countries from across the globe right to Bloomington’s backyard. The Institute for European Studies continued its yearly sponsorship of musicians for the festival with two French artists; electric hurdy-gurdy player Guilhem Desq and a cappella group Lo Còr de la Plana. For more general information about these artists visit: https://www.lotusfest.org/artist/guilhem-desq/ and  https://www.lotusfest.org/artist/lo-cor-de-la-plana/.

guilhem

Guilhem Desq’s performance attracted a full house to the First Presbyterian Church as people lined up outside the door to see him. Once the performance started, more people were drawn in by the unusual sounds of the electric hurdy-gurdy that poured out of the church. Throughout the performance, Guilhem Desq gave some facts about himself, the hurdy-gurdy, and the songs he was playing. Guilhem Desq originally began playing the hurdy-gurdy because his father was a hurdy-gurdy maker and together with Guilhem Desq’s technical skills, they made his electric hurdy-gurdy. He then explained the French name of the instrument makes more sense that the English one. In French, the hurdy-gurdy is called a vielle a roué literally meaning a violin with a wheel. During his performance, he played several different pieces inspired by specific things from nature as well as the supernatural. One of the first songs was about mountains, with low rolling sounds and Celtic influences, while another one was about a dragonfly who fell in love with a baobab tree and was more upbeat. A crowd favorite was a piece about a haunted house (Le château abandonné). The introduction of the song was a variety of surprising sounds like bells ringing, a ghost wailing, a crow calling, and finally the door of the house creaking open (all made by the hurdy-gurdy) which then led the listener in to the spooky and mysterious tune of the haunted house. The final song was about a magic castle (Le château magique); this song was mysterious and playful. Guilhem Desq actually created a music video animation to go along with the song and to help the listener visualize the Château: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soP-VolZi0A. All the songs performed by Guilhem Desq held a mindboggling variety of sounds, somehow coming from one lone instrument, the hurdy-gurdy.

lo cor

The other EURO sponsored performance was a six man a cappella group from Marseilles, France called Lo Còr de la Plana. The group sang in Occitan, an ancient romance language that is still spoken today in parts of France, Italy, and Spain. Along with their perfectly harmonized voices, they used drums, tambourines, clapping, and stomping to create beats with Mediterranean, Arabic, and African roots. The leader of the group, Manu Théron, engaged the audience with jokes and stories and even included the audience in the performance, encouraging them to clap to the beat and accompany the group. A few of the songs were about their home town of Marseilles. Other songs resonated more directly with the holy space of the First Christian Church, through their homage to Gregorian chanting and their message to chase away demons. Their repertoire also included themes with a more modern relevance, including a song dedicated to the migrants that drowned on their way to France and another about politicians and gangsters. As one of the last performances of the night, Lo Còr de la Plana attracted a large crowd and was a perfect way to end the evening at the Lotus Festival. To listen their songs visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM0UzhYcHEI&list=RDpM0UzhYcHEI&start_radio=1#t=7.

The Drama Continues: An Update on Brexit

October 1, 2018
by

May salzburg

For a third consecutive year, EURO had the pleasure of hosting Paul Craig (Professor of English Law at Oxford University) for a presentation on the intricacies of Brexit and the political dilemmas surrounding the ongoing EU-UK negotiations. And, following the trend of previous years, the presentation occurred at quite an appropriate time, as UK Prime Minister Theresa May prepared to attend a gathering of European heads of government in Salzburg last Thursday.

One of the central points highlighted by Professor Craig was the almost impossible spot in which May has placed herself: as he would call it, she is standing “between a rock and a hard place.” The reason is the multiplicity of crosscutting, conflicting interests that she must satisfy if she wants to secure a viable exit deal with the EU. First, there is the radical clash, within both the political cadres (including her own Conservative party) and the public opinion, between Hard Brexiters and Remainers, none of whom would support a middle-ground, “soft-Brexit” agreement. Then there is also the problem of balancing the demands of EU negotiators (who have Europe’s, rather than the UK’s best interests in mind) with those of domestic politics. And a last front May will have to face is the need to run any eventual deal through Parliament for its approval, on top of which stands the newly invigorated demand for a second referendum.

The demand for a new referendum before any deal on Brexit enters into force has now received the explicit support of London mayor Sadiq Kahn, and the Labour party endorsed a similar proposal in its recent party conference, although subordinating it to the possibility of holding general elections. In addition, it is not clear what the proposed second referendum would look like, since just a few days ago Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell argued that any such vote should not include the option of remaining in the EU, but only of supporting or rejecting any proposed deal. Nevertheless, Professor Craig expressed his support for the idea of a second vote, arguing that it would be hypocritical on the part of Tories to defend Brexit in the name of the people’s sovereignty while denying that same people a final say once the final terms of the original decision have been laid on the table.

A much more immediate problem, however, has to do with the very possibility of reaching an exit deal to begin with. According to May, the basis for any such deal would have to follow the blueprint of her Checkers proposal, which centers on leaving the single market while trying to preserve as much as possible of the status quo ante by means of a “facilitative customs partnership” (FCP), as well as a common rulebook in relation to goods, equivalence rules for services, and non-regression in relation to labor rights.

This proposal, which expressed May’s attempt at navigating the middle line of a soft Brexit, found little support within her own party, leading to the resignation of two of her hard-Brexiteer cabinet members (including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson). Perhaps more importantly, however, the Checkers plan suffered a fatal blow towards the end of last week: in what was supposed to be an easy-going gathering in Salzburg, May’s meeting with her European colleagues turned into what the British press has termed an “ambush” and a “humiliation,” as European leaders (including Donald Tusk and Emmanuel Macron) denounced British intransigence, accused hard Brexiters of lying to the people of the UK, and rejected the Checkers proposal as unworkable. There are indeed obvious reasons from the European standpoint why Checkers is a no-go: allowing the UK to opt out of the free movement of persons and workers while retaining the free movement of goods would amount to a form of “cherry-picking” that would undermine the integrity of the Union’s four core freedoms and incentivize other member states to imitate the British example.

A further sticking point of the Checkers proposal, duly noted by Professor Craig, was (and continues to be) the Northern Ireland question, since May has so far refused the EU demand of setting up a special status for the region, pending a subsequent agreement, that would prevent a “hard border” within the island (which would imperil the Good Friday Agreements) by shifting the customs controls to the goods and services flowing in between the British isles. This possibility has been denounced by May as an attempt to carve out the sovereignty of the UK over its own territory, and it is not clear that there is any solution within reach at this point in time.

Overall, it seems like the negotiations between the EU and the UK have reached an impasse, as May herself asserted in a combative press conference after returning home that has stoked fears of a no-deal Brexit. Indeed, the possibility of such a conclusion to the process, undesirable for all parts but potentially disastrous for Britain—which would all of the sudden find itself cut off from its main market, with devastating economic and human consequences–, is now looming large on the horizon. If anything, this possibility should reinforce the demands for a second referendum as a last ditch effort to avoid an unnecessary catastrophe. Whether the political realities hindering the scope of action of many of the central actors in the process will allow that, or any other solution to move forward, however, remains to be seen.

 

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/24/mcdonnell-new-brexit-referendum-should-not-include-remain-option

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/21/theresa-may-demands-respect-from-eu-in-brexit-negotiations

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/20/may-fighting-on-all-fronts-after-salzburg-embarrassment

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/24/iea-brexit-proposals-the-main-points

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/23/brexit-corbyn-under-pressure-from-all-sides-over-peoples-vote

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/23/world/europe/uk-labour-party.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Feurope&action=click&contentCollection=europe&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=sectionfront

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/world/europe/eu-theresa-may-brexit-salzburg.htmlhttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/26/eu-steps-up-no-deal-brexit-preparations-as-labour-alarms-capitals

https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-khan/london-mayor-calls-for-second-referendum-on-brexit-observer-idUSKCN1LV0OU

Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village

September 21, 2018
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czech village

In the middle of Cedar Rapids, Iowa on the south of the Cedar River sits an Iowan cultural gem, the Czech Village and New Bohemia. Last week, while traveling for a wedding to Cedar Rapids, I was able to visit Czech Village and get a unique peak into the culture. The wedding itself was held at St. Ludmila’s Catholic Church built in 193l, which contained stained glass windows from a church in Czechoslovakia.

stained glass

This area got its start in the 1870s when the Czech population in Iowa began to center itself in Cedar Rapids following the movement of a slaughterhouse and packing plants, which attracted waves of new Bohemians to the city. In the 1890s, this area was branded “Little Bohemia” due to all the commercial businesses created by local Czech immigrants.

Today the main street is lined with bakeries and restaurants serving authentic Czech cuisine and multiple antique shops filled with treasures from all over the world specializing in Czech and Slovak objects.

museum

One of the main attractions of the Czech Village besides the food and antiques is the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library which was founded in the 1970s and has been growing ever since.  U.S., Czech and Slovak presidents have visited the museum and it attracts over 30,000 visitors every year from around the world.

water

Despite the museum’s success, tragedy struck in 2008 when the Cedar River flooded covering the museum in 8 feet of water and damaging much of the their collections. The museum was temporarily relocated until 2011, when the entire museum and library’s physical structure was moved 11 feet higher with the help of FEMA and donations from the Czech Republic.

The current exhibits in the restored museum include; Faces of Freedom, Guts & Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation, and Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence.

The first exhibit Guts and Glory tells the story of how the nation of Czechoslovakia was created after WWI and 60,000 Czech and Slovak soldiers, who supported the allies, fought along the Trans-Siberian railroad. The exhibit also showed traditional uniforms worn by soldiers in WWI, three train car replicas, and featured a virtual reality experience showing you what life was like on the train.

bead pic 2

The next exhibit, Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, was full of art pieces from a community of women in South African using Czech glass beads. The community was created in the 1990s for women in the rural parts of South Africa to gain financial independence using beadwork. In the exhibit, you can view the pieces and hear the individual stories behind them from the artists themselves.

bead pic 3

Czech glass beads main production is in Bohemia, which has been a European glass-manufacturing center since the 13th century due to the fact that the area is rich in the resources needed for glass making and soon the demand grew worldwide. This changed in communist times when penal labor was used to make the beads and the quality suffered, however, after the Velvet revolution in 1989 and the end of communism, supplies of high quality beads hit the global market again.

voices

The next exhibit titled Faces of Freedom includes personal accounts of Czech and Slovaks journeys to freedom. There were moments when you stepped into part of the museum that took you back in time. This was especially true viewing the ship bunks bringing immigrants to America and a typical Czechoslovakian living room during WWII.

So if you are ever chillin’ in Cedar Rapids, “Czech” out the village for some authentic cuisine, unique shops, and a history lesson.

 

Sources:

http://crmainstreet.org/history-of-the-district/

https://www.ncsml.org/about/

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/life/arts-and-culture/beautiful-beads-south-african-art-exhibit-ubuhle-opens-today-20180512

https://www.bigbeadlittlebead.com/guides_and_information/history_of_czech_glass_beads.php

https://www.postbulletin.com/life/travel/czech-slovak-museum-rises-above-flood-waters/article_579b0c8c-2484-5d14-98a9-fa116541516e.html

 

Evenings in Bayreuth (Part II): “Der Fliegende Holländer” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”

September 14, 2018
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Festpielhaus 2

We retake our coverage of this year’s Bayreuth Festival by looking at the performances of Der Fliegende Holländer and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Der Fliegende Holländer is admittedly a lesser star in the Wagnerian constellation. A short opera (especially for Wagner’s standards) of only about two and a half hours, it is the earliest of the composer’s works to be considered part of the Bayreuth “canon,” and it lacks the maturity and dramatic power of the later compositions.

Yet part of the canon it is, and for good reasons, as it is still full of moments of beautiful music. Moreover, as with any work being performed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, there is something special about it that surrounds and even precedes the performance itself. The very walk from the city of Bayreuth to the theater, located in the outskirts, gradually reveals to the festival-goer an increasing number of fellow enthusiasts heading in the same direction as different streets converge on the road leading up to the Festspielhaus, and it is not uncommon to see spontaneously formed parties converse simultaneously in German, English, Italian, and French as attendees from all over the world seek to share their excitement with each other. Then, as one ascends the Green Hill on which the Festspielhaus is located, with its beautiful gardens, the theater slowly reveals itself among the trees, becoming fully visible only near the very top of the ascent. Then, as the time of the performance approaches, a small brass band appears in the theater’s balcony to play one of that night’s opera’s leitmotifs, the signal that everyone should go inside and take their seats.

holländer_bayreuth

With everyone seated, Jan Philipp Gloger’s production of the Holländer unveiled. Gloger turned the drama into a critique of corporate greed, setting the stage of the first act in a thunderstorm comprised of electronic flows of data, and the remainder of the opera in a factory where a chorus of women diligently pack tabletop fans in boxes for shipment. As a final emphasis point on the theme of capitalistic greed, the curtain raises again after the death of the Holländer and his beloved (and redeemer) Senta to depict, during the final bars of music, the same factory (owned by Senta’s father Daland) now producing miniature figures of the dead lovers, who thus become just another exploit of the neoliberal quest for profit-maximization. Although the theme of the production was perhaps not the most original, it was well developed with a well-designed staging, while the singers convincingly delivered their roles aided by the Festival’s always-impressive chorus.

The production of Die Meistersinger, by contrast, provided an altogether much more memorable evening that was not only visually appealing, but sought to dig deep into the complicated question of how to regard a work of art in relation to its artist’s more problematic features. Centered on a song contest in which a newcomer to the city of Nuremberg tries to win his beloved as bride despite the initial reluctance of the mastersingers’ guild to let him participate—a reluctance which he eventually overcomes by showing the virtue of artistic innovation that respects but is not straightjacketed by ancient rules—, Die Meistersinger is Wagner’s only mature comedy, but also his most explicit statement about art. Yet director Barrie Kosky wanted to place that art in perspective by highlighting some aspects that cannot be wholly excised from it; namely, Wagner’s highly idealized vision of the superiority of German culture and, most notably, his anti-Semitism. Kosky, the first Jewish director to design a production in Bayreuth, built the entire drama around the figure of Wagner himself, and around the figure of his idealized Germanic medieval city of Nuremberg.

Meistersinger 3

 

Indeed, the first act does not take place in the Katharinenkirche as the libretto calls for, but in Wagner’s own Bayreuth home, Wahnfried; and the opera’s characters, in flamboyant Renaissance costumes representing Wagner’s idealizations, emerge from the piano as Wagner himself plays to an audience of family and friends. As it turns out, however, that Wagner is simultaneously Hans Sachs, the shoemaker leader of the Meistersinger and the opera’s actual hero (commandingly portrayed by Michael Volle, whose great singing was outdone only by his superb acting). Walther von Stolzing, the aspiring newcomer and hopeful suitor (played by Klaus Florian Vogt, whose beautifully-rounded, velvety voice was perfectly suited for this lighter role), is also Wagner, albeit in a younger version, whereas Eva, the bride-to-be, is Wagner’s wife Cosima (sung by Emily Magee, by far the weakest link in the cast), and Eva’s father Veit Pogner (Günther Groissböck) is Cosima’s own father Franz Liszt. The opera’s “villain,” the pedantic Meistersinger and town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser (played by Johannes Martin Kränzle, whose incredible performance rivaled Volle’s acting and perhaps even bested him musically), is in turn Hermann Levi, the Jewish conductor who led the first performance of Parsifal in Bayreuth, and who is forced by Wagner/Sachs to kneel in prayer with the rest of the guests during the Act I Wahnfried gathering. Thus, Kosky gives expression to the disputed idea that the character of Beckmesser is at least in part Wagner’s caricature of a Jew, even while admitting in the program notes that the character includes other traits that Wagner despised, such as those of a music critic.

With the end of the first act, however, comes a radical change of scenery: as the Meistersinger quarrel over Walther’s unsuccessful initial audition, the Wahnfried stage slowly recedes towards the background to assume the outlook of a painting, while Hans Sachs—the only Meistersinger that sees promise in Walter’s unorthodox artistic approach—remains at the front of a now empty scenery resembling a large room with a witness stand sitting in the middle. Act II will take place in that same room, where a heap of broken furniture has been piled up, and where the tumult following Beckmesser’s unsuccessful attempt at serenading Eva (sabotaged by Sachs’ constant striking of his shoemaker hammer) is turned into a pogrom in which Levi-Beckmesser is beaten by the Nuremberg crowd and clad with an oversized head resembling a stereotypical evil Jew. Simultaneously, a balloon-version of that same head is inflated from the witness stand to fill the whole stage, and deflates as the startled nightwatchman (in a military police uniform) makes his entrance once the crowd has finally dispersed.

Meistersinger 1

Only in the third act is the nature of the room where the action has been taking place finally revealed. The initial emptiness has given way to a full-blown courtroom presided by the American, British, French, and Soviet flags: we are in the scene of the Nuremberg Trials. And it is also in the third act where Kosky’s own statement as director is fully developed. The opera concludes with Hans Sachs’ defense of his protégé Walther’s new art-form, which is then vindicated by Walther himself with his prize-winning song, following which Sachs delivers a speech exhorting the now-triumphant Walter not to spurn the traditions of the past or the accumulated wisdom of the Mesitersinger, and praising the everlasting value of German art. In the production, however, a Wagner-looking Sachs delivers his final speech in a completely vacated courtroom while facing the audience from the witness stand, as it is Wagner himself—Wagner the flawed individual, the anti-Semite—who has been accused by the production. And, as the chorus echoes his last words, the back of the stage opens and a full-blown orchestra (actually the chorus itself) is rolled in, which Wagner/Sachs then proceeds to conduct during the music’s final bars. Having been accused, Wagner thus delivers his own defense, both rhetorical and musical. Yet Kosky, after presenting the dilemmas surrounding Wagner’s art, refuses to condemn: it is the members of the audience who, having observed the trial, shall now judge whether Wagner, and more importantly his work, have ultimately been redeemed.

Update in the Skripal Case: Is the Kremlin Confirmed Responsible?

September 7, 2018
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new

This week the UK revealed new information surrounding the March Novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Russia was originally believed to be the culprit and the new evidence seemly confirms this. If you want to read up on the original story, use the link below to one of our previous blogs, which discusses the events, Russia’s reaction and the West’s punishment: https://iuwest.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/the-wests-punishment-of-russia-over-poisoning-in-the-uk/

On Wednesday, the UK named two Russian nationalists as the suspects in the attempted murder of the Skripals using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov on their Russian passports, although the authorities believe these names to be aliases.

alias

Prime Minister Theresa May says these two men are part of Russia’s military intelligence agency also known as the GRU (Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye). The GRU serves the Kremlin in undercover operations around the world. Theresa May makes the case that the decision to go after the Skripals was made as a senior level. The UK security minister Ben Wallace says Putin is ultimately responsible, while Russia still denies involvement.

As for the evidence, there is CCTV footage of the men arriving in London, then taking the train to Salisbury station and back to London on March 3. This first part of their journey is believed to be a mission to scout the area before the attack. On March 4 there is footage of them back in Salisbury on the street where the Skripals were poisoned moments after the attack and leaving to Moscow at London-Heathrow Airport.

movement

Officials were also able to track down the hotel where they were staying and swabs taken from their room contained traces of the nerve agent Novichok. The way the men administered the poison is believed to be through a perfume bottle with a modified nozzle found near the scene, which contained a significant amount of Novichok in it.

perfume

With this evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service has charged the men for: attempt of murder of the Skripals and police officer Nick Bailey, conspiracy to murder, use and possession of a nerve agent, and causing grievous bodily harm. These men, however, will probably never face trial, as the only way the men can be arrested is if they return to the EU or the UK, since Russia doesn’t extradite their nationals.

suspets

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has said the whole case is fabricated in order to punish Russia with sanctions. Another Kremlin spokesperson said the accusations were unacceptable. Kremlin-backed news agencies such as RT and Sputnik are adamant that the UK has fabricated the attack to blame and punish Russia and argue that Moscow has been trying to work with the UK while they have not cooperated. RT has called the two men accused “Russians” in their article further implying conspiracy. Both news sources state an anonymous source said the UK is planning a cyberwar against Russia in retaliation for the poisonings. This could give Russia an excuse to use their own cyber methods. RT and Sputnik also mention the lack of public evidence that led investigators to believe the two men worked for the GRU, which officials have stated is still a classified matter. RT also cites Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer as doubting Russia’s involvement saying, “The evidence may look pretty compelling but will never be tested in a real court of law.” Machon, however, resigned from MI5 in 1997 intending to be a whistleblower and has been involved in a series of conspiracy groups since, such as the 9/11 Truth Movement, which says 9/11 was an inside job. She has also denied Russian influence in the US elections as well. These two news agencies also point out supposed holes in the case like: the contaminated hotel didn’t make anyone sick, the fact that highly trained Russian agents would travel together with the nerve agent, and then leave said nerve agent laying around in the city of the attack. They also point out the timing of the attack, a week before the Russian presidential election and 100 days before the World Cup, and say Russia would gain nothing by carrying out this attack so close to these two important events.

The UN Security Council was briefed about the case on Thursday. While Russia continues to refute the charges and call the evidence implausible the US, France, Canada and Germany have backed the finding of the UK’s investigation. On the other hand, Russia’s allies on the Security Council, like Bolivia, Kazakhstan, China, and Ethiopia have shown their support for Russia and call for more conclusive evidence. The majority of the council, however, still supported the UK including Sweden, Poland, Kuwait, and the Netherlands. At the meeting Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya has said “London needs this story for just one purpose: to unleash a disgusting anti-Russia hysteria and to involve other countries in this hysteria.”

un

This case only will cause a further rift between the West and Russia as we await for the punishment given to Russia and their retaliation. Theresa May has called for an agreement with the EU to place more sanctions on Russia and may lead to other measures in the name of security for the UK.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43643025

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45429894

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/world/europe/russia-uk-novichok-skripal.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-finland-defense-russia/its-time-for-realism-in-eu-russia-ties-frances-macron-idUSKCN1LF0UP

https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-officials-had-nothing-to-do-with-salisbury-poisoning-kremlin-says-62807

https://www.rt.com/news/437770-kremlin-russia-skripal-allegations/

https://sputniknews.com/world/201809061067797172-uk-unsc-proofs-skripals/

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/salisbury-poisoning-live-updates-latest-un-security-council-russia-putin-novichok-attack-theresa-may-a8525331.html

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/09/1018641