A declassified report, released by the United States intelligence community in January disclosed that Russian-backed hackers meddled with the US elections and stated that this tactic to hack and influence elections and politics is not a new tactic. Subsequently, this report has put Europe on high alert as many important countries including the Netherlands, France, and Germany all have upcoming elections.
The strategy to delegitimize governments through disinformation, to increase its sphere of influence is not new to Russia. In fact, this approach has transcended the Cold War to today; additionally, one could make the argument that social media and the internet have allowed the Russians to become much more aggressive on this front. The name of the game is disinformation, and Russia is one of the best at this game.
In the Netherlands, the fear of Russian hacking in their upcoming elections have spread so far that the Dutch, an incredibly tech-savvy country, have decided to scale back the use of computers to count votes and will rely instead on a manual count system. Leading this decision was Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk who stated: “I don’t want a shadow of doubt over the result in a political climate like the one we know today.” Despite these precautions, the argument could be made that this is exactly what Russia wants: disinformation throughout a targeted country which in turn leads to those questioning the political stability and legitimacy of said country.
In France, it was found that Marie La Pen, the leader of a far-right national party, had taken a €11 million loan from a Russian bank to support her campaign. Like President Trump, who, along with many of his staff members has business ties in Russia, she is at the risk of being blackmailed by Russia to promote friendlier policies towards Russia. Another French politician, Emmanuel Macron, is a target of Russia’s “fake news.” His campaign has received thousands of cyber attacks, and inaccurate stories of him and his past have been spread throughout Russian-backed news outlets. The personal attacks became so bad that Macron was forced to make public statements to reassure his supporters that American banks were not funding him and that he was not having an affair. These attacks, while untrue and frankly petty, have proved to be incredibly harmful to many candidates throughout the World.
In Germany, Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, released a two-page report, which stated that the goal of Russia is to create uncertainty in the political system in Germany and to sow seeds of doubt throughout society. Additionally, many intelligence experts agree that of the three countries briefly discussed here, Germany is the prime target, specifically Angela Merkel. Germany’s position in the world, the dominant role they play in the European Union, is a prime target for Russia as delegitimizing Germany could potentially prove to be a devastating blow to the European Union.
Cyber attacks like these are hard to defend, hard to counter, thus making them a top priority for Russian officials in their goal of spreading their sphere of influence throughout regions of the world.
Turkish officials detained journalist Deniz Yücel on February 14th, 2017. The 43-year-old journalist, who holds both German and Turkish citizenship, writes for the German newspaper Die Welt. Turkish authorities charged Yücel with inciting hatred and spreading terrorist propaganda.
Yücel was arrested after reporting on hacking within the cabinet of Turkey, specifically on private emails of Turkey’s Energy Minister, Berat Albayrak. Albayrak is the son-in-law of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In the past Yücel has been critical of the current Turkish government’s treatment of the Kurdish minority. The government has accused him of supporting the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which is considered a terror group in Turkey.
Yücel’s arrest comes during a time of massive crackdowns on the media by the Turkish government following last summer’s coup attempt. However, Yücel is the first German journalist to be arrested. Outside experts have labeled the move as an intimidation attempt toward foreign media attempting to report on Turkey.
The prominent German-Turkish politician Cem Ödzemir led protesters in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin. There is a trending movement across Germany dedicated to bringing light to the issue, characterized by the #FreeDeniz hashtag. Many across the political spectrum have criticized Merkel’s lack of response or concrete action, including the Greens, Die Linke, and the AfD.
This event is the latest in a string of events that have put a heavy strain on German-Turkish relations. In 2016, the German comedian Jan Böhmermann made satirical jokes regarding Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish government responded by demanding the criminal prosecution of Böhmermann.
Germany is home of a large Turkish diaspora, estimated at over 2 million. Turkish politicians have taken to campaigning in Germany due to the high number of people holding dual citizenship and eligible to vote in Turkish elections and referendums. German politicians have been speaking out in increasing numbers against the rallies and campaign events of Turkish officials in Germany, citing the illiberal trends and general hypocrisy of the Erdogan-led government.
There is also the refugee deal in place between Turkey and the European Union, which helped suppress the flow of refugees into Germany.
Turkey has long been in talks to join the EU. However, accession talks have gone cold in recent years as Turkey trends further and further toward illiberalism.
Two recent petitions triggered debate amongst MPs in the UK: one against a state visit with 1.85 million votes and a second in favor which garnered 311,000 votes. Protesters gathered outside of Westminster as MPs discussed the matter. Paul Flynn, a member of the Labour Party, believes that proceeding with a state visit by the newly inaugurated U.S. President is “terribly wrong.” However, Tory member Nigel Evans, stated that the plans will not change for the planned visit.
In spite of disagreements over Trump’s visit, many believe that it is still in Britain’s national interest. Nonetheless, he will not address the Parliament in the wake of recent backlash by MPs. John Bercow, the Speaker of the Commons, has called for Trump to be barred from addressing Parliament. Trump’s visit will more than likely focus on a meeting with the Queen and other members of the Royal family.
Although the Government does not agree with Trump’s migration ban policy, it has highlighted the “special relationship” between the UK and the US. The US is one of the UK’s most important allies, and such a partnership is vital for economic prosperity and security. The Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has expressed his displeasure with the “cruel and shameful” polices of Trump. Although he loves America and its citizens, he has mentioned that the special relationship between the US and UK calls for not only assisting one another through adversity, but also confronting each other when one commits wrongful actions.
Figures of controversy visiting the UK is not an uncommon occurrence. In the past, Queen Elizabeth has hosted Presidents Mobutu of Zaire and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. Regardless of this fact, Trump’s upcoming visit has caused much commotion in Britain. Trump’s arrival is unprecedented in the history of past U.S. presidential visits to the UK. Past U.S. presidents have never been invited for a state visit in their first year in office. Moreover, American presidents have traditionally waited several years to receive an invitation, while some have not even received the privilege of a state visit.
President Trump’s recent comments about NATO have left many to speculate on the future of US/NATO relations under Trump’s administration. In an interview with the London Times, President Trump was critical of numerous NATO members who do not meet the expected 2% of their GDP standard on defense spending.
As of April 2016, only 5 of the 28 members are spending this expected 2% of their GDP on defense, including the United States, UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece. This has led many to question the commitment of the other 23 countries in NATO.
Additionally, the Trump administration appears to be cozying up to Putin and Russia, which brings up further questions about NATO’s future and the role the US will have in NATO. For years NATO has been a point of contention for Putin; especially after the inclusion of the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO took place in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The inclusion of the Warsaw Pact countries, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, threaten Russia in two ways. First, geographically speaking, the proximity of Russia to these countries, specifically Poland who as noted before spends over 2% of their GDP on defense, is seen as a threat in Russia. Additionally, under the Obama administration, Poland was and still is currently being used for a US/NATO strategic missile defense. While the US has been adamant that the proximity of these missiles is to protect Europe from ‘rogue’ states, Moscow views these weapons as an attempt by the West to disrupt the security balance in Europe. Secondly, the inclusion of the former Warsaw Pact members is perceived as a slight against Russian prestige and honor. Putin has publicly declared his disapproval and hatred for Russian foreign policy decisions made during the 1990’s. Many scholars believe that Putin is on a mission to increase his influence over European affairs to regain Russian esteem.
There is widespread speculation about the future of US involvement in NATO under Trump’s administration. To put it simply, we do not know what President Trump will do. He is unpredictable, and this unpredictability is terrifying European leaders. It is the hopes of many, myself included, that a clear and concise strategy for continuous US involvement in NATO will be formulated after President Trump meets with NATO leaders this coming May.
When Borussia Dortmund and Rasenballsport Leipzig met over the weekend, there was much more at stake than just 3 points. The two clubs represent a stark difference in philosophy. Borrusia Dortmund is part of German soccer’s old guard, a true Traditionsmannschaft (traditional team). Somewhat similar to what the Green Bay Packers or Chicago Cubs are in American sports. Dortmund boasts the biggest standing terrace in Europe, develops plenty of homegrown players, is a staple in the community and the region, and their vibrant fan-scene and culture is among one of the most respected in Europe. Rasenballsport Leipzig, playing in the Bundesliga for the first time in their short history, has caused outrage among German soccer fans.
The Austrian energy-drink maker Red Bull is behind the sudden emergence of RB Leipzig as a soccer power. The DFB (German soccer association) would not allow the club to name themselves explicitly after the energy-drink, so the club settled for another term, which would allow them to market their product. They settled on Rasenballsport Leipzig. Translated literally it means “lawn ball sport” and sounds equally silly in German as it does in English. The move allowed the club to call themselves RB Leipzig and adopt a club crest with an uncanny resemblance to that of Red Bull’s corporate logo. The company has bankrolled the club and managed to overthrow the traditional status quo in under 10 years, unseating historically successful clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Hamburger SV, and VfB Stuttgart. RB Leipzig currently sit 2nd in the standings, just 4 points behind superpower Bayern Munich. If they hold their current position, they will play in soccer’s most prestigious competition next season, the UEFA Champion’s League.
To many Germans, Rasenballsport Leipzig, or RB Leipzig, represents everything they believe soccer should not be. For one, the club has circumvented the hallowed 50+1 rule, which makes the sport in Germany so unique. The rule ensures that the members of the club have majority control. This keeps commercial interests in check. In Germany, for example, you could never have a situation like that of Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.
RB Leipzig has managed to circumvent the 50+1 rule by making it extremely difficult to acquire a membership. Those who do go through the trouble and financial burden of attaining a membership still do not have voting rights. A select few members, who have direct ties to Red Bull, hold the voting rights.
Germans until recently had been immune to the commercialization of the sport, which has hit their neighbors Spain, England, and to a lesser extent France and Italy particularly hard. Red Bull Leipzig is a threat to this sense of traditional security. Other multi-national corporations have taken notice of what Red Bull has achieved, a marketing scheme wrapped up in the guise of a football club, a very successful one at that. The worry for fans is that RB Leipzig represents a crack in the foundation, and more like-minded clubs could follow suit, threatening the organic, traditional, fan-driven and fan-centric nature of the sport in Germany.
Over the weekend, Borussia Dortmund went on to defeat RB Leipzig 1-0 in front of their home fans, who were not shy about voicing their displeasure of what RB Leipzig has done to their beloved sport (see photo above.) Unfortunately, some resorted to extreme measures.
On January 21, 2017, a fire caused the Bamboo nightclub in Bucharest to burn down. Around 40 people required hospitalization, but no deaths were reported. One person was in serious condition, while others suffered from smoke inhalation or minor bone fractures.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation as to the cause of the fire that occurred on that Saturday morning. According to the ISU which deals with emergency situations, the club lacked proper fire permits. In 2005, the club had burnt down, and throughout 2015 the club was fined multiple times.
This fire brought back memories of one of the most recent devastating events that occurred in Romania. In 2015, a fire at the Colectiv nightclub resulted in 64 deaths and 100 injuries. That fire was the result of fireworks used during a concert at the club, which did not have the proper fireproof insulation. Furthermore, the club had only one main exit with nearly 400 people who gathered for a free concert.
The Colectiv tragedy sparked some of Romania’s biggest protests in years over failed oversight, and led to the resignation of Prime Minister Victor Ponta. No deaths occurred at the Bamboo club fire, but Romanian President Klaus Iohannis stated, “Rules and laws were apparently broken again. Until we understand once and for all that the law is for everyone, society will always be in danger.”
It looks as if history continues to repeat its self in Romania. The Romanian government must figure out a way to improve safety regulations and increase sanctions for repeat offenders. Unless the government is adamant about true reform, citizens will remain pessimistic about any signs of future improvement.
A recent avalanche, set off by an earthquake in Italy has completely buried a ski resort, leading officials to fear the worst for the 20 to 30 hotel guests staying at the resort.
Officials and rescue teams are working hard to search for survivors; however, many are feared dead. One resort guest told reporters of how he walked to his car to grab something he had forgotten. Upon returning to the resort, the building leveled with his wife and child inside.
This avalanche brings back recent memory of earthquakes that shook Italy’s central region and killed hundreds. This past fall, four earthquakes were reported, much more than over the past few years.
Unfortunately, Italy lies on what seismologists refer to as the “Apennine red belt,” an historically active seismic region. This area is known to have had some of the most devastating earthquakes in Italy’s history. In 1915, an earthquake in the area killed approximately 32,000 people.
Avalanches, which can be triggered by earthquakes, are particularity difficult to plan for. Officials tell civilians to stay inside during heavy snowfall; however, when an earthquake triggers an avalanche, officials advise civilians to leave their homes. Often, it is too late for civilians to flee their homes, trapping them inside.