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A Little Country with World-Wide Secrets: The Panama Papers Send Shock throughout Europe

April 18, 2016

Recently, a report, dubbed the Panama Papers, reveled a great deal of wealth hidden by powerful figures from all over the world in this esposé of millions of documents from a “boutique Panamanian law firm”, Mossack Fonesca, which exposed great fortunes hidden away in shell companies and offshore tax shelters. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists states, (the main host and second recipient of the leaked documents – the first being the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung), “There are legitimate uses for offshore companies, foundations and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities… have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.” Though this may be true, many people are very upset that political and social leaders have been, at least in the minds of the people, underhanded and overly-secretive. While people from almost every continent were implicated in the Panama Papers, this article will attempt to highlight some of the biggest names from Europe who were named (or whose families, friends, or companies were named) in the leak.



Photograph by Christof Stache / AFP / GETTY


Former government minister in France, Jérôme Cahuzac

Jérôme Cahuzac had already been in hot water when in 2013, Cahuzac had to admit that he lied to the president of France and former colleagues in Parliament when he said he did not own foreign bank accounts, when in fact, he had over three quarters of a million dollars in a Swiss bank account (moved to an account in Singapore in 2009. He is currently awaiting trial for tax fraud, where his lawyer says, “his client is reserving his explanation for his trial, which is scheduled for September 2016.”


Former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili

Bidzina Ivanishvili is a billionaire who made a majority of his fortune in the metals and banking industries in Russia, who moved back to Georgia and began taking a more political role in the government. Within the papers, Ivanishvili is cited as the owner of an offshore company. As a response to the Papers, a Swiss law firm which represents him stated that Ivanishvili is, “willing to be transparent about his use of offshore companies and that banks like Credit Suisse [a bank in which there is a trust of which he is a beneficiary of] “systematically propose offshore companies to their clients though it may not serve the client’s interest.”


Stavros Papastavrou, Advisor of former Greek Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras

Stavros Papstavrou served as the International Affairs Secretary of the Nea Demokratia political party (2004-2015) and as the Deputy Chief of Staff for European and International Affairs, for the Office of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (2012-2015). Papastavrous eventually became Samaras’ chief negotiator with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank during Greece’s economic crisis and eventual bailout. The Papers show that he was involved in multiple offshore foundations as a member of their councils, and as deputy chairman. In response, Papastavrou has said that he had “no ownership interest in these entities of any kind”. Furthermore, a law firm for the Aisios foundation has stated that Papstavrou never had a “right to the foundation’s assets and never received any remuneration.”


Former member of Hungarian Assembly, Zsolt Horváth

Zsolt Horváth served as a member of Hungary’s National Asembly from 1998-2014 for the Fidesz party. He is mentioned in the Panama Papers because he acquired offshore firms before and after his time in the Hungary National Assmeblt. His most recent declaration of financial interests to the Hungarian parliament (2014) do not mention his involvement with them.


Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson

            Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson has had some of the biggest fall-out from the publication of the Panama Papers. One of the major issues with the information that came to light in the Panama Papers was that Gunnlaugsson and his wife owned an offshore company, which held millions of dollars worth of bond in several Iceland banks that failed and were at the center of the financial crisis of 2008 in Iceland. The ICIJ states that “It is unclear whether Gunnlauggson’s political positions benefited or hurt the value of the bonds held by Wintris [his company]. Gunnlaugsson failed to declare his ownership of Wintris when he entered parliament, and sold his 50% share to his wife for a dollar.160404170221-iceland-prime-minister-sigmundur-david-gunnlaugsson-large-169

When asked about his ownership and association with an offshore company in a television interview, Gunnlaugsson said, “Myself? No. Well, the Icelandic companies I have worked with had connections with offshore companies, even the … The worker’s unions. So it would have been through such arrangements, but I have always given all of my assets and that of my family up for taxes.” Later, a spokesman for Gunnlaugsson issued a later statement saying, “The Prime Minister and his wife have adhered to Icelandic law, including declaring all assets, securities and income in Icelandic tax returns since 2008.”

On Tuesday, April 5, amid mass protests, Gunnlaugsson resigned from his position as Prime Minister – though at first it looked to be temporary, Iceland is now scheduling emergency elections.

Iceland’s Minister of finance, Bjarni Benediktsson

Bjarni Benediktsson has served as Chariman of the Independence Party (2009-present), a Member of Iceland’s Parliament (2003-present), and as Iceland’s Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs (2013-present). Benediktsson and his partners owned a Seychelles shell company (Falson & Co). He and his partners owned a shell company during Iceland’s banking crisis, and this has caused unrest among those living in Iceland. According to a Reuters report, Benediktsson has said that he has absolutely no plans to resign from his position as Iceland’s minister of finance, though a poll last week showed that 69% of respondents wanted him to resign. When speaking about Falson & Co, Benediktsson said that “I had no intention or need to hide ownership… I declared my ownership of the company to the tax authorities in Iceland.”

Iceland’s Interior Minister, Ólōf Nordal

Ólōf Nordal, another member of the Independence Party mentioned in the Panama Papers, is a member of parliament (2007-present) and serves as the Interior Minister of Iceland (2014-present). In the past, Nordal has worked as an attorney for the Iceland Stock Exchange (1999-2001), and taught law and chaired the business Law Department at Bifrōst University.Shares of the company Dooley Securities SA, were held in the name of a unit of Landsbanki, one of the big banks at the center of Iceland’s financial crisis in 2008. Nordal’s husband, Tómas Már Sigurdsson has said that, “the company [Dooley Securities SA] was created to hold proceeds from his Alcoa stock options, but they were never exercised and no funds were transferred to the company. He said that neither he nor his wife were shareholders in Dooley Securities. “We do not own and have never owned any offshore companies.”


Giuseppe Donaldo Nicosia , the man charged in fraud along with Italian senator (Marcello Dell’Utri)

Guiseppe Donaldo Nicosia, has been on the run from authorities after being accused of being involved with a $50 million tax fraud scheme. One of his partners in the alleged advertising scheme and tax fraud was Marcello Dell’Utri, who is a former senator, and an ally of former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. Nicosia is related to the Panama Papers because he is the sole shareholder of offshore companies which traded ownership of two apartments across from Carnegie Hall for over $3.2 million.


Malta’s minister of energy and health, Konrad Mizzi

Konrad Mizzi is the Maltese Minister for Energy and Health (2014-present) and the Deputy Leader for Party Affairs for the Labour Party of Malta. After being elected, Mizzi announced that he would close an offshore company of his in Panama and clarified that he closed it in the interest of transparency, but had already declared the company. A law firm representing Mizzi said that the current company that he holds, Hearnvill Inc. was owned by a family trust, and was used to “hold a London property”. They said that it was declared on New Zealand tax forms, whose information was shared with the Maltese government. Once again, it was emphasized that Mizzi “declared his interest in the company and the trust in his 2015 Ministerial Declaration of Assets at the first available opportunity.” Furthermore, Mizzi has asked tax authorities to audit him to show that he is not breaking any laws.


Former Warsaw mayor and former member of the EU parliament, Paweł Piskorski

Paweł Piskorski was the mayor of Warsaw from 199-2002, and then served as a member of the European Parliament from 2004-2009. He was pressured to leave his party when, in 2005 it came to light that he had potentially not declared all of his assets as a member of the European Parliament. He has other financial bumps and legal matters in the past, most of which have either not really been pursued, or have been acquitted. He is associated with the Panama Papers because he acquired a Panamanian company in 2012, which then tried to open several bank accounts (apparently unsuccessfully).


Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, Childhood friends of Russian President, Vladimir Putin

These billionaire brothers, while maintaining that they get no special treatment, from their childhood friend, Vladimir Putin, have earned millions of dollars through contracts with state and state-owned companies. They are also associated with offshore companies’ investments. They owned at least seven companies in the British Virgin Islands. The firms participated in everything: from investing in a pipeline construction company, to buying equipment for the construction of Arkady Rotenberg’s son’s Italian villa.putin-finally-admits-to-sending-troops-to-crimea

Close friend of Vladimir Putin, Sergey Roldugin

            Sergey Roldugin is a world-famous classical cellist and the current Artistic Director of the St. Petersburg House of Music. Unfortunately for him, he is also the owner of three offshore companies handled by Mossack Fonesca. These companies received advantageous loans. Bank Rossiya, Russia’s “personal bank for senior officials” assigned International Media Overseas (on of Roldugin’s offshore companies) the rights to a $200 million load for $1.

            Between these the reports on these three close friends of Putin, Putin has responded that he has felt attacked by the media and that there must be some sort of international effort to sully his name.


Pilar de Borbón, the sister of Juan Carlos, the former King of Spain

As well as being the Infanta of Spain and Duchess of Badajoz, Pilar de Borbón has spent most of her life raising money for charity, pursuing her love of horses, served as president of Europa Nostra for two years, and managed her family’s business investments.

The issue that Panama Papers found with her family’s business investments is that they were associated with an offshore company since the 1970s. In August 1974, Pilar de Borbón became president and directory of Delantera Financiera SA, originally registered in 1969. After March 1993, neither she nor her husband (who had served as secretary-treasurer) appeared as the directors. However, in 1993, it was indicated that Pilar de Borbón was the owner of the company, and her son, Bruno Alejandro Gómez-Acebo Borbón was director and treasurer of the company from July 2006 until June 2014, when it was dissolved.

On April 6, 2016, Pilar de Borbón made a public statement, saying that the firm that she and her husband owned had no revenues “outside the control of local tax authorities,” and that it had complied with “any obligation requested by Spanish tax legislation.”

Micaela Domecq Solís-Beaumont, Wife of Spain’s agriculture minister, Miguel Arias Cañete

Micaela Domecq Solís-Beaumont and her husband, Miguel Arias Cañete are no strangers to somewhat shady overlaps between money and power. While serving on the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, he urged expansion of agriculture subsidies to cover bull breeding – which just happens to be the family trade of Solís-Beaumont. During his time as minister, Jandilla bull operations, Solís-Beaumont’s company, received over a $1 million in farm subsidies.

The main problem an analysis of the Panama Papers presents for Solís Beaumont is that, while her husband held political posts, she was empowered to approve transactions of Rinconada Investments Group SA, thus presenting a potential conflict of interest.

A representative for Arias Cañete has responded, saying that he and his wife manage their accounts separately, and that he has always kept his declarations in full compliance with the Code of Conduct for members of the European Parliament and European Commission. A lawyer representing Solís-Beaumont said that she declared all of her income and assets to Spanish tax authorities, that Rinconada is not active, and that Domecq is not “an authorized signatory for the company.”

Barcelona FC footballer, Lionel Messihi-res-231184244e957b67433cbc87e29b3d53_crop_north

While both Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio, are already on trial for tax evasion, they were named in the papers because they own Mega Star Enterprises, which is registered with Mossack Fonesca.


Convicted former Ukraine Prime Minister, Pavlo Lazarenko

Pavlo Lazarenko was the Prime Minister of Ukraine from 1996-1997. He was named as one of the world’s 10 most corrupt politicians by Transparency International. From 2004-2012, he was under house arrest and in prison in the United States due to a conviction in money laundering and conspiracy.

The offshore companies of Lazarenko were the focus of multiple corruption investigations, beginning in 1998, with U.S. authorities still seeking $250 million from some of these accounts. He has been tied to Metalrussia Corp Ltd., Southeast Asia Metal Limited, Bainfield Company Ltd., and Bassington Ltd. He has been convicted of money laundering in both Switzerland and the United States.

President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko

President Petro Poroshenko, estimated in May as being worth $720 million, was elected in 2014, after serving as the Economic Development and Trade Minister in 2012. He made his money through automotive plants, a shipyard, a TV channel, and most notably, Ukraine’s largest candy company, which landed him the nickname, the “chocolate king.” He was a supporter of the 2004 pro-Europe, pro-democracy Orange Revolution, and has slowly tried to extricate any of his affiliations with the corrupt leaders and oligarchs that are found scattered in Ukraine’s political history.017661894_30300

Prime Asset Partners Limited holds many of Poroshenko’s assets, including his European candy manufacturer. In 2015, after pledging to sell his assets while campaigning, Poroshenko transferred his assets to Prime Assets Capital.

While the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office said that his actions were not against the law, people are beginning to strongly question Poroshenko’s commitment to fighting corruption. Another strong blow to his character is that, supposedly an offshore company was registered by Poroshenko on the day of the deadly battle of Ilovaysk in August 2014. There have been calls in parliament for his resignation, especially since he was cheating the system at a time when the Ukrainian government (under Poroshenko) was suffering from an estimated loss of $12 billion in tax revenue due to offshore companies. In a Facebook post responding to criticism, Poroshenko said that he is “the first top office official in Ukraine who treats declaring of assets, paying taxes and conflict of interest issues profoundly and seriously.”

The problems stemming from the reports of Poroshenko in the Panama Papers aren’t just limited to him, his office, or his party, but to Ukraine as a whole. Daragh McDowell, Principal Europe and Central Asia Analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft said, “The revelations of Poroshenko’s offshore accounts will further destabilize the Ukrainian government, which has been in a state of crisis for over a month.” And that “Corruption scandals have been particularly corrosive to the government’s credibility and public support. The release of the Panama Papers significantly increases the risk of early elections. Additionally, this sign of corruption puts into jeopardy Ukraine’s relationships with its Western allies (and the funds that come with that.)

United Kingdom:

Ian Cameron, Father of British Prime Minister, David Cameron

Ian Cameron who died in 2010, is the father of British PM, David Cameron. He made his fortune as a stockbroker and investor, and earned a role of senior partner in the brokerage Panmure Gordon, following in the steps of his father and grandfather.

Sources say that it is understood that Ian Cameron used Mossack Fonesca in order to protect Blairmore Holdings – his investment fund – from UK taxes. According to the ICIJ, this offshore investment firm was “highlighted to investors that it was managed to avoid taxes.” Though there is no evidence that he was director before 1989, a prospectus states that he was “instrumental in the formation of Blairmore Holdings Inc. in the early 1980s.” Promotional literature noted that the fund was “not liable to taxation on its income or capital gains” and that it “will not be subject to United Kingdom corporation tax or income tax on its profits.” In 1998, Blairmore Holdings was valued at nearly $20 million.david-cameron-and-his-fat-006

Part of the legacy of Ian Cameron, including money from this fund, was inherited by David Camron. David Cameron has admitted in an ITV interview that he sold his stake in the Blairmore fund for more than $50,000 in January 2010, just before he became Prime Minister. The hypocrisy of this situation has been noted, since “Cameron promised and has failed to end tax secrecy and crack down on ‘morally unacceptable offshore schemes” by shadow chancellor John McDonell.

Baroness and lifetime member of the U.K. Parliament, Pamela Sharples

Baroness Pamela Sharples was given a life peerage in the House of Lords in 1973, after the murder of her husband while walking the grounds of the Government House. She is a member of the Conservative Party. After the death of her husband, she told the Daily Mail that she had to sell the family home to pay death duties, since it was ruled that her husband “was not killed in the line of duty.”

Baroness Pamela Sharples was named because it is said she has links to Mossack Fonesca through Nunswell Investements Limited, a company used for investments, which she became the sole shareholder of in 1995. Allegedly she asked in 2013 if it “made sense to defer a distribution from her Nunswell account, if she didn’t need the funds, to postpone paying taxes on it,” but her current law firm says she had “no renumeration…nor any income or capital from that company”. According to reports, Baroness Sharples did not deal directly with Mossack Fonesca, but worked through an employee of a British law firm.

Former Member of the UK House of Lords, Michael Ashcroft

This Tory Lord was named because a subsidiary of his company worked with Mossack Fonesca in Belize. A spokesman, Alan Kilkenny said, “These allegations are completely untrue and the events as described never happened the records upon which you claim to rely for those allegations either do not exist or have been falsified.”

Member of British Parliament, Michael Mates

The former Tory MP – a member of the British Parliament from 1974-2010 – is linked since he is chairman of Haylandale Limited, which invested in property development in the Caribbean. His parliamentary disclosures listed him as the chairman of Haylandale Limited until (at least) April 2010, when he stepped down from his parliamentary seat. Haylandale Limited was primarily used for real estate development in Antigua and Barbuda.

Mates contends that he did nothing wrong, and that he wouldn’t receive any funds, “unless and until the development took place” and that the company “never really had any value”.



For more information about the Panama Papers, check out where they are being hosted on the International Consortium of investigative Journalists’ webpage:


And to view the various press coverage about the fall-out from the Panama Papers, please see the following articles:


Information presented by Erin Arnold

Combating Antisemitism: Professor Alvin Rosenfeld Travels to Berlin

March 24, 2016


During this past Spring Break, Alvin Rosenfeld, Director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies, and affiliated faculty of the Institute for European Studies, traveled to Berlin to present four talks on European contemporary antisemitism. One of the highlights of these talks was the International Parliamentary Conference on Combating Antisemitism, March 13-15 at the Bundestag in Berlin, attended by parliamentarians and other government officials from thirty-five countries. Angela Merkel gave the keynote address. Before leaving for Berlin, Rosenfeld told me that he believed the conference would produce a draft of a resolution against antisemitism that Parliamentarians could take back to their home countries. He participated in the Conference’s first panel entitled “Setting the Scene”, where alongside three other scholars he informed Parliamentarians about the present character of antisemitism. During his panel, Rosenfeld focused on “street-level” antisemitism, meaning antisemitism that effects the day to day life of European Jews, and identified two different forms of this antisemitism: Anti-Zionist Antisemitism and antisemitism that arises from radicalized elements of Muslim Communities. Some of the other sessions, entitled “Internet Hate and Possible European Approaches”, “Combatting Antisemitism in Muslim communities”, and “Legal Responses to Antisemitism” served to further educate parliamentarians on contemporary antisemitism and what should be included in the resolution. As for Rosenfeld, before his departure he shared with me his hope that the resolution will contain not only legislation, but educational programs and plans to work with European communal, political, and religious organizations.

Before leaving for Berlin, Rosenfeld told me that it’s very challenging to get the current pulse of antisemitism when living in the U.S., and that he was looking forward to getting a more accurate reading of the current climate in Europe. One of his events in Berlin was a meeting with German scholars at the IU Europe Gateway Office to discuss current developments in antisemitism. The Gateway also hosted a talk by Rosenfeld on “The Perils of Rising Antisemitism in Europe and Elsewhere”, which examined the intersection of antisemitism and antizionism. Opened in November 2015, the brand new IU Europe Gateway office aims to serve as a home base for IU research and educational opportunities in Europe. Rosenfeld sees ample opportunity to utilize this Gateway office beyond this trip to further the study and awareness of contemporary antisemitism. In June or July of this year, Günther Jikeli, another professor in the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, will host a talk about his latest book, Muslim Antisemitism in Europe, also at the Gateway office.

Before his trip, Rosenfeld told me that every scholar/intellectual hopes that their work will matter, and that in the case of his work on contemporary antisemitism, he sees the potential to make a substantial impact. From reports of anti-Semitic violence such as the attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris to headlines about the BDS Movement against Israel (a topic Rosenfeld addressed in another one of his Berlin talks), antisemitism and its relationship with current political trends remains a pressing issue. Rosenfeld’s trip represents the importance of encouraging ongoing dialogue about these issues, and is a reminder that antisemitism is a political as well as a social issue.

Fear of Violence around 100-Year Commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising

March 10, 2016

On March 4, 2016 in east Belfast, a bomb exploded under the van of a 52-year-old prison officer. A group calling itself the new IRA claimed responsibility, and police have four suspects in custody, including three men and one woman, all of which are in their 30s and 40s. According to the new IRA, they targeted the officer because “he was responsible for training prison officers who work in a wing housing dissident republicans at Maghaberry Prison.” The officer was badly wounded, but has been hospitalized and is in stable condition.

04032016belfast-bombThe new IRA was formed in the summer of 2012 as an “an amalgamation of a number of dissident republican organizations.” In November 2012, they murdered prison officer David Black when he was driving from work at Maghaberry Prison. The new IRA has been carrying out attacks ever since. The group’s spokesman said that the 2016 attacks are in protest to the poor treatment of Maghaberry’s imprisoned dissidents.


The Police Service of Northern Ireland has publically stated its deep concern that dissident republicans were committed to serious attacks to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising. Stephan Martin, the Assistant Chief Constable, warned “I believe another attack is highly likely. There are people within dissident republican groupings who want to mark this centenary by killing prison officers, police officers or soldiers… We believe the threat is extremely high, at the upper end of severe.”



From the conclusion of the Williamite War in 1691, the minority group called the Anglican Protestant Ascendancy established the Church of Ireland that was loyal to the British Crown. It ruled in a discriminatory manor against Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants. Although the Irish had their own parliament, the Declaratory Act of 1719 gave the English veto power over Irish legislation deemed unacceptable.

When France supported the Americans in the American Revolutionary War, the English feared a French invasion of Ireland and called for Irish Volunteers to defend it. The Irish aristocracy used this as leverage to get concessions for voting rights for property owners. The Society of United Irishmen was formed in 1791, which included Catholics and Protestants in opposition to the Anglican British.

With the French Revolution and execution of Louis XVI in 1793, the opposition went underground. They later attempted to work in conjunction with France to launch an invasion and remove the English from Ireland in 1796, but the weather prevented the 14,000 French veteran troops from landing, forcing the French fleet to return to France.

In response, the English began a counterinsurgency campaign of repression. One of its key methods was to use religion to divide the United Irishmen, continuing a divide and conquer technique used throughout the empire. This all resulted in the United Irishman Rebellion of 1798, influenced by the French and American Revolutions.

Following the various revolutions and insurgencies, England passed the Acts of Union 1800, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This move eliminated the Irish Parliament and instead merely gave Ireland representation in Westminster, thereby diluting its power.

Opposition over British rule took may forms over the next hundred years, including revolutionary (Rebellion of 1848 and Fenian Rising), social (disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and the Land League), and constitutional (the Repeal Association, and the Home Rule League). When the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) succeeded in having the First Home Rule Bill of 1886 introduced by the Liberal government of William Ewart Gladstone, constitutional nationalism seemed to be about to bear fruit. However, not only was it defeated in the House of Commons, but the Second Home Rule Bill of 1893 was passed by the Commons and then rejected by the House of Lords.

It was at this point that frustration over the failed attempts of legitimate legal change lead to the 1916 Easter Rising. The failure of the Third Home Run Bill in 1912, the formation of conflicting armed forces (including the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and Sinn Fein), and the outbreak of World War I in 1914 created an environment ripe with tension. The last straw was the issue of conscription in Ireland for the war.

In 1915 The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) sought to receive German military assistance. The socialist leaning Irish Citizen Army (ICA) convinced the IRB to work together and have a united uprising on Easter 1916.


Finally, on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, they proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic. 1,600 followers helped stage the rebellion, in which they seized prominent buildings in Dublin and clashed with British troops. After a week, the rebels were suppressed and more than 2,000 people were dead or injured. Soon after the leaders of the rebellion were executed. Although there was little support initially for the Easter Rising from the Irish people, public opinion later shifted and the executed leaders were eventually hailed as martyrs. Finally a peace treaty established the Irish Free State in 1922, which eventually became the modern-day Republic of Ireland.

2728Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s culture minister, has stated that the Irish government will not allow republican hardliners to exploit the 100-year anniversary to justify terror attacks in Northern Ireland. “Unionists and some historians are fearful that the centenary may be used by anti-peace process republicans to claim the 1916 rebellion is ‘unfinished business.’”




The Birth of a Baby: A welcome change from the past 28 years

February 22, 2016

Pablo, his parents, and one of his sisters

The birth of a baby is typically time for celebration for its family. However, the recent birth of a newborn is being celebrating by his entire town. Baby Pablo, born to a family residing in the small Italian town of Ostana, holds a very special place in the town’s heart – he raised their town population to 85, and is the first baby born in the town since 1987. Pablo’s parents, Silvia Rovere and Josè Berdugo Vallelago, moved to the small town from Turin a few years ago, and Josè is originally from Madrid Spain.


Silvia Rovere, registering baby Pablo at Ostana’s local registry office

Before they moved to Ostana, they had been thinking of moving to Reunion, but were given the chance to manage an alpine refuge in Ostana, an attempt by the mayor of the small town to keep young families there. Along with his two sisters, and his parents, Pablo’s family makes up about 10% of the “permanent” residents of this small town, since only about half of the population lives there year round.

This birth is the faintest heartbeat giving hope not just to this tiny town, who saw its permanent population drop to 5 in the mid-80s, but to small mountain towns all over Italy, who, almost across the board, have seen their populations decline.


Ostana, a small mountain village in Italy, which welcomed the first baby born to residents of the town in 28 years.

Town after town is having to close up, after residents move to bigger cities in search of jobs, and life becomes untenable to support an entire community in small villages nestled in the mountainside. This accelerated population decline leads to drastic measures being taken by government officials. Some of these measures include, giving businesses tax exemptions, “banning” residents from falling ill, selling homes for less than $2, and offering €10,000 “baby bonuses” to incentivize families to have more children.


Though this decline in population is more evident – and more extreme – in small villages, Italy, and Europe as a whole, are at a threshold “where people who die are not being replaced by newborns.” While Europe’s birthrate is around 9.9%, its population growth is almost negligible, sitting at 0.2%. This leads to many social and political changes. chart(1)Whereas countries with young populations tend to invest more in schools, countries with older populations find they need to invest more in the health sector. Alejandro, Macarrón, a Spanish business consultant who is observing the numbers behind his own country’s change in demographics, says regarding the political power of the gray vote, “During the same time frame [of the crippling austerity measures put in place during the economic crisis], expenditures on pensions rose by more than 40%. We’re moving closer to being a gerontocratic society – it’s a government of the old.”births_and_deaths2c_eu-282c_1961e280932014_28c2b929_28million29_yb15_ii

There are manifold causes of this decline in European population, and the reasons for decline in specific regions and countries differ. For instance, in Germany (and many Eastern European countries), there is a strong social stigma against working mothers, there’s a term in German: “Rabenmutter” (“raven mother”) which is very negative, referencing the fact that ravens push their chicks out of the nest and relating that to women who don’t mother enough, meaning that they send their children to all-day schooling, instead of the half-day, like “good” mothers. Interestingly enough, in other countries low birth-rates have been attributed to women bucking social norms and choosing to be professional women, not having children at all, or at the very least, having fewer children, and having them later in life. An additional problem that many countries, especially those in Southern Europe have faced is the rise in youth unemployment. This leads young adults to live with their parents well into their thirties, which then discourages having children until later in life, and lessens how many children, on average, each couple has. Additionally, since young people tend to have to take lower-paying jobs, they also feel like they don’t have enough money to support having children.



Children playing in a 24-hour kindergarten in Germany

There have been varied efforts at trying to slow, and eventually reverse, this decline in population. In addition to the previously mentioned methods within Italy involving monetary rewards for having more children, helping businesses thrive, and forbidding illness, countries have taken various measures. Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, and France have all lessened the impact of declines in birth rates by allowing more immigration into their countries; Germany has also recently increased how many immigrants they have per year with the incorporation of Syrian refugees. Additionally, besides “baby bonuses”, many countries, like Germany, are offering free or highly discounted daycare centers and afterschool programming so that mothers can work more without feeling so much pressure to take care of their children.

Ostana News 2

A statue in Ostana, built to commemorate the birth of baby Pablo

This trend cannot be immediately fixed, and requires governmental and economic effort and change, as well as social norms to be amended (being more accepting of working mothers and an necessitates an increase in positive feelings about nuclear families), but with effort, many researchers say that this trend can be turned around, but only if it is addressed quickly.

While European governments – both local and state – might currently be worrying about how to turn around this very concerning trend, moment by moment, across the continent, new sparks of hope for the future are born, including one in the small town of Ostana.

Blog post by Erin Arnold

Doing Business with Rouhani’s Iran – the French Connection

February 9, 2016

By Conner Clark

A thorough “reset” played out two weeks ago between France and Iran as global sanctions on the latter were lifted, restoring Tehran’s access to the world banking system. Even as the two nations remain embroiled in contentious issues, Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Paris focused on the positive. This was the first such trip by any Iranian president to France since 1999, and it carried weight in both style and substance. Leaders at the bi-lateral talks promised a “new chapter” – not because relations are likely to become particularly close, but because until recently, they were in such a sharp chill.

France, in fact, took the hardest line against Iran’s nuclear program of all countries present, including the United States. (Israel was not party to the negotiations.) After the November 2015 Paris attacks, France joined the US in extending airstrikes from Iraq into Syria. Tehran, which supports, to different degrees, the governments still standing in Baghdad and Damascus, was implicitly cast as the “enemy of my enemy”. Yet President Hollande resisted German calls to begin talks with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, insisting instead that he step down. Meanwhile, Rouhani’s visit was met with protests from a mix of human rights activists, French citizens sympathetic to Israel, and Iranian exiles.

This all stood in stark contrast to the state reception granted the 120-strong Iranian delegation, setting a wholly positive diplomatic tone and a return to business-as-usual. Already, the implementation of the “JCPOA” nuclear agreement has unfrozen $100 billion of Iran’s oil wealth, 10% of which was held in Eurozone banks. Hollande in particular set to work alongside his counterpart with the formalities of sealing multiple deals. Iran agreed to purchase 100 civilian aiIran Article Picture 1rcraft from European manufacturer Airbus for around $24 billion, and opened itself to car companies such as Renault and Peugot. For its part, Peugot is now slated to manufacture and sell cars in Iran through a local partnership.
Longer-term, Iran seeks foreign direct investment (FDI) in its infrastructure and energy sector, keys to rebuilding its battered economy. To that end, French oil giant Total signed contracts to buy 150,000-200,000 barrels of crude each day from Iran, a substantial fraction of Iran’s overall plans to increase its daily exports by up to 500,000 barrels. The French National Railway Company (SNCF) quickly formalized a partnership with Iranian railways to provide human expertise and physical capital for numerous goals: improving suburban mass transportation, developing high-speed rail, and rebuilding aging train stations.

High-tech firms in France and throughout Europe still face a double-edged sword in Iranian markets due to sanctions unrelated to JCPOA. US companies are barred from most commercial sectors in Iran, outside agricultural, medical and other fields with “humanitarian” aspects. This may cordon off the competition for France, but any French entities who do business with bad actors, as labeled by remaining laws, become blacklisted from operating on American soil. Such actors include the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which continues to control large swaths of Iran’s economy. Paris is also standing in firm agreement with Washington over new sanctions on Iran, after the country’s recent seaboard ballistic missile tests. No sooner had Rouhani departed than French foreign minister Laurent Fabius appeared to request that the EU consider levying its own additional penalties. Amidst such uncertainty, it seems doubtful that enterprises in France would risk access to their American market shares for the tenuous prospect of higher profits in Iran. Instead, they will have to tread carefully in all their mid-eastern dealings to avoid running afoul of sanctions, whether old and new.

Remembrance and Action: 71 Years After the Liberation of Auschwitz

February 2, 2016

Auschwitz at LiberationA doctor, center, with the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army walks with a group of survivors at the entrance to the newly liberated Auschwitz in January 1945



Auschwtiz 71st Anniversary LiberationAuschwitz survivors walk with others through the main gate of the former Auschwitz Concentration Camp on January 27th, 2016

January 27th, 2016 marked the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army on January 27th, 1945. Eighty former Auschwitz prisoners gathered on the former grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau and were greeted by Andrej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland. The theme of this year’s commemorations was “Returns”, explained by Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz Museum, “Remembering all the victims, in a special way, during the upcoming anniversary, we want to mention people who, despite enormous trauma, attempted to return to normal life.” However, despite triumphant stories of lives rebuilt after the Holocaust, for many the anniversary proceedings were overshadowed by the ways in which the roots of the Holocaust still echo in the present.

In the aftermath of the death of four French Jews at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris, 8,000 French Jews moved to Israel during 2015. In 2013, less than 3,300 French Jews moved to Israel. This influx of immigration to Israel, known as aliyah, is credited to security concerns as well as hopes for freedom of expression, such as wearing the Jewish religious skullcap, known as a kippa, in public. A concern about the rise in anti-Semitic attacks, highlighted by the attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 as well as the Hyper Cacher supermarket, has caused French Jews to also seek a new life closer to home, such as in London. The 71st Anniversary highlights concern over present day anti-Semitism as well as questions of how genocide, even beyond the Holocaust context, continues into the 21st century. In April 2012, President Obama visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C., emphasizing that genocide prevention is central to his administration and calling for the establishment of a new government body called the Atrocity Prevention Board. In his speech, Obama stated that “Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing.” Why then, even with an Atrocity Prevention Board, has Obama and his administration failed to act while Civil War and atrocities rage on in Syria?

On January 27th, in honor of the 71st anniversary, Obama gave remarks at the Israeli Embassy in D.C. honoring the inclusion of four individuals into the Righteous Among the Nations, a honorific title used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination during the Holocast. His speech represented for some a mending of foreign relations between the two countries, in the wake of arguments over the Iran nuclear deal and failed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It represents also a benchmark of the legacy the Obama administration will leave in regards to lessons of tolerance and action against present acts of anti-Semitism:

Even as the Holocaust is unique, a crime without parallel in history, the seeds of hate that gave rise to the Shoah — the ignorance that conspires with arrogance, the indifference that betrays compassion — those seeds have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, and across faiths, and across generations. The ambassador mentioned the story of Cain and Abel. It’s deep within us. Too often, especially in times of change, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty, we are too willing to give into a base desire to find someone else — someone different — to blame for our struggles.

Here, tonight, we must confront the reality that around the world, anti-Semitism is on the rise.  We cannot deny it.  When we see some Jews leaving major European cities — where their families have lived for generations — because they no longer feel safe; when Jewish centers are targeted from Mumbai to Overland Park, Kansas; when swastikas appear on college campuses — when we see all that and more, we must not be silent. 

Certainly government has a responsibility.  As President, I’ve made sure that the United States is leading the global fight against anti-Semitism.  And it’s why, with Israel and countries around the world, we organized the first United Nations General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism.  It’s why we’ve urged other nations to dedicate a special envoy to this threat, as we have. 

And finally, all of us have a responsibility to speak out, and to teach what’s right to our children, and to examine our own hearts.  That’s the lesson of the Righteous we honor today — the lesson of the Holocaust itself:   Where are you?  Who are you?  That’s the question that the Holocaust poses to us.  We have to consider even in moments of peril, even when we might fear for our own lives, the fact that none of us are powerless.  We always have a choice.  And today, for most of us, standing up against intolerance doesn’t require the same risks that those we honor today took.  It doesn’t require imprisonment or that we face down the barrel of a gun.  It does require us to speak out. It does require us to stand firm.  We know that evil can flourish if we stand idly by.

1,725,700 people visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in 2015, far exceeding the record of 1,534,000 set in 2014. As I mentioned in a post last November, the act of remembering seems for many to be the primary reason to visit the former Nazi Concentration Camp. However, Obama’s words from 2012 still ring true, “Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing.” Coupled with his present statement that “government has a responsibility” in regards to anti-Semitism, the question still stands, how can we use remembrance to inspire action?

Underwater Archeologists Find 22 Shipwrecks in Fourni, Greece

January 25, 2016

Earlier this fall in September in the eastern Aegean Sea, researchers found an amazing 22 shipwrecks within a two-week expedition. The wrecks were found in a 17 square mile area around Fourni archipelago, which consists of thirteen islands and islets located between the islands of Samos and Icaria. The joint Greek-American expedition was ranked as one of the top archaeological finds of 2015.


It was the first time that an underwater archaeological expedition was organized to the Fourni archipelago. The team consisted of archaeologists from the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and RPM Nautical Foundation. The team was able to locate the site with the assistance of local sponge divers, fishermen, and free divers. Financial support was provided by the Honor Frost Foundation, a UK charity that supports research in the eastern Mediterranean through an endowment from pioneer maritime archaeologist Honor Frost.

“Surpassing all expectations, over only 13 days we added 12 percent to the total of known ancient shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters,” Peter Campbell, of the University of Southampton and co-director from US based RPM Nautical Foundation, told Discovery News. It is highly likely that more discoveries in the area will be made, as the team has surveyed only 5 percent of Fourni’s coasts.

9a24df410547f0d468366d42581afc18“It’s an extremely rich area,” says Greek director George Koutsouflakis, an archaeologist with the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities. He explained, “In a typical survey we locate four or five shipwrecks per season in the best cases. We expected a successful season, but no one was prepared for this. Shipwrecks were found literally everywhere. What is astonishing is not only the number of the shipwrecks but also the diversity of the cargoes, some of which have been found for first time.”

The reason for the excitement over the find was not just the remarkable number of wrecks in a small area, but also the range of the time periods of the wrecks. The earliest wreck dates to the Archaic Period (700-480 B.C.), while others date from the Classical Period (480-323 B.C.) and the Hellenistic Period (323-31 B.C.). The majority (12 of the 22), however, were during the Late Roman Period (300-600 A.D.). The most recent wreck was from the Late Medieval Period (16th century A.D.).

All 22 wrecks were merSONY DSCchant vessels sailing a common trade route that connected Anatolia, Samos, and the Black Sea region to Rhodes, Cyprus, and even Egypt. While wooden ships generally decompose underwater or get eaten by seaworms, the cargo survive in clay storage jars called
amphorae. Each of the 22 ships was carrying several hundred amphorae. By assessing the size and shape of the jars, archaeologists can infer where and when they were made. DNA analysis and residue will be able to determine what the amphorae contained. “We know from comparable shSONY DSCipwrecks and terrestrial sites that the three major goods would have been olive oil, wine, and fish sauce,” says Jeffrey Royal, a co-director from the RPM Nautical Foundation.

To map the shipwrecks, the underwater archaeologists used photogrammetry to create 3D site plans. Representative artifacts were raised from each wreck site for scientific analysis and rare amphorae will be put on display in Greek museums. However, even if the amphorae themselves are common, the finds still have huge value, says Campbell. “A data set such as this could really change perceptions about ancient trade,” he says. And with more expeditions to Fourni planned for the future, that data set may well continue to grow.  “We know where amphorae were made and when they were made, so they can help paint what some of the major trade routes were over time,” says Mark Lawall, an expert on Greek transport amphorae who was not on the expedition team. He said that “over the years, for instance, amphorae have helped build the case that Greek trade involved “huge ships and highly structured financial systems to support that shipping.”

Among the more unique finds ancient-shipwrecks-fourni-750x347from Fourni were rare teardrop-shaped amphorae from Samos dated to the Archaic Period, four-foot-tall fish sauce amphorae from the Black Sea region that date to the second century A.D., and carrot-shaped amphorae from Sinop, thought to date to the third to seventh centuries A.D.

“It was quite exciting to find actual wrecks carrying these—very exciting and very rare,” Campbell says. “These ships were very much international melting pots. They might have had wood from Lebanon, fasteners from Greece, amphoras from Levant and a crew made up of many different cultural groups.” Ships generally departed filled with amphorae from their point of origin but then acquired others as they made cargo drops from port to port—a fact that could make it hard to determine exactly where the individual Fourni ships came from.

Although the archipelago itself wasn’t a destination for traders, sudden storms in the area were particularly devastating to sailors. “Ikaria and the west coast of Samos have no himage_3422_2-Fourni-Shipwrecksarbors or anchorages, so Fourni is the safest place that ships could stop in the area,” Campbell said. During the Classical Period (480-323 B.C.), many merchant crews consisted of 10-15 sailors. However, by the Late Roman Period (300-600 A.D.), various advances in technology had reduced the number of required crew down to between five to seven. The famous Greek and Roman warships called “triremes” required manpower to row the oars, while the smaller merchant ships used sails and wind-power. According to archeologists, some of the ships around Fourni appear to have encountered sudden storms and strong winds that smashed them against cliffs and rock formations in shallow water.

Peter Campbell explained, “You can look at the spatial patterning of the sites and reconstruct a plausible story about what happened. It looks like some of them were anchored behind cliffs to shelter from a northwest wind, but this made them vulnerable to a southern wind that drove them against the cliffs.” In these storms around Fourni, the ancient sailors’ chances of survival would have been slight. “Of the 22 wrecks we studied, there were probably four where they might have had a chance to swim to a beach or shore. But most of the spots were next to sheer cliffs. There’s no way they would’ve survived in a storm,” said Campbell.

Campbell posted a Youtube clip of the expedition. For more information, read sources used in writing this blog, including the National Geographic article and the Smithsonian Magazine article.

Unfortunately, smugglers haHT_shipwreck_01_jef_151105_4x3_992d already plundered some of the wrecks before the team arrived. Local fishermen and free divers reported seeing strange activity near certain sites. Conservation is key for the Greek government, and all governments seek to protect their national historic sites. With the team’s help in pinpointing exact locations for 22 of the area’s shipwrecks, it has made it easier for Greek authorities to supervise the sites. The archaeologists also hope that the knowledge gained during excavations will give local communities a stronger sense of connection to their history. According to Campbell, “An engaged local population is the best form of protection.”

Indiana University actually offers one of the world’s most famous underwater science program that teaches submerged cultural resource management. The IU Center for Underwater Science is administered by the School of Public Health. Director Dr. Charles Beeker, is a Professional Archaeologist, PADI Master Instructor, and the Director of both the Center for Underwater Science and the IU Academic Diving Program. Dr. Beeker discovered the 1699 shipwreck of Captain Kidd in 2007, and IU students in the Center for Underwater Science gain valuable experience working with the government of the Dominican Republic on conservation of the dive site, especially the Living Museums of the Sea (LMS). LMS is an environmental and park management model that aims to protect submerged cultural resources and associated biology.


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