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Hungary’s Viktor Orban and His Shift to the Right

February 22, 2018

Screenshot-2018-2-22 http com ft imagepublish upp-prod-us s3 amazonaws com 1c429f6c-011e-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5 (JPEG Image[...]Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party have recently proposed legislation that would heavily penalize any NGO that works to assist refugees or migrants in Hungary. The main component of this legislation is a 25% tax on all foreign funding given to NGOs that primarily work with refugees. This tax is partially a result of Orban’s continuous conflict with the wealthy philanthropist George Soros, who has given around $400 million to various organizations in Hungary over the years, including NGOs that work with refugees. Orban has claimed in the past that Soros is trying to flood Hungary and Europe with refugees and Muslims. This has caused some to dub the legislation the “Stop Soros Bill,” as organizations receiving money from Soros would have to pay the hefty tax. Screenshot-2018-2-22 Hungary submits anti-immigration 'Stop Soros' bill to parliamentGovernment billboard that reads “Soros wants to transplant millions from Africa and the Middle East”

The legislation would also allow the interior minister to ban NGOs that work with refugees if they were deemed a national security risk. Existing NGOs would have to seek permission from the interior minister if they want to continue their activities. Orban has long been fiercely opposed to the entry of refugees into Hungary and during the 2015 peak of the refugee crisis he had fences installed on Hungary’s border to prevent anyone from entering. http _com.ft.imagepublish.upp-prod-us.s3.amazonaws.com_2b30f894-00aa-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5Fence erected on the border of Hungary and Serbia in 2015

He has also strongly fought against any quota-system for redistributing refugees that the EU has tried to implement over the past couple of years. Despite strong backlash from the EU, Germany and a wide array of human rights and refugee support NGOs, Orban has continued to experience strong support for his policies and his party from the people of Hungary. In the upcoming elections this April, he is expected to win and serve as Prime Minister for the fourth time. He has also enjoyed having the strong ally of Poland, where the Law and Justice Party with Jaroslaw Kaczynski as their leader is in control. Poland and Hungary have defended each other repeatedly from attacks and criticisms from the EU. Over the years he has moved his party to be representative of conservative, religious and rural populations, rather than the intellectual base upon which it was founded. Orban has generated a strong shift away from liberal democracy in Hungary during his years as prime minister towards a more authoritarian and populist method of governance. Orban does have critics in Hungary with attacks coming from the left who are against his policies on refugees, his attack on the Soros funded Central European University in Budapest and attempts at limiting the media. He has also faced attacks from the far-right opposition party Jobbik who have accused him and other party members of being corrupt and ensuring that their friends are enriched through special contracts and policies. Jobbik launched an ad campaign that featured pictures of Orban and other Fidesz party members with the caption “You work, they steal.” http _com.ft.imagepublish.upp-prod-us.s3.amazonaws.com_24d89bdc-00aa-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5Jobbik’s posters that read “You Work. They Steal”

While Orban may not be facing a downfall anytime soon he certainly does not enjoy unanimous popularity and is facing pressures both within Hungary and throughout Europe. Only time will tell the impact that he has not only on Hungary and its democracy but on the entire EU as it attempts to control and counter this increasingly oppositional and authoritarian leader.




Germany’s Grand Coalition: A Hope for the Future

February 16, 2018

It appears that the German political leadership may have finally come to an agreement to form a government and put an end to the uncertainties in place ever since the September elections. The elections yielded inconclusive results, with Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU winning the most parliamentary seats (thirty-three percent) but falling short of the required majority to put together a government. This situation made it necessary for her to engage in coalition talks with other parties, something that has been the norm in all of her past three mandates. Yet, this time, the possibility of forming a viable coalition was made difficult by the center-left SPD’s (the junior partner in the last coalition) initial refusal to participate in a new Merkel administration.

German parliament

The reason behind this refusal lied in the backlash the SPD has been subject to due to its past cooperation with the CDU. Indeed, many voters came to see such cooperation as a surrender of the party’s social-democratic ideals, which they thought would be better defended by leading the opposition to Merkel than by taking part in her government. Thus, the past alliance between the two major centrist parties has pushed many of those discontent with the government’s policies towards smaller parties at the fringe of the political spectrum. In particular, the main beneficiary of this drain of voters has been the far-right, populist-oriented AfD, whose anti-establishment rhetoric has resonated among many people dissatisfied with the current political direction of the country (and, specifically, with Germany’s Europeanism and with Merkel’s decision to admit over a million refugees from the Middle East). The SPD has arguably been the organization most heavily punished by voter defection, having seen its parliamentary share reduced to a scant twenty percent. Consequently, its leader, Martin Schulz, decided to change tactics and announced that he would not engage in coalition talks with Merkel or participate in her cabinet, in order to raise the party’s profile as the main alternative to the CDU.

Things, however, did not quite go as planned. While Merkel’s initial strategy was to try to form a “Jamaica coalition” (whose name derives from the parties’ colors) with greens and economic liberals (FDP), the prospects of such a coalition failed early on when the liberals withdrew from the talks. Thus faced with the unwelcome alternative of new elections, in which AfD might yet increase its unprecedented (for a post-war far-right party) parliamentary share (of 12.6%) at the further expense of the SPD, Schulz finally agreed to negotiate with Merkel. The negotiations have been long and arduous, but last week finally saw the party leaders reach an agreement, and one very favorable to the SPD for that matter: the social-democrats will control six of the most important ministries, including foreign affairs and economy. Despite this seeming victory, however, Schulz came under almost-immediate attack from within his party’s ranks, part of which (especially the younger cadre) criticized his betrayal of the earlier promise to remain in the opposition and his assumption of the role of Foreign Minister (long-coveted by this outspoken defender of European integration) in spite of his earlier assertion that he would not form part of Merkel’s cabinet. The pressure on Schulz has been such that he decided to step down from party leadership. That, however, was not enough, and conscious of the fact that the hard-won deal still needs to be approved by the party base before it becomes official, Schultz finally renounced even the position of Foreign Minister so as to prevent personal animosity towards him from being a factor in the upcoming intra-party vote. This is thus the atmosphere within which the viability of the agreed-to “grand coalition” will be decided.

Coalition announcement

Source: The Chronicle Herald

Beyond internal party dissent, however (also present within the CDU given Merkel’s willingness to relinquish the most important government ministries), numerous critical voices have been raised from the outside against the grand coalition. Rather than celebrating the success of the negotiations and the formation of a centrist government in the heart of Europe, critics point to what they see as a crumbling, decrepit political system living on borrowed time. Thus, for example, a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Amanda Taub chastises grand-coalition politics as ultimately counterproductive. The author argues that, even if the agreement between CDU and SDP may keep the government in the hands of centrist parties and exclude AfD, such kind of agreements only serve in the long term to fuel populist rhetoric by reinforcing the idea that establishment politics are one and the same, and that therefore the only alternative lies in anti-establishment organizations. She claims that, in making deals with each other, the CDU and SPD leaders are failing to pay heed to the will of German voters, whose discontent with politics-as-usual and whose clamor for change was made manifest in the substantial endorsement of the Nazi-reminiscent platform proposed by AfD concerning the necessity to defend the “homeland” and German culture against immigrant intrusions.

These claims, however, wrongly assume that the will of the German voters is in fact represented by the less than thirteen-percent share obtained by AfD during the last elections, and ignore that a majority of German citizens still support the main centrist parties and presumably would not wish to see the nation’s politics defined by the demands of an extremist fringe. Indeed, while it is true that the CDU and the SPD were punished at the polls, they nevertheless garnered enough support to be in position to form what would still be a “grand coalition” by what are still the two largest parties in the country. In addition, even if an alliance between these two forces may generate the impression of an entrenched and ideologically-indistinguishable establishment, that situation is arguably better than the alternative. After all, although the author of the above-mentioned article does not actually clarify what better possibilities exist that justify ditching a grand coalition, she appears to be arguing in favor of a process of political adaptation whereby the mainstream parties incorporate the demands of the discontented sectors of the population. What this ignores, however, is that the principal effect of this kind of concession-making would not necessarily be to appease angered voters, but to normalize claims that until now were considered unimaginable in post-war German politics. Such normalization would only make those claims (many of which carry quasi-racist connotations) seem acceptable, and would therefore increase the boldness of those convinced that Germany should drop its post-Nazism rejection of populist, xenophobic nationalism.

Something of this sort has in fact already begun to take place in Germany, where it was recently announced that the Ministry of Interior under the new coalition government will be renamed the Ministry of Interior, Construction, and Homeland, in what is a clear nod towards the aspirations of disgruntled far-right voters who see animosity towards the word Heimat as a product of the same political correctness that (in their view) displays too much shame regarding Germany’s past. The problem, however, is that these sort of incremental concessions, beyond their normalizing effect, also produce the impression that those making the demands must be right after all, and that it is precisely because of this that the major parties are ultimately forced to cede ground. And if ground is ceded only at a slow pace, it must be because old politicians and cosmopolitan elites are too wary of losing their privileges in the face of the legitimate demands of “the people.” Therefore, or so the logic goes, the country would do better in getting rid of these remnants of elitism, and vote for those radical, anti-establishment organizations that will accomplish change once and for all.

In light of this reality, we would do well to refrain from cheap, empty criticism of “old politics” that only reinforces the position of extremist parties without really proposing better alternatives. There are simply too many things at stake, not the least among which stands the European integration project. The future of Europe depends on the continued presence of centrist parties at the policy-making room, and that presence at this moment in time depends, in turn, on a grand coalition between Germany’s largest and most center-leaning parties. The alternative is to let an extremist minority dictate policy for everyone else by incorporating their radical demands into mainstream politics in an effort to “appease” them. Efforts at appeasing Nazis by bringing them into the government were attempted in the past, and they proved ultimately disastrous. So, rather than gratuitous attacks at the agreed-to grand coalition, attacks that could in fact contribute to the rejection of the deal by SPD voters and to the long-term victory of far-right populism, it may be more appropriate to emphasize what is at stake in the process. Which is not to say that the old parties should remain aloof of the demands of voters. But perhaps part of the solution passes through intra-party rejuvenation (as seems will occur with CDU and SPD) or, where that does no take place, through the rise of new, centrist organizations whose platform of change relies not so much on uprooting the system and returning to nationalist isolationism as on combating specific corrupt practices and producing a leadership more in touch with the current electorate (as is the case in France with Macron’s En Marche or in Spain with Rivera’s Ciudadanos). In the end, coalitions like the one between CDU and SPD may not necessarily denote the emptying of politics of any ideological content, as its critics claim, but a realignment of the traditional ideological differentiation between right and left into one between radicalism and moderation, between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, between populism and centrism. This new dichotomy may be what shall ultimately define the future of the project of peace and integration built in Europe after the fall of totalitarianism. Yet within that new ideological struggle, the center, and Europe with it, may still hold. It must hold.



Poland’s New Law

February 9, 2018

On February 6th the President of Poland, Andrezej Duda, signed a bill outlawing blame of the Polish state and people for Nazi war crimes during World War II. Previously this bill passed in the senate, controlled by the right wing PiS party (Law and Order Party) 57 to 23. The penalties outlined in the bill range from a fine to three years in prison, however, there are exceptions written into the legislation for artistic and scientific activities. A draft of this legislation has been in the works for more than a year.

The specific law criminalizes any mentions of Poles being responsible or complicit in Nazi crime committed by the Third Reich. The harshest punishment of three years in prison is reserved for those who refer to Nazi concentration camps as “Polish Death camps.” This term has upset both nationalists and liberals, even Poles who do not support the law find the term to be deeply offensive and historically wrong. For many Poles, this is a distortion of the darkest chapter in Polish history. Former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk has said, “When someone says ‘Polish death camps,’ it’s as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there was no Hitler… That is why our Polish sensitivity in these situations is so much more than just simply a feeling of national pride.”

Back in 2012, President Obama made this mistake when he referred to a Nazi death camp as a “Polish death camp,” while posthumously presenting a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a Polish WWII resistance fighter. This remark made Obama the target of criticism from Poland’s former Prime Minister Donald Tusk saying Obama was guilty of “ignorance, lack of knowledge and bad intentions.” The White House has since apologized for the remark. Last Tuesday, the United States’ Department of State called the phrase “painful and misleading,” but added, “we believe that open debate, scholarship and education are the best means of countering misleading speech.”

obama 2012

This bill has garnered many critics and outrage, several stating that this is an attempt to rewrite history. Israel has been especially vocal regarding their opposition to the bill, but they are not alone; the U.S., Ukraine, France, several historians and other European Groups have voiced their disapproval. Israelis say this is an attempt to whitewash the role some Poles had in the detention and killing of Jews during WWII. Israel’s Foreign Ministry states the bill could harm freedom of research and prevent discussion of the historical message and legacy of WWII. In response to the new legislation, Israel has introduced a bill that would make Poland guilty of Holocaust denial. Tensions furthered this week when Poland canceled Israeli minister Naftali Bennett’s visit over his statements surrounding the bill. Bennett had said, “Poles had a proven role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.” President Duda responded to this comment that he was “absolutely outraged” and said Poland has a right to “defend ourselves from evident slander… which is a slap in the face.” After his visit was cancelled, Bennett stated, “The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground, and no law will silence it… the Government of Poland canceled my visit, because I mentioned the crimes of its people. I am honored.”

The United States has said the legislation is an attack on free speech and academic inquiry and is disappointed by Poland’s actions. An OSCE (Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe) media representative, Harlem Desir, has urged Poland to drop the law saying “History is a matter of independent academic research and of free discussion, not of judiciary decision… Only when statements constitute incitement to violence or discrimination could they be criminalized.” French Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Poland should not be rewriting history saying, “We find this law unwelcome, we must not rewrite history, it’s never very good,” and he hoped Poland would get rid of their “nationalist choices.” Recently, the European Union has condemned and threatened sanctions against the governing far right PiS party in Poland for tightening its control of the courts and state media, saying this is undermining democracy. The EU, however, has stayed silent on this issue so far. The European Jewish Association (EJA) in Brussels has written to the heads of EU institutions asking them to reprimand Warsaw. The EJA chief has stated, “It seems inconceivable that an EU member state can be permitted to whitewash history by imposing draconian legislation that can imprison people for holding an alternative view.”

The bill also has a section that makes it a crime to deny atrocities committed by Ukrainian nationalists against Poles during WWII. History states that Ukrainian nationalists killed up to 100,000 Poles from 1943-1944. This has caused the Ukrainian parliament to say the bill is biased and a controversial reading of history contending it will strengthen anti-Ukrainian sentiment in an already tense atmosphere created by the rise of nationalism in both countries.

There are also Poles who oppose the bill, Donald Tusk, for example, former Prime Minister said that the Polish government was guilty of the very thing the law was intended to fight. On Twitter, Tusk wrote that those “Who spreads false accusations about the ‘Polish camps’ damage Poland’s good name and interests… The authors of this bill have promoted this slander all over the world, and have been successful in it as no one before them.” Other Polish lawmakers who opposed the bill warned it could be against their strategic interests especially with the U.S. and E.U. stating the bill is reckless and unnecessary.

Historians have also weighed in on the bill. Jan T. Gross, a Polish-born historian at Princeton, said that the law was an attempt “to falsify the history of the Holocaust. Gross also stated, “I’ve read hundreds of survivors’ testimonies, yet I do not recall a single one where the writer has not described an episode of betrayal, blackmail or denunciation on the part of their fellow Polish citizens.” Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian stated, “It is understandable that Poles want people to know their story, but the worst thing about a law like this is that it convinces you that you understand yourself, your confidence in yourself grows as your knowledge of yourself goes down.” Snyder also compared the new Polish law to a Russian one adopted a few years ago. The Russian law made it a crime to speak of Russia as an aggressor in 1939, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland. The Russian law also made it illegal to talk about any war crime not covered at the Nuremberg trials.

There are still many in Poland who support the bill and encouraged the President to sign it despite repercussions with the U.S., EU and Israel. There have also been rallies in Warsaw to support it. This may be able to be explained by the fact that there is a widespread feeling among many Poles, even those who oppose the PiS party, that the nation’s wartime experience, as victim and resister, has not been properly told and is not adequately understood. Invaded first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets, Poland and its people, (Jews and non-Jews) suffered immensely. One Polish deputy justice prime minister stated, “We won’t allow for Poland to continue being insulted.” President Duda has defended the bill stating the government wants to be sure survivors of war crimes felt free to tell their stories without fear and Poland has the right to “defend historical truth.” Polish Prime minister Morawiecki tweeted a telling metaphor on Sunday intending to put activities of compliant Poles in context: “A gang of professional thugs enters a two-family house. They kill the first family almost entirely. They kill the parents of the second, torturing the kids. They loot and raze the house. Could one, in good conscience, say that the second family is guilty for the murder of the first?” Other Polish government officials say the bill is needed to discourage expressions such as “Polish death camps.” President Duda has said he realized it may not be possible to actually punish anyone under the new law, especially if they are abroad, but it is a signal the Polish state sees a problem that hurts Poland and is trying to remedy it.

poland protests

Overall, this bill has garnered mostly negative international reactions, despite this it was still signed into law. We will have to wait and see if the critics were right and how seriously the bill will affect strategic relationships with its Western partners.


An Unwanted “Gift”: Controversy over Jeff Koons’ “Bouquet of Flowers” in Paris

February 1, 2018


Bouquet of Flowers, by Jeff Koons

Controversy in Paris has arisen over the past week due to the proposed site of an artwork designed as an homage to the victims of the November 2015 terrorist attacks that took place there. Leading members of the art community denounced the placement of an artwork by Jeff Koons in a letter that was published in the French newspaper Liberation. The work, entitled Bouquet of Flowers, was designed by Koons after the then U.S. ambassador to France and Monaco, Jane Hartley, asked Koons to create an artwork that would be a gesture of solidarity to France after the 2015 terrorist attacks. Those attacks claimed the lives of 130 people while injuring an additional 350. Among the many issues the signatories have with this proposed artwork is the location in which it is going to be placed. The plan is for the artwork, which is 38 ft. tall and weighs nearly 80,000 pounds, to be placed in Tokyo Square in front of the renowned Palais de Tokyo, a premier art museum. The issue is that the Palais de Tokyo is nowhere near the Bataclan or the other cafes in the 10th and 11th arrondissements or the Stade de France, which is located in St. Denis, all of which were attacked. The Bataclan was the site of the worst carnage, where 89 people were killed. The museum is on the other side of the city, located in a popular area for tourists. Some of the signatories see the choice of this location as opportunistic and driven by a desire for maximum name recognition and fame. 


Jérôme and Emmanuelle de Noirmont, the art dealers that are in charge of this work and installation have responded to this point of criticism by saying that the Palais de Tokyo was chosen over other suggested sites because of its location within a zone of French-American history. The area has two streets named respectively after Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy, a statue of George Washington, a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the Flame of Liberty, a gift from Americans to France in 1989.

The other issue with this location is that the square has to be renovated in order to accommodate the massive weight of the sculpture. Other signatories called attention to the fact that the size of the sculpture would not fit well with the museum it will be placed in front of and it will effectively block the views of the Seine and Eiffel Tower. The Noirmonts did note that the work had been scaled down and would be placed on a plinth made of stone to match that of the surrounding buildings.


3-D visualization of the work in its proposed location

Another cited issue with the project is that despite Koons considering this a gift to the city of Paris he only donated the idea for the sculpture. The sculpture, which is nearing completion in a factory in Germany, was funded by various private donors from the U.S. and France. But the required renovation to Tokyo Square will be funded by the city, which means the taxpayers of Paris will be paying, at least partially, for their own “gift”. Koons has said that he will donate the proceeds made from postcards of the work to the families of the victims of the attacks, which the Noirmonts described as “A nice way for the artist to underline the generous essence of this gesture.”

The signatories of this letter present a strong case for why this work should not be placed where it is, and have also brought up other questions and issues, like did the victims’ families even want an “homage” or memorial and why did the city not open a call for proposals and bids from artists for a memorial or “homage” which is often done for public works like this? They argue that there should have been an opportunity for French artists and even international artists to compete for the opportunity to develop a memorial work. The Noirmonts did make it clear that the work was not intended as a memorial but rather a symbol of hope. They quote Koons in their defense; “Created as a symbol of remembrance, optimism and healing, Bouquet of Tulips symbolizes the act of offering, represented by the outstretched hand holding the brightly colored flowers.” This defense does seem rather weak, given that most memorials of tragedies have the intentions of remembrance, healing and hope.

Permits required for the placement of the work have not been approved, so there is still a chance for the signatories to be successful in their call for the artwork to be moved elsewhere. It is up to the city of Paris to decide what course it should take. Developing memorials or works that make reference to national tragedies like that of the Paris terrorist attacks is a difficult process requiring the utmost care and attention to every aspect of the work such as location, design, the artist, materials, funding and the feelings of those the work is intended to stand for. The words of one of the signatories, Matali Crasset, may help to understand this controversy; “What would be your reaction if a French artist paying tribute to the victims of the September 11 attacks offered the idea of an artwork whose cost must be financed by tax deductions and which would be placed in front of the Whitney Museum or the New Museum?”



Catalonia: A Post-Election Update

January 26, 2018

Ever since the latest entry in our continued coverage of the Catalonia question, a number of developments have occurred that merit a brief update. The most important of these is, no doubt, the holding of regional elections on December 21, convened after the Spanish government decided (in application of Article 155 of the Constitution) to take control of the Catalan administration and dismiss part of its leadership. By calling for snap elections before Christmas, the government sought to portray its intervention in Catalonia as an interim measure meant to restore order rather than to deprive the region of self-rule. But, as was to be expected, such intervention became one of the main points of contention during the electoral campaign. In particular, pro-independence sympathizers demanded an end to the application of Article 155, the release of the handful of politicians who had been placed under arrest pending their trial for rebellion (after the October 26 declaration of independence) and the safe return of those others (including deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont) who had fled to Belgium into a self-imposed “exile.” Opponents of secessionism, on the other hand, advocated for maintaining the rule of law and allowing judicial procedures to follow their course without external interference.

El Pais resultados 21D

Dec. 21 electoral results. Source: El Pais

As the secession question remained at the center of the campaign, most parties gathered themselves into two opposite poles: the “independentists,” on the one hand, and the “constitutionalists,” on the other. In the end, if the election showed anything, it was that Catalan voters remain as divided as they were prior to the contest, with the independentist pole winning 71 parliamentary seats (thus attaining a slight majority in the 135-seat legislature) but only 47% of the popular vote (thus falling short in their claim of a majoritarian backing for independence). This result basically amounted to a return to the status quo ante, the only significant change being that the individual party with the most seats is now constitutionalist Ciudadanos. Nevertheless, given the legislative majority of the secessionist alliance (comprised of three parties), there will be no real opportunity for the constitutionalists to form a government.

Therefore, the question now revolves around what candidate the secessionists will appoint to lead the new regional administration. After some tension between the two main independentist parties, Junts per Catalunya and ERC, it now seems that the consensus candidate is once again Puigdemont, still in his Belgian exile. The problem is that, as one of the central figures in the October declaration of independence, Puigdemont has an arrest warrant pending on him, and would be immediately arrested in the event of setting foot in Spain. In fact, the Spanish judiciary had originally issued a European Arrest Warrant against the deposed President, but later withdrew it under the concern that, in the event of an extradition, the Belgian judiciary would dictate the terms of his trial. The government actually requested a reissuance of the European warrant when Puigdemont traveled to Copenhagen a short time ago to participate in a conference, since Denmark’s laws are more favorable for extradition. The Supreme Court judge in charge of his case, however, refused the request, so that only in the event of being physically present in Spain will Puigdemont be arrested.

Puig Torrent Delmi Alvarez

Carles Puigdemont and Roger Torrent in Brussels. Source: Delmi Alvarez

Nevertheless, it appears that such physical presence would be necessary for Puigdemont to be inaugurated, especially after the Catalan Parliament’s own legal counsel issued an opinion specifying that a telematic inauguration would violate parliamentary rules. In the midst of this conundrum, the new speaker of the regional Parliament, Roger Torrent, recently traveled to Brussels to meet with Puigdemont and discuss the strategy for the future. The Spanish Executive, on the other hand, has threatened to challenge Puigdemont’s nomination for regional president before the Constitutional Court, arguing that the secessionists’ push to set up a “president in exile” would violate the law. The Supreme Court has already contrasted the exiled leaders’ voluntary absence with that of the politicians who were re-elected for Parliament while in custody. Indeed, given that the latter are pending trial and have not yet been convicted, their custodial situation calls for a facilitation of the exercise of their political rights via the possibility of delegating their legislative vote. Puigdemont, on the other hand, is suffering no deprivation of liberty, and therefore no departure from the regular norms of parliamentary procedure would be warranted in his case.

The question of how the Constitutional Court will rule, however, is as of yet an open one. And, regardless of that ruling, the political situation remains uncertain, with no clear path ahead other than an undesirable repetition of the events that led to the current situation to begin with. Indeed, the Spanish Executive has already announced that, were Puigdemnont to be inaugurated abroad in violation of the law, the government would renew the application of Article 155 and retain control over the Catalan administration. In light of this announcement, it is not clear how the secessionist Parliament will respond, but simply forcing a political standoff by ignoring the government’s warnings has already proved a problematic step in the past, and may prove equally problematic (for the interests of both sides) at present. The deadline for appointing a new regional government after the elections is January 31. By then, hopefully, a mutually agreeable solution may be found.


European Cybersecurity Response to Russian Interference

January 19, 2018


Recently, Russian cyber-attacks have been put in a spotlight starting with the disruption of the 2016 United States Presidential Election through the hacking and releasing of documents from the Democratic National Committee. In Europe, the attacks include the “Macron leaks’ right before the French elections and infiltrating the network of the German Parliament. Russian officials, of course, have denied all of this. There are, however, concerns that the EU elections in May 2019 will be the next target for Russian propaganda, leaks, fake news, disinformation campaigns, and cyberattacks.

Propaganda and disinformation from Russia is nothing new, however, now it is presented in a platform aimed to be easily seen by millions of people on the internet rather than print. Social media firms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, have become leading conduits for Russia to spread fake news, through fake accounts, fake groups, and trolls designed to sway public opinion and spread propaganda. The goal of these types of attacks, stated by Russian experts, is said to weaken Western unity, restore Russia’s influence in the world, and gain support at home.


Across Europe, officials, legislators, researchers, and journalists have spent years developing counters to Russian disinformation, hacking, and trolling. Across Europe there are different approaches being used:

In France, authorities released direct guidance on how to handle these types of disinformation. During the French election, for example, when the “Macron leaks” were published, less than 48 hours before voting, most media outlets followed the government’s recommendation to respect the end of the official campaign period and not report on the alleged leaks to not disturb the voting process.

Britain and France have both pressured Facebook to disable thousands of automated fake accounts used to sway voters close to election time, and it has doubled (to 6,000) the number of monitors empowered to remove defamatory and hate-filled posts. Both countries along with Germany have news organizations that have increased fact checking, with projects such as Le Monde’s Decodex in France, in Germany, and BBC’s RealityCheck. They have developed tools readers can use to identify what they call “fake news” outlets and help speed up fact checking. Also, in Germany, all political parties have agreed not to employ automated bots in their social media campaigns because such hard-to-detect cybertools are often used by Russia to circulate fake news accounts.

Sweden has launched a nationwide school program to teach students how to identify Russian propaganda. Their Defense Ministry has also created new units to seek out and counter Russian attempts to undermine Swedish society. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, which usually prepares for chemical spills, bomb threats, and natural disasters, is also monitoring websites for exaggerated news stories about refugees, crime, and other important issues.


Lithuania has 100 citizen cyber-sleuths, dubbed “elves,” who link up digitally to identify and beat back the people employed on social media to spread Russian disinformation. They call the daily battles “Elves vs. Trolls.”

These countries’ individual approaches bring up the question of whether cybersecurity should be a national or transnational issue? Since hackers do not care about borders, cybersecurity policy is difficult to place at national or EU level. Previously, in 2015, The European Union established a task force whose role is to refute Russia’s narrative. An effort to identify rumors when they emerge in order to reduce their attractiveness by making them public and nonexclusive, disrupting the attacker’s agenda. The European Union’s East Stratcom Task Force, in Brussels, has hundreds of volunteer academics, researchers, and journalists who have researched and published 2,000 examples of false or twisted ­stories in 18 languages in a weekly digest that began two years ago. Just last year the European Commission proposed to double the budget of the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (Enisa), and rebrand it as the EU Cybersecurity Agency. The head of the agency, however, has stated they need more funding in order to fulfill expectations. He has also stated that along with more money the agency should have more tasks such as organizing annual cyber drills and helping to defend elections from foreign interference. These tasks fulfilled could help stop another interference in the upcoming EU elections.



Art In Europe: 2017 in Review and Looking Ahead to 2018

January 10, 2018

1Louvre Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

With 2017 having come to a close and 2018 ahead of us, it is the perfect time to review some of the major events that took place in the world of art in Europe as well look forward to new openings and shows this year. One of the biggest headlines of 2017 for the art world was the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a new $1 billion museum built on Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, in early November. The museum was ten years in the making when it started with the governments of France and the U.A.E. signing an agreement in 2007 to work together to complete this massive undertaking. While this museum is not in Europe and it is not an outpost or secondary Louvre, it has certainly relied heavily on France to get its start. The museum only has 235 works in its permanent collection, acquired under the guidance of French curators. In order to bolster the works present in the museum, it has also been allowed to use the Louvre name for 30 years and display 300 loaned works from various French institutions, including the Louvre, for the next ten years. The opening of the museum was graced by the French President Emmanuel Macron as well as the President of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez among many other officials and dignitaries. The museum will certainly also benefit from gaining Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which was another of the top art headlines for 2017. This painting set a record of the most expensive work of art ever sold with a price of $450.3 million in November. After a great deal of confusion and mystery over the buyer of the painting it was revealed that it was purchased by the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Culture through a Saudi prince by the name of Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan al-Saud.

2Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci

The Castello di Rivoli museum in Turin, Italy benefitted from a major donation in 2017. Francisco Cerruti donated his entire $570 million collection to this museum, which includes 300 artworks ranging from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, by artists like Picasso, Warhol, Kandinsky and Renoir.

The National Portrait Gallery in London put on an important show of portraits and self-portraits done by Paul Cezanne.

The always controversial British artist Damien Hirst put on a large show entitled “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” in the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana in Venice. The show was met with a wide range of responses from those that felt he had returned to the excellence of his youth to others who felt the show was a complete disaster.

3Hydra & Kali, Damien Hirst

Looking ahead to the rest of 2018 there are some exciting new museums coming to the U.K. The most notable are two Victoria and Albert outposts being opened. The first is the Victoria and Albert Museum of Design, a $100 million building along the Tay River in Dundee, Scotland. The second is the Photography Centre at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This building is located on the V&A campus and will house the world’s single largest photography collection with 500,000 photographs from the V&A as well as 270,000 photographs from the Royal Photographic Society.

4Victoria and Albert Museum of Design, Dundee, U.K.

Another museum coming to London this year is the London Museum of Photography, an 89,000 sq. ft. building that will house exhibitions year round. This privately funded, for-profit museum was founded by the brothers Jan and Per Broman who opened a similar museum in Stockholm in 2010. The Royal Academy of Arts in London has also been revamped for its 250th anniversary this year. In Paris, a much anticipated opening is the Lafayette Anticipations which will be the headquarters for the Fondation d’Entreprise Galeries Lafayette along with space for exhibitions and production.

Some of the major shows coming to Europe this year are a Picasso exhibit at Tate Modern in London that contains around 100 works, a retrospective of American artist James Rosenquist at ARos Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark, a retrospective of Italian artist and designer Ettore Sottsass at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and a retrospective of Columbian artist Beatriz Gonzalez at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Spain.

5The Dream, Pablo Picasso