French jihadist, alleged ISIS torturer, ‘looking for a destiny of his own’

Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who was released in April after being held hostage in Syria by ISIS, has identified Mehdi Nemmouche, who is also French, as one of his captors. Henin says that over a period of several months he was repeatedly tortured and beaten by Nemmouche.

In July, Nemmouche was charged with murder following the killing of four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels, on May 24.

The case of Nemmouche raises concerns in at least two ways: firstly, because he is viewed as a fear come true by those who warn of the risk posed to the West by European passport holders returning from the war in Syria who, having been trained by ISIS, may bring their jihad home. Secondly, his violence is being linked to the rise of antisemitism across Europe, particularly in France.

Henin’s perspective on Nemmouche is interesting because unlike terrorism experts who maintain much more distance from their subjects, the French journalist got to know this individual in a much more intimate way: as his torturer.

It would be easy to conclude that the nature of this relationship would make it impossible for Henin to be objective. Maybe so. But I think it’s just as likely that a victim of torture would feel driven to try and understand the mind of his persecutor — especially when they were in the unusual situation of sharing the same first language.

For this reason, I find Henin’s brief psychological profile of Nemmouche particularly interesting.

Henin observed that Nemmouche “came to Syria not because he wanted to fight for a specific cause but because he was looking for a destiny of his own.”

The term “radicalization” appears in the media a lot these days and it conjures up images of empty vessels — young men susceptible to being radicalized.

While that might accurately describe the hapless path that leads some into jihad, there are others — and who’s to say which are more numerous — for whom jihad simply becomes the vehicle for a destiny they were already pursuing.

My hunch is that it is the latter kind of jihadist for whom ISIS has the greatest appeal — that they are pursuing destinies of their own for which they have been provided an ideological vehicle which legitimizes and articulates their visceral drives.

France has about 70,000 prisoners, 60-70% of whom are Muslim. However prevalent the radicalization of Muslim prisoners has become, only a small minority become jihadists. Given that only 5-10% of the French population is Muslim, France’s larger concern should be that so many Muslims are being thrown in jail.

The French journalist Marc Weitzmann recounts how one prisoner describes the system.

Karim Mokhtari, who was sentenced to 10 years in the mid-1990s after he tried to rob a drug trafficker and accidentally killed him with a shotgun, reveals in his book Redemption how easy it is to be approached by Islamists there. “In prison,” he told me, “there are two things you catch as soon as you get there. One is how lonely you are, and the other is how lonely you don’t want to be. So you look in the courtyard and you ask yourself, to which group do I belong? There are the junkies, there are the dealers, there are the rapists, and so forth. And there are the religious. Cleaner than the rest, they also seem to suffer less, they take care of each other. I watched them for a week, then the improvised Imam came to me to ask if I were a Muslim and I said no, not yet, and he introduced me to someone freshly converted — a European — who taught me the first rudiments of Arabic, the first prayers and rituals. And it went on from there.”

After the conversion rate started to turn the group into a force of some sort, the administration decided out of precaution to dismantle the religious group: The imam was transferred. He came to Mokhtari’s cell, as Mokhtari told me: “ ‘Listen’ he said, ‘I’m being transferred and I must leave. But you, your mission as a Muslim is to kill. Kill miscreants anywhere you find them. You need to keep in touch for that even when you’re out so do it. And if you need military training, we have places for that too.’ ”

“That’s when I realized what I was going into,” Mokhtari said. He was the son of a violent mixed marriage, and his French mother got divorced and remarried to a racist Frenchman who lived on welfare and off robbery. … Mokhtari started to get regularly beaten by the man, who also woke him up at 4.a.m. on Saturday nights to take him along with him on his robberies of villas and apartments while Karim kept watch. But despite an incomparably more violent background than Nemmouche endured, Karim Mokhtari never turned to terrorism.

In the following film, Mokhtari describes his own redemption.

Destiny is a dangerous and intoxicating idea. It empowers the individual by allowing him to shed doubt.

Where there is no internal struggle, conviction easily translates into action. Those pursuing their destiny, swiftly move forward, while those unsure of their destiny, are more inclined to waver, aware of their capacity to make mistakes. Destiny is dangerous both subjectively and objectively.

If we believe some individuals are destined to become to become terrorists, we’re also likely to view them as irredeemable.

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With Gaza war, movement to boycott Israel gains momentum in Europe

The New York Times reports: A branch of Sainsbury’s grocery store removed kosher products from its shelves, it said, to prevent anti-Israel demonstrations. The Tricycle Theater in north London, after hosting a Jewish film festival for eight years, demanded to vet the content of any film made with arts funding from the Israeli government. George Galloway, a member of Parliament known for his vehement criticism of Israel, declared Bradford, England, an “Israel-free zone.”

Mr. Galloway, in comments being investigated by the police, said, “We don’t want any Israeli goods; we don’t want any Israeli services; we don’t want any Israeli academics coming to the university or college; we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford.”

The war in Gaza and its aftermath have inflamed opinion in Europe and, experts and analysts say, are likely to increase support for the movement to boycott, disinvest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS.

“We entered this war in Gaza with the perception that the Israeli government is not interested in reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private university. “Now, after the casualties and the destruction, I’m very worried about the impact this could have on Israel. It could make it very easy for the BDS campaign to isolate Israel and call for more boycotts.”

Gilead Sher and Einav Yogev, in a paper for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warn that Gaza means Israel pays “a much heavier price in public opinion and in erosion of support for its positions in negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Along with reports of “familiar anti-Semitic attacks on Jews,” they said, “the movement to boycott Israel is expanding politically and among the public.”

Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations points to the debate over halting arms exports to Israel, which has been given new momentum in Britain and Spain by the asymmetry of the Gaza war.

“You’re beginning to see the translation of public sympathy into something politically meaningful,” he said. He noted two tracks — the governmental one, which distinguishes between Israel and the occupied territories, and the social one of academic, commercial and artistic boycotts. [Continue reading...]

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The rise of antisemitism and Jewish extremism in Europe

Christopher Dickey: “Can you criticize Israel’s military actions and a lot of its policies without being antisemitic? Yes. Can you do it without having some people accuse you of antisemitism? No, you can’t.”

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On the road with Syrian refugees walking to Europe

Newsweek reports: In a grim government compound 40 km from Vienna, five young Syrian men are huddled together examining the screen of a battered mobile phone. Beside them is a rickety plastic chair with a glass of sweet, amber-coloured tea perched on top, a vestige of Arab domesticity. This day is like any other: the young men pore over family photographs and talk incessantly of home as they wait for the residence permits that will allow them to start their lives here in Austria.

“Internet and talk,” says one of them, gesturing around the bare dormitory. “There is nothing else.” This compound could be anywhere; as it happens, it borders a quiet village with manicured gardens, picket fences and residents who keep to themselves – a far cry from the war-ravaged Syrian towns these men have abandoned. For the past few weeks, the village of Muthmannsdorf has been a place of surreal limbo, where they wait for the life of freedom they believe Europe holds. It has been hard won.

Murat is an ethnic Turkmen from Damascus, a 28-year-old with striking green eyes and prematurely white-flecked hair. The photo everyone is admiring is of his daughter, three-year-old Aya. Murat fled from Syria with his parents, wife and daughter in August 2012, when Bashar al-Assad’s army started dropping barrel bombs around their home in the southern suburbs of Damascus. Murat knew that even if they survived, he would be forced to join the army and might never see his family again. They drove to Tripoli in Lebanon, where they boarded a boat to the port of Mersin on the southeastern coast of Turkey, and then travelled on to Istanbul. There, with no official refugee status, no passport and no right to work, Murat left his pregnant wife and child in the care of his elder brother and set out for the more promising cities of Europe. Crossing to Greece one night in a rubber dinghy, he began a seven month odyssey during which he entrusted himself to a mafia of people smugglers, risked clandestine border crossings and Balkan police patrols and now, finally, confronts the stony face of Austrian bureaucracy. After weeks on the road, it’s time to wait.

Around 2.8 million Syrians have fled their homeland since conflict broke out in their country three years ago, and, while most are living in camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, those who can afford the journey are headed to Europe. I am in Austria to meet Murat and his friends, who made their way here overland from Greece, having traced their route, with the luxury of an EU passport, from the Turkish-Syrian border to Istanbul, then Athens and finally Vienna. At every stop I have encountered young Syrian men armed with their families’ savings and a few contacts in their mobile phones, relatively undaunted by the dangers of capsizing boats, impenetrable asylum procedures and the lack of any common language with the officials and smugglers who control their fate. Many of these men left Syria to avoid joining either the Islamic State rebels or Assad’s army, escaping without the passports that they could only claim by alerting the authorities to their presence – and subsequent absence. Many of them have left families behind. “The journey is too difficult for women and children,” says Khaled, a small, hoarse man in his late thirties. “We barely made it ourselves.” [Continue reading...]

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Antisemitism on rise across Europe ‘in worst times since the Nazis’

The Guardian reports: In the space of just one week last month, according to Crif, the umbrella group for France’s Jewish organisations, eight synagogues were attacked. One, in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, was firebombed by a 400-strong mob. A kosher supermarket and pharmacy were smashed and looted; the crowd’s chants and banners included “Death to Jews” and “Slit Jews’ throats”. That same weekend, in the Barbes neighbourhood of the capital, stone-throwing protesters burned Israeli flags: “Israhell”, read one banner.

In Germany last month, molotov cocktails were lobbed into the Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal – previously destroyed on Kristallnacht – and a Berlin imam, Abu Bilal Ismail, called on Allah to “destroy the Zionist Jews … Count them and kill them, to the very last one.” Bottles were thrown through the window of an antisemitism campaigner in Frankfurt; an elderly Jewish man was beaten up at a pro-Israel rally in Hamburg; an Orthodox Jewish teenager punched in the face in Berlin. In several cities, chants at pro-Palestinian protests compared Israel’s actions to the Holocaust; other notable slogans included: “Jew, coward pig, come out and fight alone,” and “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”

Across Europe, the conflict in Gaza is breathing new life into some very old, and very ugly, demons. This is not unusual; police and Jewish civil rights organisations have long observed a noticeable spike in antisemitic incidents each time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares. During the three weeks of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009, France recorded 66 antisemitic incidents, including attacks on Jewish-owned restaurants and synagogues and a sharp increase in anti-Jewish graffiti.But according to academics and Jewish leaders, this time it is different. More than simply a reaction to the conflict, they say, the threats, hate speech and violent attacks feel like the expression of a much deeper and more widespread antisemitism, fuelled by a wide range of factors, that has been growing now for more than a decade. [Continue reading...]

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Life in the Valley of Death

Scott Anderson writes: Amor Masovic has the gaze and mournful air of a man who never gets enough sleep. For nearly two decades, his job has been to find the mass graves containing thousands who disappeared during the Bosnian war. He is very good at what he does, and he has a mind for numbers. When I first met him in the summer of 2012, Masovic calculated that he and his colleagues at the Bosnian government’s Missing Persons Institute had found more than 700 mass graves, containing the remains of nearly 25,000 people.

“I think we’ve found all the larger ones now,” Masovic told me as we sat in a smoke-filled cafe in Sarajevo. He had just returned from another foray into the field; his boots were still caked in mud. “But that still leaves a lot of smaller ones.” Exactly how many more depends on the definition of “mass grave.” If you go by the current definition (a grave that contains three or more people), then Masovic’s guess is that there are 80 to 100 still to be discovered. Of those, he suspects that 15 to 20 contain more than 50 bodies.

He has any number of methods for locating the graves. He goes by the testimonies of survivors or by cajoling people in Bosnia’s small villages and towns into pointing him toward places they know about. Other times it’s simply a matter of reading subtle changes in the landscape. “I’ve been doing this for so long,” he said, “that I can be walking or driving somewhere, and I see a spot and think, Hmm, that would be a good place for a grave. I’ve found some that way.” In fact, “grave” is often a misnomer. Masovic has found human remains in mineshafts and caves and dry lakebeds. “They’re everywhere,” he said. “Everywhere you can think of.”

Of all the atrocities committed throughout Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, the one that compels Masovic the most is Srebrenica. In some respects, this is hardly surprising: Srebrenica has come to symbolize the Bosnian war’s unspeakable brutality and the international community’s colossal failure when confronting it. Located in a tiny valley in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was the site of one of the war’s most desperate contests, a marooned enclave in which a couple of thousand government soldiers, along with as many as 40,000 mostly Muslim refugees, held out for three years against a siege by Serb separatist fighters.

For more than half that time, Srebrenica was under international military protection, one of six United Nations-designated “safe areas” established throughout the country in 1993. That status proved meaningless when the Serbs launched an all-out assault in July 1995. Instead of resisting, the U.N. Protection Force in Srebrenica stood down, and over the next few days, the Serbs hunted and killed more than 8,000 men and boys, most of whom were trying to escape the enclave by foot. It was the worst slaughter, and the first officially recognized act of genocide, to occur on European soil since World War II.

For Masovic, the massacre in Srebrenica presents a special professional challenge. Only about a thousand of those fleeing were killed outright. The other 7,000 were captured and taken to various killing fields for execution, their bodies dumped into mass graves. Shortly afterward, however, Serb commanders ordered the original graves dug up and the remains moved to a series of smaller mass graves along the Drina River basin — the so-called Valley of Death — that they hoped would never be found. “This has made Srebrenica our greatest challenge,” Masovic said.

But there is something else, too. The slaughter occurred in the waning days of the war, when the signs were that the international community was about to force a political settlement in Bosnia. Consequently the killings were particularly senseless, one last orgy of bloodletting before the fighting stopped.

“You could say that maybe I am even haunted by that,” Masovic said, staring at the cafe table and absently kneading his fingers. “The evidence gives the chance for moral satisfaction,” he said. “To try to give it some kind of meaning, to at least help the families, this is why it’s so important to me to find those men.”

Masovic began to muse on the potential whereabouts of the 1,100 or so men still unaccounted for. “Probably it means there are some graves we haven’t found,” he muttered, “or maybe a lot of them were thrown in the Drina.” Periodically he hikes portions of the trail that the doomed men tried to take out of the valley. In the early years, he almost always came upon remains, but that has now become rare. “At this point, I don’t think there’s many more still in the forest,” he said. “Maybe 50, 100.”

Masovic is one of the point men in an extraordinary international effort to identify the victims and the perpetrators of the Bosnian war. In 2012, after years of meticulous labor, the Norwegian-funded Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo released “The Bosnian Book of the Dead,” a four-volume compendium that sought to list every known fatality of the conflict (a tally that came in at slightly more than 100,000 rather than the 200,000 figure often cited by the media). That report also underscored the highly sectarian nature of the conflict; of the 43,000 civilians killed, 82 percent were Muslims, and 10 percent were Serbs.

This accounting has been especially comprehensive with Srebrenica. Since 1999, Masovic and his colleagues have transferred any remains discovered there to a mortuary in Tuzla that was built by the International Commission on Missing Persons (I.C.M.P.). Working off a DNA database of more than 22,000 living relatives of the missing, the I.C.M.P. has positively identified nearly 7,000 of those killed — and Masovic’s organization has come up with a remarkably specific number for the dead: 8,372. At the same time, international war-crime prosecutors have intently focused on the massacre, indicting 21 people on charges that include everything from “inhumane acts” to genocide. All of these efforts taken together make Srebrenica one of the most thoroughly documented war crimes in history.

Amid Masovic’s grim recitation, though, there was something I found puzzling. Mass murder on the scale that occurred in Srebrenica must have required hundreds of actors — to stand guard over the captives, to transport them to the killing fields, to bury and then rebury them. At least some of these participants must have confided to a wife, a brother, a priest. Given this enormous pool of potential informants, how could there be many secrets left, many more graves to be found? I asked Masovic what percentage of his discoveries had been a result of conscience-stricken Serbs’ coming forward.

“Percentage?” He smiled thinly. Other than a posthumous letter, he has received only one other tip, a note signed simply, “A Serb from Foca,” that led him to a mass grave. “Maybe you can say this man was stricken by half-conscience,” Masovic said, “because he still didn’t have the courage to sign his name. But other than that Serb? Not one. In 17 years, not one.”

That detail goes to the heart of the struggle facing Bosnia nearly two decades after the war: How do you knit back together a society when those primarily responsible for tearing it apart don’t believe they did anything wrong? [Continue reading...]

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The rise of Europe’s anti-EU nationalists

Following elections in France and the rest of the EU, Roger Cohen writes: Make no mistake, [National Front leader Marine Le Pen] could become president. The National Front has surged before, notably in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the incumbent’s father, reached the runoff stage of the presidential election. But in the dozen years since then the European and French crises have deepened. France has near zero growth and growing unemployment. With an estimated 25 percent of the European Parliament vote, the National Front crushed both the governing Socialists (14 percent) and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (20.8 percent).

“An earthquake,” was the verdict of the Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls. He is not wrong. A two-party system is now a three-party system. Marine Le Pen, subtler and cleverer and more ambitious than her father, is electable. She is plausible.

Elsewhere on the Continent the anger behind the National Front’s surge was also evident (no election is better suited for letting off steam than the European because the real power of the European Parliament is limited). In Britain, Austria and Denmark, more than 15 percent of the vote went to similar anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, anti-establishment, anti-boredom political movements. But it is in France, which constitutes with Germany the core of the European Union, that a European, economic and psychological crisis has assumed its most acute form.

According to the French daily Le Monde, the National Front took 43 percent of workers’ votes and 37 percent of the vote of the unemployed. Popular sentiment in France has turned against a Europe associated with austerity, stagnation, unemployment and high immigration. Le Pen’s promise of a more nationalist and anti-immigrant France, rejecting European integration and America, has appeal to the disenchanted. A promised Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, with Putin and his “family values” as Europe’s salvation, masks a void of economic ideas. [Continue reading...]

Martin Kettle writes: Britain likes to think that it marches to a different political drum from the rest of Europe. Yet the 2014 European parliament election has generated a great political paradox. In these elections, British voters flocked in record numbers to the anti-Europe flagship party Ukip. And yet, as they voted against Europe, British voters have never seemed more part of the European mainstream than they do this morning. Across Europe, in one way or another, voters in most countries did very much the same thing.

The European Union has never confronted a crisis of legitimacy like the one that erupted in the polling booths of Europe this weekend. From Aberdeen to Athens and from Lisbon to Leipzig, and irrespective of whether the nation is in or out of the eurozone, the 2014 European elections were an uncoordinated but common revolt against national governments and a revolt against the post-crash priorities of the European project.

This election wasn’t a revolt of Britain against the EU. It was a revolt of European voters against the EU and against national governing parties. And British voters were simply one part of it. [Continue reading...]

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Ukraine favors Europe over Russia, new CNN poll finds

CNN reports: Ukrainians are a lot less pro-Russian than separatists there would like the world to believe, even in regions along the border with Russia which are supposedly voting overwhelmingly to declare independence from Ukraine, a new poll for CNN suggests.

The people of Ukraine feel much more loyal to Europe than to Russia, and a clear majority back economic sanctions against Russia, according to the poll of 1,000 people across the country conducted in the past week.

Two out of three (67%) people in Ukraine approve of economic sanctions against Russia, while one out of three (29%) disapproves, the poll by ComRes for CNN found.

Ukrainians tend to see Russian President Vladimir Putin as dangerous and a strong leader, while they consider U.S. President Barack Obama friendly.

More than half (56%) said they felt a stronger sense of loyalty to Europe than to Russia, while 19% said they felt more loyal to Russia and 22% said neither. Three percent said they didn’t know. [Continue reading...]

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Ukraine and the fear of war in Europe

Der Spiegel reports: Following the apparent failure of the Geneva agreements, the inconceivable suddenly seems possible: the invasion of eastern Ukraine by the Russian army. Fears are growing in the West of the breakout of a new war in Europe.

These days, Heinz Otto Fausten, a 94-year-old retired high school principal from Sinzig, Germany, can’t bear to watch the news about Ukraine. Whenever he sees images of tanks on TV, he grabs the remote and switches channels. “I don’t want to be subjected to these images,” he says. “I can’t bear it.”

When he was deployed as a soldier in the Ukraine, in 1943, Fausten was struck by grenade shrapnel in the hollow of his knee, just outside Kiev, and lost his right leg. The German presence in Ukraine at the time was, of course, part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. But, even so, Fausten didn’t think he would ever again witness scenes from Ukraine hinting at the potential outbreak of war.

For anyone watching the news, these recent images, and the links between them, are hard to ignore. In eastern Ukraine, government troops could be seen battling separatists; burning barricades gave the impression of an impending civil war. On Wednesday, Russian long-range bombers entered into Dutch airspace — it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened, but now it felt like a warning to the West. Don’t be so sure of yourselves, the message seemed to be, conjuring up the possibility of a larger war. [Continue reading...]

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The crisis in Crimea could lead the World into a second Cold War

a13-iconDmitri Trenin writes: In Moscow, there is a growing fatigue with the west, with the EU and the United States. Their role in Ukraine is believed to be particularly obnoxious: imposing on Ukraine a choice between the EU and Russia that it could not afford; supporting the opposition against an elected government; turning a blind eye to right-wing radical descendants of wartime Nazi collaborators; siding with the opposition to pressure the government into submission; finally, condoning an unconstitutional regime change. The Kremlin is yet again convinced of the truth of the famous maxim of Alexander III, that Russia has only two friends in the world, its army and its navy. Both now defend its interests in Crimea.

The Crimea crisis will not pass soon. Kiev is unlikely to agree to Crimea’s secession, even if backed by clear popular will: this would be discounted because of the “foreign occupation” of the peninsula. The crisis is also expanding to include other players, notably the United States. So far, there has been no military confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian forces, but if they clash, this will not be a repeat of the five-day war in the South Caucasus, as in 2008. The conflict will be longer and bloodier, with security in Europe put at its highest risk in a quarter century.

Even if there is no war, the Crimea crisis is likely to alter fundamentally relations between Russia and the west and lead to changes in the global power balance, with Russia now in open competition with the United States and the European Union in the new eastern Europe. If this happens, a second round of the cold war may ensue as a punishment for leaving many issues unsolved – such as Ukraine’s internal cohesion, the special position of Crimea, or the situation of Russian ethnics in the newly independent states; but, above all, leaving unresolved Russia’s integration within the Euro-Atlantic community. Russia will no doubt pay a high price for its apparent decision to “defend its own” and “put things right”, but others will have to pay their share, too.

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Baltic states at risk if West doesn’t act says Estonian lawmaker

n13-iconThe Wall Street Journal reports: An Estonian member of European Parliament said on Sunday the three Baltic states may be vulnerable if the international community doesn’t put adequate pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to remove troops from the Crimean peninsula.

“This is a critical point in European history,” Tunne Kelam said during an interview on the sidelines of a peaceful protest against Russia here. “If [the West] submits to this situation and accepts the occupation of Crimea or East Ukraine, anything could happen. This is a definite danger also for the Baltic states.”

The three Baltic nations—Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia—were part of the former Soviet Union and have moved toward the European Community since gaining independence. All three are members of the European Union and Estonia and Latvia are participating in the bloc’s common currency.

Mr. Kelam said that in recent years Russia has been practicing tactical military maneuvers and the “intent of these has been to practice invading neighboring countries to protect fellow Russians.” [Continue reading...]

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Ukraine crisis: Why it matters to the world economy

a13-iconCNN reports: While the world watches the escalating crisis in Ukraine, investors and world leaders are considering how the instability could roil the global economy.

The political turmoil is rooted in the country’s strategic economic position. It is an important conduit between Russia and major European markets, as well as a significant exporter of grain.

But in the post-Soviet era, it’s a weakened economy. Now, the government is in need of an economic rescue — and torn between whether Russia or the Western economies (including the European Union) is the savior it needs.

Here are five reasons the world’s largest economies are watching what happens in Ukraine. [Continue reading...]

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Far right in Eastern Europe makes gains as Syrians arrive

The New York Times reports: After spreading turmoil and desperate refugees across the Middle East, Syria’s brutal civil war has now leaked misery into Europe’s eastern fringe — and put a spring in the step of Angel Bozhinov, a nationalist activist in this Bulgarian border town next to Turkey.

The local leader of Ataka, a pugnacious, far-right party, Mr. Bozhinov lost his seat in the town council at the last municipal elections in 2011 but now sees his fortunes rising thanks to public alarm over an influx of Syrian refugees across the nearby frontier.

Membership of the local branch of Ataka, he said, had surged in recent weeks as “people come up to me in the street and tell me that our party was right.” Ataka, which means attack, champions “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and has denounced Syrian refugees as terrorists whom Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest nation, must expel. An Ataka member of Parliament has reviled them as “terrible, despicable primates.”

With populist, anti-immigrant parties gathering momentum across much of Europe, Ataka stands out as a particularly shrill and, its critics say, sinister political force — an example of how easily opportunistic groups can stoke public fears while improving their own fortunes.

The influx of Syrian refugees has sown divisions across the European Union as the refugees add burdens on governments still struggling to emerge from years of recession. But Bulgaria is perhaps the most fragile of all the European Union’s 28 members. Modest as the numbers of refugees are here, the entry of nearly 6,500 Syrians this year has overwhelmed the deeply unpopular coalition government and added a volatile element to the nation’s already unstable politics.

The arrival of the refugees and public fury over the stabbing of a young Bulgarian woman by an Algerian asylum seeker “has opened the floodgates” for far-right nationalists, said Daniel Smilov of the Center for Liberal Strategies, a policy research group in Sofia, the capital. “They see this as their big chance.” [Continue reading...]

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Radicalisation in Syria poses growing threat to Europe, says Turkish president

The Guardian reports: The Syrian nation is dying as an indifferent world looks on, and the territory it occupies risks becoming “Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean”, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, has said.

Radicalisation of ordinary people by Islamist jihadist groups was spreading across Syria and posed a growing risk to its neighbours and the countries of Europe, Gul said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.

But the response of the international community – including Turkey’s American and British allies – to the security, humanitarian and moral challenges posed by the crisis had been “very disappointing”, he said. He reiterated his view that the UN security council’s performance was a “disgrace”.

In a forthright and sometimes angry critique of western policy on Syria, Gul said the deaths of more than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, in fighting over the past 32 months could have been avoided. Turkish mediation efforts early on in the war were not supported and were even undermined by western powers, he complained. [Continue reading...]

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The NSA has harmed transatlantic relations more than any al Qaeda operative could

Josef Joffe writes: “Every good spy story,” my friendly (former) CIA operative told me, “has a beginning, a middle and an end. And so, the snooping on the German chancellor and her European colleagues will surely stop.” He didn’t say: “It won’t resume.” Because it always does in a new guise, perhaps more elegantly and subtly.

For states need to know what other states are up to – friends or foes. Even so-called friends are commercial and diplomatic rivals. Some of our friends deal with our enemies, selling them dual-use technology good for insecticides, but also for nerve gas. Or metallurgical machinery that can churns out tools as well as plutonium spheres.

Let’s take an earlier story. Recall Echelon, the spy scandal that roiled Atlantic waters in the 90s. It was set up by the Five Eyes – the Anglo powers of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to monitor signal traffic in the Warsaw Pact. After the cold war – spies always look for gainful employment – it was turned inward, on the Europeans, to scan satellite-transmitted communications, allegedly for industrial espionage, too.

Was it stopped? Yes, the US handed over its listening station in the town of Bad Aibling to the Germans, but the game never ends. [Continue reading...]

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First detailed genetic history of Europe reveals multiple waves of migration

A new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, provides the first detailed genetic history of Europe.

National Geographic reports: Rather than a single or a few migration events, Europe was occupied several times, in waves, by different groups, from different directions and at different times.

The first modern humans to reach Europe arrived from Africa 35,000 to 40,000 years ago. By about 30,000 years ago, they were widespread throughout the area while their close cousins, the Neanderthals, disappeared. Hardly any of these early hunter-gatherers carried the H haplogroup in their DNA.

About 7,500 years ago during the early Neolithic period, another wave of humans expanded into Europe, this time from the Middle East. They carried in their genes a variant of the H haplogroup, and in their minds knowledge of how to grow and raise crops.

Archeologists call these first Central European farmers the linear pottery culture (LBK) — so named because their pottery often had linear decorations.

The genetic evidence shows that the appearance of the LBK farmers and their unique H haplogroups coincided with a dramatic reduction of the U haplogroup—the dominant haplogroup among the hunter-gatherers living in Europe at that time.

The findings settle a longstanding debate among archaeologists, said Wells, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

Archaeology alone can’t determine whether cultural movements — such as a new style of pottery or, in this case, farming—were accompanied by the movements of people, Wells said in an email.

“In this study we show that changes in the European archaeological record are accompanied by genetic changes, suggesting that cultural shifts were accompanied by the migration of people and their DNA.”

The LBK group and its descendants were very successful and spread quickly across Europe. “They became the first pan-European culture, if you like,” Cooper said.

Given their success, it would be natural to assume that members of the LBK culture were significant genetic ancestors of many modern Europeans.

But the team’s genetic analysis revealed a surprise: About 6,500 years ago in the mid-Neolithic, the LBK culture was itself displaced. Their haplogroup H types suddenly became very rare, and they were subsequently replaced by populations bearing a different set of haplogroup H variations. [Continue reading...]

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Europe’s south rises up against those who act as sadistic colonial masters

Costas Douzinas writes: The “new world order” announced at the end of the 1980s was the shortest in history. Protest, riots and uprisings erupted all over the world after the 2008 crisis, leading to the Arab spring, the Indignados and Occupy. A former director of operations at MI6, quoted by Paul Mason, called it “a revolutionary wave, like 1848“. Mason agreed: “There are strong parallels – above all with 1848, and with the wave of discontent that preceded 1914.”

Many on the left have been more circumspect. The philosopher Alain Badiou welcomed the Arab spring but did not think it would lead to a “rebirth of history”. For Slavoj Žižek, 2011 was the “year of dreaming dangerously”. A melancholy of the left descended as the protest wave started receding. But on this occasion the pessimism was premature. Resistance against austerity and injustice is again in the air. In Bulgaria and Slovenia, protesters unseated the government. In Italy, the overwhelming anti-austerity vote has shaken the parties committed to the Berlin orthodoxy. Large marches and rallies in Portugal and Spain have undermined governments and policies and a new push for anti-austerity unity is emerging in Britain. In Greece, the parties that brought the country to its knees and are now administering policies causing the well-documented humanitarian catastrophe and rise of fascism are on the brink of exit.

Finally, the Cypriot government agreed the unprecedented haircut of bank savings but was forced to renege after MPs of all parties under pressure from the public voted against it and ruling party MPs had to abstain. This was the first formal rebuff of austerity, something that the obedient governments of southern Europe had not dared. When the government finally accepted the European blackmail, it presented it as unavoidable and, under instruction from Germany’s foreign minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, refrained from putting it to parliament or the people. The words “democracy” and “referendum” create panic in the corridors of Brussels. But the symbolic value of a small nation rejecting the initial troika blackmail and protecting the savings of ordinary people is immense. The European debate has concentrated on the protection of savings. The protection of our democracy is perhaps more important. [Continue reading...]

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The root of Europe’s riots

Ha-Joon Chang writes: Throughout the 1980s and 90s, when many developing countries were in crisis and borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund, waves of protests in those countries became known as the “IMF riots”. They were so called because they were sparked by the fund’s structural adjustment programmes, which imposed austerity, privatisation and deregulation.

The IMF complained that calling these riots thus was unfair, as it had not caused the crises and was only prescribing a medicine, but this was largely self-serving. Many of the crises had actually been caused by the asset bubbles built up following IMF-recommended financial deregulation. Moreover, those rioters were not just expressing general discontent but reacting against the austerity measures that directly threatened their livelihoods, such as cuts in subsidies to basic commodities such as food and water, and cuts in already meagre welfare payments.

The IMF programme, in other words, met such resistance because its designers had forgotten that behind the numbers they were crunching were real people. These criticisms, as well as the ineffectiveness of its economic programme, became so damaging that the IMF has made a lot of changes in the past decade or so. It has become more cautious in pushing for financial deregulation and austerity programmes, renamed its structural adjustment programmes as poverty reduction programmes, and has even (marginally) increased the voting shares of the developing countries in its decision-making.

Given these recent changes in the IMF, it is ironic to see the European governments inflicting an old-IMF-style programme on their own populations. It is one thing to tell the citizens of some faraway country to go to hell but it is another to do the same to your own citizens, who are supposedly your ultimate sovereigns. Indeed, the European governments are out-IMF-ing the IMF in its austerity drive so much that now the fund itself frequently issues the warning that Europe is going too far, too fast. [Continue reading...]

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