Veteran journalist Jim Lobe this week called out Trump's "deputy assistant" Sebastian Gorka—who just refused to admit it may have been poor judgment not to mention the Jews in the White House statement on Holocaust Day—for appearing in multiple photographs wearing the medal of the Hungarian Order of Heroes, listed by the State Department as having collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Breitbart now runs a video in which Gorka unapologetically says he wears the medal in honor of his father, who was awarded the decoration in 1979 for his resistance activities under the communists. He says his father escaped imprisonment in Hungary with the 1956 uprising and fled to the West, so he was presumably awarded the medal in exile, although it isn't clear where the Order was based at that time. Gorka hails his father's "pro-democratic, anti-communist" agitation, but the Order appears far more anti-communist than pro-democratic.
Poland's increasingly authoritarian government capitulated after days of angry protests and agreed to scrap a proposed law that would have imposed harsh restrictions on the media. The announcement came after thousands marched on the presidential palace Dec. 18, chanting "freedom, equality, democracy." President Andrzej Duda admitted the legislation was too controversial, and tellingly made his announcement after consulting with Jarosław Kaczyński, chairman of his right-populist Law & Justice Party (PiS). Protests even penetrated the parliament chamber Dec. 19, when opposition MPs blockaded the entrance, forcing PiS MPs into another room to vote on next year's budget. The law, which would have placed restrictions on media access in parliament, is part of a growing centralization of power by the PiS government since it came to power in October 2015. The EU this week issued a formal protest of moves to restrict the independence of the judiciary. But this is not the first victory over the PiS regime. In October, the party withdrew plans for a total abortion ban after huge numbers of women dressed in black protested across the country. (The Guardian, Dec. 21; The Guardian, Dec. 19; BBC News, Dec. 18; The News, Poland, Dec. 16)
Low voter turnout has invalidated the referendum of Oct. 2 in which Hungarian citizens voted overwhelmingly to oppose any EU mandatory placement of refugees. The proposed plan sought to share 160,000 asylum seekers throughout the 28-member bloc through imposition of mandatory quotas. The Hungarian government had opposed the imposition of the plan, along with other countries. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán nonetheless expressed his support for the referendum's results as "excellent" and praised the turnout of voters.
Swiss voters on Sept. 25 approved a new surveillance law allowing their national intelligence services broad powers to spy on "terrorist" suspects and cyber criminals, as well as to cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. While the right to privacy is traditionally considered very important in Switzerland, the new law will allow security agents to tap phones and computer networks. This marks a drastic change from previous surveillance capabilities, under which intelligence agencies relied solely on information from public sources and other authorities. Some left-wing groups have protested, saying the new legislation violates citizens' rights and will undermine Switzerland's neutrality. Amnesty International said the law would lead to "disproportionate" levels of surveillance and was harmful to "freedom of expression." Despite opposition, the new law garnered 65% of the vote.
The relentless terror attacks and massacres are now a near-daily occurrence—even if we limit ourselves here to industrialized countries supposedly at "peace." But they are ot as random as many commentators assume. Just over the past week... On July 26, two men armed with knives took over a church in the French town of St.-Étienne-Du-Rouvray during mass, taking hostages and killing the elderly priest. The attackers were killed by the police. ISIS released a statement saying its "soldiers" carried out the attack. (NYT) That same day, a former employee of a care center for the disabled in the Tokyo suburb of Sagamihara stabbed 19 to death as they slept in their beds, injuring 26 more. Upon turning himself in to the police, he boasted: "I did it. It is better that disabled people disappear,." (The Guardian)
The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)
Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) on Oct. 19 filed a criminal complaint against a high-ranking CIA official for mistreatment of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was detained and allegedly tortured for four months in 2003. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. El-Masri was then transported to Afghanistan where he was detained and questioned for four months under the direction of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. At the time, Bikowsky was deputy chief of the Central Intelligence Agency's Bin Laden Issue Station. ECCHR asserts in the complaint that the US Senate Torture Report ties Bikowsky to el-Masri's detention, and ECCHR requests that the German federal prosecutor investigate.