Remembering the invasion
The Czech Republic and Slovakia this week commemorated the 50th anniversary of the crushing of the Prague Spring, when the Soviet Union sent half a million troops to remove the reformist government of what was then Czechoslovakia. Hundreds of demonstrators protested at the Russian embassy in Prague, holding signs reading “We will never forget” and “Stop Russian imperialism!” The 1968 Prague Spring was an experiment in political and cultural freedom initiated by Alexander Dubcek, Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party leader, who said he wanted to implement “socialism with a human face.” A few months later, Warsaw Pact troops invaded, occupying Czechoslovakia and killing more than 70 people. Czech Republic President Milos Zeman, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not attend any commemorative event.
Up to 150,000 people took to the streets of Romania’s capital and other cities last week to protest the government’s attempts to weaken the judicial system and the anti-corruption watchdog. The Bucharest protest started out peacefully, but officials said that some demonstrators began hurling bottles and paving slabs at riot police, who responded with teargas, pepper spray, and baton strikes. At least 400 people were injured, and one elderly man died this week of complications from teargas inhalation. President Klaus Iohannis—a critic of the left-wing government—condemned the “disproportionate” crackdown, but Interior Minister Carmen Dan of the ruling Social Democratic Party said the police were right to tackle “dangerous hooligans who attacked the state’s authority.”
No more hostesses
Mexico City has banned the use of scantily clad models at government functions in the capital. The women, known as edecanes, are ubiquitous at Mexican public events, such as trade fairs, festivals, and soccer matches, where they work as greeters or simply as eye candy. In 2014, a group of female politicians issued a report saying edecanes face harassment on the job and are sometimes pressed into prostitution. “This job should not exist,” said Mexico City Mayor José Ramón Amieva. “It goes against policies of gender equality.” It is estimated that 1 million Mexicans work as hostesses or hosts.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a drastic plan this week to try to halt his country’s accelerating hyperinflation, which the IMF predicts will hit 1 million percent this year. He raised the minimum wage by more than 3,000 percent (to about $30 a month) and ordered the printing of new “sovereign bolivar” banknotes that would be backed by the Petro, a cryptocurrency he invented in February that is based on oil reserves. Sovereign bolivars lop five zeros off the old, fast-depreciating “strong bolivars.” The measures are unlikely to rein in hyperinflation, because the central bank keeps printing money to cover government spending, and experts say the sovereign bolivar will also slide toward worthlessness. The largest bill under the old cash system was the 100,000-bolivar note, which is now worth less than 3 U.S. cents.
Bowing to Putin
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl drew criticism this week for making a deep curtsy to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the star guest at her wedding. Putin stopped off at the ceremony on his way to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and brought along a small Cossack men’s choir to entertain the roughly 100 guests. Kneissl was appointed to the foreign ministry by the far-right, pro-Russia Freedom Party—the junior member in Austria’s ruling coalition. She made the curtsy at the end of a waltz with Putin, and Austrian media was furious. “Kneissl’s kneeling in front of Putin is a disgrace,” said Eric Frey in Der Standard. “The foreign minister has lost all credibility.”
Is FARC re-forming?
Four top commanders from the disbanded rebel group FARC have left reintegration camps, and Colombian authorities don’t know where they are. FARC, a leftist militia that fought Colombian forces for more than 50 years in a war that killed more than 260,000 people, agreed to lay down its weapons last year and submit to a war crimes tribunal in exchange for political representation in the national legislature. But the government has failed to follow through on the deal, and more than 1,200 of the 14,000 ex-FARC fighters who demobilized have slipped away from the camps where they are supposed to receive training in farming and fishing. The missing commanders include FARC’s political leader, Iván Márquez, and its “kidnapping czar,” Hernán Darío Velásquez.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras went to the island of Ithaca, home of the mythical hero Odysseus, this week to announce that Greece’s bailout has ended and the nation can now borrow on international markets again. “Since 2010, Greece has undergone a modern Odyssey,” he said. “Now we have reached our destination. The bailouts that carried with them austerity and recession and turned our country into a social desert are over.” Athens was forced to make massive cuts to government spending over the past nine years in order to receive $330 billion in rescue loans from other Eurozone nations and the IMF. State pensions were cut by up to 40 percent, many public sector workers were fired, and taxes were hiked. Those austerity measures have taken a heavy toll on Greece: Its economy has shrunk by 25 percent, and its 22 percent unemployment rate is the highest in the developed world.
In a hideous mistake, the Saudi Arabian–led coalition fighting in Yemen bombed a school bus, killing 51 people, 40 of them children. The 500-pound, laser-guided bomb that obliterated the bus was manufactured by U.S. defense firm Lockheed Martin, and the State Department had approved its sale to Saudi Arabia. Up to a third of all Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen over the three-year-long war have hit civilian targets, according to the United Nations, and most of the bombs dropped were supplied by American companies. “The U.S. is not investigating strikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition,” said Pentagon spokesperson Rebecca Rebarich. Saudi Arabia is supporting the Yemeni government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Taliban rejects truce
The Taliban has apparently rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s proposal of a three-month cease-fire, and instead ambushed three buses traveling to the capital, kidnapping nearly 200 people. Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada said the “lone option” to end the war is the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Afghanistan. NBC News reported that President Trump is considering a pullout, but only to replace U.S. troops with mercenaries who would report directly to him. The plan to privatize the Afghan conflict was first floated last year by Erik Prince, whose Blackwater security company was accused of war crimes after a squad of contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced an ambitious plan to give 500 million poor Indians access to health care, as he seeks to shore up support ahead of next year’s general election. The policy, popularly known as Modicare, will provide impoverished families up to $7,100 a year in health insurance coverage. Modi announced the plan—which is expected to cost $1.7 billion in its first two years—last week in his final Independence Day speech before next year’s vote. He touted India’s achievements under the rule of the BJP, his Hindu nationalist party, saying the government has been building highways, electrifying villages, and installing toilets at a rapid pace since winning power in 2014.
Outrage over prison death
The death in prison of a wrongfully arrested cancer patient is turning the 10 million–strong community of Filipino overseas workers against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Police arrested Allan Rafael, 35, a former overseas worker, as a suspected drug user because he was so emaciated. Officers did not believe him when he said he was sick and had undergone chemotherapy for lymphoma. He died four days later in custody, after telling his brother that police had robbed, beaten, and tortured him. Duterte has openly encouraged police and citizens to kill drug dealers and users on sight, and activists say cops and vigilantes have murdered 12,000 people since he took office in 2016. Migrante International, which represents overseas Filipino workers, is calling for an independent investigation into Rafael’s death and an end to the killings.
Devastating floods caused by weeks of heavy monsoon rains have inundated the southern Indian state of Kerala, killing at least 400 people and displacing more than 1 million. It’s India’s worst flood in nearly a century. Millions of acres of farmland have been lost and at least 100,000 homes and other buildings destroyed. Indian news outlets were filled with stories of neighbors helping neighbors, opening their homes to strangers when shelters were overflowing. Kerala opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala called the flood a “man-made disaster,” accusing authorities of failing to evacuate residents before opening the floodgates of the state’s 44 dams.