News from across Europe

Funeral of Orthodox Patriarch – Source: Tageblatt

The emancipation of the stupid

Luxembourg’s Tageblatt (22.02) has a profile of Serbia, which has the highest vaccination rate in Europe (after UK). However, infection rates are rising because of a cavalier attitude towards precautionary measures. The paper prints a photo of the investiture of the Serbian Orthodox patriarch in a cathedral full to bursting: no-one in the congregation appears to be wearing a mask.

In an article in the Flemish De Standaard (25.02), the prize-winning author Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer refers to QAnon conspiracy theorists in the Netherlands who put unwanted flowers on children’s graves, as they regard them as victims of a satanic paedophile plot. This, he says, is not a lurch back to the Middle Ages but towards something much worse: the emancipation of stupid people who think they are clever.

Czechs and balances

The Swiss NZZ, Neue Zűrcher Zeitung, (23.02) discusses why the Coronavirus in the Czech Republic is so virulent: weak leadership, lack of confidence, a mix of mistakes and structural problems. The Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš, an enormously rich businessman with an estimated net worth of about $4 billion according to Bloomberg, heads a minority government tolerated by the Communists who have now withdrawn their tacit support. This is because the country’ s constitutional court, not for the first time, has declared null and void some of the protective measures the government had tried to introduce. And Babiš has gone back on his promise to reopen shops. For the first time opinion polls show the opposition leading the government. Elections are due in Autumn.

Limerick man flees Sweden

A Limerick man has fled his adopted home of Sweden, fearing for his safety, after national public radio suggested an online group he moderated, which was critical of Sweden’s Covid-19 strategy, was a national security threat. The Irish Times (23.02) says that Keith Begg set up a private Facebook group with the aim of ‘exposing the failed Swedish Covid-19 strategy’. But a recent national Swedish radio report portrayed his online activities as ‘attempting to influence Swedish interests abroad’, triggering a wave of abuse and threats. After nearly eight years in the country, the 46-year-old dual citizen of Sweden and Ireland has decided to return to Limerick.

So, when will things revert to normal?

The German weekly, Die Zeit, (25.02) asked a panel of experts – a physicist, an expert in medical ethics, two virologists and an intensive care GP – for their views. Apart from the physicist, who responded: ‘When was normal?’, the consensus view was: ‘End of the summer, provided everyone is offered a vaccination’.

Not at all stupid, but possibly mad

The NZZ (22.02) says that the Norwegian National Museum has discovered a handwritten comment on the first of four versions of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. It says ‘Can only have been painted by a madman’. Analysis of the writing shows that it came from Munch himself.

It’s party time!

Various media have reported on Viktor Orbán’s party Fidesz in Hungary leaving the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament. They jumped to avoid being pushed. A large majority of the EPP had voted to change the group’s rules to permit expulsion.

In other good news the German Federal Office for the Constitution has classified the whole of the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party as a right-wing extremist group which can be investigated by the security services.

And in France, according to De Standaard (27.02), Marine Le Pen is trying to con voters with a green make-over. In January her Rassemblement National (RN) gave birth to the Parti Localiste which seeks to combine green and right-wing policies.

Education news

Al Jazeera (18.02) quotes France’s Minister for Higher Education, Frederique Vidal, claiming that ‘Islamo-leftism’ (Islamogauchisme) is eating away at our society as a whole, and universities are not immune and are part of our society’. The Conference of University Presidents (CPU) has responded by issuing a statement expressing its ‘shock at another sterile controversy over the issue of ‘Islamo-leftism’ at university.” President Macron has been obliged to state publicly that the government will guarantee the universities’ independence.

Geography lesson

De Standaard (03.02) reports on a Twitter storm involving Guy Verhofstadt and Janez Janša, the Slovene Prime Minister. Janša is an ally of Viktor Orbán and an admirer of Donald Trump. Verhofstadt had criticised Janša’s ‘ongoing attacks on press freedom’ and had urged the Commission to take action before Slovenia takes over as head of the EU council on 1 July. In response Janša attacked Verhofstadt, saying he is ‘no longer the head of a colonial power. And Slovenia is not the Congo’. Worth knowing.

Read more articles from West England Bylines here >>>

News from the courts

The Times of Malta (23.02) has an article on the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – rumoured to have been engineered by key figures in the Maltese establishment (including the Prime Minister, who had to resign). The alleged assassin has now been brought to trial, has confessed and been given a 15-year sentence.

De Standaard reports (03.03) on a welcome court decision in Poland. Three activists had been accused of insulting religious feelings after distributing posters showing a Catholic icon on a rainbow background.  They had distributed posters in the town of Płock in protest at the Polish Catholic church’s hostile attitudes towards the LGBT+ community. The court ruled that they had not sought to insult anyone’s religious feelings but to draw attention to an act of discrimination. The ruling sets an important precedent in freedom of expression given the attacks on secularisation and liberal thinking from the conservative government.

On the downside Die Zeit (25.03) reports on the Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél who has been arrested and accused of insulting the monarch (if this were a crime in the UK what percentage of the population would be behind bars?). He had barricaded himself on the campus of Lleida university. At the weekend 6,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona for his release. Not surprisingly, Die Zeit regards the charge as absurd but points out that Hasél glorifies the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Believe it or not

Munich’s Sűddeutsche Zeitung(22.02) draws attention to an article by John Petrocelli in the ‘British Journal of Social Psychology’ who points out, perhaps superfluously, that ‘bullshit’ (a pompous-sounding but inherently meaningless term) is a useful way of putting across a weak argument. Now, who does that remind you of?

Quote of the week

Lithuania has refused a request to extradite the Belarus opposition leader  Svetlana Tsikhanovskaïa, says Le Monde (05.03). The request from Belarus was made pursuant to a bilateral legal assistance agreement dating from 1992. The Belarus authorities say Ms Tsikhanovskaïa was the guiding force behind the ‘social unrest’ last year which merits a three to five-year prison sentence.  However, Gabrielius Landsbergis, head of the Lithuanian diplomatic service, replied succinctly – but not necessarily diplomatically – that ‘Hell would have to freeze over before we accede to your demand’.

And what about the Fish?

Finally Danish TV station DR (07.03) interviewed British fishermen landing their catch in Denmark. One fish exporter said he was simply ‘lied to by Boris Johnson [when they met in 2019]’.