Tag Archives: Soviet Union

North Korea hired KGB spies to protect Kim Jong Un

Aug. 25 (UPI) — North Korea may have hired more than 10 former KGB agents as military advisers as concerns grew that leader Kim Jong Un could become the target of an assassination, according to a Japanese newspaper.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Friday concerns about Kim’s safety prompted the regime to bring in Russian spies, many of who had been active in the former Soviet Union.

Continue reading North Korea hired KGB spies to protect Kim Jong Un

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PHOTO: Fidel Castro, wearing 2 Rolexes, lighting a cigar while visiting the USSR for the first time

Two months after the Kennedy administration barred Americans from any transactions with Cuba, Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev hosted Fidel Castro — who died Friday at the age of 90 — on April 27, 1963, in Castro’s first visit to the USSR.

This photo from Castro’s 40-day visit to the USSR features Khrushchev and a bunch of Soviets smiling while Castro, wearing two Rolex watches, lights up a Cuban cigar in front of a Karl Marx portrait in the Kremlin.

Continue reading PHOTO: Fidel Castro, wearing 2 Rolexes, lighting a cigar while visiting the USSR for the first time

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

The collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t just affect humans—forests across Europe and Asia were impacted, too.

Some 533 million acres of forest in Eastern Europe have regrown since 1985, largely due to the disintegration of timber industries and abandonment of agricultural lands in countries such as Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria.

Drawing on 52,539 images collected by Landsat satellites between 1985 and 2012, a team of scientists has just published a series of maps showing how Eastern Europe’s forests have been changing over the past 27 years.

Bottom line: They’ve been coming back, with the exception of a small number of countries where the logging industry has actually picked up.

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

Across the entire study area, forest cover grew by nearly 5 percent, although we can see from the chart above that several smaller countries experienced much, much more regrowth.

Zooming in on specific regions, it becomes clear just how much these changes fall along country lines. Take, for instance, the Latvia-Russia border, pictured on the zoomed-in map below:

Central European Forests Are Regrowing After the Breakup of the USSR

In Russia, a lot of the regrowth has been taking place in massive collective farms that went bust after the Soviet Union fell. And as this regrowth goes on, scientists expect that Russia will continue to be a major carbon sink into the future, according to NASA:

Overall, about 34 percent of all cropland in Russia was abandoned after 1991. So far, only about 14 percent of that abandoned farmland has been converted back to forest, suggesting that forest re-growth could represent a significant “carbon sink” for Russia in the future.

How significant are we talking? Well, a study published in 2013 in Global Change Biologyfound that abandoned farmlands in the parts of the former USSR that are now Russia have been soaking up 42.6 million tonnes of carbon every year since 1990—or roughly ten percent of Russia’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, according to New Scientist.

That may be an environmental win, but it’s come with a major price tag: Enormous social and economic hardship. Reminding us, yet again, just how tricky it is to balance the needs of our changing planet alongside those of its human beings.

Hugh Tovar, CIA Operative at the Center of Cold War Intrigues, Dies at 92

06_29_Tovar_01
Indonesian soldiers take members of the youth wing of the country’s Communist Party to prison in Jakarta on October 30, 1965. They were rounded up by the army following a crackdown on Communists after an abortive coup against President Sukarno’s government earlier in the month. CIA officer Hugh Tovar was a high-ranking official stationed in Jakarta at the time. AP 

Hugh Tovar, who was at the center of two of the CIA’s most controversial covert action operations during the Cold War, died of natural causes just after midnight June 27. He was 92.

Tovar was the CIA station chief in Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1960s and then Laos and Thailand in the 1970s, while the U.S. and Soviet Union were locked in proxy wars around the world, most directly in Southeast Asia. For a time he was also chief of the CIA’s covert action and counterintelligence sections at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

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Tovar’s assignments put him on the cutting edge of CIA operations at the time, much like the today’s counterterrorism specialists, said Colin Thompson, a former CIA officer who served under Tovar in Thailand and later in the CIA’s counterintelligence branch.

“Hugh was one of a small group of senior East Asia officers…who were to the CIA in the ’60s and ’70s what the [agency’s] leaders in Middle East operations are today,” said Thompson, who also worked in Laos, where Tovar was station chief from 1970 to 1973, at the height of the CIA’s so-called “secret war” there.

The assignment to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, was a homecoming of sorts for Tovar, who had previously been sent there by the CIA’s World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, after his ROTC class at Harvard was called to duty by the U.S. Army in 1943.

Born in Colombia as Bernardo Hugh Tovar—he rarely used his first name—he was raised in Chicago but attended Portsmouth Priory (now Portsmouth Abbey), a private school in Rhode Island run by Benedictine monks.

The CIA’s later covert campaign in Laos was the biggest and longest paramilitary operation in the agency’s history. It lasted from 1961 to 1975 and employed hundreds of CIA operatives and pilots and thousands of local Hmong tribesmen in a failed effort to block Communist North Vietnam from using Laos as a supply route and staging ground for attacks in South Vietnam.

But it was Tovar’s tenure in Indonesia in 1965 that has drawn the most scrutiny. At the time, the country’s president, Sukarno, was leading a global “anti-imperialist” movement with the support of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

Tovar, who had earlier worked against Communist guerrillas in the Philippines, was the CIA’s Jakarta station chief. In September 1965, a coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party, or PKI, failed, and the military unleashed a genocidal campaign against the PKI’s mostly ethnic Chinese followers.

With the rebellion crushed and the military-backed Suharto regime now fully in power, the U.S. and other Western powers hailed the outcome as “the West’s best news for years in Asia,” as Time magazine put it.

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“Hugh made his mark in Indonesia in the mid-’60s where he was COS [chief of station] during the very bloody anti-Chinese riots that led to the overthrow of Sukarno and the rise of Suharto,” Thompson told Newsweek. “I understand he and the station performed very well.”

Too well, according to a sensational 1990 account by States News Service journalist Kathy Kadane. She reported that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta provided the Indonesian military with the names of suspected Communists, who were then hunted down and murdered.

“Over the next months, tens of thousands died—estimates range from the Suharto government report of 78,002 to an Amnesty International estimate of more than 1 million deaths,” intelligence historian John Prados wrote in his 2003 biography of William Colby, a colleague of Tovar’s who later became CIA director. An internal CIA report on the events in Indonesia, Prados wrote, called it “one of the worst episodes of mass murder of the 20th century.”

Responding to Kadane’s charges in The New York Times, Tovar denied he was involved in providing “any classified information” to an embassy political officer who in turn gave it to the Indonesians.

In a 2001 interview with the Indonesian magazine Tempo, he also denied CIA complicity in the resulting carnage. “The U.S. did not in any way help the Army suppress the Communists,” he said.

Tovar retired in 1978 but followed his second wife, Pamela Kay Balow, “on her assignments with the CIA to Rome, Singapore and Australia,” according to theannouncement of his death by the Galone-Caruso Funeral Home in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. He died “peacefully” at St. Anne Home, an assisted-living center in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, the announcement said.

In his retirement, Tovar became a measured critic of U.S. efforts to overthrow foreign governments. In a 1982 book of essays on covert action, he was quoted as saying the CIA’s ill-fated 1961 invasion of Cuba was based on the mistaken notion that Fidel Castro’s support was “so shallowly rooted…that he could be shaken by psychological pressures, as [President Jacobo] Arbenz had been in Guatemala [in 1954], and then ousted by a comparative handful of troops.”

“Was it an intelligence failure?” Tovar said. “Undoubtedly, and in the grandest sense of the term.”

Likewise, in Vietnam in 1963, a U.S.-backed coup backfired by weakening the Saigon government, Tovar wrote in another essay. “The overthrow of President [Ngo Dinh] Diem constituted the opening of the floodgates of American involvement in Indochina,” he wrote.

“By intruding as it did—crassly and blind to the consequences—the burden of responsibility for winning or losing was removed once and for all from South Vietnamese shoulders, and placed upon America’s own.”

Tovar also cautioned CIA leaders about discussing covert action options with their underlings, “whose instincts and training guarantee an immediate can-do response.”

“Momentum develops rapidly,” he said in the collection of essays, titled Intelligence Requirements for the 1980s: Covert Action. “Conceptualizing is superseded by planning. Policy emerges in high secrecy and, before anyone realizes it, the project is a living, pulsating, snorting entity with a dynamic all its own.”

Newsweek national security correspondent Jeff Stein served as a military intelligence case officer in South Vietnam during 1968-69.

Kremlin fears losing Ukraine for generations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Russia cannot afford to lose Ukraine, lamenting what he said was the existence of “Nazis who continue marching in Kyiv and continue glorifying Adolf Hitler’s accomplices”.

The remarks clearly refer to the reverence many Ukrainians have for Stepan Bandera.

Bandera fought against both Hitler and the Red Army during the Second World War but Russia has accused the Ukrainian government of supporting Nazi ideology because of the popularity of Bandera among many Ukrainians.

The Kremlin’s attempt to brand the Ukrainian government Nazis has been criticised by historians for flagrant hypocrisy, because in Russia and among the Kremlin-backed insurgency, former leader Joseph Stalin is hailed as a hero, despite the fact that Stalin supported, aided and abetted the Hitler regime prior to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

The pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which contained a protocol to carve up eastern Europe, was signed in 1939.

Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev: ‘I think it was somebody very close to Putin’

Ilya Ponomarev

Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev

The Russian lawmaker kicked out of the country speaks out about Putin, Snowden, and a Russian collapse

In Vladimir Putin’s quest to amass more power, the Russian government has become increasingly corrupt and ever more dangerous for critics and political activists.

Case in point — the suspicious murder of Boris Nemtsov as he walked home across a busy bridge in Moscow almost two weeks ago.

We recently sat down with Ilya Ponomarev — a representative in the lower house of the Russian Parliament who has been banned from Russia for his opposition to Putin — and got his take on what’s going on in Russia today.

Ponomarev believes that the people who killed Nemtsov were affiliated with one of Russia’s state security forces, and says that his murder was meant as a “message to Russian elites… and a message to the West.”

Yet, he thinks that in general Russians are closer aligned to Americans than they are to Europeans and that change will come to the country as early as 2017:

“The actual uprising might start in 2017… We will have major elections in 2016, and that is when economic and financial resources might get depleted by that time because of sanctions and issues with financial liquidities. All the problems will mount and be at their height in 2017. We need to be ready and we need to present Russia with a clear program, with a clear vision of Russia after Putin.”

Ponomarev is a former president of Yukos Oil, the former oil and gas giant that was effectively shut down in 2007 by the Russian government, which redistributed its assets to state companies.

He was elected to the Russian State Duma in 2007, and was the only member who voted against the annexation of Crimea last year. The final vote in Russia’s lower house was 445 to 1. Colleagues warned him beforehand, saying things like “Putin will crush you,” and “Don’t ruin your career.”

The year before, he was the only member of the Duma not to support Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. Eventually, in August 2014, Ponomarev and several of his aides were banned from Russia (along with several of his aides) and falsely charged with funneling money out of the Skolkovo Foundation — an organization that supports high-tech startups — to finance protests against Putin.

Though he has been banned from Russia, he is still an active member of the Duma. He says that since his constituency voted him in, they are the only ones with the power to revoke his mandate.

Speaking before an audience at the Commonwealth Club, the bearded and battered politico spoke about Putin with disdain. He believes that Putin “wants people to negotiate with him and he wants to have the tradeoffs here and there and spheres of influence.” To Ponomarev, Putin is a creature of the last century.

However, throughout the night, Ponomarev talked with a glimmer in his eye — his wife, whom he had not seen for months, had finally reunited with him after clearing up a visa problem in Bulgaria.

We talked to Ilya Ponomarev before his presentation. Here’s what he had to say:

The following is a transcript of our conversation with Ponomarev; it has been edited for clarity and length.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Who do you think killed Boris Nemtsov?

ILYA PONOMAREV: I think it was somebody very close to Putin. I have doubts that it was his direct order, although he has created this very system which killed [Nemtsov]. I think it was one of the clans who are fighting for influence on Putin. And they want to trigger instability and be those saviors to offer a solution to everything.

BI: Are you worried that what happened to Nemtsov might happen to you?

IP: We have a Russian proverb — “Those who are doomed to be sunk will never be hanged.” I think that you shouldn’t run away from what is in front of you. You should do what you have to do, and leave to it. What can you do? Hire bodyguards? Stop doing anything? It will not save you either.

russia march

BI: Are politicians scared of Putin? Are there people looking at what you and Nemtsov have done and being inspired, in that sense?

IP: Some politicians are scared and some are extremely apologetic, actually. And I feel very sorry for this because some people who are like my friends from the left flank, they praise Putin because they see him as the fighter against American imperialism — which he is not. You know, why would you select between American imperialism and Russian imperialism?

To my mind, it’s exactly the same thing. Others — conservatives — they say ‘Oh, Putin is a real leader, he’s a true man, he stays [firm] on his position, he’s not like this weak Obama.’ And also they are very much wrong. Because Putin is not a strong man, he is actually a man that put himself into a corner, and he’s fighting and biting from that corner, being very weak.

BI: Has anyone else you know been fined, kidnapped, or murdered?

IP: We have a lot of people – journalists – that were murdered in Russia. But my own situation is pretty unique. I haven’t seen my wife for half a year. She lives now in Bulgaria and couldn’t get her here because of visa [problems].

[Editor’s note: Since 1992, there have been 56 journalists killed in Russia.]

BI: How would you best describe your political ideology?

IP: The best description would be that I am a progressive libertarian.

BI:  Which political figures do you look up to, people that you base your ideas upon?

IP: I think that my political position of course is very much influenced by thinkers of the left, and those are different people. I pay a lot of attention to what was written by Marx and by Lenin, but also by modern leftists like Wallenstein. I very much pay a lot of attention to what has been written by Noam Chomsky. We have such thinkers in Russia as well, like Boris Kagarlitsky, who is a good friend.

My political tradition is one the left, but I think that more modern leftists, they sometimes get stuck with this vision of large government and social benefits and everything and that’s against what is my position, because I think that the ultimate vision of Marx, Engels and those people was to eliminate government entities and to give as much power to the people.

And in modern standing that means direct democracy, that means all the power to the communities, it means gradually eliminating all government oppression on the society. And 100 years ago, leftists’ major allies were labor unions.

In the world of today, I think that entrepreneurs are the new emerging ruling class — I identify it as the startup class. That’s the new proletariat of the 21st century. These are the people that are the drivers of that change.

BI: How is it that you’re still an active member of Duma?

IP: From the point of view of legislation of the Constitution, my mandate has been given by my constituency. So it’s only my constituency that can revoke my mandate. So until the next election, nobody is supposed to do anything. The next election is in 2016.

BI: When was the last time you were elected?

IP: Last time in 2011. The first time I was elected was in 2007. Originally it was a 4-year term and now it’s a 5-year term. If I would not be able to campaign, I would lose my post.

They can use such reasons like if I’m doing business, then they could justify that I am violating my status. But I’m cautious not to do it. They are looking through a magnifying glass from the outside.

I have a group of very loyal people. We are in the minority very much, basically 10 to 15% of the population that supports what we do. It’s temporary. I think that the high numbers for Putin, they will pass as soon as economic tensions mount.

And then the whole situation will be flipped. It’s important not to alienate people, not to receive negative reaction on yourself but we have to wait a little bit. Bolsheviks in 1914 were a dying sect, the only ones against the war, but just two and a half years later, they came to power.

Ilya Ponomarev escorted out of Bolotnaya Square
Ilya Ponomarev escorted out of Bolotnaya Square by police officers

BI: Russia is obviously a surveillance state. That being said, America has its own conundrums: NSA phone tapping, Edward Snowden, CIA torture tapes. How is the United States different from Russia in this regard?

IP: I think that there are excesses that exist in all societies. I won’t say it’s normal to have them, but it’s natural to have them. I’m watching very closely…what Snowden has done. I don’t know him personally. I wanted to talk to him, but all of the security people didn’t allow me to. But I think that he took the wrong approach to a very right thing which he was doing. Just the implementation was wrong. There was a clear platform to what he was doing, although of course that there were some mistakes made.

I think that it’s inevitable if society will be run by old-timers who are still in the paradigm of the past, so I think the real way to resolve this is if the entrepreneurs go into politics and gradually take over and push for their agenda. You named a bunch of privacy issues which are at this stage secondary to me.

The primary issue is the competition between Uber and traditional taxis, or contradictions between FDA and 23 and me. That, I think is most important. And I think that we are right now — the society — is living in the Facebook era and the political system is still in the 19th century prior to the Industrial era.

Why for God’s sake do you need to be socially liberal and economically conservative? Or to be economically market-oriented but at the same time socially, extremely conservative? Why can’t you be free in both dimensions?

russia soldiers

BI: Now let’s bring our conversation to a global scale. Especially now with ISIS looming large close to Russia, what is Russia’s end-goal in the Middle East?

IP: I don’t think there is a conscious and strategic play there. Putin is not a strategist at all. He has brilliant tactics, but he is a very bad strategist overall. And I think he is acting very opportunistically there, just to play the cards with America. He was very proud of himself when he convinced us to give up on chemical weapons so that it could be played down and prevent an invasion and that was very helpful for Obama because Obama saved his face and didn’t order airstrikes at that very moment.

Putin was extremely proud. That’s the kind of thing Putin does. Generally, he thinks of himself as Christian. I don’t think he is, but he pretends to think that he is. In terms of his ideology he’s more like Bush Jr. But he’s less ideological. He’s [thinking] more ‘how to stay in power.’

BI: What is it about Putin then?

IP: He’s just maneuvering. He wants to be respected. He wants to be an important player in global politics. He wants people to negotiate with him and he wants to have the tradeoffs here and there and spheres of influence. He’s very much a person of the 20th century in the global and geopolitical space.

putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest February 17, 2015.

BI: Stratfor predicted in its recent decade report that the Russian Federation will disintegrate into an archipelago of loosely-connected and more localized entities over the next decade as the ruble plunges, the price of oil declines, and  the country’s politics get crazier. Do you think Russia is essentially falling apart? What will be of the Russian Federation in the next 10 years?

IP: Russia can fall apart. It’s not because of the oil prices…. It’s because what sticks a country together is a common interest of people. It has to be economically and socially profitable — beneficial — for people to be together. They should understand how they benefit from a large country. And if they start to feel like a large country is a source of problem, then the country collapses as the Soviet Union collapsed.

And right now, I see a lot of alarming trends inside Russia, especially in Siberia, which I represent in the Parliament. People start to ask questions: If we mine all the natural resources — if we have all the oil, all the gas, all the coal, all the gold, all the diamonds — why the hell do we need central Russia?

They are just eating at our resources. Without Moscow having a response for this, it would face very nasty questions such as one that was asked during my recent reelection campaign — it actually became a slogan of my campaign — “Stop feeding Moscow.”

BI: This mindset is similar to that of the Tatars. How is it different?

IP: With Tatars, the situation is a little bit more complex. They are geographically very isolated so they need the rest of Russia. When they pump oil, they need pipelines to deliver it so they need those connections. We in Siberia don’t need those connections. The only thing which actually sticks us together is the cultural similarities and the relatives that are on both sides of the Ural mountains.

BI: Last question — if Putin were standing in front of you at this very moment, what would you say to him? The first words out of your mouth are…

IP: There is nothing I can say. “Goodbye, Mr. Putin,” that’s the only thing I can say.

We need to convince him that if he makes the decision to go, that we are ready to trade his personal security for peaceful resignation. That’s very important because we’re all afraid that he will stick to power to his deathbed and just kill a lot of people along the way. If he is willing to go, we shall buy him an island in the Caribbean or in the Pacific Ocean with nice girls —  like a separate country for him.

He’s very much afraid of leaving. Because he is formally right now in his first term, so has another 8 years from now. Legally, he has created all the mechanisms for himself. He’s a lawyer.

The Hungarian Putin — Is Viktor Orban Following the Kremlin’s Playbook?

People take part in a protest against the Orban government in central Budapest, February 1, 2015.
People take part in a protest against the Orban government in central Budapest, February 1, 2015. (Laszlo Balogh / Courtesy Reuters) 

When, in 2010 and 2012, Hungary passed laws entitling Hungarians living abroad to Hungarian passports and then the right to vote in Hungarian elections, it seemed to fan dangerous nationalistic flames and fueled fears of secessionist movements in Hungarian communities beyond the country’s border. Indeed,

Hungary’s illiberal Prime Minister Viktor Orban has frequently stated that the Hungarian nation does not end at the borders of the state; rather, it ends with those Hungarians who were stranded in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine when the Treaty of Versailles lopped off two-thirds of the Hungarian territory.

Given the parallels to Russia, where granting Russian citizenship to Ukrainians and Abkhazians has been a precursor to invasion, observers can be forgiven for feeling chilled.

Although Orban is certainly tapping into nationalist nostalgia when he talks about Hungarians abroad, his purposes are not the same as those of Russian President Vladimir Putin. More than irredentism, Orban is thinking about votes. In fact, since he returned to power in 2010, he has done everything possible to avoid ever losing another election.

He has proven to be a world-class virtuoso of gerrymandering; after he pulled in a supermajority of votes in 2010, he was able to contort Hungary’s electoral system so much that in 2014, Fidesz, his party, was able to win two-thirds of all seats in the parliament with only 45 percent of the vote. And even if Fidesz does lose an election,

Orban has manipulated the system so that Fidesz appointees in the media office, the prosecutor’s office, the state audit office, the central bank, and the presidency would continue to wield substantial power.

Orban’s dealings with Hungarians abroad should likewise be seen as an electoral strategy. Since Fidesz passed the 2010 law, 675,000 and counting ethnic Hungarians have taken advantage of the opportunity. Fewer than 130,000 of these new dual citizens voted in 2014, but 95 percent of those who did vote picked Fidesz.

Although 130,000 may not seem a lot in a country of eight million eligible voters, the votes did give Fidesz an extra seat in the parliament to hold on to its narrow two-thirds majority—a small advantage, but one that meant a lot.

And looking toward the next election in 2018, Fidesz could get even more out of this group by motivating more ethnic Hungarians to apply for passports and to vote, especially in pro-Fidesz areas. Orban’s government can also set up more ballots and polling stations, for example, in surrounding countries where voters tend to support his party—as opposed to London and elsewhere, where Fidesz did not rush to make it easier for Hungarians to vote.

Beyond votes, Orban also sees Hungarians abroad as a way to solve his country’s demographic problems. A nation of 10.6 million in 1988, Hungary has lost 700,000 people over the 27 years since, mostly from out-migration and lower birth rates. It is true that Orban, like many other right-wing politicians in Europe (but in a more radical tone), generally opposes immigration, especially of people from different cultural backgrounds.

For instance, he spoke out sharply after the Charlie Hebdoattack in Paris, stating, “We do not want to see a significant minority among ourselves that has different cultural characteristics and background. We would like to keep Hungary as Hungary.

” But the Hungarian diaspora can help Orban square the circle. Here, his strategy is similar to that of Russia, which has also encouraged Russians abroad to come home from other republics of the former Soviet Union.

Orban also sees Hungarians abroad as a way to solve his country’s demographic problems.

Although Orban does not intend to stir up real trouble, he frequently uses strongly nationalist messages in his speeches. For example, he encourages “autonomy” and talks about a nation that goes beyond current borders.

One possible explanation for the mismatch is that he is preparing for a Russian-dominated Europe, in which Hungary might gain back (at least symbolically) some of its former territories. Orban might have some hopes that Putin will do what Adolf Hitler did in 1938: give Hungary back the territories that were lost at Trianon. That is unrealistic; borders in Europe do seem to be more flexible than before after Crimea.

But most ethnic Hungarians abroad are not supportive of aggressive autonomy movements, as they understand that they would be the first victims of irredentism. They tend to support political forces that are working toward peaceful cooperation among Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian, and Slovakian political forces.

Polls by Political Capital, a Budapest think tank, have shown that enthusiastic Fidesz supporters compose only one-fourth of the Hungarians in Transylvania, the part of Romania where many Hungarians are concentrated.

This silent majority has neither applied for dual citizenship nor voted in Hungarian elections. Meanwhile, Hungary’s radical, right-wing, fascist, and irredentist party, Jobbik, has virtually no support among Hungarians abroad, despite its attempts to build up networks in the Hungarian communities and fuel secessionist movements.

This does not mean, however, that aggressive separatist political movements, especially those with external political support, could not act as though they have a majority behind them, as in eastern Ukraine.

That hasn’t happened so far, but any nationalist political use of Hungarians abroad in Hungary could set the stage for such extremism and instability in neighboring countries.

Nowhere are these dangers more evident than in Ukraine, where Orban has taken advantage of political chaos to press Hungarian minority issues (about 200,000 Hungarians live in Ukraine) in the sub-Carpathian region of western Ukraine, adjacent to Hungary.

Here, Orban has echoed Russian nationalists, calling for increased autonomy for national minorities in Ukraine. In his inauguration speech on May 10, 2014, Orban stated that “the Hungarians in the Carpathian basin deserve dual citizenship, rights, and even autonomy. . . .

This is our clear expectation toward the newly forming Ukraine.” This speech, not surprisingly, resulted in some diplomatic turbulence.

Similar calls had landed Hungary in trouble before: in a 1996 treaty, it was forced to cease and desist making calls for autonomy for Hungarians living in Romania as a condition of membership in the European Union. The European Union may keep the peace among its member states, but Ukraine lies outside the EU.

In his approach to politics, Orban may stretch the limits of democratic respectability, but so far, he has not fully let go of European norms. His approach to Hungarians abroad fits this pattern.

He toys with soft revisionist policies (they are not unique: dual citizenship with voting rights is a practice in Croatia and Romania as well). But he does so mainly to win votes at home, not to foment serious ethnic conflict. So far, his strategy has worked. But the delicate balance could easily topple.

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