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Plus, Tajikistan might offer male teachers a military service exemption and a Romania director wants to open the country's eyes to its role in the Holocaust.by Jeremy Druker, Joshua Boissevain, and Ioana Caloianu 22 November 2012
Details are still emerging from a domestic terrorist arrest in Poland that authorities announced earlier this week, but it is clear that the accused man had ambitions to surpass the death toll of the Norwegian mass murders of July 2011.
Authorities arrested the man, identified in the media as “Brunon K,” on 9 November, but announced the move on 20 November. Prosecutors said the 45-year-old researcher at the Agricultural University in Krakow, an expert in explosives, had planned to blow up the country's parliament building, apparently when high officials, including the prime minister and president, would be there. He had allegedly collected at least four tons of explosives, run test explosions, and scouted out the surrounding area.
According to The Telegraph, a source close to the investigation told Polish news channel TVN 24 that Brunon K had planned to set off an explosion more powerful than the car bomb that Norwegian killer Anders Breivik planted in Oslo as part of his rampage that left 77 people dead. “He said that Breivik had made mistakes, and that he wouldn’t have made them because his [attack] would have been better,” the source said.
“Simply put, he [Brunon K] believed society and the economic situation were moving in the wrong direction due to all government posts and positions of power being held by what he described as ‘foreigners’ – not true Poles,” prosecutor Mariusz Krason said at the news conference announcing the arrest, Der Spiegel reports. “He said he belonged to a nationalistic, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic movement.”
It is unclear from news accounts what tipped off the authorities. The Telegraph mentions that Prime Minister Donald Tusk cited Breivik's purchase in Poland of some of the chemicals used in the Oslo attack and said that investigation into the Norwegian's Polish contacts had revealed Brunon K's existence. But other reports in the Polish press said the man's wife, a biologist, had contacted police after her husband became curious about the number of people who could be killed by a large-scale release of microbes. Some of the suspects' students had also reportedly become disconcerted by their professor's wish to remove the government.
Meanwhile, the case has sparked an upswing in another already impassioned debate in Poland on the polarization in society and growing gulf between conservatives on the right and liberals on the left. Speaking to Polish Radio, Jacek Kucharczyk, director of the Institute of Public Affairs, remarked on the rising anger displayed by “groups of people and entire social movements which are not interested in any rational public debate but see the state and the public institutions as the enemy and an alien body.”
Serbia has hinted that it sees a possible solution for the question of Kosovo and that such a solution could resemble something from the Balkans' recent past.
Those remarks come a day after Dacic warned Serbia not to "sink into isolationism and collective paranoia" following the uproar over the acquittal of two Croatian generals by the Hague war-crimes tribunal. Previously Serbian officials said the decision might impact the country’s willingness to continue with EU integration.
Dacic’s comments also come a month after a cautious first meeting with his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci. The two prime ministers met – a first since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 – in Brussels, but Dacic said later the meeting did not imply his country’s recognition of Kosovo’s sovereignty.
Tajikistan is trying to shake up its education system by making teaching a more attractive job option for men in the country, Radio Free Europe reports. A new bill before parliament would offer young people who decide to teach a wide range of perks, such as health care, financial awards, and subsidized housing. And while the bill would apply to young teachers of both genders, a specific provision allowing exemptions from the nation’s unpopular military service has lawmakers hoping men will consider teaching as a career.
"Of course, [the privileges] make it attractive for young male teachers to work in schools," one Tajik lawmaker told RFE. "Nowadays, most employees in the health-care and education systems are women."
Lawmakers say the lack of male teachers in schools is a big problem. On paper, the ratio of men to women in education is 2-to-3, but in reality the gap is much wider, as many of the male teachers travel to Russia for seasonal work and aren’t actually teaching, according to RFE.
Educators in Tajikistan say that because so much of the nation’s economy relies on remittances – one in seven Tajiks works abroad, most of whom are men – male students are growing up without male role models. "With all due respect to women's kindness, schools also need the authority and discipline male teachers provide," one education ministry official told RFE.
Central to the problem is the notoriously low wages teachers in Tajikistan make – around $50 a month on average, RFE reports. For men, who are still seen as the primary breadwinners in a family, that is not even close to enough to live on. And even with the new perks, many young men are not convinced becoming a teacher is a viable alternative to going abroad for work.
A Romanian film director is bringing to public consciouness a lesser-known episode of World War II: his country's role in the massacre of Ukrainian Jews, according to Der Spiegel. The film Odessa recounts an October 1941 atrocity, when the Romanian army, at that time a Nazi ally, occupied the zone around Odessa and killed around 23,000 Jews by shooting them or burning them alive in warehouses. The murders were in reprisal for a Soviet bomb attack on the Romanian military headquarters. Director Florin Iepan follows the only living survivor of the massacre, 87-year-old Michail Zaslawski, on a visit to Romania that explores the denial and misunderstanding of the Holocaust by the country's elites and politicians.
Iepan credits the inspiration for the documentary to his participation in the Great Romanians public television project, for which he created a short, unflattering film on Romanian Marshal Ion Antonescu. The wartime leader was responsible for the death of almost 250,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews. Still, he received enough votes to secure sixth place in the list of great Romanians in a public television poll. It was then that Iepan determined to make Odessa.
Although Holocaust denial has been a crime in Romania since 2004, and several recent documentaries and books have explored the country's wartime role, Romanian authorities have been slow to make amends to the survivors of the atrocities. For instance, although Zaslawski's parents, three sisters, and brother died in the October 1941 massacre, no Romanian official has offered apologies to him. "When I was in Bucharest, I was told that a Romanian president had already once apologized to the Jewish people for the crimes. It sounded so incidental. That really hurt my feelings," Zaslawski said.
The Czech guerilla artist collective known as Ztohoven is at it again. As part of a recent exhibition in a Prague modern art gallery, the group has erected a large chart showing the country's political figures, along with their personal mobile phone numbers, including parliamentary deputies, the prime minister, and the president, Lidovky.cz reports. Visitors to the exhibition can use a phone at the exhibition with an anonymous number to send text messages to the politicians, “without fear” said Petr Zilka, a member of the group. “We provided them with the most direct form of democracy,” he added.
Not surprisingly, the country's politicians were not thrilled with the stunt. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek told the iDNES.cz news website that he had started to receive hundreds of messages, many of them vulgar and some of them threatening. “This [Ztohoven] is a group of people who don't know how to interest people with their art, so they attempt to draw attention to themselves with provocations.” He said he would not seek legal action, but several police officers have already attended the exhibition to collect information on possibly charging the group, a police spokeswoman told iDnes.cz, saying her colleagues were also consulting the country's office on the protection of personal data.
Prime Minister Petr Necas also condemned the release of the phone numbers, which are now circulating on the Internet. “It's true we live in a democratic society, but this is an irresponsible move of irresponsible individuals. It's not about politics, but about protecting personal privacy, which evidently these people don't realize.”
Ztohoven has described the installation as an additional piece in its Moral Reform project launched in June, which included sending almost 600 text messages on a variety of topics to politicians during a parliamentary session that appeared to have been sent by their colleagues. The group is also famed for a 2007 stunt in which members replaced a live morning broadcast of shots of scenic mountain areas with an apparent nuclear explosion, scaring thousands of viewers.
The best-known member of Ztohoven is Roman Tyc, who went to prison earlier this year for refusing to play fines over replacing the stick figures on 50 Prague traffic lights with his own creations. Surprised pedestrians were treated to stick figures urinating, lying down, sitting, drinking from a bottle, standing with a pistol to their heads, or having hanged themselves.
The fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region's media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting. From oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren't enough, the region's press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise. Get your copy here.