Europe/Americas update: September 8-9 2018

Shanah Tovah to any readers celebrating the Jewish New Year this evening.



Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić visited Kosovo on Sunday to a decidedly mixed reception. Predominantly Serbian crowds greeted him warmly in Mitrovica, but Kosovar Albanians blocked roads in an effort to prevent him from visiting other parts of the country. On Saturday, Vučić told reporters that he’s prepared to keep negotiating with Kosovar leaders on an agreement that could end their hostilities and put both countries on the road to European Union membership–which could possibly include some kind of land swap–but cautioned that there is “a long road full of thorns and problems ahead” before any sort of agreement can be reached.


As expected, Sweden’s election on Sunday produced what appears to be a giant mess. The country’s traditional center-left and center-right alliances both lost ground to the far-right Sweden Democrats party, though that party fell short of expectations. The Sweden Democrats finished as the third largest single party in parliament when they had expected to finish as the largest party in parliament. The center-left Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, remain the largest party, though they lost seats, as did the center-right Moderate party, which finished second.

In short, Sweden looks headed for a hung parliament. The center-left and center-right coalitions ran within tenths of a point of one another–the center-left appears to have the narrowest of edges–leaving the center-right to decide whether it can tolerate a coalition with the Sweden Democrats that would give it a majority. The more centrist elements in that alliance may simply balk at the idea of working with the Sweden Democrats. But right now that appears to be the only way to avoid either some kind of Rube Goldberg-ian minority government or another vote.


New far-right protests have broken out in the city of Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt state, after a 22 year old German man reportedly died after an altercation with a group of Afghan immigrants (his death may not have been directly related to the altercation, the medical evidence is a little unclear at this point). A similar incident spurred days of anti-immigrant protests in the city of Chemnitz a couple of weeks ago.

Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition”–her CDU/CSU alliance plus the Social Democrats–has a combined 46 percent support in a new poll by Germany’s Emnid pollster, the lowest ever recorded for this coalition. The far-right Alternative for Germany polled at 15 percent support, unchanged from the previous iteration of this poll.


Greek police on Saturday used tear gas to break up thousands of protesters in the city of Thessaloniki who were demonstrating against the agreement under which Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. The deal is pretty unpopular in Greece, where nationalists object to any use of the name “Macedonia” by the former Yugoslav republic. It’s not much more popular with Macedonians, who object to adding the qualifier “north” to their name and will vote to approve or reject the deal in a referendum later this month. The possibility of membership in the EU and NATO, which won’t happen unless this deal goes through, could sway Macedonian voters to support the deal despite their reservations.


Catalan regional President Quim Torra is calling on Madrid to allow a Catalan independence referendum. He appeared to warn in an interview published Sunday that, if Madrid fails to act, his government could proceed with yet another meaningless regional referendum without Spanish permission.


Seven people have been injured in a knife attack in Paris. The attacker, an Afghan national, was arrested by French police who so far say there’s no indication the attack was connected to terrorism.


A new poll finds that British union members, by a large margin, want a second Brexit referendum and would prefer not to leave the European Union:

The poll found that members of Unite, the country’s biggest union, and Labour’s largest financial backer, now support a referendum on the final Brexit deal by 59% to 33% and support staying in the EU by 61% to 35%. GMB’s members support putting the issue back to the people by 56% to 33% and its members want the UK to stay in the EU by 55% to 37%.

Unison members back another referendum by 66% to 22% and would opt to stay in the EU by 61% to 35%.

Union members think standards of living will deteriorate as a result of Brexit by a margin of around four to one (Unite members by 55% to 11%, Unison members by 61% to 16%, and GMB members by 49% to 11%).

They also believe Brexit will worsen, not improve, job opportunities (Unite members by 57% to 16%, Unison members by 52% to 27%, and GMB members by 43% to 18%).



Jair Bolsonaro is assuring his supporters that he’s OK and recovering after the knife attack that put him in the hospital last week. Conspiracy theories abound regarding the attack–that his attacker is connected to the leftist Workers’ Party, that it was faked to drive up Bolsonaro’s support, etc.–but at this point it’s unclear whether it will impact October’s presidential election. Bolsonaro is the frontrunner to win the first round of voting but polling still shows he could struggle in a runoff.


This probably comes as a surprise to nobody, but the Trump administration has apparently been seeking Venezuelan military officers willing to undertake a coup:

The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.

Establishing a clandestine channel with coup plotters in Venezuela was a big gamble for Washington, given its long history of covert intervention across Latin America. Many in the region still deeply resent the United States for backing previous rebellions, coups and plots in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and Chile, and for turning a blind eye to the abuses military regimes committed during the Cold War.

The White House, which declined to answer detailed questions about the talks, said in a statement that it was important to engage in “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy” in order to “bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro.”

How was it a big gamble for Washington? It’s not like anybody there would suffer under whatever violently repressive military regime deeply democracy-loving junta we’d be installing in Caracas.


Victor David Segura, leader of a rebel group called the United Guerrillas of the Pacific, was reportedly killed in a gun battle with Colombian forces on Saturday. The GUP consists of former FARC rebels who refused to surrender under FARC’s 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government.


Finally, I hope you can all rest easy with the realization that Donald Trump’s stable genius-ness may have brought us all closer to a war with North Korea than we knew:

The standoff with North Korea has been eased, for the moment, by the Singapore Summit, which brought together two leaders who had been trading nuclear threats and schoolyard insults.

Trump: “‘Rocket Man’ is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

The president later made that “Little Rocket Man” on Twitter, which he told Rob Porter “may be my best ever.” When Porter asked if it might provoke Kim, according to Woodward, the president replied, “It’s leader versus leader, man versus man, me versus Kim.”

The most dangerous moment of the standoff, Woodward says, came when the president went to work on another tweet: “He drafts a tweet saying ‘We are going to pull out dependents from South Korea  … Family members of the 28,000 people there.'”

That tweet was never sent, because of a back channel message from North Korea that it would regard a pullout of dependents as a sign the U.S. was preparing to attack. “At that moment there was a sense of profound alarm in the Pentagon leadership that, ‘My God, one tweet and we have reliable information that the North Koreans are going to read this as an attack is imminent,'” Woodward said.

On the plus side, he only has maybe another 860 or so days in office, and really what are the chances that he could sneak a war-causing tweet by his staff in that time? I’m sure they’re not that good, right? Hello? Anybody?


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