Europe/Americas update: November 10-11 2018



Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump did not talk about the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in their brief encounter during Armistice Day festivities in Paris. So…OK then. Presumably they didn’t talk about it because Trump isn’t interested in reversing his decision to withdraw from it, but what do I know.


Separatist governments in Donetsk and Luhansk held “elections” on Sunday amid nearly universal condemnation from Kiev to Washington. Kiev accused the rebels of violating the Minsk agreements by holding the vote, while Moscow argued that Kiev has been refusing to implement the Minsk agreements anyway, so the rebels can’t be expected to abide by them.

Ukraine has turned control of St. Andrew’s Church, one of the most venerated churches in Kiev, over to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Presumably this is a “thank you” to the patriarch for giving the Ukrainian Orthodox Church permission to separate itself from the Moscow Patriarchate.


Poland celebrated its 100th year of independence over the weekend with a wonderful display of unity between the Polish government and fascists:

President Andrzej Duda and senior members of the government walked at the front of a state-sponsored procession through the streets of Warsaw behind a huge red-and-white Polish flag with an inscription “For you, Poland.”

And Mr. Duda told the crowd that “this march should unite all Poles,” adding, “Let this march be for everyone.”

But hundreds of yards behind the officials from the governing Law and Justice Party were far-right activists known for promoting racist, homophobic and supremacist slogans.

Wreathed in an eerie red mist from burning flares, thousands of nationalists chanted: “Use a sickle, use a hammer, smash the Red rabble.” Some shouted: “White Poland.”

They marched holding a banner with the slogan “God, Honor, Fatherland” and thousands of Polish flags. But some wore balaclavas and waved the green flags of the ultranationalist group National Revival of Poland. Also visible were the flags of Forza Nuova, an Italian neofascist group.

Some 250,000 people are believed to have attended this Make Poland Great Again rally, but opposition leaders and most prominent Polish politicians who are not in the Law and Justice Party either skipped the weekend’s events or downplayed their attendance.


Around 2000 people in Sofia, and many more in cities all over Bulgaria, protested on Sunday against price and tax hikes. The Bulgarian government has increased taxes on heavier polluting cars, which primarily hits poor people since heavy polluting cars tend to be older. And Bulgaria being one of the poorest countries in Europe, that kind of thing naturally isn’t going to go over well.


Donald Trump, in France for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, skipped a planned visit to the Belleau Wood World War I cemetery on Saturday due to rain. Yes, that’s right. The White House claimed that the rain interfered with Trump’s plan to take a helicopter to the cemetery, but the thing is I’m pretty sure that helicopters can still fly in the rain. And anyway they have these things called “cars” now that the president might want to check out. So it’s not really clear what was going on there. But while Trump may not have wanted to stand in the rain, hundreds of French people were happy to do so for the opportunity to protest Trump’s presence in their country:

Although nowhere close to the size of the London demonstrations in July against Trump, the group of hundreds of left-wing activists, students and neighborhood residents braved the cold November rain to voice anger over Trump’s policies.

The U.S. president is deeply unpopular in France, where 65 percent of voters view him in a negative light, according to a poll by the Odoxa agency for Le Figaro newspaper that was released last week.

Like the London event, however, the Paris protest featured the same giant balloon of Trump styled as a baby, wearing nothing but a diaper and clutching a smartphone.

Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron did get a chance to talk about Macron’s “very insulting” plans for a pan-European military, and apparently they’re not so insulting after all:

“I do share President Trump’s views that we need much better burden-sharing within NATO, and that’s why I do believe my proposals for European defense are utterly consistent with that,” Mr. Macron said with Mr. Trump at the Élysée Palace.

Mr. Trump, who had called the idea of a European army “very insulting”in a tweet three minutes after Air Force One landed in France on Friday, said he was glad to hear Mr. Macron’s reasoning. “He understands the United States can only do so much, in fairness to the United States,” Mr. Trump said.

The flap may have resulted from misleading accounts of Mr. Macron’s comments, which came in an interview in French with Europe 1 radio this week. In the interview, Mr. Macron said that Europe needed to defend itself against the United States as well as Russia and China, but he was referring to cyberthreats, not the American government. The discussion of a European army actually came up later in the interview, and he characterized it as lightening America’s burden, not defending against it.

Nevertheless, it was apparently very clear from their interactions this weekend that Macron and Trump are no longer even trying to get along with one another. Macron invested a fair amount of time and energy in trying to keep Trump from imposing tariffs against Europe and to encourage him to remain in the Iran nuclear deal, and Trump pretty much spat both of those things back in Macron’s face. So Macron seems to be done investing anything in that relationship.


Theresa May was reportedly planning to call an “emergency” cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss a Brexit agreement. She’s not doing that anymore, because, well, there’s no agreement to discuss. Sounds like things are going really well!



Thousands of people protested in Mexico City on Sunday against President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s decision to cancel the construction of a new $13 billion airport in the city. The AP euphemistically noted that they “appeared to be of a social class seldom seen marching in the capital’s streets.”

The migrant caravan resumed its progress toward the US border on Saturday after a brief stay in Mexico City. Many were helped onto buses and trucks by Mexican authorities, who for a change seem to be taking seriously their obligation to ensure the migrants’ safety instead of trying to brutalize them until they turn around. The first wave of migrants could start arriving at the US border over the next several days, though now that the midterm election is over for some reason the whole migrant story just doesn’t seem to be that big a deal anymore in the US.


The high point of the weekend’s Armistice Day ceremonies seems to have been Macron’s anti-nationalism speech (certainly appropriate for a commemoration of the end of World War I) on Sunday at Paris’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:

Macron spoke bluntly of the threat from nationalism, calling it a betrayal of moral values. Trump, who has described himself as a nationalist and has promoted what he calls an “America First” policy, sat a few feet (meters) away, stony-faced.

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said. “When we say ‘our interests come first, those of others don’t matter’, we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values.”

Yes, you’ll note that Trump only just proudly proclaimed himself a nationalist a couple of weeks ago. He really seems to have appreciated Macron’s remarks:

For all of Macron’s repudiation, the fact of the matter is that the Europe that center-right technocrats like him, Angela Merkel, and the past several UK prime ministers created is being destroyed by precisely the kind of nationalism that Trump represents, and it’s their fault. The bloodless, austerity-obsessed, pro-rich agenda that Western governments have been following almost in lock step since the 1970s has brought us to the point where a battered, immiserated underclass is ready to embrace some good old fashioned violent xenophobia and racism because it offers a superficial way out of their misery. However nice Macron’s words might sound, there is nothing that he, as maybe the closest thing we have to a living embodiment of everything that’s been wrong with Western politics for the past 40 years, can really do about it.


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