‘A way to get rid of us’: Crimean Tatars decry Russia’s mobilisation

Members of ethnic group, which has largely opposed Russian rule since 2014, say they are being disproportionately targeted.

Crimean Tatars celebrate their flag day in Kyiv in 2020
Crimean Tatars celebrate their flag day in Kyiv in 2020.
Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Rights activists in Crimea say Russia’s mobilisation drive in the occupied peninsula is disproportionately targeting Crimean Tatars, an ethnic group that has largely opposed Russian rule since the area was annexed in 2014.

“Everywhere, in every town, I am hearing that the majority of those mobilised are Crimean Tatars, and we know they are particularly targeting settlements with predominantly Crimean Tatar populations,” an activist from the group still living on the peninsula said in a telephone interview.

“This will be a catastrophe for us that will take years to heal.”

Vladimir Putin announced “partial mobilisation” on Wednesday in an attempt to bolster Russia’s flagging invasion of Ukraine with new troops. Across the country, families have said goodbye to men who have been called up to fight. There have been reports of disproportionately high numbers mobilised in poor regions populated by ethnic minority groups, such as Buryatia and the republics of the North Caucasus.

The largely Muslim Crimean Tatars make up about 13% of Crimea’s population. There is no official breakdown of who has been mobilised but extensive anecdotal evidence suggests Crimean Tatars have been targeted disproportionately. Crimea SOS, a Ukrainian rights organisation, estimates that 90% of mobilisation notices have been given to Crimean Tatars.

“This is a conscious effort to destroy the Crimean Tatar nation,” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said during his nightly video address on Saturday.

Tamila Tasheva, Zelenskiy’s top representative for Crimea, also said she believed Russia was targeting the group deliberately. “Crimean Tatars are the least loyal segment of the population to Russia, and it was clear they were very buoyed by recent Ukrainian military successes. Now they are being punished,” she said.

Tasheva, who is Crimean Tatar, said she had received dozens of reports from members of her ethnic group of police arriving in their towns or villages and handing out summons.

“People are panicking, they don’t know what to do,” she said. She is advising those mobilised to try to surrender to Ukrainian forces at the first possible opportunity. “But of course, we’re worried they’ll just be shot in the back by the Russians.”

Asked if arming thousands of opponents was a strategy that could backfire for Moscow, she said: “Unfortunately, the Russians are not stupid enough to put all the Crimean Tatars together in the same regiment.”

Others also reported a sense of helplessness and panic in the community, with people attempting to flee Crimea.

With the nearest operating international airport hundreds of miles from Crimea, persistent rumours that Russia could close the bridge over the Kerch strait that links the peninsula to Russia and huge queues at Russia’s remaining open land borders with other countries, fleeing is not easy.

“Right now, it’s the only topic of discussion. How to flee, how to hide, how to get out of Russia. Yesterday I was at a birthday party and nobody was talking about anything else. There are no smiles, no happiness. Everyone is depressed, the women are in tears,” said the activist.

Tatars have called Crimea home for centuries, but became a minority after Russia took over the region in the 18th century under Catherine the Great. Joseph Stalin had the entire population deported to Central Asia during the second world war, wrongly smearing the group as Nazi collaborators. Most were only allowed to return to the peninsula in the 1980s.

This long experience of persecution led many Crimean Tatars to be extremely hostile to the Russian annexation in 2014. Russian authorities subsequently tried to co-opt Crimean Tatar leaders, but most refused to collaborate. A campaign of harassment and persecution against active community leaders began, and Russia outlawed the mejlis, the Crimean Tatar representative body. Many of its members were banned from entering the peninsula and are now based in Kyiv or elsewhere.

Dozens of Crimean Tatars are recognised as political prisoners, and there has been an increase in arrests and pressure since the war began in February, with Russian authorities on the lookout for sabotage and plots among a population it considers disloyal.

Crimean police detained six wedding guests and the venue owner earlier this month after the DJ played a pro-Ukraine song at a wedding, and Russian authorities have said anyone displaying pro-Ukraine sentiment is liable to arrest.

Tasheva said: “First they tried to buy us, then they tried to repress us and now they see mobilisation as a way to try to simply get rid of us.”


May 17, 2022. OTTAWA, ON.  On May 18, the world marks the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of the Crimean Tatar People. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) joins the Crimean Tatar People in mourning, grief and solemn commemoration of the memory of the victims of the Sürgünlik.

In 1944, the totalitarian Soviet communist regime exiled the Crimean Tatar People, the Іndigenous people of Crimea, from their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were forcibly and violently deported to Siberia and Central Asian regions of the USSR. Nearly half lost their lives during the first year of exile. The Soviet regime prohibited the Crimean Tatar People from returning to Crimea for almost 50 years.

On this day in 1944, the Soviet authorities began to deport the indigenous people of Crimea to the Central Asia. May 18, the first special train with the Crimean Tatars was sent. At least 180,000 people were deported.

May the Memory of the Victims be Eternal. Вічная Пам’ять.

In 2014, Russia invaded and occupied Crimea. Today, the Crimean People, who are bravely resisting the Russian occupation of their ancestral homeland, are once again subject to systemic repressions, arbitrary arrests and attacks on their inalienable rights and freedoms by the Russian occupation regime. The Representative Assembly of the Crimean Tatar People, the Mejlis, has been illegally banned. The Crimean Tatar People are once again the victims of a cruel and ruthless occupation regime.

The UCC stands in solidarity with the Crimean Tatar People and calls on the international community to increase pressure on Russia to end its illegal occupation of Crimea. Today, as Russia wages a genocidal war against Ukraine, the Crimean Tatar People, as all citizens of Ukraine, stand in defence of their homeland against Russia’s aggression. The same evil spirit of totalitarianism, colonialism and oppression that drove the Soviet genocide against the Crimean Tatar People today drives the Russian genocide against Ukrainians.

In November 2015, Ukraine’s Parliament recognized the Sürgünlik an act of Genocide against the Crimean Tatar People and established May 18 as the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of the Crimean Tatar People. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress calls on Canada to recognize the deportation of the Crimean Tatar People as an act of Genocide.

Added photos from: https://odessa-journal.com/remembrance-day-for-victims-of-the-crimean-tatar-people-genocide/

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Wolves Really Can Become Attached to Humans Can

A wolf lying down

One of the wolf pups involved in the research. (Christina Hansen Wheat/Stockholm University)

Few animals show as much affection and loyalty as dogs. But a new study offers evidence that the same human-to-animal attachment can develop in wolves, too.

While earlier studies have suggested something similar, there isn’t much previous research on the attachment between wolves and humans, and the results have varied. Here, the study team wanted to take a standardized approach in which a test group of dogs and wolves were raised in identical circumstances from birth.

Between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago, dogs were domesticated from wolf species that are now extinct, and the researchers think that their findings could shed new light on which traits have evolved through domestication, and which were there in the first place.

“Wolves showing human-directed attachment could have had a selective advantage in early stages of dog domestication,” says ethologist and the study’s lead author Christina Hansen Wheat from Stockholm University in Sweden.

The study looked at the responses and behaviors of 12 Alaskan husky dogs and 10 European gray wolves (Canis lupus) in what’s known as the Strange Situation Test, a standard scientific test originally used with children to judge attachment towards their caregivers, and was adapted for dogs (and in this case, wolves) 20 years ago.

Having been raised from the age of 10 days up to 23 weeks by trained caregivers, the dogs and wolves were put through a roughly 15-minute long experiment.

In it, the primary female caregiver to the wolves and dogs would take turns with a female stranger going in and out of a room and engaging with the animals, whether through active play or, if the animal engaged them, petting.

Like the dogs, the wolves showed more affection and spent more time greeting the familiar person, and engaged in more physical contact. The familiar person was also more likely to be followed to the door as they left.

“It was very clear that the wolves, as the dogs, preferred the familiar person over the stranger,” says Hansen Wheat.

“But what was perhaps even more interesting was that while the dogs were not particularly affected by the test situation, the wolves were.”

Compared to the dogs, wolves demonstrated more stress- and fear-related behaviors when dealing with strangers, including pacing, crouching, and tail-tucking.

These behaviors coincided with the stranger entering the room and when the stranger and the wolf were in the room without the familiar person.

When the familiar human returned to the room, these behaviors would become less pronounced. In other words, it seemed as though the familiar person acted as a sort of ‘social buffer’ for the wolf.

Scientists continue to examine the ways in which dogs and wolves are and aren’t alike, in an attempt to understand their evolutionary history – but it appears that in terms of bonding with people, there are some key similarities. The differences, however, suggest areas that be further explored in future research.

“Together with earlier studies making important contributions to this question, I think it is now appropriate to entertain the idea that if variation in human-directed attachment behavior exists in wolves, this behavior could have been a potential target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication,” says Hansen Wheat.

The research has been published in Ecology and Evolution.

A Talk With Konrad Lorenz

July 5, 1970

With Nikolaas Tinbergen (right), 1978

KONRAD Z. LORENZ, author of “On Aggression,” is a founding father of ethology, the systematic study of animal behavior and the subject of dispute over whether its findings explain the social (and antisocial) behavior of man. In this interview with Frederic de Towarnicki of the French magazine L’Express, Dr. Lorenz ranges over a broad spectrum of ideas, from the plight of 20th century man to his personal vision of the universe. The translation is by Stanley Hochman.

Q: Does the study of the behavior of animals throw light on the behavior of man?

Lorenz: Let’s say that ethology permits the study and observation of man without philosophical, religious or ideological spectacles which presuppose that man is a supranatural being who does not obey the laws of nature. If you know animals well, you know yourself reasonably well. When you see your wife give suck to your son, you know we are mammals. Only Western man seems not to understand these truths today. But children—they understand these things, you know.

Last week my little nephew said to his father “Look, someone is walking under the table.” The father, thinking that his son had had a hallucination, looked under the table and saw—an ant! For the child, an ant was “someone.” I, too, have never doubted that I am one animal among others.

Q: You know, don’t you, that ethologists are often reproached with having underestimated the difference between animal and man, with projecting animal behavior onto man?

Lorenz: That’s absurd. In my opinion it is the anthropologists who underestimate the difference because they don’t see—nobody does—the degree to which the cumulative tradition in man—in other words, culture—is something absolutely new that exists in no other organism.

Q: Do animals have a tradition?

Loren a: Yes, but it is not cumulative. For example, jackdaws have a tradition of knowledge. The reactions of the parents teach the young jackdaws to know a cat, goshawk, a marten. Rats transmit the knowledge of poison. In monkeys, even recipes are transmitted: how to clean potatoes. One of them invents a method for salting potatoes with sea water. He teaches it to his relatives, to his friends, to the whole population: that’s tradition. But it’s always dependent on the presence of the object.

Even syntactical language is not an exclusively human facility. In America a psychologist couple [Beatrice T. and R. Allen Gardner of the University of Nevada] have taught a young chimpanzee the sign language of deaf‐mutes. That’s much easier for chimpanzee to master than the movements we make with our mouths. This chimpanzee has really succeeded in understanding syntactic language. She makes up new sentences. For example, she says things like: “You, you and I, together, let’s go into the woods.” Yes, she can say that!

Q: Then, according to you, animals aren’t so different from man?

Lorenz: Lao‐tze has said, I believe, that all of the animal is still present in man. But it is certainly not true that all of man is in the animal. This is because man never “was” in the animal. To say that man is an ape, even a naked ape, is absolutely true. But as soon as you imply that man is nothing but an ape, it’s false. That’s why I don’t like my friend Desmond Morris’s title, “The Naked Ape.” To qualify the word “ape,” you would have to say “the ape with a cumulative tradition.” Because that’s what is characteristic of man.

If you have not made use of biology to understand how species lacking a cumulative tradition act, you cannot grasp the unique nature of human culture. The appearance of language made it possible to maintain a tradition independent of en vironment. With culture, something completely new came into the world: the potential immortality of thought, of truth, of knowledge. An entire people, an entire race, can now perish, and yet their culture can survive in libraries—so that another people, even another planet, can find it and make use of it. This is the real immortality of the spirit.

But on the other hand, culture can die even though men survive, and that’s what threatens us today, because the growth, the expansion, of this immense body of cumulative knowledge requires brains, books, and traditions. Culture is not something that soars over men’s heads. It is man himself. I think that a philospher like Jean Jacques Rousseau, who has a large popular audience, can do enormous damage to human thinking.

Q: Jean Jacques Rousseau? Today? Why?

Lorenz: His notion that without culture man would be a noble savage living in a paradise is absolutely mad. Such a man would be a cretin who would not know how to speak, who would know only a few rudiments of social behavior, and who would therefore immediately backslide 200,000 years. Today’s youth clearly sees that some things have fallen into decay. But what it doesn’t see is that you can’t build an enormous mass of knowledge in a single generation. The danger is that many of them want to tear everything down and start again from zero because they are under the illusion that the equivalent of it all can be rebuilt. We can restart at, zero, but in that case, I repeat, we will go back about 200,000 years, before Cro‐Magnon man, because Cro‐Magnon paintings are the end result of a long tradition and of an enormous accumulation of knowledge.

Q: You put a great deal of emphasis on tradition. People will end by accusing you of also being a traditionalist.

Lorenz: And if the other side misunderstands me it will be said that I’m a Communist or a Maoist, or even a fascist or a nihilist. I’m against everything, against all the ideologies, all the regimes in the world. Except perhaps the Dubcek regime, which no longer exists. It’s the only regime that would have been able to get my vote. But I’m very optimistic about the education of the young. I have spoken of all this in auditoriums filled with hostile students. I have said all this in my lectures in London, New York, Stockholm, Paris, Chicago, often before blacks, and I got an enormous response.

Q: What did you tell the students?

Lorenz: I said: “Watch out! If you make a clean sweep of things, you won’t go back to the Stone Age, because you’re there already, but ‘to well before the Stone Age.” I began my lectures by saying that I hoped to irritate the old as well as the young, to become detested by all.

Q: Do you feel that your theories are very far from those of Herbert Marcuse?

Lorenz: Marcuse is one of those utopian and generous madmen who believe that it’s possible to build from the ground up. He believes that if everything is destroyed, everything automatically regrows. It’s a terrifying error. Marcuse does not really understand the mechanisms by which evolution and culture work in tandem and complement one another—nor did Karl Marx or Engels understand these mechanisms. These men make related errors. Marx was very aware of the need to conserve the whole heritage of culture. Everything he said in “Capital” is right, but he always made the error of forgetting the instincts. For Marx the territorial instinct was only a cultural phenomenon.

Q: This traditional culture is also being challenged by the young.

Lorenz: Let me say that it is natural for youth to question tradition. At the age of 18 to 19 every normal young man begins to lose his absolute allegiance to the parental tradition. It’s inevitable. If it weren’t so, culture and tradition would be much too slow. But a culture is based on an equilibrium between two mechanisms: the acquisition of new data and the conserva “In America, a young chimpanzee has been taught the sign language of deaf‐mutes.”

Lion of knowledge. Both are necessary. Tradition represents the mechanism for conserving knowledge.

Q: Thin, as you see it, there is need for balance between tradition and change, conservation and challenge?

Lorenz: Under the stable conditions of the Biblical times of Abraham, little had to be changed for men’s adaptation to their enviroment to be perfect As Thomas Mann has so nicely demonstrated, the son so identified with the father that he believed he was the father. If Abraham lived 350 years, it is simply because the Biblical ages are only succession of sons, fathers and grandfathers intensely identifying with their ancestors. They all believed they were Abraham. A great deal of conservatism was necessary then. Today, with the acceleration of history and technology, adaptation to the environment requires more and more change.

National ideas were still serviceable for our grandparents. During the time of Rudyard Kipling, the norms of, social ‘behavior he wrote about were valid for his epoch and his country. Transposed into our time, Kipling results in Hitler—just as imperialist and just as racist. A great poet, Kipling is an example of how a system of behavioral norms that could serve as counsel for the young only 100 years ago would today lead to an absolutely criminal, nationalistic chauvinism. We therefore always have to ask ourselves: When and where? In 1970, the total disappearance of tradition would be more deadly danger than the sclerosis brought on by the continuance of an overrigid tradition.

Q: Could you develop that idea?

Lorenz: I believe that we have to think of these things in medical terms. I often cite the case of the endocrine glands. Within an organism there are always more or less antagonistic functions that maintain themselves in equilibrium. When old [Emil Theodor] Kocher, a Swiss surgeon, tried to cure Basedow’s disease by removing the thyroid, he not only took away the thyroid but also the parathyroid glands, which control calcium metabolism. As a result, the patient died very quickly.

The next time, Kocher left the parathyroid in place. This time, the patient died of myxedema, much later—but in developing the symptoms of myxedema, he gave Kocher the opportunity to understand that myxedema is the contrary of Basedow’s disease. Afterwards, by removing only part of the thyroid, he obtained a complete cure. It’s easy to see that if there is an endocrine gland, if you find this gland in the organism, it would be almost stupid to believe that it could be taken away without danger, without disordering the entire organism. In like manner, in society — that superorganism—there are interactions, equilibriums of a complexity infinitely greater than in the individual.

It’s as stupid to ask if the thyroid is good or bad as it is to ask if conservatism or the challenge of the young is good or bad. Both are necessary. The problem is one of equilibrium. In each case, we must ask ourselves what the needs of the environment are at the present time and place. What may be disease in Europe may elsewhere be healthy. For example, in Africa a certain form of anemia caused by deformation of the red corpuscles is the only thing that provides resistance to malaria germs.

Q: Is there then a similarity between biological laws and social laws?

Lorenz: When we study a method of cybernetic regulation we see that a large number of contradictory and antagonistic functions is necessary to maintain a desired value between the extremes; if not there is catastrophic disorder. Loyalty to an ideal, the somewhat belligerent enthusiasm for a cause, nationalism—if all this is exaggerated somewhat, you very quickly end up with a dangerous barbarian capable of splitting your skull with the clearest possible conscience.

Q: In your opinion, why does the present challenge to the parental generation’s traditions and norms of behavior especially manifest itself in so‐called “affluent” societies?

Lorenz: There are explanations for that. There is lack of contact between the generations. For example, let us take a young Peruvian Indian who has to till very poor soil and raise his llamas or his sheep. In his daily struggle against nature this young man very clearly sees that what his father.does is absolutely necessary for survival. The father is not mad, and his precepts have to be followed: there is no other way to grow corn and raise llamas. The Peruvian Indian eats the previous year’s corn, but the child of a Munich University professor has absolutely no opportunity to become convinced of the necessity of what his father does. If my grandchildren see me in front of an aquarium, how can they immediately understand that what the old man is doing is work?

Q: Youth is also challenging the injustices of society. Doesn’t it lay the guilt for these at the door of the parental generation?

Lorenz: I believe that youth clearly sees the great faults committed by the “Establishment”: the overexploitation of nature and of men, the upsetting of the equilibrium of the planet. These accusations are frequent, necessary and absolutely just. But I don’t believe that the parental generation’s guilt plays as essential a role. These are secondary rationalizations, because the accusation is the same in America as it is in Germany, where the young generation has good reasons for accusing its parents. Now, German youth is no more accusatory than that of Sweden, or France or Switzerland. There is, therefore, little correlaticin between real guilt and the young people’s accusations against their parents.

The real motivations are much more instinctive. But if you observe the emotional response of the parental generation to the attacks of the young, you will notice that the representatives of the old generation themselves often feel guilty—that they respond with submission and self‐accusation without knowing why. And this too is a nonrational, emotional reaction: if someone you love a great deal attacks you, your first thought is: “Oh, my God! How could I have offended him?” If he suddenly looks at you coldly, and even with a look of hate, your first reaction will be to search for guilt within yourself.

Parents are incapable of ceasing to love their children, and if they feel themselves accused and even hated, they have a tendency to believe that they are guilty. And this is the worst thing they can do. Because, naturally, the young people say, “There, he’s admitted it!”

This behavior is also found in animals. You can see it in every dog. If you kick your dog, he thinks it’s his fault. That’s why I will never be able to carry out physiological experiments on dogs. The more pain you cause a dog the more submissive he becomes and the more he asks your pardon. The same thing is true of parents. They are like beaten dogs. The same is also true of professors.

Q: Do you perceive a kind of abdication of the father’s role?

Lorenz: I would venture to say that in man there is a direct correlation between the hate among children and the lack of a dominant father. But the domination need not necessarily be a brutal domination. In my wife’s family—five children—there was no hate. My father‐in‐law was the “alpha” — the unchallenged and unchallengeable head. His criticism was always very measured. The worst thing he could say was: “I was really surprised that you did that.” That was terrible.

The hostility that you see nowadays between brother and sister is a new phenomenon. It is particularly noticeable in America, where there is a tendency for real hatred to come between children on the same level of the family pyramid.

Q: Have you observed it in certain animals?

Lorenz: In wolves, for example, when the alpha animal disappears, hostility develops among the inferior wolves. Battles for superiority immediately break out among the young.

Q: How much of this do you ascribe to the growing insipidness of life? To the boredom that reigns in rich countries? What is its origin? What are its effects?

Lorenz: Life is always in danger. It’s not a stable state but a self‐regulating process; it’s up to us to keep it in balance. In wealthy societies, the lack of obstacles to be surmounted is also a frustration. I believe that the complete absence of obstacles is more dangerous than are insurmountable obstacles. In science, for example, one is always confronted by insur mountable obstacles: the soul and the body, etc. And that’s not so bad. Goethe used to say, “I love the man who aspires to the impossible.”

There is in man a sort of organization—an apparatus, if you like—that balances pain and pleasure. The highest degree of pleasure is acquired only at a certain price. If you prevent all sorts of pain, if you constantly take tranquilizers to eliminate a headache or fear, you diminish the oscillation; you end up with a sort ‐of grayness that leads to complete boredom. This is one of the new plagues that can be observed in rich countries.

Q: Do animals have this apparatus that maintains the balance between pleasure and pain?

Lorenz: All animals that learn by trial and error. Because there’s always a bargain struck. Suppose that a wolf knew only pleasure and not pain; he would go hunting in the polar night at 40 below and he would freeze a paw. That’s too steep a price to pay. The equilibrium between the price and what is bought is broken: the price of a caribou should not be a frozen paw, because then the wolf would have no chance of surviving.

Man, too, has this apparatus. If he decreases his investment of pain and of work toward a distant goal, he causes the oscillation to decrease, and he then no longer knows the great waves of pleasure and pain, of desire and despair, of final success through work, which give him self‐respect and joy. Joy is not necessarily linked to sensual pleasure: pleasure is only the act of consummation, and joy is pleasure in the act of creation.

As American psychologists have pointed out, boredom carries with it the need for immediate satisfaction, a refusal to suffer, to struggle—a refusal, for example, to conquer a woman: immediate copulation is required. Have you seen some of those young people making love in Hyde Park? They do it with all the enthusiasm of bored babies who suck on candies that they would just as soon spit out. Bored young people are the most pitiful beings in the world. They have lost everything.

Q:Has the apparatus broken down?

Lorenz: Yes. This apparatus evolved during a time in which the life of humanity was extremely dangerous: there was the saber‐toothed tiger, the cave bear. At that time it was good strategy to be cowardly. You had to be economical, as lazy as possible. Food was scarce and you had to be a glutton and stuff yourself once the mastodon was killed. All the mortal sins were virtues in those times when life was bought dear. Now the cost of life is more and more of a bargain, and man is inventing very subtle ways of procuring pleasure without paying too much for it. And this leads to a frustration due to a lack of obstacles, a dulling that results in other atrophies such as a lack of appreciation of beauty, of harmony.

Q: Can the too rapid destruction of ancient norms produce monsters?

Lorenz: It’s easy to manufacture a monster, easier than people think. It wasn’t until after man began to have a culture that the cerebral hemispheres became developed. Lacking a link with tradition, they risk remaining empty, atrophying. The linguist [Noam] Chomsky—a genius—contends that language did not first develop as a means of communication but as a logical means of conceptual thought. Traditional languages take thousands of years to evolve. Language can be lost in a few generations. In our own day it is already becoming impoverished, and, as a result, so is the faculty for logical expression.

You know that by accumulating mutations through incest, by employing poisons or radiations, you very rapidly end up with monsters. In our own time, the loss of certain traditions is already producing asocial monsters. Each year, there are younger and younger criminals. The complete destruction of tradition would cause enormous damage. For example, it is the moral codes that create family cohesion. If we are to take the theoreticians of complete sexual promiscuity at their word, we will have to ask ourselves, among other things, “What will become of the children?” Because it can be shown that a child needs not only his two parents but even his grandparents, a family.

Q: According to you, in modern societies, man’s aggressive instinct is “jumping the track.” Is it no longer—as in animals—at the service of life, of selection?

Lorenz: Let’s say, to begin with, that all instincts can jump the track. A comparative study of sexual instincts shows the extreme derailments often provoked by the same social, cultural, technological and ecological causes. But it’s almost always overpopulation that is at the root of all the “malfunctions” of human social behavior. Thus it is collective aggression that becomes the major danger of modern civilization: aggression plus the H‐bomb. When thousands, millions, of men are brought together, aggression begins to get seriously out of hand.

Q: What are the reasons for this?

Lorenz: There are several. Indoctrination by ideology is one of the cultural fac tors capable of causing the most serious derailments of collective aggression. A doctrine’s power of conviction increases with the square of the number of men participating in it—the relationship is geometric. As soon as a doctrine has a sufficient number of adherents, the nonconformist becomes a heretic who must be liquidated.

The other reason for mounting aggression is quite simply that men in large cities are too crowded together. Some day a movie will have to be made of the aggressive behavior of people in the big New York bus terminal. There too the key factor is overpopulation.

Q: In some American universities there is a very strong resistance on the part of many orthodox professors to the current conclusions of ethology. Could this be for ideological reasons?

Lorenz: In our time a biological approach to man’s behavior comes up against a worldwide doctrine. And this simplified doctrine of the “conditioned reflex” does all it can to destroy its adversaries. You have to be something of a Don Quixote to fight against it. This doctrine —I call it the “pseudodemocratic” doctrine — has very deep foundations and is very dangerous. The theory according to which man is nothing more than the creature of his milieu is comfortable for everybody. The citizen thus “equalized” is as welcome to American capitalism, which wants to have a dutiful and uniform consumer, as he is to the leader of a totalitarian system, who wants to have a citizen who won’t rock the boat.

If — following Freud — we observe the mental and emotional resistance that the behaviorists put up against whatever is not a conditioned reflex, I believe we discover the underlying ideology of all the present political doctrines. The management, the control, of large masses rests on the erroneous assumption that there is no innate program in man, no phylogenetic program. And this egalitarian point of view is completely antibiological.

In human society the division of labor is founded on a difference, an inequality, in the members of society, which presupposes a difference in capacities. Today an attempt is everywhere being made to set up a society composed of manipulable and interchangeable elements. In other words, the best of all possible worlds for the Russian apparatchiks or the American monopolists.

The adversaries of ethology often accuse us of being anti democratic not to say racist. They surround their own doctrine with a democratic halo. The phenomenon has been analyzed by an American writer, Philip Wylie. The pseudodemocratic doctrine he says, takes its strength from a truth that has been twisted into a lie: The truth is that all men should have the same possibilities to develop themselves freely. But who denies this? Then this indisputable truth is twisted a Little, and it is proclaimed: If all men had the same possibilities to develop themselves, all men would be equal. This is not true. It is absolutely false because all men are unequal from the moment of their conception. But there is a pretense that this equality among men is the key, the sine qua non, of collective life, and this is false. As far as mass manipulators are concerned, the Pavlovian dog is

Q: But, according to you, man is not a Pavlovian dog…

Lorenz: Even dogs aren’t, really! Rats would be a better choice. A very strange story was told to me by Howard Lidell, a famous neurological specialist who was Pavlov’s student in St. Petersburg. Lidell had conditioned a dog to salivate when a metronome accelerated. He asked himself, “What will happen if I release my dog from his harness?” Note that to preserve belief in the conditioned reflex the dog has to be tied up so that he can make use only of his salivary gland.

Lidell went ahead and unleashed the dog. What do you think the dog did? Though the metronome hadn’t accelerated, he leaped toward the mechanism, pushed it with his nose, wagged his tail, and, while salivating furiously, asked the metronome to accelerate! What had previously been conditioned was quite simply the reaction of a beggar. The dog had formed the hypothesis that the metronome was the cause of his food. The great Pavlov was so furious that he forbade Lidell to divulge his experiment! Think of the complexity of what had happened and the simplism of the explanation. The conditioned reflex does exist, but it is not the only element of behavior.

Q: What is your attitude toward Freud?

Lorenz: Freud—I’m simplifying a great deal — discovered the eternal instinctive drives, those not dependent on environment, in a time when the doctrine of the conditioned reflex was at its acme. If he had done only that, he would have deserved three Nobel prizes, but he generalized the properties of sexuality onto all the other instincts. Perhaps his fundamental error was to have made aggression the antagonist of life. He made it something of a devil.

Q: When did you become aware of the political implications of your research?

Lorenz: It’s only recently that our adversaries have understood how dangerous ethology is. Its results simply say that it’s not possible to make anything one wants out of man. Man—at least I hope so — will revolt against conditioning. Nevertheless, there is another possibility. It is the danger that the “Establishment,” such as it exists in either the West or the East, will undertake a selection of conformists, of good Pavlovian dogs. That’s something that worries me: a selection that would operate to the disadvantage of the student protesters, a selection in favor of those who never revolt, who bend their backs and “learn.” Then the conformist would advance and take all the important positions.

Selection, you know, works very quickly, and that’s a danger for humanity. Today one already finds a certain hostility toward the intellectual elite. It can be found among many student protesters. An egalitarianism that forbids a man to be more in telligent than the average is the death of all cultural development. I realize that it is easier to denounce faults than to build constructive programs. But there are, you know, beings on earth among whom it is the most intelligent who govern.

These beings are the monkeys, the baboons. With them, it is not the strongest, not the armed man, not the militarist who governs, but rather the scientist, the sage, because there is among them a veritable senate of experienced beings who make the decisions. Until now our human scientists have not been sufficiently aware of their responsibilities. Our problems—how to govern a state, how to establish collaboration between two peoples or two hostile ideologies—will not be resolved in the 20th century by brutal revolutions, but by research and imagination.

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The nuclear threat might change the mood in Russia itself, stoking widespread fear

Putin’s propaganda glories in devastation but, like the Nazis, he is sowing the seeds of self-destruction

Children hold photos of relatives killed in the Second World War during last May’s march for the ‘immortal regiment’ in Moscow.
Children hold photos of relatives killed in the Second World War during last May’s march for the ‘immortal regiment’ in Moscow. Photograph: NurPhoto/REX/Shut

‘Do you want Total War?” Goebbels demanded of the Nazi faithful as the Second World War went south for Germany in 1943. He depicted a Reich surrounded by evil Jewish cosmopolitan conspirators bent on its destruction and he advocated for total mobilisation and to embrace a glory-in-death ideology.

Vladimir Putin delivered his own (partial) version last week. As the Ukraine war goes south for Russia, he claimed the defeats are the result of cosmopolitan conspiracies bent on destroying Russia and he had to announce (partial) total mobilisation. He called on Russians’ sense of historical mission and implied Russia was ready to use nuclear weapons. “This isn’t a bluff,” he insisted.

Putin likes to imitate the worst of 20th-century totalitarian propaganda, but does his message work, at home and abroad? Or is Putin starting to make the same propaganda blunders he made on the battlefield? Russian state propaganda drips with the pathos of martyrdom. Russians are meant to love the pain of proving how tough they are, surviving everything from the Gulag to the extreme weather, as compared with the effete west. The propaganda taps incessantly into the myth of the Second World War, in which Russians are described as unique among nations in their readiness to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause. On the anniversary of that war, the state organises marches where people carry placards of dead veterans, “the immortal regiment”: death in war brings immortality in the heaven of state propaganda. There’s a suicidal bravura, a “let’s destroy the whole world” implication in the popular catchphrase “What’s the point of the world if there’s no place for Russia in it?”. Putin’s nuclear threats are snarled with relish, as if sadistically summoning the Gods of Total Destruction.

As with the Nazis, rational self-interest is meant to be swallowed up in the community of the state. But look closer and the picture gets more complicated – and vulnerable.

The myth of martyrdom and resilience is suspect. Ukrainians have a genuine tradition of suffering for the cause of national liberation – and success through sacrifice. For centuries, Ukrainian poets and rebels proved themselves ready to bear unjust imprisonment, executions and genocide to fight for their national and linguistic rights. Many of Ukraine’s heroes, such as the poets Taras Shevchenko and Vasyl Stus, suffered Russian prisons and tortures, and their underlying spirit of resilience is being proved on the battlefield.

Russians do not celebrate dissidents … mass oppression has resulted in a society that celebrates passive conformism

Russians have indeed been killed en masse, most often by their own state, but, unlike Ukrainians, they do not celebrate their own dissidents. These are hated and damned in state propaganda and by the public at large. Real courage is derided. Instead, mass oppression has resulted in a society that celebrates passive conformism. Bravura is celebrated on the screen, but as a way to compensate for the way society is actually cowed. You are crushed by the state and then compensated with patriotic heroics on television and sadism towards the weakest in your own society and others (in this case, Ukraine).

The great difference with Nazi propaganda is that while the former was geared to action and mobilisation, Putin’s propaganda is geared to demobilisation: sit on the couch, feel strong by watching propaganda and let the Kremlin run things. Beneath the rhetoric of self-sacrifice, Putin’s propaganda has traditionally allowed for self-interest or, at least, self-preservation. You go to war spouting patriotic rhetoric, but really you are in it because it allows for loot and rape. You enjoy the highs of patriotic rhetoric at home, but really your interest is in being allowed to pursue corruption, great and small. Putin’s trick is to dress self-interest in patriotic propaganda. Now those two things are splitting. Going to the front just means pointless death. It’s now clear the “partial” mobilisation is not partial at all; people are being grabbed on the streets and packed off to war. On social media, the sentiment towards mobilisation is highly negative. In polling, even the most pro-Putin Russians are against it. The war in Ukraine was meant to be a movie, not a personal sacrifice.

Putin’s threat of nuclear war may backfire, too. It’s meant to intimidate the west and Ukraine but it can upset his own people more. If there’s one thing Russians fear more than Putin, it’s nuclear war – and now he’s the one bringing it closer. For both the elite and the “ordinary” Russians who I’ve spoken to recently, the calculation is about whether the risk of going against Putin is bigger than the risk of sticking with him. So far, rebelling has seemed the bigger risk; does the nuclear topic change that? Much depends on how the international community reacts. We need to show that the closer he gets to a nuclear threat, the more devastating the reaction will be: military, economic and diplomatic. He will even lose China.

Losing public opinion in Russia is not the same as in a democracy. It doesn’t necessarily lead to protests, let alone losing non-existent elections. But being able to show you can control public opinion, through fear and propaganda, is one of the emblems of tsardom. Putin has lost control of the military situation. Losing control of propaganda will show that beneath the shiny fascist boots are feet of clay. Now stamp on them.

 Peter Pomerantsev is the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia

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Life Is Hard

Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya review – philosophical self-help

What can a 2500-year-old discipline tell us about how to live better in the modern world?

Auguste Rodin’s
The Thinker in Beijing
‘We all incline to philosophical speculation’ … Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in Beijing. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Can philosophy help us with worldly troubles? Ancient philosophers thought the answer was obvious. Philosophy is a “medical art for the soul”, Cicero tells us. Its compassionate task is to lead us from suffering towards a life lived well. Contemporary philosophers are likely to be more circumspect. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to think that my training in philosophy equips me to offer advice? The only CPR I know is the Critique of Pure Reason and the tools of my trade – a careful distinction here, some logic-chopping there – seem laughably inadequate to the fears and worries of modern living.

In his new book, Kieran Setiya disagrees. Through carefully crafted examples, he makes the case that philosophy can help us navigate the adversities of human life: pain, loneliness, grief and so on. He, too, is trained in the splitting of hairs. But this is not primarily a book of argument. It is a reflection designed to offer us new ways of thinking about ordinary hardships.

Some of this involves diagnosis. Consider the fear that your life is a failure: Setiya suggests that this only makes sense if you think of life as having a discernible narrative arc, one which culminates in the completion of some long-travelled quest. But you need not characterise it this way. Many of the things that make life worth living are processes not projects, activities not quests. If I set out to run a marathon, then I open myself up to failure. But if I concentrate on the experience of running, then I partake of something valuable no matter the distance I cover. The value of a project lies in its completion; the value of a process lies in the activity itself. Fear of failure involves emphasising one at the expense of the other.

Setiya is at his best in his discussion of the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil

Some of it involves prescription. Why do friends matter to us? Not because of their attributes. I’ve been listening to music with my mate Dan for 20 years. If my friendship with him were based solely on his extensive knowledge of music, then I ought to upgrade him as soon as someone with more knowledge comes along. But my attachment is not to his qualities but to Dan himself. He has unconditional value. This is why loneliness hurts: it separates us from the value that is other people. It follows that if we want to combat loneliness, we shouldn’t focus on shared interests, as if love were to be found by ticking boxes. We should attend closely to other people, acknowledging their existence, and see what happens from there.


Philosophy’s role here is not primarily analytical. We cannot be argued into coping with suffering. Instead, Setiya’s book is guided by an insight from Iris Murdoch: that philosophical progress often consists of finding new and better ways to describe some stretch of our experience. This kind of progress is not won by logic. It requires careful attention, precise thinking and the ability to draw distinctions that cast light on that which is of value. Setiya is at his best when he has something or someone clearly in view – for example in his account of living with chronic pain, or his discussion of the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil.

And if the prescriptions sometimes seem a little pat, that is a danger inherent to the project. Setiya’s targets are the infirmities of human life in general, but many of the problems that bedevil us are as individual as we are. A philosophy that spoke to our idiosyncratic fears would amount to personalised healthcare. Setiya has his sights on something more fundamental: the problems that afflict us simply by virtue of being human. Any advice offered at such vertiginous levels of generality will always risk sounding platitudinous.

How do those consolations measure up? Clear thinking is no panacea and new forms of description may seem of little help to those who feel the pull of Setiya’s concerns. How many of those mourning a parent will be receptive to the observation that there is no disloyalty in accepting change? Will someone who worries that life is absurd take comfort in reflections on the threat of extinction? Perhaps philosophy is of use only for those already inclined to philosophical speculation.


It’s possible. But Kant is right that we all incline to philosophical speculation, whether we like it or not. And besides, what are the alternatives? Overstretched health services are not well suited to treating the fallout of grief, loneliness and emotional pain. At least philosophy is cheaper than drink and drugs. And at some point all of us must face the fact that we and those we love are finite creatures, subject to the world’s contingencies. No life worth living is free of suffering and pain. Better to face it with the clarity to which philosophy, at its best, aspires.

Anil Gomes is associate professor of philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford. Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya is published by Cornerstone .

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September 23, 1939, Sigmund Freud’s death

By mid-September 1939, Freud’s cancer of the jaw was causing him increasingly severe pain and had been declared inoperable. The last book he read, Balzac‘s La Peau de chagrin, prompted reflections on his own increasing frailty, and a few days later he turned to his doctor, friend, and fellow refugee, Max Schur, reminding him that they had previously discussed the terminal stages of his illness: “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense.” When Schur replied that he had not forgotten, Freud said, “I thank you,” and then, “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it.” Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father’s death, but Schur convinced her it was pointless to keep him alive; on 21 and 22 September, he administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud’s death at around 3 am on 23 September 1939.[120][121] However, discrepancies in the various accounts Schur gave of his role in Freud’s final hours, which have in turn led to inconsistencies between Freud’s main biographers, has led to further research and a revised account. This proposes that Schur was absent from Freud’s deathbed when a third and final dose of morphine was administered by Dr. Josephine Stross, a colleague of Anna Freud, leading to Freud’s death at around midnight on 23 September 1939.


When Sigmund Freud examined Leonardo da Vinci

The father of psychoanalysis was also an inspiring writer on art – but do his ideas stand the test of time?

Freud loved art and collected it. In his London home, you can see the collection that came with him when he fled Vienna: a rich and diverse array of archaeological objects, a Rembrandt print, images of Egypt. It is often said that although Freud was the contemporary of Gustav Klimt, he showed no interest in modern art; but this is not fair. He dreamed about Arnold Böcklin’s symbolist masterpiece The Isle of the Dead, and his books are themselves works of modernism that went on to inspire the surrealists.
His famous book on Leonardo da Vinci is anything but conservative. Making bold claims about Leonardo’s sexuality, personality and the way works of art relate to real life, his book on this Renaissance genius is hugely suggestive and stimulating. It’s one of the classics on Leonardo and always will be.
But what is wrong with it is the belief that art can ultimately be theorised and explained. It’s not that Freud gets the artist wrong – his essential claims are convincing, his characterisation of the genius’s indecisive and gentle personality acute – but that the quest for ultimate origins and final explanations seems futile. You might say that Freud’s bedside manner towards Leonardo – his doctoring – is superb, but his scientific analysis seems to go beyond that humane sensitivity. The genius of the surrealists was to adopt Freud’s insights while ignoring the underlying science – or, as more hostile critics might say, pseudo-science. They took what is living in Freud – the deeply insightful recognition of the psyche and sexuality – and left out the cumbersome dogmatic superstructure. What endures of Freud is the artist, the writer, the man of feeling.

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‘Blood on your hands’ if world steps back on tackling COVID now, WHO official says

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gives news conference in Geneva

Bruce Aylward, Senior Advisor to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, December 20, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

LONDON, Sept 23 (Reuters) – If rich nations think the pandemic is over, they should help lower-income countries reach that point too, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters.

In an interview, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned that richer nations must not step back from tackling COVID-19 as a global problem now, ahead of future potential waves of infection.

In the last few weeks, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the end of the pandemic was in sight, and U.S President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over.

“When I hear them say, ‘Well, we’re so comfortable here,’ it’s like, ‘Great, now you can really help us get the rest of the world done’,” said Aylward.

Aylward said that the group he co-ordinates, which focuses on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests worldwide, is not yet ready to move out of the emergency phase of tackling the pandemic and that countries need to be ready and have treatments in place for any further waves of infection.

“If you go to sleep right now and this wave hits us in three months… God – blood on your hands,” he said.

He also stressed that Biden had a point domestically as the United States has good access to all COVID tools. It has also not cut its global commitment to fighting COVID, he added.

Aylward co-ordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a partnership between WHO and other global health bodies to help poorer countries access COVID-19 tools. The effort, which includes the vaccine-focused COVAX, has reached billions of people worldwide but has faced criticism for not acting quickly enough. There had been some speculation that the effort may wind up this autumn, but Aylward said it was simply changing its focus as the pandemic changes.

Over the next six months, the partnership will aim particularly at delivering vaccines to the roughly one quarter of the world’s health care workers and elderly who have still not had a shot, as well as on improving access to test-and-treat particularly with Pfizer’s Paxlovid, he said.

It will also look to the future as COVID is “here to stay”, and unless systems are put in place, support will collapse once other industrialised nations also think the pandemic is over, said Aylward.

The initiative already has an $11 billion gap in its budget, with most of its available $5.7 billion in funding pledged towards vaccines rather than tests or treatments.


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Missile strikes on Ukrainian cities as call-up causes chaos in Russia

Fresh wave of protests across Russia on Saturday after Putin’s ‘partial mobilisation’ of civilian men

A rescue worker on Saturday at a residential building in Zaporizhzhia damaged by a Russian missile strike
A rescue worker on Saturday at a residential building in Zaporizhzhia damaged by a Russian missile strike. Photograph: Reuters

Russia launched renewed strikes on Ukrainian cities on Saturday, as Moscow’s mobilisation drive to refresh its struggling war effort continued to provide scenes of chaos across Russia.

Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile hit an apartment building in the city of Zaporizhzhia, killing one person and injuring seven others, and said a total of three people were killed and 19 injured in strikes across the south and east of the country.

In Russia, even Kremlin cheerleaders expressed unease at the progress of the mobilisation drive, announced by the president, Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday. Viral videos have shown mobilised men who appear variously to be confused, drunk or angry at receiving the call-up.

There are many reports of local authorities rounding up people who have not served before, have illnesses or are over 50, contradicting Putin’s announcement of a “partial mobilisation” that would only involve those with military experience. There are reports of men and women with young children being mobilised, and many videos of emotional family farewells.

Emotional scenes in the eastern Siberian republic of Buryatia as drafted men say goodbye to their families.

Margarita Simonyan, the hawkish head of propaganda outlet RT, complained that military offices across the country were rounding up those who were not supposed to be called up. “It’s as if they were tasked by Kyiv to do that,” she said, in a rare criticism of authorities.

The mobilisation drive is a huge gamble by Putin after months in which the war in Ukraine has been portrayed as a “special operation” that would be completed without bloodshed. Now, the call-up brings the war closer to home for hundreds of thousands of families, and has prompted a race for the borders for many Russian men eager to avoid the draft.

There was a fresh wave of anti-war and anti-mobilisation protests in cities across Russia on Saturday, although the numbers were small as police have cracked down harshly on previous protests.

In the far-eastern city of Khabarovsk, one man was detained for a sign that read: “Mobilise yourself, you lice-infested rat.” Protests were expected in Moscow and St Petersburg late in the afternoon.

A further sign of problems in Moscow came as the defence ministry sacked Gen Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy minister in charge of logistics. The ministry gave no reason for firing Bulgakov, who had worked in the role for many years.

“The top appears to be looking for people to blame at the moment. Someone had to be punished, and [minister of defence Sergei] Shoigu doesn’t want to put the blame on the generals, on the military,” said a former defence ministry official who has worked with Bulgakov.

“The mantra is: ‘We are fighting well but not just getting the logistics we need, we aren’t getting our breakfast on time,’ so to speak. It is not the fault of the guys fighting.”

Police break up an anti-war demonstration in Moscow on Wednesday
Police break up an anti-war demonstration in Moscow on Wednesday. Photograph: Getty Images

The New York Times reported on Saturday that Putin has taken personal control of the war effort, citing US officials briefed on classified intelligence who suggest the Russian president has overruled military commanders, insisting, for example, that the Russian army should not prepare a retreat from the city of Kherson.

The mobilisation drive comes as Russia is holding “referendums” in areas of Ukraine it controls, in which the remaining residents are asked whether they favour their regions becoming independent states and then joining Russia.

The votes, which have been widely dismissed as illegitimate in Kyiv and the west, are a pretext for Russia to annex Ukrainian territory. Putin promised on Wednesday that Moscow would defend its new territories with all available means, including nuclear weapons.

The voting began on Friday and is due to continue until Tuesday in the Russia-controlled parts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In some places, election officials set up mobile polling stations in courtyards, citing security concerns, and there were numerous videos showing people filling in ballots under the watchful eye of police.

There is little doubt that the Kremlin will announce an overwhelming decision to join Russia, but Ukrainian officials have said Russia declaring an annexation will not stop Kyiv’s attempts to win back the territories.

“Half of the population fled the Donetsk region because of Russian terror and constant shelling, voting against Russia with their feet, and the second half has been cheated and scared,” said the governor of Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko.


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Defying Vatican, Flemish bishops allow blessing same-sex unions

A rainbow flag is seen on the wall of a Catholic church in Cologne

A rainbow flag is seen on the wall of a Catholic church as the building is open for same-sex couples to receive a blessing in Cologne, Germany, May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

VATICAN CITY, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Flemish Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday issued a document effectively allowing the blessing of same-sex unions, in direct defiance of a ruling against such practices by the Vatican’s doctrinal office.

The document published on the website of the Bishops’ Conference of Belgium suggested a ritual that included a prayer and a benediction for stable same-sex unions. But it stressed that it was not “what the Church understands by a sacramental marriage.

It said the Church wanted to be “pastorally close to homosexual persons” and be a “welcoming Church that excludes no one.”

The ritual would start with prayers and includes a commitment by the two people in front of family and friends to be faithful to each other. It would end with more prayer and what the document called a “benediction”.

A Vatican spokesman had no immediate comment.

In March 2021, in response to formal questions from a number of Roman Catholic dioceses on whether the practice of blessing same-sex unions was allowed, the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), ruled that it was not. 

At the time, the CDF said its ruling was “not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite” of the sacrament of marriage and the blessing associated with it.

In response to that ruling, Bishop John Bonny of Antwerp said he felt “shame for my Church” and apologised to those he said had been hurt by the “painful and incomprehensible” decision.


Pope Francis has said he is opposed to same-sex marriage in the Church but supports civil union legislation to give same-sex couples legal protection and rights such as inheritance and shared health care.

A spokesman for the bishops, Geert De Kerpel, said their intention was not to defy the Vatican ruling.

“This is first and foremost a positive message,” he told Reuters, adding that it conformed with the pope’s calls for a more inclusive Church.

The Flemish bishops document said that some Catholic gays remained celibate and that the Church appreciated it. The Church teaches that while homosexual orientation is not sinful, homosexual acts are.

But the document added that “some prefer to live as a couple, in lasting and faithful union with a partner” and that such a relationship “can also be a source of peace and shared happiness”.

The bishops denounced “homophobic violence,” and said they wanted to “structurally anchor their pastoral commitment to homosexual persons”.

They announced the appointment of Willy Bombeek, a gay Catholic, as an additional staff member to their department for pastoral care of families to oversee care of gay Catholics.

One with similar duties would be appointed to each diocese in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.

“I’m proud to belong to the Flemish Church,” Bombeek told Reuters. “I hope that religious people in other countries will also get to experience this, and hopefully, this is only the beginning”.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of U.S.-based Catholic LGBTQ group New Ways Ministry, said the move would be a blessing for both the couple and for the Church.

“These prelates recognise that love is love. Love is more important than sexual behaviour, and love is something that the Church should always bless,” he said in a statement.


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‘Why bother voting?’: apathy in Ukraine amid so-called referendums

Hastily arranged polls in Russia-controlled regions have seen little campaigning, but there are increased reports of door-to-door searches and repression

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Luhansk, Ukraine, 23
A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Luhansk, Ukraine. The referendums have been widely condemned in Kyiv and the west as illegitimate. Photograph: EPA

With minimal preparation, armed soldiers standing guard and the booms of war often audible in the distance, so-called referendums got under way on Friday in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops.

Residents in Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were told to vote on proposals for the four areas to declare independence and then join Russia.

The polls have been widely condemned in Kyiv and the west as illegitimate, and appear to be a thin attempt to provide cover for the illegal annexation of the regions by Moscow. They were hastily organised after being announced earlier this week, and are due to run until Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin has indicated that Russia plans to claim the territories after the voting formalities are over, and he threatened on Wednesday that Moscow would be prepared to defend its gains using all available means, including nuclear weapons.

In Kyiv, officials said the votes would have no effect on the situation on the ground or the Ukrainian army’s ongoing counteroffensive.

“There is no referendum. There is a propaganda exercise which is being called a referendum,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in an interview. “It means nothing. It will be a few staged things where there will be Russian television cameras.”

The Guardian spoke to several people in the occupied city of Kherson via secure messaging apps on Thursday and Friday, who all reported a lack of activity on the ground.

“I don’t know anyone who is planning to go this weekend and vote. I am against annexation, but why even bother voting? Everything is already decided for us – I am sure they will count the votes the way it pleases them. It is all pointless,” said Svitlana, who described herself as a largely apolitical stay-at-home mother.

The speed with which the vote was organised seems to have meant that the occupation authorities have not had time to launch a “get out the vote” campaign or even put pressure on people to vote.

“I’ve not seen any campaigning, or billboards, I don’t have any information about where people are supposed to vote. There is a rumour that they will go door to door, but I don’t know,” said another person from Kherson, who asked to remain anonymous, when reached on Friday morning.

He described an increasingly tense atmosphere in recent weeks in the city, especially since the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the north-east Kharkiv region. Others described similar feelings.

“It is getting harder to get in touch with people in the city. There are now constant house searches, phones are checked. I am often too scared to talk about politics to my friends now, afraid to get them into trouble,” said Olena, a Kherson resident who left the city two weeks ago.

In interviews for Russian media outlets, the Russia-appointed deputy governor of occupied Kherson region claimed there were 198 polling booths opened in the region. “Our future is part of one, big and united country,” said Kirill Stremousov. Video from Donetsk purportedly showed “mobile voting commissions” going house to house asking for people to come to the courtyard and vote, attracting the electorate with loudspeakers.

Stremousov falsely claimed the vote met all international electoral standards.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections, listed a number of reasons why the referendums would have no legal force: they do not meet international standards, run contrary to Ukrainian law, the areas are not secure, there will be no independent observers and much of the population has fled.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a referendum that was also criticised as illegitimate, and has controlled part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014 and run them as proxy “people’s republics”.

There have been rumours the Kremlin was planning votes in eastern Ukraine since the spring, but Moscow hoped to gain full control of the four regions before ordering the referendum. When Ukraine began its counteroffensive earlier this month, the plans were postponed indefinitely.

“A couple of weeks ago we saw all the consultants who came in from Russia to organise this referendum fly home, and it seemed they were postponing it,” said an intelligence source in Kyiv.

“We think they realised with the counteroffensive that the military situation was not conducive to doing this, but then after thinking for a bit decided that doing it badly is better than not at all.”

The Ukrainian recapture of territory where the Russians had promised local people they were there “for ever” has sent shockwaves through the other occupied areas, and led many to recalibrate decisions on collaboration, say Ukrainian officials.

Deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk claimed she had heard intercepted phone calls from the occupied areas of people trying to get out of previous agreements to cooperate with the Russians, after being spooked by the success of the counteroffensive.

“People were en masse trying to get out of taking part in the organisation of this referendum. I heard these conversations, they were thinking about how to run away, how to write a resignation letter,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have left the occupied areas since the invasion, some for Russia and others for Ukraine-controlled territory or western Europe.

As the occupation has gone on, the Russians have increasingly cracked down on dissent among those who remain. In the early days there were mass pro-Ukraine rallies in Kherson and other occupied cities, but these were gradually stamped out. In recent weeks there have been increased reports of door-to-door searches and repression.

“All those who had the chance have left, and those who had to stay behind for different reasons are too scared to protest. It is unlikely that we will see protests like the ones I attended at the beginning of the war. It is just not safe. The repressions have intensified,” said Anzhela Hladka, an advertising executive from Kherson who left the city in April and is now in the Netherlands.

“Last week, the wife of a friend called to say that the occupiers barged into their home and taken him away. He was against the Russians but he wasn’t part of the resistance. He was let go the next day but he hasn’t been in touch since. I hear these stories all the time,” she said.

In Kyiv, Vereshchuk linked the referendums to Russia’s recent decision to mobilise reserves, and called it a “pathetic attempt” by Putin to provide justification to the Russian people for the ongoing invasion.

“It’s for the internal audience to explain why there have been so many losses. I don’t think your average Russian Ivan from Ivanovo really understands why his son died somewhere in a village in Kherson region,” she said.

There is no doubt that Russia will proclaim the referendums an overwhelming success, but what happens next is harder to predict. Ukrainian officials say they will ignore any Russian claim to the territory, while western leaders are hoping Putin’s threats of nuclear strikes are a desperate bluff.

Dmitry Medvedev, formerly Russian president and now deputy chair of the security council, said directly in a post on Telegram on Thursday that nuclear weapons could be used if the newly annexed territories were threatened. “This is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and the west,” he wrote.


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Ukraine war: How to repair the Ukrainian army’s modern weapons

Seven months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, repairing worn-out Western weapons is becoming increasingly important. The workshop for doing so is to be built on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Mobile artillery rocket systems have been in heavy use in eastern Ukraine

Passengers flying into Rzeszow airport in southeastern Poland hardly notice that the most important hub for military aid to Ukraine has been created here. Far from the civilian airport terminal, the 50 countries that are supporting Ukraine set up a military camp under the leadership of the US. Behind the airport fence, NATO has also built an imposing line of defense to protect the alliance’s eastern border: with Patriot anti-aircraft systems whose missile shafts rise into the sky.

The area of the small Polish regional airport used by the military has now become like the Fort Knox of support for Ukraine. Even before Putin’s invasion began on February 24, the US and UK had begun to fly in light anti-tank weapons for the Ukrainian army — as US intelligence agencies warned of the Russian attack. The Polish-Ukrainian border is only an hour’s drive from here.

Since the war in Ukraine began, transport vehicles carrying heavy weapons have been seen traveling across Europe

Since the war in Ukraine began, transport vehicles carrying heavy weapons have been seen traveling across Europe

Military vehicles on Polish streets

On the ground, the logistical operation cannot be overlooked. Military transporters are constantly being spotted on the region’s roads. People who travel a lot by car in southeastern Poland report that hardly a day goes by without them seeing uniformed soldiers in civilian flatbed trucks taking a break at motorway rest areas. But the detail of how Western aid reaches the Ukrainian army at the front is one of the best-kept secrets of this war.

The fact that the Polish region on NATO‘s border has become the central reloading point for aid has also only been indirectly confirmed by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. In mid-September, following a trip to Kyiv, she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that a “maintenance hub on the Polish-Ukrainian border” would be set up.

Polish media are reluctant to report on the military aid efforts in the southeast of their country. The fact that Germany and the US-forged coalition of supporters for Ukraine are building a repair center there has so far not made the news in Poland.

a map showing regained territory EN

This month, Ukraine has been making significant advances in eastern and southeastern Ukraine

German howitzers wearing out

Bundeswehr General Christian Freuding, the leader of the Special Task Force on Ukraine for the German Defense Ministry, was in Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian military leaders in early September. He reported that the Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzers that Germany had delivered to Ukraine were suffering from wear and tear.

“They have been used in battle since May. And now, of course, they have some restrictions on their operational readiness.” His Special Task Force is working to ensure “that we achieve continuity and very quickly return to a high level of operational readiness,” for the artillery systems. So, in these weeks before the approaching winter, there is a focus on repairing worn-out Western weapons. Following the successful counteroffensive by the Ukrainians in the northeast of their country, Germany gave them four additional Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers.

Ukrainian forces move further east as Russia retreats

An arsenal of spare parts

“Logistics must be strengthened,” said security expert Wolfgang Richter from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which advises the federal government in Berlin, “and that is exactly what is happening,” he added — also in view of the discussion within Germany about whether to deliver Leopard-2 battle tanks, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz is refusing to do, at least for now.

Intensive fighting means weapons are worn out. “Spare parts for various Western weapons systems need to be kept at the ready as close to the Ukrainian border as possible,” Richter told DW. “Secondly, you need trained personnel who are capable of repairing Western weapons systems.”

It is a difficult endeavor because so many different weapons have been delivered to Ukraine: “I think about the different artillery systems as well as the necessary peripheral equipment — of French, Italian, British, US, and German design.” The military equipment from many countries needs “completely different spare parts — and in large quantities.”

Uncertain course of the war

Looking to the coming months, Michael Kofman, the director of Russia Studies at the US Center for Naval Analyses, said the war in Ukraine will be defined by “attrition and reconstitution.”

Although Ukraine has a good chance of gradually liberating more territory following its recent military successes, Kofman does not dare to predict how long the war might go on.

The region surrounding Rzeszow in southeastern Poland will likely have to get used to military equipment on the roads for a long time yet. That will now include the deliveries of spare parts to repair weapons.


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No More Illusions – Putin Bets It All in Ukraine

Illustration: Pete Reynolds / DER SPIEGEL

Russian President Vladimir Putin had wanted a war on the cheap in Ukraine. But he has now called for mobilization. The move is incredibly dangerous, not least for Putin himself.

Wednesday evening found Dmitry with his backpack at the Istanbul airport, newly arrived from St. Petersburg – a young man from Russia fleeing from the Russian army, one of many these days, burdened with only very little luggage and quite a bit of uncertainty. A slim, blond 21-year-old, Dmitry has fled his country to escape conscription. Out of fear of the possible consequences for his family, he has declined to provide his real name. “You have no choice but to leave,” his mother told him that morning as the family was discussing a television address by Vladimir Putin and what it would mean for the children. Needing fresh soldiers for his war in Ukraine, the Russian president had announced a mobilization on Wednesday morning.

Dmitry, who interrupted his university studies, was able to buy one of the last tickets available for the flight to Turkey. He told the border official in St. Petersburg that he was going on vacation. “Thank god they are still allowing people to leave,” Dmitry says. His brother managed to make it across the border into Finland.

Putin, Russia’s head of state and warlord-in-chief, heralded a new phase in his war against Ukraine this week, and triggered a flood of young men leaving his country in the process. He did so with two announcements: First, Russia is apparently preparing the annexation of additional Ukrainian territory and is planning to orchestrate referendums in the two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” in the Donbas and in the southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to make it seem as though people in those areas are in favor of becoming part of Russia. Second, he is introducing mobilization.DER SPIEGEL 39/2022

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 39/2022 (September 24th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.SPIEGEL International

Putin is essentially going all-in. He has deprived his people of the illusion that the invasion of Ukraine could be pursued at little cost. And he has also deprived himself of the possibility of pulling back from his destructive adventure. The same man who otherwise tries to give himself as much room for maneuver as possible has committed himself to a single strategy – like a luckless gambler who doubles his bet because he is unable to walk away from the gambling table. He is risking everything. For Putin, as for Dmitry, the refugee from St. Petersburg, there is no going back.

Why, though, did he take this step? And what does it mean for his country?

Despite the mobilization only having been announced on Wednesday, the conscription campaign, as chaotic as it may be, has already begun. Reservists are receiving phone calls, getting emails from the state service portal Gosuslugi or being approached in person. In one town in the far eastern region of Primorye, police used loudspeakers to call on young men to report to their local draft office. Lines formed in front of military offices in places like Khabarovsk in the east and Belgorod in the southwest.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to the nation on Wednesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to the nation on Wednesday Foto: Russian Presidential Press Service / AP / dpa

Igor, a 27-year-old from Moscow, can also relate such a story. He was on his way to the south when DER SPIEGEL reached him, heading for Georgia with friends to escape military service. A reserve officer who completed his military training in parallel with his studies at Moscow State University, Igor has also asked that his real name not be used for this story. Over the phone, he said he was in a state of shock because his brother, who is four years younger, received his conscription order in the mail on Wednesday. DER SPIEGEL has seen the document. “What is going on?” Igor wanted to know. “The defense minister said that students aren’t affected and can continue their studies. And then they do this.”

Hundreds of thousands of men across the country are now wondering if they have to go to war. In many families, it’s the only thing they are talking about. Lawyers like Alexei Tabalov, who heads up an NGO called Schooling for Recruits, speak of panic among the populace. Tabalov says he has had numerous phone conversations with mothers, sisters and wives, and that he is forced to tell them that their sons, brothers and husbands have hardly any chance of avoiding conscription. The law requires that conscription orders be handed over in person. But for how long can would-be conscripts dodge the authorities?

Andrei Shashkov, an 18-year-old from Moscow, received his draft papers in a particularly surprising manner: While participating in a Wednesday protest in the Russian capital against the war and conscription, he was taken into custody by the police. At the station, as he would later relate, he was approached by an official who called on him to accept conscription to a military training program and to sign a paper confirming he had received the notice.

Police dragging away protesters at an antiwar demonstration on Wednesday

Police dragging away protesters at an antiwar demonstration on Wednesday Foto: Yulia Nevskaya / DER SPIEGEL

The woman who served him the papers, says Shashkov, wasn’t interested in answering questions – such as why he was conscripted if he had never served before. His military training was scheduled to start on Thursday morning – the very next day – but Shashkov says he didn’t turn up, even though the draft order indicates that doing so could have legal consequences. DER SPIEGEL has also obtained a copy of Shashkov’s draft order.

It is hardly a surprise, then, that long lines of cars have developed at some Russian border crossings and that the prices of airline tickets to countries for which no visa is required – places like Serbia and Turkey – have spiked. Putin has triggered a new wave of emigration, similar to the one the country experienced in February when rumors spread that Moscow would be declaring a state of war.

The decision to mobilize his population and thus bring the war into the heart of Russian society was clearly not an easy one for Putin. After all, he began this war with a promise. On March 8, just two weeks after Russian troops had invaded Ukraine, he delivered his traditional International Women’s Day address. He spoke of “positive feelings” and “a warm heart,” and how vital women’s love for Russia’s male defenders had been during World War II.

This time, though, a determined-looking Putin insisted, “only professional soldiers” were fighting. He expressly ruled out the deployment of conscripts or specially called-up reservists. It was a promise that wasn’t entirely true even then: It soon became clear that some recruits had indeed been sent into the war zone. But those cases apparently took place without Putin’s knowledge, and they were condemned by officials in Moscow. Putin had really meant what he said. He didn’t want the invasion of Ukraine to feel like a war back home in Russia. Officially, it was just termed a “special military operation.” Even the euphemism sounded professional, like just another project for the professional troops, similar to Syria.

It took Putin half a year to break his promise. How he arrived at that decision can be traced in broad strokes. His change of heart apparently took place in September, triggered by the counteroffensive  launched by Ukrainian troops – one that didn’t just take Russia’s military completely off guard, but apparently also Putin himself.

On Sept. 10, Russian TV showed Putin dedicating a giant Ferris wheel in Moscow: “140 meters high, there’s nothing like it in Europe,” the president proudly proclaimed. He had already opened a martial arts center earlier in the day and the capital was set to celebrate its 875th anniversary that evening with a huge fireworks display. At almost exactly the same time, Russia’s army was suffering its most painful defeat in months, with troops forced to hastily abandon the strategically important city of Izyum. Russian troops had been hoping to use Izyum as a staging ground for conquering the rest of the Donbas, which had become Moscow’s primary war aim. The loss of the city was a catastrophe for Putin.

The images from Moscow were also disastrous for the Russian president. A commander-in-chief dedicating a Ferris wheel as the front disintegrated was not a good look. “No comment,” wrote the former “defense minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin aka Strelkov, on Telegram in reference to Putin’s appearance. Apparently, he wrote, Moscow is celebrating the transfer of Izyum to Ukraine. Girkin is among those who had long been demanding – in increasingly sharp tones – a full mobilization. Indeed, pressure on Putin from pro-war nationalists increased noticeably. It was this day that Putin’s idea of essentially dividing Russian society – sending some to war and isolating others from it – failed for all to see.

A destroyed Russian military base in eastern Ukraine

A destroyed Russian military base in eastern Ukraine Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL

The next defeat would follow not quite a week later, at a summit meeting in the Uzbek city of Samarkand. Beyond being militarily hamstrung, Putin’s political isolation was highlighted during the visit. At a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it became clear just how critically Putin’s attack on Ukraine is seen by those whose help the Russian leader needs in his war against the West. One of those is Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom Putin met in Samarkand for the first time since the beginning of the conflict – a man who once called Putin his best friend. In February, the two leaders spoke of their “no limits partnership.” But on this occasion, Putin was forced to begin the official part of their meeting by mentioning the “questions and concerns” that China apparently has about the war, and which must be discussed. It sounded as though the partnership was no longer quite as unlimited.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also apparently had some questions and concerns, and issued a public warning to Putin in Samarkand: “Today’s era is not of war,” he said. India is important for Putin: Not only is New Delhi a major buyer of Russian arms exports but since the beginning of the war, the country has also become a major purchaser of Russian natural gas.

To top it all off, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would later discuss his meeting with Putin in Samarkand with U.S. broadcaster PBS. The two leaders, Erdoğan said, had discussed the end of the war, adding that he believes peace in Ukraine is only possible if Russia gives back all of the territory it has conquered. “This is what is expected. This is what is wanted,” he said.

Samarkand must have been a cold shower for Putin. Given that he is no longer used to criticism at home, the public rebukes from foreign leaders must have seemed like a slap in the face.

Did the meetings in Uzbekistan reinforce his sense that he had to take the next step? Three days after the summit, in any case, precipitous efforts were launched to prepare the public for “referendums” in the areas of Ukraine under Moscow’s control. First in the Donbas and then in the occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, there were sudden calls – apparently orchestrated by Moscow – for rapid pseudo-votes to be caried out regarding annexation. On Tuesday of this week, legal amendments were rapidly pushed through Russian parliament, the Duma, to prepare for mobilization. A new bill defines new offenses such as “voluntary surrender” and strengthens punishment for crimes committed during the period of mobilization. It is the first time the term “mobilization” has appeared in Russia’s criminal code. The changes are set to come into force immediately.

Nevertheless, Putin himself seemed to hesitate, cancelling a television appearance scheduled for Tuesday evening. Only on Wednesday morning would he make the announcement that is likely to permanently change his regime: mobilization. He apparently needed one more night to finally overcome the paralysis that had afflicted him since the Ukrainian counteroffensive. “It is a paralysis that speaks for him in a certain sense,” political scientist Abbas Galyamov said on Dozhd, the Russian broadcaster in exile. “He has apparently understood that he only has poor options to choose from.”

The speech he then held on Wednesday morning was typical Putin. Once again, he sought to demonstrate decisiveness while blaming others for the results of his decisions. He tried to appear threatening while downplaying the burden that the Russian population must bear. To play up the threat from the outside world, while playing down the burdens he is placing on his people.

As commander-in-chief, one might expect Putin to say something like: We have experienced a setback. For that reason, I am ordering the mobilization that I once ruled out. We are no longer pursuing a “special military operation” in Ukraine, but a real war.

Instead, though, Putin didn’t even mention the losses his military had suffered and continued to refer to the conflict as a “special military operation.” And he sought to play down his own role, saying he “supported” the “proposal by the Defense Ministry and General Staff on the implementation of a partial mobilization” – as if the decision wasn’t completely up to him. Right after his appearance, he left it up to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to explain the details in a pre-recorded interview.

The partial mobilization, Shoigu explained, would only affect 300,000 people, only “slightly more than 1 percent” of the 25 million people who would be subject to a full mobilization. It was his effort to calm the population by contrasting the total affected with an arbitrarily high number. Twenty-five million would be a third of all the men in the country. At the same time, Shoigu played down the number of casualties Russia has experienced in the war, saying that 5,937 soldiers had fallen and claiming that it was 10-times fewer than the number suffered by the Ukrainians. By that measure, the military’s need for 300,000 seems rather excessive, particularly in addition to the annual autumn conscription of around 135,000 recruits.

In fact, the Russian military is suffering from an acute shortage of personnel. Even right after the invasion started, analysts began pointing to the thin ranks on the Russian side. According to Western estimates, Moscow initially deployed some 180,000 troops for its invasion of Ukraine. In August, the United States reported that since hostilities began in February, somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Moscow has long sought to fill the gaps in its ranks without having to resort to an official mobilization. The army has tried to attract new recruits with generous salaries that are often several times higher than average for many regions of the country. There have also been aggressive recruitment campaigns in mostly poorer areas, such as in the Siberian Republic of Buryatia on the border with Mongolia. Ramsan Kadyrov, the dictatorial ruler of Chechnya, contributed a “volunteer” battalion to the war effort, an example that was then followed by other regions.

A recruitment poster in St. Petersburg: "Serving Russia is a real job."

A recruitment poster in St. Petersburg: “Serving Russia is a real job.” Foto: Olga Maltseva / AFP

In the small pro-Russian republics in the Donbas, which have been under Russian control since 2014, men have been conscripted since the beginning of the war, frequently being nabbed on the street. At the beginning of hostilities, Luhansk and Donetsk are thought to have contributed 14,000 and 20,000 soldiers respectively – troops who essentially were used as cannon fodder for the Russians. The Donetsk People’s Republic has said that more than 3,000 of its soldiers have fallen and more than 13,000 have been injured, a casualty rate of 80 percent of the initial fighting force.

In fact, however, Russia was carrying out a hidden mobilization long before announcing it officially, a fact clearly illustrated by the rather bizarre activities of Yevgeny Prigozhin. The shady businessman and military contractor from St. Petersburg is extremely well connected to the Kremlin. According to Russian prisoners, he has been visiting prison camps throughout the country since July, personally attempting to recruit fighters for the mercenary unit known as the Wagner Group. A video of such an appearance even turned up recently, showing a man in olive-green garb with two decorations on his breast, apparently Prigozhin himself, speaking to black-clad prisoners on the grounds of a camp.

A former prisoner himself, Prigozhin promises that all those who make it through a six-month stint with the “shock troops” will receive a presidential pardon. Those who change their mind before that time, he says, “will be declared a deserter. And then: shot.” All prisoners up to the age of 50 and all types of offenders are welcome, he says. Alexei Navalny, the opposition politician who is currently serving time in a prison camp, said: “The first thought of every prisoner upon seeing this video is: My God, if they’re trying to recruit us, what has happened to the regular army? Does it even exist any longer?”

There are thought to be thousands of mercenaries with the Wagner Group fighting in Ukraine. But the hidden mobilization that the Kremlin had been pursuing apparently wasn’t enough. Putin’s random group of fighters lacks a unified command structure and efforts to recruit prisoners were not enough to solve the military’s personnel problems.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, D.C., while Russia’s reserve force may theoretically include more than 2 million former conscripts and contract soldiers, only very few of them are actually trained and combat ready. Analysts at the institute say that the Russian military is in particular need of highly qualified soldiers. “The Russian performance thus far has really damaged a lot of their prestige units, their elite units like VDV (paratroopers), Spetsnaz and the 1st Guards Tank Army,” says Ed Arnold, a military expert with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. Some units, he says, have been entirely destroyed or are no longer deployable.

It will take months to train the reserve troops now being called up and to form new units complete with command and logistics structures. Michael Kofman, director of the Russian Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, says that the Kremlin’s first step will likely be that of calling up those personnel whose military experience is more recent in order to replenish the decimated ranks of units in the field. But: “The military will be limited as to how many additional forces it can deploy in the field.”

It is a different step that will provide immediate relief: Those soldiers serving in Ukraine on limited contracts whose tours are soon scheduled to end will have to continue serving for as long as the mobilization is in force. That will solve some of the personnel problems, but does so at the price of lower morale. “If you were serving on a three or six-month contract and now suddenly see no perspective of ever getting out of this war, that is, of course, incredibly demoralizing,” says Liana Fix , an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe with the Berlin-based foundation Körber Stiftung.


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‘Hitler’s Girl’ explores British ties with the Nazis

A new book discusses how close Britain’s aristocracy was to the Nazi regime and what the situation in those times tells us about the dangers to democracy today.


‘Hitler’s Girl’: Unity Mitford (left) with her sisters Diana (center) and Nancy (right)

Anyone trying to dive deep into the history of British far-right and fascist movements in the 1930s is bound to come across the names of Unity Mitford and Oswald Mosley.

Rumored to have been Hitler’s girlfriend, Unity Mitford’s personality and ideas have been discussed in books such as David Pryce-Jones’ “Unity Mitford: An Enquiry into Her Life and the Frivolity of Evil” (1977) and David Litchfield’s “Hitler’s Valkyrie: The Uncensored Biography of Unity Mitford” (2014).

Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) from 1932 to 1940, and his movement have similarly been analyzed in several books, including “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” (2005), Graham Macklin’s “Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right” (2020) and Richard C. Thurlow’s “Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front” (1998).  

Now a new book on the topic, “Hitler’s Girl: The British Aristocracy and the Third Reich on the Eve of WWII,” has been published. The author, Yale lecturer Lauren Young, has used newly unclassified material for the work.

By revealing the complicity of British aristocrats with Hitler’s Germany and the possible threat to British democracy at the time, Young aims to demonstrate how Western liberal democracies face the same challenges today as in the 1930s.

“We are inundated with information about the Second World War, Hitler and the Nazis. This book argues that today’s challenges to democracy are similar to those of the 1930s,” Young tells DW. The author and lecturer has previously taught at the London School of Economics and served as a political adviser in many international forums, including the UN.

Britain in the 1930s

The book first establishes the historical background by chronicling how Germany’s crushing defeat in World War I and the severe terms of the Treaty of Versailles led to financial and social crises in the country, setting the stage for Hitler’s rise to power.

Young then looks into how the British aristocracy started flirting with fascism as early as the 1920s, when members of the upper class, including the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Buccleuch and politician Harold Nicolson traveled to Italy to observe the fascist movement for themselves.

Winston Churchill, who later became Britain’s prime minister, had also visited Italy during this period, leaving the country with a favorable impression of the fascists as an “antidote to the Russian poison,” according to the book.

Young also examines the emergence of the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, and discusses how many members of the aristocracy, including Unity Mitford’s family, were connected with it.

The author points out that pro-Nazi views were also found among the royal family. She mentions a 1933 video of the late Queen Elizabeth II, who was seven years old at the time, giving the Nazi salute along with her mother and her younger sister, Margaret, as instructed by their uncle, future King Edward VIII. The publication of the picture in 2015 in British tabloid The Sun caused a furor and a dismissive response by the royal family.

The Queen’s Nazi salute caused a stir in the UK in 2015

The book also mentions aristocrats like the Duke of Connaught and the Earl of Kincardine showing interest in visiting a concentration camp in Germany to understand how the Nazis were implementing “race purity and fitness.”

It also discusses how the cornerstone of Neville Chamberlain’s foreign policy was to avoid war at all costs, and this included an unspoken rule to refuse German and Austrian Jewish refugees entry into what was then British-mandated Palestine. Chamberlain, who had preceded Churchill, was British Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940.

Even the Kindertransport to Britain could have been more robust and saved more Jewish children, had the British government been less eager to please Hitler, the author argues.

‘Hitler’s Girl’

The title of the book, “Hitler’s Girl,” was inspired by a headline from the British press in the 1930s about Unity Mitford, explains Young. As the title suggests, Mitford is a central figure in the book.

Born as one of seven children in the aristocratic Redesdale family, Mitford was — almost prophetically — conceived in the town of Swastika, Ontario, Canada and christened Unity Valkyrie. Over the years, she and her sisters, Nancy and Diana, would grow up to become “Bright Young Things,” which was the nickname given by the tabloid press to describe young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s London, and flirted with the far right in Britain.

Yale lecturer and author Lauren Young

Unity’s sister, Diana, famously married BUF leader Oswald Mosley. Unity herself was a fierce antisemite, completely taken in by Hitler and his personality. She even joined a finishing school in southern Germany to be able to personally meet the Führer. Altogether, she met him over 160 times.

According to Young, “everybody knew what Unity Mitford was doing. It was gossip. It was intriguing. Yet nobody thought that it was worth using her as an intelligent asset, a way to learn more about their adversary, Hitler, or even as evidence to imprison her for treason when she was repatriated to England.”

The book ends with Unity Mitford coming back to England in 1939 after reportedly trying to kill herself. Despite Britain being at war with Germany, she was not tried for high treason, a subject that has been much discussed in political circles and the media at the time. She was also rumored to have had a child — possibly Hitler’s child, whose birth was not recorded because the mother was not married.

The future of democracy

“Hitler’s Girl” is not an attempt to find proof for what might have been, but it’s about complacency and the lack of public outcry on important issues.

During the period described in the book, Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement was beneficial in many respects, and there was also a groundswell of support for Hitler among the British ruling classes as well as a resurgence of right-wing movements.

‘Hitler’s Girl’ was released this year on August 22

The author argues that there are many implicit parallels in today’s world: “If we look at democratic erosion, for example, in America today, we have important warning signals like voter suppression legislation that has been enacted in 19 states just in this past year. Are we doing enough to protect our basic democratic right to vote,” Young asks, citing examples like the recent landmark judgement by the Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to abortion.

Ultimately, through this book, Young aims to raise awareness that “democracy is not our birth right.”   

“In many cases, complacency is tantamount to complicity in the erosion of our democracy, our democratic rights, and potentially to the future as liberal democracies,” she says.


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The Kremlin’s weakness escalates nuclear risk in Ukraine war

Most experts still see an attack as highly unlikely, but a military and political context that is destabilizing for Vladimir Putin raises troubling uncertainties

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) visits an exhibition at the Novgorod Technical College on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) visits an exhibition at the Novgorod Technical College on Wednesday.GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN (EFE)

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare national television address on September 21 to issue new and explicit nuclear threats regarding his faltering invasion of Ukraine. It is not the first time Putin has done this, but Russia’s current circumstances makes his saber-rattling more disturbing than before. Putin leads a nation beset on all sides. His military forces have been pushed back by Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in the northeast, and have suffered huge casualties and material losses since the invasion began in February. At the international level, Putin faces a united Western bloc and potential allies like China, India and Turkey are currently distancing themselves from Russia. Domestically, the waters are becoming increasingly choppy and murky.

Russia experts are divided on whether Putin would really be willing to resort to nuclear weapons – only the Russian president knows for sure. William Alberque, director of Strategy, Technology, and Arms Control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, considers nuclear escalation highly unlikely. “I see it [Putin’s threats] as a symptom of weakness and an attempt to force Europe into negotiations,” said Alberque.

Sidharth Kaushal, of the Royal United Services Institute, agrees that it’s highly unlikely Russia will use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. “I think it is a latent threat, designed to create uncertainty. I think that Russia’s fragile international position represents a deterrent factor. It is already quite isolated, and its partners are beginning to demonstrate misgivings. If Russia were to attack with a nuclear weapon, it would find itself in complete isolation, which would be devastating for its economy,” said Kaushal. “I don’t think he would use them. I think the world will not allow it,” said Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy in an interview with Germany’s BILD TV. The Chinese government also urged restraint following Putin’s threats.

“Still,” said Kaushal, “I think a nuclear attack cannot be ruled out. If Ukraine ultimately destroys the bulk of Russia’s forces, we would be looking at the first defeat of a nuclear power in conventional warfare. This is uncharted territory.” In that sense, some experts don’t consider a nuclear outcome highly improbable. Former NATO leader Rose Gottemoeller expressed her concern about this possibility even before Putin’s speech. Would the Russian leader accept a complete defeat in Ukraine that would lead to the probable collapse of his regime without attempting the riskiest of all last resorts? The uncertainty is frightening, and current events have launched it to the forefront.

The nuclear threat is just one of the Kremlin’s responses to its extreme weakness. Putin also announced the partial mobilization of reserve soldiers, and called for referendums to be held in eastern Ukrainian to vote on annexation by Russia. All of these responses follow the same pattern — when challenged, escalate. In this context, the following are some keys to understanding perhaps the most serious nuclear conflict since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

What are the objectives of Putin’s threats? Deterrence

The purpose of mobilizing reservists is to add manpower that can contain the Ukrainian counteroffensive. But mobilizing these forces will be a very slow process, to say the least. It remains to be seen how much and when this mobilization will have an effect on the battlefield. The purpose of the referendums and the nuclear threat, on the other hand, is immediate deterrence. The annexation of Ukrainian territories following referendums held in undemocratic conditions will, in the Kremlin’s logic, formalize the incorporation of Ukrainian territory (besides Crimea) into Russia. Therefore, any attack against these annexed territories would constitute an attack against Russia, which Putin said would be contested with every weapon in his arsenal.

Moscow clearly expects that both measures will factor heavily in the calculations of Kyiv and its Western partners. In a recent analysis of Russia’s nuclear threats, Gustave Gressel, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that Russia’s campaign of nuclear signaling has borne some fruit in the early stages of the war. NATO has refrained from direct intervention and Western nations have avoided some forms of military assistance for Ukraine. US intelligence services call Russia’s approach “escalate to de-escalate.” In other words, up the ante in hopes that the adversary will hold back.

In addition to trying to slow down the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kremlin may be hoping that nuclear scare tactics will encourage Europe to push for de-escalation through negotiation. In his speech, Putin mentioned that Kyiv has at times shown a constructive attitude in this regard. But without offering any evidence, Putin alleged that the West has encouraged Ukraine to keep on fighting.

Will Russia really use a nuclear weapon? Keys to the doctrine

Putin is the only person that can answer that question, but one of his executive orders provides some clues. “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” (June 8, 2020) establishes the following conditions for possible nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation:

a) arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

b) use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;

c) attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;

d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.

At first glance, none of these conditions seems to likely in the near term. But if additional Ukrainian territories are annexed by Russia after the referendums, then Putin could feasibly conjure up an existential threat and justify a nuclear attack under condition d).

Who would make the decision? Putin, but…

Article 18 of the Russian doctrine states that the decision to use nuclear weapons is taken by the President of the Russian Federation. But this power is tempered by the necessary involvement of other figures. “The Russian system gives final authority to the president, but only after consultation with the defense minister and the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces,” said Kaushal. “The decision, moreover, must be transmitted for execution precisely to the general staff. This structure comes from Soviet-era systems of balance and control. That’s the way it works in theory. But in practice, in view of the concentration of power in Putin’s hands, it’s unlikely that Shoigu, the defense minister, and Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff, would oppose an order from Putin.” Still, the mechanism provides some leeway for military insubordination.

What types of nuclear weapons would Russia use? Tactical bombs

There is little doubt among experts that the Kremlin would opt for tactical nuclear warheads that have a lower destructive potential and are delivered by shorter-range vehicles than strategic, intercontinental missile systems.

Tactical nuclear weapons are not the most powerful warheads currently available, but they range widely in their destructive potential. Some are much less powerful than the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima (Japan), while others are equally or more powerful. The US has a 0.3-kiloton bomb in its arsenal, so despite the lack of Russian transparency, it’s reasonable to assume that Moscow also has similar bombs. But both nations also have 100-kiloton weapons.

According to a report by Hans M. Kristensen published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia had a large stockpile of non-strategic nuclear warheads in 2020 – nearly 2,000 – which can be fired from land, air or sea. Some delivery vehicles, such as the nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles, have been used in the Ukraine war with conventional warheads. Russia has amassed a much larger nuclear arsenal than the West, in order to balance out its inferiority in conventional weapons.

How would Russia use them? To terrorize

Former NATO leader Rose Goettemoeller says there are two potential uses. Russia could drop a bomb in the Black Sea to intimidate and terrorize, or it could launch a low-capacity nuclear warhead against an isolated Ukrainian military infrastructure. It remains to be seen how Ukraine would react to such an attack, but in a recently published article, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, addressed the issue.

“Another factor is the direct threat of the use by Russia… It is hard to imagine that even nuclear strikes will enable Russia to break Ukraine’s will to resist. But the threat that will emerge for the whole of Europe cannot be ignored. The possibility of direct involvement of the world’s leading powers in a “limited” nuclear conflict, bringing closer the prospect of World War III, cannot be completely ruled out either,” wrote Zuluzhnyi.

How would the West respond? It depends on the type of attack

If Russia were to launch a nuclear strike in the Ukraine conflict, the potential consequences are terrifying. US President Joe Biden addressed the issue in his September 21 speech before the United Nations General Assembly. Biden called Putin’s threats “irresponsible,” declaring that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. As before, Biden avoided inflammatory rhetoric, but he did warn Russia that Washington would respond accordingly. “What they do will define the nature of our response.” He emphatically urged Putin not to explore that path. “It would change the face of war like nothing seen since World War II,” he said. At worst, it could change the face of the planet.


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Lost, but not forgotten

The world’s oldest map (Source: David Rumsey Map Collection)

People tend to imagine their past as grandiose, more spectacular than the present, and to believe that the ancients had knowledge that we cannot attain. This tendency was also nourished by the archeological discoveries of some important cities whose existence was not even known. Today it seems absurd to us that something as big as a city can be lost. But cities have always declined, been abandoned for various reasons, and have remained unknown to history for centuries or even thousands of years.

In this article, I want to present to you a list of ancient cities that have been lost, destroyed, or swallowed by the sea. To me, such events to truly define how further back in time humanity started their existence. It is also been said that there may have been civilizations with much more knowledge and higher capabilities than us, but the world decided to end them.

1. Akrotiri, Santorini

The remains of the buried city Akrotiri (Source: Public Domain)

The Minoan civilization in Crete owes its name to the legendary King Minos, who built the famous labyrinth. The Minoan written sources are very few, so we do not know what name they had adopted for themselves. The whole civilization practically disappeared from the knowledge of the people until the beginning of the 20th century. With the rediscovery of the great palace of Knossos, the glory of the Minoan civilization was reborn.

Akrotiri is located on the island of Santorini, an outpost of the Cretans. Today it is believed that the eruption of the volcano Thera, located on the same island, from 1600 BC. would have led to the collapse of the Minoan empire. The discovery of the Akrotiri fortress in 1967 revealed very well-presented frescoes, three-story houses, and a very well-organized settlement. The water supply system suggests that the inhabitants of the fortress had access to both cold and hot water, the hot water is provided by the volcano that brought their end.

2. Timgad, Algeria

Ruins of Timgad city (Source: Public Domain)

Timgad, or — for Latinists — Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi, is the lost city of adventure novels. Once an effervescent city, founded in the desert at the behest of Emperor Trajan, Timgad survived the collapse of the Roman Empire and became an important trading post. After being plundered in the 5th century, it was reborn as a Christian center.

A second great robbery took place in the 7th century, the work of the vandals which led to the definitive abandonment of the city. Over time, the sand of the Sahara Desert covered the city and helped preserve it. It was rediscovered in 1881. Today, the ruins of Timgad offer an amazing view of Roman cities in the African provinces. The Arch of Trajan, the typical Roman baths and the Temple of Jupiter can still be seen today. The temple is as large as the Pantheon in Rome, a proof of the importance that the Romans gave to the city of Timgad.

3. Pavlopetri, Greece

Pavlopetri beneath the ocean (Source: Public Domain)

Undoubtedly, Atlantis will be mentioned in any discussion about “lost cities”. But we have no concrete evidence to support the idea that Atlantis really existed outside of Plato’s allegory. But there are other cities that have had the fate of Atlantis, as presented by the Greek philosopher, namely cities swallowed by water.

Pavlopetri was a city in pre-classical Greece, founded since the Stone Age. The fact that the city came underwater provided archaeologists with unique information about life in those distant times. Other sites were partially destroyed by later construction, but Pavlopetri remained intact. The city probably came underwater due to rising water levels and landslides caused by earthquakes.

4. Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy

Part of Pompeii and Herculaneum discovered by archeologists (Source: Public Domain)

The famous Old Pliny had left with the Roman fleet to save those trapped at the foot of the volcano. The expedition had cost him his life. The ashes that took so many lives in the year 79AD have instead preserved the two cities for 1700 years. Many think of Roman cities as a perfect world of white marble, but Pompeii brings to light a city with many features that we would recognize even today. There are even political slogans on the walls: “Vote for Lucius Popidius Sabinus.” The city became a real gold mine for archaeologists in the 20th century and is an important tourist attraction.

5. Petra, Jordanian

The ancient city of Petra (Source: Public Domain)

The inclusion of the city of Petra in this list can be considered controversial since we cannot say that it was really lost. It was abandoned, that’s for sure, but the locals may well have known of its existence. In any case, the city of Petra had been unknown to the West for at least 1,000 years. Pliny the Elder mentions Petra as being taken over by the Romans in 103BC.

The desert city flourished until an earthquake destroyed the vital water supply system. With other cities nearby, it was easier for the population to move than to start rebuilding the destroyed ones. Since then, the site has been left to the desert, attracting only adventurous travelers or grave robbers. Today, the city of Petra is one of the most important archeological sites in the Middle East. Half built and half dug in stone, Petra is certainly one of the architectural wonders of antiquity.

6. Tikal Guatemala

The city of Tikal (Mayan civilization) (Source: Public Domain)

The Mayan city of Tikal was once the capital of a Mayan kingdom and one of the largest cities in the New World. The site was inhabited between 200–900AD. Thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the city, today we know many things about the grandeur of Tikal in its heyday. Like other ruins in the New World, this site is thought to have been abruptly mysteriously abandoned, but research has shown that the land could not have housed the large number of people known to live there.

It seems that the city was gradually abandoned, over several years, being left prey to the jungle. However, some locals would have known of its existence: over the centuries there have been many rumors about a lost city. The first organized expedition found the city in 1848. Explorers came across the largest archaeological site in the New World, with 70-meter-high pyramids, royal palaces, and entertainment arenas.

7. Cliff Palace, Colorado

Photo of how the cliff palace looks today’s, visited by tourists (Source: Public Domain)

The Pueblo people, Native Americans of the southwestern United States, take their name from the villages they built. Pueblo communities still exist today, but one of the most fruitful eras in the history of this community is that of the old Anasazi society from the years 900–1200AD. The rock palace was built in this golden age of the Anasazi tribe. According to dendrochronological analyzes, most of the buildings in this site were built around 1200AD.

The site was inhabited only for a short time and was abandoned until 1300 AD, remaining hidden until it was rediscovered in 1888. Find out more searching for lost cattle, Richar Wetherwill, Charles Mason and a Native American from the Ute tribe found the old buildings protected by a rock wall. The reasons why the site was abandoned are not known, but the theory accepted by most specialists is that the first of the great droughts that affected the American continent in the centuries before the arrival of Europeans destroyed agriculture throughout the region, and the inhabitants had to move.

8. Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu in Peru (Source: Public Domain)

No list of lost cities would be complete without Machu Picchu. This ancient Inca city, located at the top of the Andes, was inhabited for a relatively short period of time, probably between 1450–1572AD, before being abandoned as a result of Spanish conquests. As the Spaniards never discovered the city and the natives did not reveal the secret of the Incas, Machu Picchu was known to the West only in the twentieth century.

American archaeologist Hiram Bingham is the first foreigner to arrive here, only in 1911. There is still debate about the city’s functionality whether it was a stable settlement, a royal city, or a religious shrine. Today it is very easy to get to Machu Picchu, there is a regular bus line that takes tourists to the top of the mountain.

9. Troy, Turkey

The lost city of Troy in Istanbul (Source: Public Domain)

For a long time, it was thought that Troy was a legendary city, like Atlantis. Then, in 1871, a self-taught classicist, Heinrich Schliemann, financed the excavations on the site of a mound in Hisarlık, Turkey. In ancient times there was a city called Ilium where archaeologists have found huge defensive walls, similar to those described by Homer. In addition to the walls of Troy, Schliemann also found gold jewelry that he presented to be Elena’s jewelry. The treasure, known as Priam’s Treasure, was considered lost after it disappeared from Berlin in 1945 but was found to have fallen into Soviet hands.

They “confiscated” the treasure as compensation for the damage caused to the USSR by Germany during World War II. Research has shown that the city was founded around 3000 BC. and that it was destroyed several times. After each destruction, it was built directly on the ruins. There is a debate as to which of these strata belongs to the city besieged by the Greeks. In any case, the imposing walls of the city, say, archaeologists would have far surpassed any siege weapon available to the Greeks. It seems, therefore, that reality confirms Homer’s story and the need to use a trick like the Trojan horse.

10. Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan

Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan (Source: Public Domain)

Last but not least we have the lesser-known Mohenjo-Daro. Along with Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization, the Indus Valley is considered to be one of the greatest civilizations in the world. Science, writing, trade, crafts, religion, and agriculture have seen remarkable progress in this civilization, which reached its peak sometime around 2000 BC. Its advanced nature can be seen in the ancient city of Mojenjo-Daro, with its tidy streets and complex drainage system. Unlike the cities mentioned above, there is no palace or temple to stand out here.

Therefore, some researchers believe that the Indus Valley civilization would have been an egalitarian one. As we know too little about this ancient society, such a statement is quite bold. The floods caused by the Ind River seem to be the basis for the destruction of the city at least six times. Each time, new cities were built directly over the ruins of the old ones. The cause of the definitive abandonment of the city is not known — about 1800 BC. Mohenjo-Daro was rediscovered only in 1922.

And so many other cities, large or small.

Val-Jalbert, une histoire à raconter

Maison abandonnée et délabrée sur le site de Val-Jalbert.

Les vestiges du village de Val-Jalbert racontent une histoire fascinante.

Prenez note que cet article publié en 2020 pourrait contenir des informations qui ne sont plus à jour.

Connaissez-vous Val-Jalbert? Nos archives reviennent sur l’histoire de ce village fantôme devenu une attraction touristique au Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean.

Érigé en 1901 autour d’un moulin pour fabriquer de la pulpe de pois, Val-Jalbert était un village de compagnie.

L’industrie de pâte et papier mécanique qui fera émerger une collectivité provoquera aussi sa perte un quart de siècle plus tard, en 1927, avec l’arrêt de sa production.

Un village prospère qui s’effondre

Les habitants de Val-Jalbert posent en groupe.

Toute une collectivité a disparu avec la fermeture du moulin à pulpe de Val-Jalbert.

Au début des années 1920, le confort de la vie à Val-Jalbert fait l’envie des populations environnantes. Les habitants de la ville travaillent pour une seule entreprise, l’usine à pâte, qui offre les meilleurs salaires de la région.

Photographies d’antan à l’appui, le quotidien de Val-Jalbert est évoqué : le laitier Cyprien Gagnon, le boulanger Cossette et le bateau Mistassini qui rapporte des nouvelles du reste du monde.

« On faisait une belle vie à Val-Jalbert », confirme un ex-ancien ouvrier de la Quebec Pulp& Paper Mills Limited.

La fin de semaine, des résidents de Roberval et de Chambord viennent à cheval visiter Val-Jalbert et la chute Ouiatchouan qui alimente son moulin à pulpe.

Des Tremblay, des Martel, des Fortin, près de 1000 personnes s’établissent à Val-Jalbert au cours de cette époque dorée.

Le 5 août 1927 vient tout chambouler. La Quebec Pulp& Paper Mills Limited annonce l’interruption des opérations à son usine de Val-Jalbert.

La demande pour la pâte mécanique non transformée est en baisse et l’entreprise ne croit pas pouvoir reprendre ses activités avant le printemps 1928.

« C’est alors que l’histoire a commencé sa marche à l’envers. »— Une citation de  Le narrateur Yvon Leblanc

Leurs loyers payés par l’entreprise, les habitants de Val-Jalbert restent au village un premier hiver. D’autant plus que le curé insiste pour qu’ils ne partent pas trop tôt.

Le printemps suivant, c’est tout parti, raconte Yvon Leblanc sur des images de la désertion de Val-Jalbert.

40 ans après la fermeture de l’usine de pâte et papier, Val-Jalbert est véritablement une ville fantôme.

L’hôtel est abandonné, les maisons de bois éventrées ou placardées. Le moulin, avec sa structure métallique rouillée, est hors d’usage et la voie ferrée est envahie d’herbes et de feuilles mortes.

Il y a bien un projet de parc touristique, mentionne-t-on en 1967, et le site de Val-Jalbert attire de plus en plus de visiteurs la fin de semaine.

« Les touristes ne savent pas toujours ce que ça a été Val-Jalbert. Dans le temps, c’était bien plus beau que ça. »— Une citation de  Le narrateur Yvon Leblanc

Un village touristique qui rayonne

Le bâtiment historique et la chute de Val-Jalbert.

Le village historique de Val-Jalbert construira 15 nouveaux chalets en bordure du lac Saint-Jean.


Au rythme des vers du poème Le vieux moulin d’Alice Lemieux, l’émission Reflets d’un pays du 10 août 1981 nous offre à son tour une visite de Val-Jalbert.

La journaliste Hélène Chouinard rappelle qu’avec ses installations modernes, le dynamique village du Lac-Saint-Jean était destiné à un brillant avenir.

« Police, téléphone, électricité, banque, caisse populaire, syndicat ouvrier. Qu’est-il arrivé pour qu’aujourd’hui on parle de ce village au passé? »— Une citation de  Hélène Chouinard

Après avoir été laissé à l’abandon, le village a été pris en charge par le ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche dans les années 60.

L’idée était de protéger et mettre en valeur les vestiges de cette tranche d’histoire. Des bâtiments ont été restaurés et rénovés. Des sentiers et autres accès aménagés.

L’ancien hôtel a été transformé en magasin général pour les touristes et les campeurs, expose la journaliste Hélène Chouinard.

De village fantôme, Val-Jalbert est devenu un musée à ciel ouvert. Les visiteurs y affluent désormais pour prendre un bain de nature et d’histoire.

Un banc et des maisons écroulées derrière.

Chaque été des milliers de personnes visitent le village pour en voir les vestiges.


Comme en témoigne ce reportage au Téléjournal du 19 mai 2011, des touristes viennent de partout pour visiter le village historique de Val-Jalbert.

En parcourant ce site pittoresque en 2007, la romancière française Marie-Bernadette Dupuy y a d’ailleurs trouvé l’inspiration.

De retour chez elle à Angoulême, elle a pondu une saga historique dont l’action se déroule à Val-Jalbert au siècle dernier.

Le journaliste Maxence Bilodeau nous raconte son histoire, ainsi que celle de son éditeur saguenéen et d’une jeune lectrice avide de ses aventures.

Sa saga – qui s’est amorcée avec le titre L’Enfant des neiges – a été vendue à plus de 400 000 exemplaires dans le monde.

Alimentée par ses contacts dans la région, Marie-Bernadette Dupuy y décrit la vie du Val-Jalbert d’antan avec une précision d’historienne.

C’est une visibilité inespérée pour nous, confirme Dany Bouchard, le directeur général du Village historique de Val-Jalbert. Les livres de Marie-Bernadette Dupuy ont permis de faire connaître le site à des gens qui ne l’auraient peut-être pas découvert autrement.

L’histoire du village Val-Jalbert, un site qui demeure très fréquenté, n’est pas à la veille de se terminer.

En écrivant des romans, elle [Marie-Bernadette Dupuy] permet à Alycia de continuer à rêver au prince charmant, à la maison d’édition de Jean-Claude Larouche de passer le cap des 35 ans et au village de Val-Jalbert d’être plus vivant, comme dans le bon vieux temps, conclut Maxence Bilodeau sur le parcours étonnant de Val-Jalbert.


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September 22, 1964

Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bocklyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in or around 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem.

The story centers on Tevye, a milkman in the village of Anatevka, who attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family’s lives. He must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters who wish to marry for love; their choices of husbands are successively less palatable for Tevye. An edict of the tsar eventually evicts the Jews from their village.

The original Broadway production of the show, which opened, on September 22 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run.

Sholem Aleiichem
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To surrender, or not to surrender, that is the question.

In the first stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stories of Russian soldiers turning themselves in and becoming prisoners of war surfaced. What motivated these Russian soldiers to surrender to the Ukrainian army, even initially, when there was still limited fighting between the two parties? And how could their behavior be interpreted when analyzed in the context of warfare?  

Many Russian soldiers became prisoners of war (hereafter PoW) during the first months of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The Ukrainian officials have even announced that it has been necessary to build camps to accommodate the growing number of captured Russian soldiers. Out of the soldiers who were captured, many ‘voluntarily’ opted to speak out about the war, raising concerns that they may have been coerced to join.

Some Russian soldiers have even chosen to side with the opposing army by creating a ‘Russian legion’ within the Ukrainian army. Given these circumstances, there is reasonable ground to claim that some Russians genuinely condemn their government’s actions. However, the question remains: in such a conflict, what motivates a soldier’s decision to defect to the opposing side?

Why Surrender to the Opposing Side?

According to Reiter and Stam, there are specific factors that soldiers consider when deciding to ‘surrender’ to the opposing side such as the outcome of the conflict, treatment of enemy combatants and the type of governance regime (Reiter 1997). Soldiers’ motivation may change as the war unfolds based on their combat experience and the information they have or obtain. It is this decision-making process that the academic literature colloquially refers to as the ‘POW game’ or the ‘POW dilemma.’

In recent news, a few unverified sources have accused Ukrainian soldiers of killing wounded Russian POWs. Although to this day, there have been no confirmed sources indicating any abuse towards Russian POWs by the Ukrainian forces. Such information can obviously play a crucial role in influencing a soldier’s decision whether to or when to surrender.

Fear of the authoritarian regime and the unleashing of its repressive power if soldiers were to refuse to fight seems to also have motivated the soldiers to surrender. As one Russian POW explains:

“The fear of our state pushes us. The way it is set up, if we go against our own, we would either get shot by our own people or imprisoned for a very long time. That’s why we just kept on going…”

Profile of the Soldiers

There is little to no official data on the POWs provided by the Ukrainian authorities. Based on the videos released, one may conclude that many of the captured soldiers appear to be conscripted, instead of being fully trained military professionals. Moreover, many seem to lack ‘formal’ combat training or experience.

Also, many of the captured soldiers report not having been provided with clear goals for their military operations. Such conditions may understandably have resulted in the soldiers’ confusion and their lack of understanding of their own side’s objectives may have led to an unwillingness to fight, as another Russian POW describes:

“In the early hours of [February] 24th we were lined up by the battalion commander and told we had to march. We were not told where to. They took all our communication devices and papers beforehand. We all followed our battalion commander until we came under fire. …We did not even understand what had happened… Why? We started asking questions. Supposedly, we crossed the border at night without knowing it.

Ukrainian Strategy

In addition, the actions of the Ukrainian side have most likely also influenced soldiers, as individuals or as part of a larger unit, to decide to surrender. Among these actions, Ukrainian media released interviews with Russian POWs saying that they were well treated and cared for:

“As strange as it may seem, we are treated well in captivity. Everyone has received medical assistance and everything necessary. People who wore wet clothes received dry ones.”

The humane treatment of enemy combatants by the opposing side is key to understanding the ‘rational calculations’ made by Russian soldiers when not only deciding to surrender but to actively participate in the actions of the opposing side, especially as the political regime is perceived to be ‘liberal or more democratic’ (Axelrod 1984, Stam 1996, Reiter 1997). Such calculations play a pivotal role on the battlefield in the overall psychology of the opposition parties, especially when ‘defectors’ voluntarily participate in the propaganda of the “POW Game” (Taylor, 1995, Reiter 1997, Webb 2015).

In the first weeks of the war, the Russian army suffered major losses and its offensive was halted, which seemed to have affected the soldiers’ morale. Under such circumstances, the risk of retribution by Russian authorities combined with the Ukrainian government’s promotion of ‘democratic values’ and humane treatment of captured soldiers seem to have sufficiently appealed to Russian soldiers for them to surrender to the Ukrainian army.

Consequences of Speaking Out

Although the press conferences and interviews with Russian POWs have clearly been used as a tool for propaganda by the Ukrainian authorities. Some Russian soldiers may have seen in them an opportunity to avoid returning to Russia and having to face the repercussions of a failed mission. The prospect of staying in a democratic state could also be seen as enough of a ‘rational’ driving force behind their critical public appearances, even when these actions may negatively impact the image of the Russian army and authorities:

“We want to stay in Ukraine, because… at least as long as the Putinist regime is in place there [in Russia], we’re afraid to go back there.  Because he, the President of Russia, has made us criminals. Something like that.”

Although there have been several exchanges of POWs between Ukraine and Russia, no additional information on the whereabouts of all the Russian POWs who participated in the press conferences is available. Videos of some of the interviewed men speaking at later dates have surfaced, which could indicate that some still remain in Ukraine.

Outcomes of the War

Many of the Russian soldiers were not ready to fight the real war and, as a result, tried to avoid fighting. In this situation, Ukraine has presented itself as a side prepared to treat those Russians, who surrender, humanely. Furthermore, Russian POWs emphasize that they fear authoritarian Russia, while democratic Ukraine promises them safety although in captivity. The hypotheses posed by Reiter and Stam are therefore confirmed, that is in a war, it is not just the ‘on the ground’ outcomes of the battlefield that matter, but also the ‘long-term strategy’ that most soldiers consider when deciding whether to surrender or not.

Leslie Ader is a doctoral student and researcher in migration and mobility at the University of Neuchâtel associated with the nccr – on the move in the project on “Historical Perspective on Mobility in Welfare States” and she focuses on the History of Welfare States, Discourse, Claims-Making, and Welfare Policies.

Iaroslav Kovalchuk is a doctoral student in history at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada). He focuses on World War Two and the post-war history of Western Ukraine and its integration into the Soviet Union.


– Axelrod, Robert. 1984. The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.Gaubatz, Kurt Taylor. 1996. “Democratic States and Commitment in International Relations.” International Organization 50 (Winter): 109-139.
– Reiter, Dan, Allan C. Stam III, Meihua Chen, and Saema Somalya. “The soldier’s decision to surrender: Prisoners of war and world politics.” In annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC. 1997.
– Webb, P. S., Isaac. (2015). Prisoners’ Dilemma in Ukraine. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. https://carnegieendowment.org/2015/06/23/prisoners-dilemma-in-ukraine-pub-60477

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‘I lost them all’: a family’s sole survivor recalls their slow death under Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge

a creased black and white photo of five sisters in height order, from a teenager to a toddler
Seang M Seng’s five sisters. ‘I made a pair of shoes for the smallest, Sam Ang,’ he says. ‘All died.’ Photograph: Seang Seng

As a UN court upholds the conviction of the genocidal regime’s last surviving leader, Seang Seng tells how starvation and forced labour killed 23 people of his family.

Seang M Seng still remembers the empty, silent roads he passed through more than 40 years ago as he was driven away by the Khmer Rouge to western Cambodia. It was 1975, Pol Pot’s regime had recently taken power and was forcing 2 million people to leave their homes in the capital, Phnom Penh.

They were being taken to communal farms and rural camps as the new regime began its disastrous and brutal mission to turn Cambodia back to “Year Zero” and create a peasant utopia.

In total, 24 members of Seng’s family were taken away with him in 1975. Only he survived.

It was a combination of extreme food deprivation and gruelling forced labour that claimed the lives of his relatives, and many others who were taken to the same area in Pursat province.

“You [will have] heard in the news that the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed people by hitting their head with a hoe, or hurling the children on to tree trunks to not waste their bullets. But to me, the majority of the people in those days died of starvation,” he says.

A dense crowd of people on a road
Terrified Cambodians stream into Phnom Penh as the Khmer Rouge surrounded the capital in April 1975. The city fell the next day. Photograph: Roland Neveu/LightRocket/Getty

Seng, who went on to become a doctor and now lives in the US, has since written about the horrors he and others faced in his book, Starving Season: One Person’s Story. On Thursday, Cambodia’s UN-backed tribunal for the Khmer Rouge upheld a genocide conviction against the regime’s last surviving leader, Khieu Samphan, the final judgment the court is expected to make.

Had such judgments brought any solace? “I think it is very important for the world to know what happened in Cambodia in those days and I applaud people that worked very hard to bring Khieu Samphan to justice. However, his fate will not change anything for me,” says Seng.

“I never imagined I’d lose my family. I lost them all.”

Seng, who was a 24-year-old medical student at the time he was taken away, spent the days ploughing rice fields. There were no cows, so they used hoes. “After a few hours on the first day, my hand was blistered,” he says.

Twice a day, a small tin of rice would be split between 10 people. A lot of people ate leaves, rats, insects or snakes to stay alive.

A smiling grey-haired man at a desk
Dr Seang Seng, who was a 24-year-old medical student when he was taken away by the Khmer Rouge. Photograph: Seang Seng

Seng’s youngest niece was the first in his family to die after her mother ran out of breastmilk. She had been born just a couple of months earlier in Phnom Penh. After that, one of Seng’s uncles died.

The deterioration of his other relatives’ health was stark. His father’s stomach shrank and disappeared within a few months. His two aunts, who in normal times looked different, began to resemble one another. When they went to a hospital near the farm – there was no hope of proper treatment there, it was the place where people would go to die – they looked like twins: just skin and bones.

“Life is like a battery. It just slowly drains,” says Seng, “when the battery ran out, you’d just die abruptly.”

There were five villages in the area where Seng was taken, with about 30,000 people in total in 1975. “When starvation hit hard in 1976, the number reduced from 30,000 to 3,000,” he says.

The starvation they were subjected to was compounded by an array of other deprivations. “The condition that we lived in [had] no clean water, no toilet, people squatting everywhere,” he says.

Nor was there real shelter; families were forced to build their own huts upon arrival and his family was forced to move several times. If you were sent to work further from your usual shelter, then you would stay in a hammock hung from a tree.

You sit there staring blankly, knowing that your time will end soon

Seng’s uncle, also a medical student, died after he sustained a small wound on his leg, just months after arriving. With no food, it proved fatal.

By the end of 1976, only Seng and one of his younger sisters were still alive.

After labouring for a few more months, Seng realised that he was unlikely to survive much longer. He forged a letter to the nearby hospital, saying that he had been sent from the fields and was no longer able to work.

Exhausted, he lay still, too weak to even swipe flies from his face. His mind, though, was still active, he says.

“We were aware of everything around us. I remember asking myself: what has happened to all the journalists, what happened to all the foreigners? No one is seeing us.

The cover of the book by Seang M Seng.
The harrowing story of Seang Seng’s torment and survival under the Khmer Rouge. Photograph: Seang Seng

“You sit there staring blankly, knowing that your time will end soon,” he recalls. “It is devastating.”

Seng recovered some strength and began to do various jobs at the hospital, first fetching wood for the kitchen staff, and later helping the Khmer Rouge dump the bodies of those who died at the hospital each day in a nearby field. Twelve bodies could be carried at once on a cart; some days he would make multiple trips to dump corpses. The hospital was merely a place where the dying were exchanged for the dead, he says.

Through various jobs in the hospital, Seng was able to prove his commitment to the Khmer Rouge’s “revolution” and get closer to the kitchen, where he could sneak some rice from the cooking pot. “Initially, I had burns and blisters all inside my mouth because the porridge was boiling, but amazingly after a while my body became a little bit more resistant,” he recalls.

He ate spoonfuls from the pot over and over again. The hospital boss, who had taken pity on him, sent him to work as a carpenter, a less gruelling role than working on the land.

Seng is haunted now not by the physical impact of his experiences, but by the mental trauma of losing his entire family. “Sometimes [I feel] the guilt of being the survivor. What I mean by that is I always ask myself, ‘did I do enough to help my family?’”

He remembers his four-year-old nephew who became sick with diarrhoea when they were out fetching water one day. The child died shortly afterwards. “Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘if I had not taken him out, what would have happened to him?’”

He recalls his 14-year-old sister, who told him she no longer wanted to work in the hospital, even though a position like that was hard to obtain. She did not want to stay with members of the Khmer Rouge, and would rather go with her group to dig a canal. “Was I strong enough to guide her? You don’t know at those times. This is only when you look back.”

Writing about his experiences, and publishing his memoir, Starving Season: One Person’s Story, was distressing, yet the process provided some release. Many readers, especially younger Cambodians whose parents have felt unable to share their stories, have appreciated the book.

For Seng, too, the process of documenting what happened has also proved therapeutic. He hopes that it also carries a message of hope: that even after the most terrible of tragedies, it is possible to rebuild life.


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Magellan and Elcano – The First Circumnavigation of the World

The First Circumnavigation of the World Happened by Accident, Not DesignThe First Circumnavigation of the World Happened by Accident, Not Design

Tabula Magellanica qua Tierra del Fuego
. Amsterdam: Schenk and Valk, [1709?]. Hand-colored engraving. Geography and Map Division, Title Collection, Chile-Magellan Strait.

In 2022 Spain went all out to celebrate the quincentennial of the arrival of the so-called ‘Spice Route Armada’ which reached Spain on September 6th, 1522, after completing the first recorded circumnavigation of the world. What many people don’t realize is that the brains of the expedition, Ferdinand Magellan , never actually meant to sail around the world. He was actually looking for a trade route to reach the lucrative Maluku Islands of Indonesia, known as the Spice Islands.

The Portuguese explorer was sailing under the Spanish flag, due to a falling out with King Manuel of Portugal, while the Treaty of Tordesillas had effectively carved up the world between the Spanish, who controlled trade routes to the west, and the Portuguese, given control of trade routes to the east.

16th-century engraving by Joannes Stradanus depicting Magellan surrounded by mythological characters and fantastic animals. It represents the discovery of the Magellan Strait and European views of the still-mysterious Americas. (Public domain)

16th-century engraving by Joannes Stradanus depicting Magellan surrounded by mythological characters and fantastic animals. It represents the discovery of the Magellan Strait and European views of the still-mysterious Americas.

This was an era when spices were hugely important commodities. Pepper, nutmeg, ginger and cloves were used in food preparation and medicine, while some spices were worth more than their weight in gold. Attaining cloves and nutmeg, native to the Maluku Islands, was one of the main driving forces behind Magellan’s expedition and he decided to lead his fleet west around the Americas to reach the Spice Islands without encroaching on Portuguese waters.

Recreation of the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation crossing the Strait of Magellan. (grechsantos / Adobe Stock)

Recreation of the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation crossing the Strait of Magellan.

Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in 1519, crossed the Strait of Magellan in November 1520 and reached Guam in March 1521. While the original fleet was made up of five ships and a roughly 270-strong crew, the only ship to make it back to Spain was the Nao Victoria, with just 18 people on board led by Juan Sebastián Elcano, who took over after Magellan met his untimely demise.

The harrowing voyage had discovered a new route to the Spice Islands and they arrived laden with a valuable cargo of spices. The historian Ramón María Serrera, who took part in the quincentennial celebrations, explained in El País that the Magellan expedition had accidentally revealed “the full spherical dimension of our planet” even though “the circumnavigation was only made possible because they didn’t know how to return the way the had come.”

Actors recreating the arrival of the 18 survivors of the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation of the globe. (Courtesy of Fundación Nao Victoria)

Actors recreating the arrival of the 18 survivors of the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation of the globe.

Culminating several events which began in 2019, a year which marked 500 years since the expedition first set sail, the celebrations in September 2022 kicked off in Sanlúcar de Barrameda with a huge naval parade. Several ships then headed up the Guadalquivir River to Seville.

On reaching the docks, actors recreated the arrival of the surviving sailors, who then processed through the city to give thanks to the Virgin de la Victoria. The celebrations included a performance of Esfera Mundi by the Spanish theatre group La Fura dels Baus, along with family events, concerts, guided tours, and informative talks presided over by King Felipe VI of Spain.

Replica of the Nao Victoria arriving in Seville. (Courtesy of Fundación Nao Victoria)

Replica of the Nao Victoria arriving in Seville.

Moored at the Muelle de las Delicias, a replica of the Nao Victoria has become a permanent tourist attraction, alongside an interpretation center – Espacio Primera Vuelta al Mundo . The Nao Victoria Foundation is responsible for the construction of various ship replicas, including another fully seaworthy replica of the famed ship built in 1991 for the Seville Expo ’92 which later completed a world tour and circumnavigated the globe between 2004 and 2006. This first replica was present for the celebrations before departing once again to continue its journey.

The travel after Magellan’s death

After Magellan’s death, the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa, a relative of Magellan, was appointed captain general, but he was also killed in Cebu together with Captain João Serrão, of the Trinidad, in a dinner-trap organized by the Hindu leader of the island, the rajah called Humabon. In that ambush on May 1 and in Mactan, several sailors lost their lives, about 35 people.[ In this situation, on May 2, 1521, it was decided to burn the ship Concepción because there were not enough sailors, some 116 or 117, to take charge of the 3. Thus, the expedition was reduced from five to two vessels.

They only had two vessels to return to Seville: Victoria and Trinidad. However, Elcano was not immediately appointed captain. First another Portuguese, Juan Lopez de Carvalho, was installed in May 1521. In disagreement with Carvalho’s manner of command, the sailors at the stern dismissed Carvalho and put Elcano as captain of the ship on September 17, 1521.

After arriving in the Moluccas and loading the clove, once in South Asia Captain Elcano changes his original plan. He will propose to go forward, to continue westward, to return to Europe through southern Africa, without turning back or passing through southern America. And this change of plans will be the culmination of the first round-the-world voyage.

From Tidore to Cape Verde

They finally reached the Molucca Islands, specifically the island of Tidore, in present-day Indonesia. There they found the precious spice they were looking for, the clove. They made a deal with the king or rajah, who they called Almansur of Tidore Island, who brought them tons of cloves. The Victoria, for example, brought 27 tons of cloves to Seville. As there were not so many cloves on Tidore Island, they had them brought from the neighboring islands as well.

In the meantime, the Trinidad broke down. As they heard that the Portuguese were approaching, because of the danger of waiting, they decided to return alone on the Victoria, with Elcano as captain. However, they had the exact order to return by the way they had gone, an order they did not comply with. They took the westward course with the idea of sailing around the world. Elcano proposed to sail around the world because, as he indicated, “They were going to do what could be narrated”. Some say that he did it precisely for that reason, because Elcano had that historical conscience, as is clear in the letter he wrote to the newly arrived King:

Your Majesty will know that we should have the highest esteem for having discovered and encircled the roundness of the world, for we have gone to the West and returned by the East.

Elcano allowed the sailors to choose their ship. After all, they were to circumnavigate the waters belonging to Portugal. 47 sailors chose to return with Elcano aboard the Victoria, and 13 members decided to stay in the Moluccas. At that time there were twelve Basques left in the expedition, of whom eight decided to return with Elcano, the other three remaining on board the Trinidad. The ship Victoria left Tidore Island on December 21, 1521, bound for Seville. Immediately a strong storm hit them and ruined the ship. On the nearby island of Mallua (today called Pulau Wetar) they had to stay 15 days for repairs. From Tidore they sailed to the island of Timor, and after spending a few days there, they set sail on February 7, 1522. From that day until July 9, when they reached Cape Verde, they would not set foot on land again.

The journey from Timor to Seville was 27,000 kilometers long, and they planned to sail without making a stopover. They will not succeed, of course, because after over 20,000 kilometers, the sailors will have to decide to stay in Cape Verde, by vote, because the situation was impossible. In order not to meet the Portuguese on the way, they crossed it to the southern hemisphere, far south, avoiding India. Moreover, by going so far south, they also managed to avoid the opposing monsoon winds that at that time of the year came from Africa.

They sailed very close to Australia, about 500 km away. If instead of sailing southwest they had sailed south in a straight line, they would have reached Australia in two or three days of sailing. As the days went by, the food also began to run out. When they had only rice cooked in seawater to eat, scurvy began to make the sailors seriously ill. Under these circumstances, the idea of making landfall in Mozambique spread on the ship. It was dangerous to dock, however, because the armies of Portugal could capture them. Elcano asked all the sailors and, surprisingly, it was decided by vote to go ahead, without staying in Mozambique.

Crossing the southern tip of Africa, the perilous Cape of Good Hope, was very difficult for them. The Portuguese called it ‘the cape of storms’. At first they headed south, to take advantage of the wind, but the ship could not move forward because they had been hit by extreme bad weather (the usual in those parts). For nine weeks they stayed there, frozen to death, with their sails lowered. 

At last Elcano made the sailors a very dangerous proposition: to pass the cape close to the coast. One danger was that the storms would push the proud. To find the Portuguese on the other. But they did so, and at last managed to turn the cape and head northward past Africa.

Landing in Cape Verde

They could not make it directly to Seville because the situation on board was already absolutely deplorable. They needed to stop somewhere. In desperation, and in search of food, they first tried to call at the African coast (off Guinea Bissau and Senegal), but could not find a suitable place to dock. Desperate, they decided to call at Cape Verde, voting among all the sailors. It was the last part of the voyage, and although the Portuguese were in charge in Cape Verde, they had not made landfall for months, with two or three deaths a week. Because of the mollusk called Teredo navalis was eating the wood of the ship, water was getting in through the holes in their vessels, and as they had nothing to eat, and there were fewer and fewer of them, they did not have the strength to pump the water out of the ship. Determined to need food and help, they decided to ask for it in Cape Verde.

To make matters worse, they had nothing with which to make the exchange, for they had nothing but cloves. But the exhibition of the clove would reveal the origin of the expedition (i.e., that the ship was not returning from America, but from Asia) and the Portuguese would come out against them. Somehow they were able to pay for the first two cargoes in search of food, but when paying for the third they used cloves. They then had to flee, followed by the Portuguese. They were going to leave 13 sailors, prisoners of the Portuguese, in Cape Verde.


They didn’t make the passage from Cape Verde to Seville in a straight line because the wind was pulling them down. They turned around by ‘Volta do mar largo‘, taking a wide course to the west, to go up almost as far as Galicia and from there down to enter Seville. They returned to Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, and two days later, they entered Seville on September 8, after almost three years of crossing. Of the 234 (or 247) sailors who set sail, only 18 arrived.

As soon as the ship Victoria arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Elcano set down on writing a 700-word letter addressed to Charles V, where he never mentions himself. He emphasized on it that they had achieved their goal to carry back the spices, “brought peace” to these islands, and obtained the friendship of their kings and lords, also bringing along their signatures. He went on to highlight the extreme hardships undergone during the expedition. Elcano did not forget the members of the crew captured in Cabo Verde by the Portuguese, begging the emperor to initiate all necessary actions leading to their release. He ends the letter with commentary about their discoveries, the roundness of the world, setting sail to the west and coming back from the east.

Adapted from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Sebasti%C3%A1n_Elcano

Elcano’s letter
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In 1911 Bartók wrote his only operaDuke Bluebeard’s Castle, an allegorical treatment of the legendary wife murderer with a score permeated by characteristics of traditional Hungarian folk songs, especially in the speechlike rhythms of the text setting.

The technique is comparable to that used by the French composer Claude Debussy in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1902), and Bartók’s opera has other impressionistic qualities as well. A balletThe Wooden Prince (1914–16), and a pantomimeThe Miraculous Mandarin (1918–19), followed; thereafter he wrote no more for the stage.

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Dendroica discolor  Paruline des Prés  /  Prairie Warbler

Dendroica discolor  Paruline des Prés  /  Prairie Warbler

birdsofamerica 14

The Prairie Warbler is found in the south-eastern part of the United States where it hides out in clear wooded areas, bushes and mangroves. The length of the bird is 12 cm.

La paruline des prés se retrouve dans le sud-est des États-Unis où elle se cache dans les bois clairs, les broussailles et les mangroves. Sa longueur est de 12 cm.

Musée de la civilisation,
collection du Séminaire de Québec,
The Birds of America,
John James Audubon,

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Why is 90-year-old Cardinal Zen standing trial in Hong Kong?

The retired leader of the territory’s Catholic Church – and staunch critic of Beijing – is accused of failing to register a support fund.

Cardinal Zen, dressed in golden robes and flanked by two others, leads a mass in Hong Kong in May, a few days after his arrest
Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen was at mass in Hong Kong hours after being charged over a fund that helped pay the legal costs of those arrested in the 2019 protests [File: Peter Parks/

Political activist Alex Chow has not forgotten the kindness of Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, who came to visit him when he was behind bars five years ago.

The two talked for 45 minutes, “maybe an hour”, with the prison officer giving up his seat so Zen, then in his mid-80s, could sit down.  For Chow, jailed for his role in the peaceful 2014 Occupy Hong Kong protests, the cardinal was a source of comfort and reassurance and a much-needed connection to the outside world.

“It meant a lot to me,” Chow, who was later released on bail ahead of the appeal he eventually won, told Al Jazeera. “I could see his genuine concern for others and staunch opposition to injustice. I felt like I was genuinely in his prayers and one of the people he cared about.”

The 90-year-old former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong now faces a trial of his own.

On Monday he will face court with five others, including popular Cantopop singer and LGBTQ activist Denise Ho and lawyer Margaret Ng, over a now-defunct fund they set up to help pay the legal fees of people facing trial in relation to the 2019 protests.

They were arrested in early May under the National Security Law and accused of “colluding with foreign forces”.

Released on bail, they were charged on May 24 with failing to register the fund.

From left, Hong Kong scholar Hui Po-keung, Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, barrister Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho arrive for an appearance at a court in Hong Kong
Cardinal Zen was leaning on a walking stick for support as he arrived in court with fellow defendants – scholar Hui Po-keung, left, lawyer Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho – in May [File: Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

All have pleaded not guilty and, in the five days allocated for proceedings, their defence is expected to argue that the group had a right to associate under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution that has been in place since the British handed the territory over to China in 1997.

“The Chinese government wants to cut off all forms of organizing and solidarity that run outside of the Communist Party’s control in Hong Kong,” William Nee, research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said in an emailed response to questions. “The fact that Cardinal Zen is compassionate, caring, and well-respected in Hong Kong actually makes him a threat to the ruling authorities.”

Vatican criticised

Zen was ordained in 1996 and named Bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, becoming the leader of the territory’s Catholics, now numbering more than 400,000. In a 2006 ceremony in Rome, he was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict.

Throughout his career, Zen has shown support for democratic reform and giving the people of Hong Kong more say in their government. He held a “walkathon” for universal suffrage, masses in remembrance of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square and visited the Occupy Hong Kong site to provide moral support to the thousands who had gathered there.

After his retirement in 2009, Zen became more critical of Beijing, which broke off relations with the Vatican in 1951 and created its own Communist Party-led Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. He has been especially critical of a 2018 deal under which Pope Francis recognised seven bishops appointed by Beijing, which was supposed to bring the mainland’s Catholics, thought to number about 12 million, together.

“Cardinal Zen made the ultimate self-sacrifice,” Andreas Fulda, author of The Struggle for Democracy in Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera in emailed comments. “Deep down he must have known that the dictatorship in Beijing would never budge. Undeterred he advocated for Christians in mainland China. Firmly committed to the principle of non-violence, he was part of an influential ecumenical alliance of faith leaders advocating for liberal democracy in Hong Kong.”

Pope Benedict XVI (L) gives the ring to new cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun during a Holy Mass in St. Peter Square, Saturday 25 March 2006 i
Zen became the head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong in 2002 and was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict in March 2006 [File: Ettore Ferrari/EPA]

The Catholic Church has been criticised for failing to take a firmer stand over Zen’s arrest and trial.

After he was charged on May 24, pictured walking into court leaning heavily on a stick, the church released a short statement noting that he had pleaded not guilty and that it would “closely monitor” events.

“Cardinal Zen is always in our prayers and we invite all to pray for the Church,” it concluded.

On Thursday, when the pope was asked about religious freedom in China and Zen’s looming trial, he said that while it was “not easy to understand the Chinese mentality”, it had to be “respected”, according to a report in Catholic News.

On Zen, he said: “He says what he feels and we see that there are limitations [in Hong Kong]”.

The pope, who spoke as he flew home from the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan, added that he preferred to “choose the path of dialogue”.

Reports said China’s President Xi Jinping, who was also at the meeting, refused an invitation for talks with the pope because his schedule was full.

‘Purpose of life’

Zen’s trial is the latest in connection with the 2019 protests, which began with mass marches against a proposed bill that would allow extradition to the mainland and, amid a perceived lack of action from the government and heavy-handed police tactics, evolved into sometimes violent protests demanding more democracy in the Chinese-ruled territory.

The group set up the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund in July 2019, naming it after the first serious confrontation between protesters and police the previous month outside the barricaded building of the Legislative Council where politicians had been due to debate the contentious bill. Police used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against protesters, and dozens were arrested.

They wound up the fund in October last year after police announced it was under investigation.

The fund’s closure, and the trial of those who founded it, will also have repercussions for the thousands facing charges from the 2019 protests whose legal costs could run into the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars.

CHRD’s Nee said the lack of funding options could undermine those defendants’ right to a fair trial.

“It was possible before to crowdsource some of these costs but by cutting off the ability to do so, Beijing will make it much more difficult for people to afford the legal resources to mount a solid defence,” he noted.

Zen has been out on bail pending trial.

At his first public appearance after his arrest, he addressed the Salesian Vocations Office (China Province) about his motivations in life and why he had entered the priesthood.

He noted that the world was “chaotic” and that some were driven by the need to pursue “money, wealth, and power” but, the retired bishop said, “the purpose of life” is learning what it means to be a person of integrity, filled with a sense of justice and kindness.

Despite his longstanding support for democratic reform, Zen had largely avoided any backlash from the authorities.

After the bishop’s arrest, newly-installed Hong Kong leader John Lee, a former police officer and security chief, said the arrest was not related to Zen’s background or beliefs, but that people who broke the law needed to be held to account.

For Chow, now living in the United States, the decision to arrest and prosecute a man many in Hong Kong regard as the territory’s “moral conscience” is further evidence of how much the territory has changed.

“Him being prosecuted is telling,” he said. “It really shows how the Hong Kong government has shifted its mentality [and] the future trajectory of how it might approach religious freedom or political speech; whether Hong Kong will remain a free society or whether that’s long gone.”


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September 22, 1862

Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which sets a date for the freedom of more than 3 million enslaved in the United States and recasts the Civil War as a fight against slavery.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration as America’s 16th president, he maintained that the war was about restoring the Union and not about slavery. He avoided issuing an anti-slavery proclamation immediately, despite the urgings of abolitionists and radical Republicans, as well as his personal belief that slavery was morally repugnant. Instead, Lincoln chose to move cautiously until he could gain wide support from the public for such a measure.

In July 1862, Lincoln informed his cabinet that he would issue an emancipation proclamation but that it would exempt the so-called border states, which had slaveholders but remained loyal to the Union. His cabinet persuaded him not to make the announcement until after a Union victory. Lincoln’s opportunity came following the Union win at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. On September 22, the president announced that enslaved people in areas still in rebellion within 100 days would be free.

Battle of Antietam

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The proclamation also called for the recruitment and establishment of Black military units among the Union forces. An estimated 180,000 African Americans went on to serve in the army, while another 18,000 served in the navy.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, backing the Confederacy was seen as favoring slavery. It became impossible for anti-slavery nations such as Great Britain and France, who had been friendly to the Confederacy, to get involved on behalf of the South. The proclamation also unified and strengthened Lincoln’s party, the Republicans, helping them stay in power for the next two decades.

The proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by Congress, so Lincoln then pushed for an antislavery amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure its permanence. With the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery was eliminated throughout America (although Black people would face another century of struggle before they began to gain equal rights in the U.S.A. a century after the passage of the 13th Amendment).

Lincoln’s handwritten draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, the original official version of the document is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


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‘I will cross the border tonight’: Russians flee after news of draft

Border guards cite ‘exceptional’ number of people leaving the country after ‘partial mobilisation’ announcement

Cars from Russia queue at the border into Finland.
Cars from Russia queue at the border into Finland. Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

Hours after Vladimir Putin shocked Russia by announcing the first mobilisation since the second world war, Oleg received his draft papers in the mailbox, ordering him to make his way to the local recruitment centre in Kazan, the capital of the ​​Tatarstan republic.

As a 29-year-old sergeant in the Russian reserves, Oleg said he always knew that he would be the first in line if a mobilisation was declared, but held out hope that he would not be forced to fight in the war in Ukraine.

“My heart sank when I got the call-up,” he said. “But I knew I had no time to despair.”

He quickly packed all his belongings and booked a one-way ticket to Orenburg, a southern Russian city close to the border with Kazakhstan.

“I will be driving across the border tonight,” he said in a telephone interview on Thursday from the airport in Orenburg.

“I have no idea when I’ll step foot in Russia again,” he added, referring to the jail sentence Russian men face for avoiding the draft.

Oleg said he will leave behind his wife, who is due to give birth next week.

“I will miss the most important day of my life. But I am simply not letting Putin turn me into a killer in a war that I want no part in.”

The Kremlin’s decision to announce a partial mobilisation has led to a rush among men of military age to leave the country, likely sparking a new, possibly unprecedented brain drain in the coming days and weeks.

The Guardian spoke to over a dozen men and women who had left Russia since Putin announced the so-called partial mobilisation, or who are planning to do so in the next few days.

Options to flee are limited, they say. Earlier this week, four of the five EU countries bordering Russia announced they would no longer allow Russians to enter on tourist visas.

Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul, Yerevan, Tashkent and Baku, the capitals of countries allowing Russians visa-free entry, were sold out for the next week, while the cheapest one-way flight from Moscow to Dubai cost about 370,000 rubles (£5,000) – a fee too steep for most.

And so many, like Oleg, were forced to get creative and drive to some of the few land borders still open to Russians.

Border guards in Finland, the last EU country that still allows entry to Russians with tourist visas, said that have noticed an “exceptional number” of Russian nationals seeking to cross the border overnight, while eyewitnesses also said that Russian-Georgian and the Russian-Mongolian borders were “collapsing” with overwhelming traffic.

“We are seeing an even bigger exodus than when the war started,” said Ira Lobanovskaya, who started the “Guide to the free World” NGO, which helps Russians against the war leave the country.

She said her website had received over one and half million visits since Putin’s speech on Wednesday. According to Lobanovkaya’s estimates, over 70,000 Russians that used the group’s services have already left or made concrete plans to leave.

“These are people who are buying one-way tickets. They won’t be coming back as long as mobilisation is ongoing.”

Many of those who are still in Russia will feel that time is running out. At least three regions have already announced they will close their borders to men eligible for the draft.

Border agents at Russian airports have also reportedly started interrogating departing male passengers about their military service status and checking return tickets.

After thousands of Russians rallyed against the war and mobilisation on Wednesday, some took to social media to criticise protesters for not speaking out earlier, when their country’s troops were committing human rights abuses in Bucha, Irpin and countless of other towns across Ukraine.

Policemen detaining protesters in central St. Petersburg
Policemen move in to detain participants of an unauthorised protest against partial mobilisation in central St. Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday. Photograph: Anatoly Maltsev/EPA

“I understand people’s frustration,” said Igor, a 26-year-old IT professional from St. Petersburg, who is planning to fly to Vladikavkaz and drive to Georgia, another popular fleeing route used by Russians, next week. “I attended the anti-war protest when Putin launched his invasion, but the authorities just jail everyone.”

Some of the protesters detained in Moscow have subsequently been given draft notices while locked up, according to the monitoring group OVD, further underlying the dangers average Russians face when taking to the streets.

“I think the only way I can personally help Ukraine right now is by not fighting there,” he said.

There have also been calls for the EU to support Russians who are looking for a way out of the draft.

The EU Commission spokesperson on home affairs, Anitta Hipper, said that the bloc would meet to discuss the issuance of humanitarian visas to Russians fleeing mobilisation. The three Baltic states said on Thursday, however, that they are not prepared to automatically offer asylum to Russians fleeing the draft.

Even those without any military experience – men who Putin vowed not to call up – are packing their bags.

Russian police detaining a protester
Russian police detaining a protester against the partial mobilisation. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

They point to the ambiguity of Putin’s mobilisation law and point to previous broken promises that he would not call for one.

“Putin lied that there will be no mobilisation,” said 23-year-old Anton, , a student in Moscow, referring to the president’s International Women’s Day address on 8 March, when he insisted that no reservists would be called up to fight in Ukraine. “Why would he not lie again about this partial mobilisation?”

Fears have grown after independent website Novaya Gazeta Europe reported, based on its government sources, that the mobilistation decrees allow the Ministry of Defence to call up 1,000,000 people, instead of the 300,000 announced by the country’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, on Wednesday.

For now, Lobanovskaya said, the majority of Russians leaving are men.

The Guardian also spoke to a number of women, mostly medics, who similarly decided to leave the country after reports started to trickle out that Russia was calling up health professionals to the front.

“I know medics are supposed to treat people, that is our duty,” said Tatayana, a doctor from Irkutsk, who bought a plane ticket to Baku for next week.

“But I believe the sooner this horrible war stops, the fewer people will die.”

The mobilisation also appears to have spooked some of the very people on whom the regime relies to sustain its war efforts.

“For me, mobilisation is the red line,” said Ilya, 29, a mid-level official working for the Moscow government. “Tomorrow I will be in Kazakhstan.”

One man, the son of a west-sanctioned oligarch due to come back to Russia after his studies abroad to work for his family business, said he no longer planned to do so.

“Well, one thing is clear,” he said, in a brief interview by text message. “I won’t be coming back to Russia anytime soon.”


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Vladimir Putin has to escalate the situation in Ukraine in order to survive

Russia’s partial mobilization and the hastily ordered “referendums” in eastern Ukraine are signs of weakness. Putin has miscalculated, and thousands of Russians are paying the price with their lives, says Miodrag Soric.

Putin has announced the mobilization of 300,000 reservists

There’s no going back — if Russian President Vladimir Putin loses his war of aggression against Ukraine, it will cost him his power, perhaps more. The same is true for politicians in the government and in parliament who have linked their fates to the Kremlin chief, for better or for worse. They are panicking.

Given the Ukrainians’ recent success in retaking their territory, Russia is looking at defeat, something no one in Moscow expected.

That’s why Putin has now announced a partial mobilization and called up 300,000 reservists. They are supposed to stop the advance of the Ukrainians; an advance that bears witness to the desperate state of the Russian army.

Weakened and isolated?

On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan just a few days ago, Putin, making an effort to appear dispassionate, said that Russia was in no hurry in Ukraine. But the world saw a weakened, isolated Putin. Television cameras showed an aging man, whom the other heads of state and government kept waiting. Seated on a couch, Putin listened politely to what they had to say.

Turkey, India and even China indicated publicly that they opposed Putin’s war and supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity. With good reason — the war is taking its toll on the global economy, which means it is restricting the power of the very politicians Putin had hoped would support his war of aggression.

Change of course in the Kremlin

There was no way that the situation could continue on this path, from the point of view of the Kremlin. Now that he is back in Moscow, Putin has rushed to change tack.

Ultimately, the partial mobilization is an admission of military weakness in eastern Ukraine. The announcement to allow Ukrainians in conquered territories to “vote” on whether they want to join the Russian Federation shows that they do not want to. Nobody in the world will take seriously the results of people voting at gunpoint, of a referendum in the ruins.

Putin wants to ensure that the conquered territories are absorbed into the Russian Federation. Then he will be able to call for the defense of the homeland, resorting to all military means possible. Thus, with a rhetorical flourish, a “special military operation” limited in time and space, which has so far had little impact on the everyday lives of most Russians, could be transformed into the defense of “Russian soil” by all means — including nuclear weapons.

End of the ‘special operation’

There is no need to be a prophet to predict the imminent demise of the term “special military operation.” It will be buried by Kremlin propaganda and replaced by even more of the confused lies, inventions and threats that the state-controlled TV stations use to try to indoctrinate their viewers. They already claim that Russia is not waging war against Ukraine but is defending itself in Ukraine against the US and Britain. And those who want to believe that do so.

The world leaders currently meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York will take seriously Putin’s renewed attempts to play with fire. But their policy toward Moscow will not change. Ukraine will continue to receive weapons, its army will continue to fight.

And the 300,000 Russian reservists? Most have never been to war and they are ill equipped. They are family men and will be torn from their everyday lives against their wishes.

In Ukraine, they will be called to defend Russia alongside convicted felons and Chechen mercenaries. It will not work out. They will see for themselves that Ukrainians do not want to part of Russia.

Tens of thousands of people will die so that Putin and his entourage can stay in power, so that they do not have to answer for the crimes they have committed against their own people. That is the tragedy of the Kremlin chief’s most recent bad decision.


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Inflation, Bankruptcies and Fears of Decline – Germany on the Brink

Illustration: SAMSON / DER SPIEGEL

Inflation, Bankruptcies and Fears of DeclineGermany on the Brink

Inflation, a likely recession and exploding energy prices: Germany is expecting tough years ahead with diminishing prosperity, a shrinking middle class and growing inequality. This is uncharted territory for the government and society, and both are facing some difficult choices.

Nicole Geithner’s family ought to be doing well. Really well. And the Geithners know it. Their apartment, in a historical building located near Dresden, is freshly renovated, her job as a paramedic and his as a project manager for an IT company are decently paid and secure. With a gross household income of 90,000 euros, they are firmly anchored in the middle class. They should be living pleasant lives.

But it doesn’t feel that way for the family of four. They long ago gave up their dream of owning a home, with their plan of buying a second car meeting the same fate. The trip they planned to take to Amsterdam has also been cancelled. Moreover, the Geithners have begun paying closer attention to sales and special offers at the supermarket. “I’m afraid that soon we won’t be able to afford the nice life we live,” says Nicole Geithner, 35. “We’re nervous.”

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 38/2022 (September 17th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.SPIEGEL International

They’re not alone. Political leaders in Berlin are also growing uncomfortable. When the German middle class starts worrying about decline, things start getting dicey everywhere in the country. Particularly for the government.

One doesn’t have to look far for the roots of the problem: high inflation, skyrocketing energy prices and a slowing economy. Not to mention the challenges associated with tackling climate change.

And the situation wouldn’t even improve particularly quickly if the war in Ukraine were to come to a sudden, unexpected end. On the contrary. Several different crises are coming together at the moment to form a perfect storm.

That the German economy will slide into recession this winter is no longer really a question. And there is growing evidence that it could become particularly severe – with a tenfold increase in the exchange electricity price, numerous corporate bankruptcies and a permanently damaged economy. The losses in prosperity, says economist Michael Fratzscher, will be permanent. Germany, according to the forecasts, is in decline.

Nicole Geithner’s family has increased their grocery budget by 20 percent, and their prepayments on water and general utilities for their apartment have doubled. She suspects that this is by no means the end of the story. “There’s always something on top,” Geithner says. To Geithner, it feels “like we’ve completely lost control.”

This is uncharted territory for Germany. After nearly two golden decades of rising incomes, steady economic growth and little unemployment, a tough decade is looming. At least for those who aren’t happy about paying up to 1,000 euros more a month for gas and electricity, three euros for butter and purchase prices of 1 million euros for a two-bedroom apartment. In other words, everyone but the top 10 percent of the country.

At the same time, that which has been glossed over in recent years is now coming to the fore: Growing inequality. Since the 1990s, incomes have been drifting apart, and wealth even more so. The wealthy own more and more, even as the number of low-income earners is growing. The center of society is fraying.

In good years, this could be ignored politically, because it was mainly the bottom 20 percent who suffered. As harsh as it may sound, it is a demographic that traditionally hasn’t had much of a say in the country. Today, though, it’s also about the center of society, even comparatively well-off people like the Geithners.

Just how dramatic the situation is can be seen from one of the Germans’ favorite activities: saving money. The Sparkassenverband savings banks association estimates that 60 percent of households in Germany soon will no longer be able to put money aside. Inflation and energy prices are eating up their disposable income. During the second quarter of this year, real wages fell by 4.4 percent.

A middle class family: Nicole Geithner, her partner Valentin Schulze and son Emilian

A middle class family: Nicole Geithner, her partner Valentin Schulze and son Emilian Foto: Sven Döring / laif

Among the hardest hit are the up to 14 million people who are just barely clinging to the middle class and don’t want to slip any further. Families with two children and a net income of 3,000 euros per month, for example, who have had to stretch their budgets to the limit despite two full-time jobs. People, in other words, who already have their doubts about social justice in the country.

It’s a dangerous situation, and not just from an economic point of view. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest in the cities of Leipzig, Magdeburg and Pforzheim in recent weeks, and it’s possible this is only the beginning. Politicians in all camps are warning of the possibility of a “hot autumn,” some of a winter of rage, referring to possible protests and unrest. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is tasked with monitoring extremism, has set up a working group to investigate if a movement is materializing.

The fears are justified. People who feel left behind tend to gravitate toward the political fringes. Injustice, even if only a perceived unfairness, fosters populism and extremism.

The federal government is turning to its usual practice of trying to smother the problems with money and is working on its third relief package within just a few months, this time with the aim of calming the lower middle class. The plan calls for things like a flat-rate energy price for pensioners, a flat-rate national public transportation ticket (for somewhere between 49 and 69 euros a month) and increased monthly child benefit payments for parents.

But much of it still seems half-baked. It remains an open question, for example, how exactly an electricity price cap is to be financed by skimming profits from energy utility companies. Despite the “massive” relief package, as the finance minister calls it, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is still failing to come up with a clear plan for combating the downward spiral.

Still, Germany’s leaders are at least aware that quickly fabricated cash gifts to calm the masses are not a sustainable solution in the constant fire of crises around the world. There simply isn’t enough money available given the large number of problems and increasingly precarious situation.

The prevailing world order is disintegrating, the age of globalization is coming to an end, and the German model of prosperity in particular is under massive threat as a result. The consequence is that there will be less to redistribute in the future.

At the same time, the government and taxpayers will be faced with hundreds of billions of euros in additional costs over the next several years. Industry must be transformed to become climate-neutral, and the country’s energy supply must be shored up to ensure independence from Russia. The country must be reformed, digitized and made more competitive for the increasingly tough systemic competition against autocracies like China. Traditional industries are in danger of disappearing – and with them jobs.

A luxury perfume ad: People at the bottom have fewer opportunities to work their way up. "To exaggerate just a bit: once poor, always poor – once rich, always rich."

A luxury perfume ad: People at the bottom have fewer opportunities to work their way up. “To exaggerate just a bit: once poor, always poor – once rich, always rich.” Foto: Stefan Boness / DER SPIEGEL

The crisis is also a symptom indicating that a chaotic epoch is dawning. That many things aren’t just changing for the foreseeable future. Rather, they are structural changes, and likely for the worse.

As such, it will be necessary to renegotiate how this will affect society – who will have to give up more and who will get how much? What fairness will mean in concrete terms in the future.

Is this the beginning of a decade of redistribution that will primarily burden the upper middle class, a group that benefited the most when times were good? Or will people have to get used to the fact that the state can no longer relieve them of every burden? And how much strength and money will then be left for reforms that have long been agreed upon, so that the coming generations won’t be handed an emaciated country, but rather a modern and climate-friendly one?

These are difficult questions that could become a test for society. And even more so for a governing coalition that has highly divergent views on the definition of fairness.

I. Is Chancellor Olaf Scholz Up to the Crisis?

You can tell that nerves are frayed when the chancellor gets loud, when he almost yells. These are “serious times,” Scholz shouted in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, last week, actually clenching his fists. The cohesion of society, he said, is “of the utmost importance.” The chancellor has cultivated a standard appearance over a long period of time: cool, unemotional and stoic. When he deviates, as he did this time, it is a special moment, one that points to political unrest.

During that plenary debate in the Bundestag last week, Scholz spoke of a “division” in the country, of peace that is endangered. He even recited lyrics from the club anthem of the English football club Liverpool FC, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and proclaimed it to be the “motto of this government.”

Government coalition partners, from left to right: Robert Habeck of the Greens, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats and Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats

Government coalition partners, from left to right: Robert Habeck of the Greens, Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats and Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats Foto: 

Despite these assurances, though, many people seem convinced that they will have to deal with this crisis largely on their own. They have seen how many billions of euros the government is pumping into relief and also how quickly it has evaporated. How long can the government continue to offset the costs, especially with a finance minister from the junior coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), who has made Germany’s balanced-budget law, the “debt brake,” his mantra?

Although the German government has now approved around 95 billion euros in aid, 60 percent of Germans feel that the relief packages are not socially just, according to a survey conducted by pollster Civey on behalf of DER SPIEGEL. And almost three-quarters of Germans fear that they will be worse off economically in the long term. There is little sign of solidarity, of any broad sense of fairness.

Some in Berlin are watching this eroding confidence in social cohesion with growing concern. It helps explain why the chancellor expects less from one-off payments like those in the current package to students and pensioners. He has higher hopes for the effects of structural change: the recent reform of the country’s system of payments for people on long-term welfare or by raising the income threshold from which people must make contributions to the social welfare system. It was his idea to allow employers to provide a one-time payment of up to 3,000 euros without any payroll taxes to employees to help relieve the burden of higher energy costs, for example.

These times of crisis, in which redistribution, social fairness and solidarity are so important, should actually suit a chancellor with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). One might think he would experience a political boost. But the opposite is the case: For weeks, Scholz’s popularity ratings have been falling. According to a poll by Civey, almost 50 percent of respondents said they were “very dissatisfied” with the chancellor’s work – even after the passage of the latest 65-billion-euro package.

Scholz won his election campaign based on promoting more societal fairness. Those close to him often relate anecdotes of Scholz addressing stagehands, drivers and security staff at big events. Hard-working people, say his confidants, are a primary focus of his.

This can also be seen in the coalition agreement, in which he pushed through one of his most important promises: an increase in the national minimum wage to 12 euros starting Oct. 1. This is a “political revolution,” says the SPD. It’s just that few have really noticed it. On the one hand, Economy Minister Robert Habeck’s star has been shining a little too brightly compared to the more aloof Scholz – at least until Habeck got tangled up in Germany’s approach to the energy crisis, natural gas prices and nuclear energy. The chancellor’s bigger problem, though, is that few citizens seem to believe that the current government led by Scholz will really help them, despite all the relief packages.


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As Russians flee to avoid mobilization, EU is pushed to define common position

Germany’s Interior Minister has already said that escaping reservists will be allowed to file for asylum in that country on grounds of political persecution

Cars coming from Russia wait in long lines at the border checkpoint between Russia and Finland near Vaalimaa on Thursday.
Cars coming from Russia wait in long lines at the border checkpoint between Russia and Finland near Vaalimaa on Thursday.OLIVIER MORIN (AFP)

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists to reinforce the military operation in Ukraine, many Russian citizens have begun to flee: airline tickets to many destinations are sold out or prohibitively expensive, while land traffic to Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia has intensified.

The European Commission on Thursday acknowledged that it needs a common position on Russian citizens fleeing the country to avoid mobilization. “We as the European Union, in principle we stand in solidarity with the Russian citizens who have the courage and bravery to show their opposition to what the regime is doing, especially when it comes to this illegal war in Ukraine,” said Commission spokesperson Peter Stano on Thursday.

“Given this unprecedented situation, the member states will be looking at these on a case-by-case basis,” said another unnamed spokesperson quoted by Reuters.

People at a tram stop in front of a board displaying a portrait of a Russian soldier in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.
People at a tram stop in front of a board displaying a portrait of a Russian soldier in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.ANTON VAGANOV (REUTERS)

Germany has already announced that it will welcome Russian reservists who escape. “Anyone who courageously opposes Putin’s regime and thereby falls into great danger, can file for asylum on grounds of political persecution,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

A day earlier Finland, where long lines of Russian cars were lining up at the border, said it was is preparing a national solution to “limit or completely prevent” tourism from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Thousands of Russians have already been ordered to begin military training, likely to later be sent to the front lines in Ukraine. In Siberia, Russian media reported busloads of men leaving for training camps, with similar images playing out in other parts of the country. The Kremlin, however, maintains that reports of Russian citizens fleeing the country are “greatly exaggerated.”


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